One of the better kept secrets of vanilla WoW is a zone called Quel'thalas. (Be careful not to confuse this with the zone Isle of Quel'danas.) If you're not a lore buff, Quel'thalas is the kingdom of the Quel'dorei, or blood elves, as they're now known. (Check out Elven Evolution and Current Horde Politics: the Blood Elves for the full story.) The blood elf zones we know in WoW as Silvermoon City, Eversong Woods and Ghostlands are all considered part of Quel'thalas -- but those are not the zones I'm talking about today.
The Quel'thalas I'm referring to is a tiny peninsula northeast of Tirisfal Glades. It isn't accessible by road or flight path, only water, and when you arrive you'll be greeted by ... nothing. There aren't any NPCs, enterable buildings or quest legs -- just an empty, unexplained mystery. Take a look.
Gallery: Quel'thalas (old world)
There are a few ideas behind this unusual zone, of course. WoWWiki suggests it could be the work of a bored terrain artist. It also suggests (and I find this suggestion more agreeable) that Blizzard made the zone as a placeholder with the intent of adding the elven kingdom to WoW after the game's launch. Rather than patching it in, though, Blizzard opted to save the release of Quel'thalas for The Burning Crusade and in turn locked all the elven zones behind a loading screen. Since the zones existed on different servers, though, the original Quel'thalas was able to continue to exist in the old world, untouched and hidden away all these years.
These days, it seems like I run into fewer people who know about the zone than I used to. I suspect that has to do with the map, which no longer beckons adventurers with the question, "What could be in that empty area?" Instead, any question about what that land mass could be is answered with an extra click, to zoom in and see that it's just blood elf starting areas. In these then-and-now map comparisons, the red outline shows the area of Quel'thalas (based on other areas on the map), while the white star marks the actual location of the old-world zone. In vanilla, the zone sat just at the edge of the area representing Quel'thalas, whereas the present-day Wrath of the Lich King map shows the zone occupying an unnamed territory just north of the Eastern Plaguelands.
I first discovered Quel'thalas for myself without expecting to in early The Burning Crusade. I came in the long way, swimming up the eastern coast. I had been looking for a house in the Hinterlands (to which a friend of mine had given me very bad directions), and after swimming well into the Eastern Plaguelands, I decided I'd gone too far to turn around, so I kept going. (This was back in the day of hour-long hearthstone cooldowns.) It felt like I'd been swimming for ages when I saw the name of the zone switch on my UI. "Quel'thalas," it said, but I was flanked by sheer cliffs and fatigue water! What had I stumbled upon?
Not long later, an outline on the horizon started to appear, and my heart raced at the discovery. I swam closer, until there was no mistake as to what I was looking at: a night elf torii, a staple of elven architecture seen all over Kalimdor. As my character ran up onto shore with her typical elven indifference, I felt like I was staggering onto dry land like a shipwrecked sailor. I kissed the sand of the beach in my heart and set out to explore the small mass of land. I climbed up the hills, poked around the ruins and looked for treasure chests and NPCs. As I said before, there was nothing there, but my excitement made up for it. Despite all its nothingness, I felt a special connection to the zone I had discovered.
Since then, I've tried to share that special connection with other players. I've used the location as a hideaway, a stage for large-scale RP events, and a quiet place to spirit away close friends and uncommonly good-looking hunters. I've refined my method of getting there, traveling instead from the northern coast line of Tirisfal Glades and using Elixirs of Water Walking so I can stay mounted. Multi-passenger mounts are ideal for keeping your destination a secret from companions -- just be sure to run up onto land occasionally; otherwise, you can drown your passengers! My favorite part about all of it is confusing guildmates or friends who will see "Quel'thalas" as your location on a guild roster or friends list. "Where are you!?" they'll yell in whispers as they run around the Isle of Quel'danas in confusion. It all feels so intimately my own.
So imagine my concern when with the announcement of Cataclysm came talk of updating the old world. What would happen to my beloved little zone? I didn't get a beta key for quite some time, but I was too scared to ask my peers. Instead, I sat waiting and worried until the day I finally won my beta key. After spending the day loading my client, I loaded in and before looking at new talents or spells or anything, I ran to Tirisfal Glades. This is what I found.
An invisible wall.
I had expected it all this time, but it didn't keep my heart from slowly deflating over the next 10 minutes as my Elixir of Water Walking ticked away and left me wading in the water. There were tons of invisible walls all over beta for unfinished areas, of course, but I honestly expect this one to remain. It just makes sense to block off the area, given the new Quel'thalas exists in updated splendor in The Burning Crusade expansion. Who would be impressed by a few generic elven structures on a tiny curve of land but me? Maybe no one. Maybe everyone.
Whatever it is ... Dawn flips on Semisonic. It's time to say good-bye.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it; nothing will be the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from brand new races to revamped quests and zones. Visit our Cataclysm news category for the most recent posts having to do with the Cataclysm expansion.
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