Last week, Tom Chilton revealed that Mists would have no dedicated world PvP zone like Wintergrasp or Tol Barad. Instead, Blizzard wants to encourage a more natural style of world PvP. It wants players to duke it out in actual questing zones. On PvP realms, it wants players to be free to attack towns and cities without overwhelming NPC intervention.
Since we're reviving WoW Archivist here at WoW Insider after a seven-month hiatus, now seemed like a good time to revisit the earliest days of world PvP.
It's no secret that world PvP has had a rough journey throughout WoW's history. Blizzard did all it could to discourage the wild Southshore vs. Tarren Mill clashes that made Hillsbrad Foothills a laggy, unplayable mess, often crashing the Eastern Kingdoms servers entirely. In patch 1.12, the developers gave us new objectives to fight over in Silithus and Eastern Plaguelands, far away from where new players were leveling.
Ultimately, those objectives failed to capture much interest. Players mocked the Silithyst PvP objective as "sandlol." Further experiments in The Burning Crusade were only moderately more successful. In Wrath, Blizzard added the Wintergrasp PvP zone, and that has been the company's primary world PvP model through the last two expansions.
Before all of that, however, when the game was still so young that the vast majority of the playerbase hadn't yet reached level 60, there were raids on the Crossroads, in the heart of the infamous Barrens. And they were glorious.
Oh, those wacky Barrens
If any single zone deserved to get repeatedly pounded by enemy forces, it was certainly The Barrens. The notorious nature of Barrens chat began very early in WoW's history. In the weeks after the game's launch, people asking for the location of Mankrik's wife were not being ironic or even lazy. No comprehensive Wowhead-style database existed in late 2004. Thottbot was in its infancy. You often had to comb through message boards to find such answers. It was far more practical to simply ask your fellow players.
In my opinion, that one infamous quest is what led to the "Barrens chat" phenomenon. People got sick of answering the question, so they would begin to troll the people asking, and the chat channel devolved from there into mom insults, murloc puns, and Chuck Norris jokes.
It also didn't help that the original Barrens was a bloated zone with a leveling range so wide you could drive a pit lord through it. Officially, The Barrens was a 10-to–25 zone, but with rested experience, you could easily quest there till you were almost level 30. People who leveled slowly could spend weeks in the zone. (Leveling was a lot slower back then.) Recognizing this silliness, Blizzard cut the zone in half as part of the Cataclysm revamp.
To make matters worse, many Horde players who rolled three out of the four races (all but Forsaken) had no idea that across the ocean lay alternate leveling zones for that range. To most of us back then, the Eastern Kingdoms were as mysterious and rumor-shrouded as Europe would have been to Native Americans in the 16th century.
Thus, not long after launch, The Barrens became the most populous zone in the entire game. That vast, noob-saturated expanse made one juicy target for Alliance aggression. Much like those mysterious Europeans, the Alliance arrived in force, and not all of them were friendly.
The Crossroads bleeds
It was one evening during those first few weeks after launch that yours truly, a lowly 15 hunter, found himself embroiled in one of the weirdest virtual battles I've ever seen. While questing, a strange new message popped up in my chat window. Over and over again, it told me, "The Barrens is under attack!"
For once, Barrens chat actually became focused. "Allies at xr," people wrote. "High level, need help." I wasn't sure what kind of help I would be, but I went anyway. I ran there to witness the massacre firsthand. A group of seven or eight Alliance characters were gleefully murdering every NPC and flagged Horde player in the town. Not long after, it dawned on me: If the NPCs are all dead, I couldn't turn in any quests! I couldn't sell items or repair armor. This was a disaster!
When I clicked on the invaders, the game wouldn't even display their level. Their character panes showed only an ominous skull icon. Their shiny armor put my mismatched rags to shame, and they had mounts that most of us had never seen before. I attacked them, but my ineffectual blunderbussing did so little damage that they were content to ignore me until it was my turn to die.
More of the Barrens questers showed up at the Crossroads, but with such a large level difference, all we managed to do was line up for a one-sided butt-whuppin'. The town's guards didn't zerg like they do today, and they were easy to kill. The Alliance players were able to occupy the town with impunity, and they did so for nearly an hour. The Barrens, for all intents and purposes, belonged to them now.
Then the cavalry arrived: A few higher-level Horde players showed up on wolves and kodos. With our combined might, we were able to kill one of the Alliance raiders. The Alliance weren't about to give up their toehold in central Kalimdor without a fight, however. They could, after all, reduce most of us to a fine red mist with a single hit.
Word of the battle had spread. More and more higher-level Horde players had rallied to liberate the Crossroads. I remember seeing players from every level range there in defense of the town, as well as at least a hundred low-level noobs like me. Even dealing occasional, single-digit damage to a target adds up fast when there are a hundred of you!
With the ferocious effort, the tide turned, and the Alliance began a fighting retreat to Ratchet. The boat arrived just as the battle did, and the invaders ran for it. A few made it to safety, but most missed their getaway ride. We drove them into the ocean, murdered them as they tried to swim away, and fed their corpses to the (that last part may be an exaggeration).
The legacy of Crossroads raids
I'd like Alliance players to weigh in on this: Back then, were you aware just how strategically significant the Crossroads was to the Horde, or was it just an easy target? By slaughtering the quest givers there, the Alliance could stop three-quarters of the Horde's newbies from leveling effectively as long as they could hold the town. With no PvP system in place then, there was no other reason to do it except for the sheer thrill.
Other towns were sites of frequent PvP battles, too. Grom'gol was another popular target for the Alliance. The Horde descended on Astranaar at whim. My guild loved to give Theramore a thorough once-over back in vanilla, with the bonus of slaying that stuck-up wizardess Jaina Proudmore (who dropped quite a bit of gold by vanilla standards, I might add). I can't tell you how excited I am that the Horde is actually going to rough up Theramore in the actual storyline.
I believe such player-driven events contributed to WoW's skyrocketing subscriptions throughout late 2004 and 2005. Talking about my experience at the Crossroads certainly convinced some of my friends to buy the game. It was exciting to log in and not know what might be happening around the world.
For me and many players from the late 2004 era, those early town raids will always be special. They had an engaging, organic spontaneity that is often missing from WoW in 2012. With Mists, Blizzard hopes to battle-rez some of that magic. Can the servers handle the massive showdowns that may once again ravage the Crossroads? Time will tell!
After months of surveying, WoW Archivist has been dug back up! Discover lore and artifacts of WoW's past, including the Corrupted Blood plague, the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, and the mysterious Emerald Dream.