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WoW Archivist: Two weeks as a noob in 2004

A tauren in Mulgore
WoW Archivist explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? Who is etched into WoW's history? What secrets does the game still hold?

When I took on the WoW Archivist mantle last year, I wanted to tell some personal stories as well as provide in-depth looks into the game's past. My first column talked about an early but extraordinary world PvP experience. Today I'd like to tell you about my first weeks of WoW in 2004, in a very different Azeroth than our modern version, with a very different incarnation of the hunter class.

A hunter will rise

In December 2004, a hunter stepped forward in Red Cloud Mesa. He was new to the ways of Azeroth, but eager to learn. What followed would be painful. But when the narrator shut up and the hunter proudly accepted his first quest from the Navajo minotaur guy with giant punctuation over his head, this new hunter set forth. He had nothing but a bow and a hope that his trials would forge him into a hero.

He would become a hero, many months and scars later. His first two weeks, however, were marked with terror, failure, and shame in roughly equal parts.

Mauled in Mulgore

I'm not sure which is to blame: the early code, a bug, a lack of other players rolling Horde on my server, or something else entirely. The vast plains of Mulgore, so roomy and peaceful today, were absolutely crawling with angry, snarling wildlife. There's really no comparison I can make to anything in WoW right now, except maybe an outdoor version of the Lyceum in Blackrock Depths.

Aside from kodos, most of those mobs were hostile. Even the plainstriders began to be hostile around level 6. Some of the hostile mobs, especially the carrion bird types, pathed over long distances. I began to dread those telltale sound effects that meant a wolf or a swoop had decided Mulgore should be a no-hunting area.

Even the passive herds of kodo could prove fatal. They tended to migrate all over the place, and they would stomp right through your battles. If you accidentally smacked one -- with, say, War Stomp -- the entire herd attacked like you just kicked their bee's nest. A bee's nest full of kodos.

I had no perspective then of the intended or appropriate number of mobs for a zone. All I knew was it was nearly impossible to fight just one creature at a time. Another mob would wander by and aggro, and then another while I fought the second mob.

Mulgore, believe it or not, was a scary, scary place. It was not the slow ramp up in difficulty that you would expect in an MMO, or any video game. The Golden Plains was a kill zone, and I was on my own out there.
Mulgore wildlife
Tauren vs wild

My realm would prove to be Alliance heavy in vanilla, and the game had yet to explode in population. Compounded with the fact that Mulgore was the starting area for only one out of four Horde races, and it wasn't surprising that I rarely saw another player.

When I say I was alone, I mean it. Hunters didn't receive a pet until level 10, after a series of class quests. For ten levels, you fought solo. When you could strike from a distance and get some shots in before the mob started hitting you, the fight was over quickly. When you got adds, you had no such chance.

Yes, the "dead zone" was in full effect in 2004. You couldn't use a ranged weapon on any mob closer than 8 yards. You had to rely on your melee abilities. My first few days as a hunter featured an awful lot of Raptor Strike and Mongoose Bite. The latter could only be used after a successful dodge. When Raptor Strike was on cooldown and Mongoose Bite couldn't be used, I spammed Wing Clip (once I unlocked it) for the tiny amounts of extra damage. Kiting with Wing Clip was an option, but the density of the mobs made it a risky tactic.

Fighting mostly as melee with no pet and no traps, mobs died very slow. I died a lot. Like, embarrassing amounts of dead. I was on a first-name basis with the spirit healer. When she asked me to be the godfather to her spirit son, I knew I had to spend less time with her.

Turning tail

Eventually, like a good hunter in real life, I learned to use the terrain to my advantage. I doubt this is a tactic that comes into play much in 2013, but in 2004 it was brilliant: I fought things next to water. Stonebull Lake made for a perfect getaway. Wolves, plainstriders, swoops -- none dared to follow me into the deep. When the situation got hairy, I swam to safety.

Progress improved greatly once I discovered their Achilles heel, even though I felt craven for exploiting it.

I moved on from Bloodhoof Village to Thunder Bluff. My first sight of the city filled me with awe. Its scope and height, its massive totems and narrow, treacherous bridges were amazing to explore. Later, when the servers began to fill and lag became an issue, Thunder Bluff also became a deadly place. But for now the city was a welcome refuge from the boiling cauldron of angry animals and Venture Co. miners below.

The lost tame pet quests

When I hit level 10, I started the class-specific tame pet quest line. These quests are long gone, but they were both interesting and frustrating at the time. The quest line had three steps. Each step asked you to take an item called the Taming Rod and tame a specific type of creature. For tauren, it was a plainstrider, then a prairie stalker, and finally a swoop. The reward for completing the final quest was the Tame Beast ability, along with Call Pet and Dismiss Pet.

Here's the weird thing. As you completed the three stages of the quest line, that version of the tamed pet had fun, unique abilities appropriate for their species.

When I got the Tame Beast spell, I was so excited to have a permanent pet that could unleash these great abilities. I liked the swoop's ability, so I tamed one of those first. The ability didn't pop up on the pet bar. I thought maybe I had to keep taming different ones until I found a swoop that knew it, but none of them did. So I tamed a prairie stalker, but the wolf no longer had those extra abilities, either.

I figured it had to be a bug. To this day I'm not sure why those abilities showed up on the pet bar, but I suspect that I was seeing the mobs' innate, programmed abilities. It was disappointing to realize that pet species didn't come with their own abilities. Of course, Blizzard later added many unique pet abilities.
Raptors in the Barrens
Into the Barrens

In pre-Shattering Mulgore, centaur teams patrolled around the entrance to the Barrens. They were scary -- higher level, linked to each other, and unlike any of the mobs in Mulgore. To proceed, you had to evade them unless you wanted a very difficult fight.

Sneaking past them into the Barrens earned no respite, however. At the time, the mobs around the Mulgore entrance were around level 20. My hunter was level 11 or so, and they'd aggro me from a mile away. The journey from Camp Taurajo to the Crossroads was harrowing. The mild, friendly kodos had been replaced with purple spiky lizards that spit lighting. They chased me all the way to the Crossroads. I died at least once along the way, but at least I got to meet a new spirit healer this time.

With my pet, combat was slightly easier. Pets didn't hold aggro very well back then, however, so Raptor Strike was still my go-to to finish off mobs. I admit, I kind of enjoyed the dual nature of the hunter class: shooting at range and then whipping out the big axe when they got close. Modern hunters are missing out on that "What noooow?" moment of switching to a melee weapon when an enemy closes in.

The Barrens had not yet evolved into "Barrens chat." Unlike empty Mulgore, many players adventured here, and most were friendly and helpful. When you asked about Mankrik's wife, you got a real answer. I don't know if Thottbot existed back then, but I certainly wasn't aware of it. Without a quest tracker, Barrens chat was actually a resource, with a near constant flow of information about quests, classes, Wailing Caverns, and the locations of marauding Alliance players.

I formed groups to take on some of the more difficult quests in the zone, especially anything that involved the dense centaur camps. With other players to help with aggro and keep mobs at range, I finally saw what the hunter could do -- and it felt good. I tamed a purple raptor and named her Skittles, and she was my hunting buddy for most of vanilla.

Respawning Caverns

My confidence high, I tried a Wailing Caverns run and felt like a noob all over again. Those runs were a mess. We'd flail around, unsure where to go or what to do, or even what our jobs were within the group. Did we even have a proper tank or healer? I couldn't say.

The dungeon itself was fairly difficult. Some mobs crowd controlled your tank or healer. Others ran and aggro'ed the next pull. Patrols respawned and ganked you from behind. All trash respawned on a very fast timer.

Dungeons had no maps in vanilla, and most of Wailing Caverns looked the same. When the trash respawned, you no longer knew what areas you had already cleared once and what areas were new. My groups spent hours trying to find their way around -- and then right when we were approaching the end of the dungeon, someone always fell through the gap in the path, back toward the starting area. Most certainly I did this once or twice before I learned. We never figured out the murloc event that you could trigger by returning to the entrance. We didn't even kill Verdan in those early runs.
Gerenzo's platforms
Noob no longer

In later weeks, as friends joined and I learned more about the game, I grew confident enough to try to help out others. During this time I met a player that I'll call "Gabe."

We encountered him in Stonetalon Mountains. We were going after Gerenzo Wrenchwhistle for the quest Gerenzo Wrenchwhistle. (We called him "Wenchwhistle," which you have to admit is way more awesome.) Bringing his mechanical arm back as a prize meant scaling to the top of the platforms along the cliff over the lake. Note that while the quest is available at level 16, Gerenzo is level 27. There was a lot of that back then, but grouping up could overcome the level difference.

Gabe was nearby and he had the quest, too, so my friends and I invited him along. At first I thought he was a rogue. He had no pet and no ranged weapon. He had two swords equipped, and he fought with those. It wasn't until I noticed the blue mana bar under his character's name that I realized he was actually a hunter like me.

I suggested that a ranged weapon might be more effective, but he said he didn't want one, because the swords were "cool." I offered to help him tame a pet if he didn't have one. The process could be tricky to pull off solo at early levels. He said "nah."

We proceeded upward and then across, fighting our way platform to platform. Gabe didn't really engage in combat much. He preferred to jump around us while we fought. When we finally pulled Gerenzo, Gabe accidentally jumped right off the platform. He plummeted into the water far, far below us. He certainly couldn't loot Gerenzo's arm from down there. When we realized what he'd done, we got a good laugh out of it. He begged us to fight our way up to the guy again. We declined.

The incident made me realize why some players had such a prejudice against hunters. As I leveled I tried to prove that some of us, at least, wanted to be good at it. I got there in time, partly thanks to those bloodthirsty wolves back in Mulgore.
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.

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