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WoW ArchivistMay 30, 2016 1:00 pm CT

WoW Archivist: Dalaran

dalaran from above

In classic WoW, players exploring the Alterac Mountains encountered a massive purple dome clearly made out of some kind of magical energy. It was one of the most startling sights to explorers of Azeroth back in 2005, and it remained an enigma for three years. I remember standing there with friends, marveling at the size of it and wondering if, one day, the dome would ever vanish so we could enter this forbidden area.

A few quests hinted at what lay beneath the bubble, but we all had to wait for Wrath of the Lich King to find out what Dalaran actually looked like. As they did for just about everything in Wrath, Blizzard delivered. This floating city of mages turned out to be the most fully realized expansion hub in WoW to date, one that many players point to as the pinnacle of hub design — with one notable asterisk. Let’s look back at what made Dalaran so special to players, and why we should be excited about its return in Legion.

Suspending our disbelief

A city on a giant hovering rock requires a certain suspension of disbelief (pun intended), but even so Dalaran felt like a real place. Each shop was lovingly crafted, from the bubbling flask doorway of the Agronomical Apothecary to the crazy tower of books inside the Scribes’ Sacellum that you’d never even see unless you looked straight up.

Dalaran had plenty of things that served no real gameplay-driven purpose, but were there purely for fun, fluff, and flavor — such as the toy shop, the pet shop, the Alliance’s beer garden, and the upscale wine and cheese store One More Glass (although the latter was part of a particularly disgusting daily quest for cooking). The sewers of the Underbelly provided a dark contrast to the lofty towers of the surface streets. The tunnel that led nowhere but out into the open sky gave me a chill every time I passed through it, imagining the inconvenient bodies that conveniently disappeared over the edge.

Now that everyone can fly in Dalaran, the city feels smaller and less immersive. For Wrath, however, most of the city was flagged as a no-fly zone. You had to explore it on foot or hoof. Experienced this way, Dalaran was big enough to feel like a real city but not so big that moving around to run errands became tedious.

dalaran bubble

Dalaran’s secrets

One would expect a city created by mages to possess many secrets and surprises, and Dalaran did not disappoint in that regard. Here are a few:

  • A gnome called Minigob Manabonk wanders the city and randomly turns players into sheep. If he does this to you, he’ll send you a very nice letter along with The Mischief Maker (which is only usable in Dalaran, sadly).
  • Players in Wrath created custom channels for a very difficult achievement tied to a series of books that spawn every three to four hours in different locations throughout the city. The books are called the Schools of Arcane Magic. Channels like “bookclub” would announce whenever someone managed to find a book. If you manage to read all eight, you’ll earn the Higher Learning achievement and a teleport item that allows you to visit with the infamous Archmage Vargoth himself. Vargoth gives you the Kirin Tor Familiar pet.
  • Fishing in the fountain will sometimes catch copper, silver, or gold coins. Each coin has a wish from a figure in Azeroth’s history, such as Attumen’s wish for a more comfortable saddle or Kel’Thuzad’s wish for a “big, long hug.” Anduin’s wish will finally come true in Legion: “I wish I would grow up, it feels like I’ve been 10 for years.” Collecting all the coins grants an achievement called The Coin Master and the Titanium Seal of Dalaran item, which is now a toy.
  • The cat in the Legerdemain Lounge will purr when you /pet him.
  • An NPC named Windle Sparkshine lights Dalaran’s lamps at nightfall. He stands outside the Alliance area and sells Windle’s Lighter.
  • You can reach the Underbelly by jumping down the well near the Magus Commerce Exchange. You can catch a Giant Sewer Rat while fishing down there.

dalaran mammoth train

Will Lagaran return?

As amazing as Dalaran was, it had one big problem: lag. It’s a small space as far as WoW cities go, and like Shattrath before it, it was the hub for both the Alliance and the Horde. Plus it had handy portals to every other major city. So basically, it was populated with every max-level player on your realm who wasn’t actively questing, PVPing, or running some kind of instance. Some players with older computers or bad internet actually had to skip a lot of Wrath content because they simply couldn’t enter the city without their system or their connection crashing. The traditional “mammoth trains” that would spontaneously form in Dalaran didn’t help much either (but who could resist?).

The lag even affected Wrath‘s storyline. Blizzard originally wanted to put the Argent Tournament in Crystalsong Forest below Dalaran. Fear of causing even more lag forced them to move Tirion’s tourney to Icecrown, which worked out pretty well for Arthas, if not so much for Anub’arak.

Dalaran is the reason Alliance and Horde had separate expansion hubs in Cataclysm through Warlords of Draenor. Will Legion‘s version be the same “Lagaran” we experienced in Wrath? I think there’s hope. For one thing, players will have more incentive to be out questing in the world than ever before, and class halls will serve as the base of operations for many players rather than Dalaran proper. Another important difference is that the modern Dungeon Finder didn’t appear until late in Wrath (patch 3.3), so for most of the expansion players had to camp out in Dalaran to form parties. That’s obviously no longer the case, so it should result in a smaller overall population.

I was a bit surprised when Blizzard removed the class-specific spells to teleport to our class halls, forcing us to take portals in Dalaran instead. I assumed they’d want to keep players away from Dalaran as much as possible. Maybe Blizzard will add them as a reward in a future patch if Dalaran struggles with lag again.

dalaran over broken isles

Against the Legion

The Kirin Tor don’t joyride their urban headquarters around Azeroth for no reason. They moved it to Northrend originally to combat the threat of Malygos, and later Yogg-Saron, Algalon, and the Lich King. Soon they will move it to the Broken Isles to face the Burning Legion.

Blizzard is hard at work updating Dalaran and adding new surprises to discover. There are even indications in the beta that Dalaran will go through multiple phases, with one pre-patch phase as a city in total disarray after its journey south. Personally I can’t wait to see how the city evolves — and maybe start a mammoth train for old times’ sake.

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