As a setting, this was my favorite zone in Outland. That feels wrong, because it is the least Outland-esque zone in the expansion pack, but it seems to have succeeded as a clasic WoW zone better than the classic WoW zones did. I see this as the target for re-made zones, a test run for how to do it if we had it to do over again.
I look at Nagrand and see the Serengeti. It is a lusher version of the Barrens, a zone I loved with its kodo and giraffes. You first meet a Nesingwary in the jungle, but he seems better placed here, like the Great White Hunter from some colonialist era adventure story. Of course there will be an elephant hunt.
But it remains Outland. It keeps touches that could mark it as Generic Fantasy Africa, but the Outland-specific earthmotes and Burning Legion camps are there. We have a giant crystal instead of volcanic activity. You could walk off the end of the world. And in this shattered dimension, anything fits, so the more out of place the better.
Nagrand has the same open sky that Hellfire Peninsula does, adding value to flying. Giant mushrooms and parsley trees block the view of the zone from above, while the open plains reward the view from above. Getting away from caves and claustrophobic skies gives a feeling of freedom, of potential, of newness for a zone that re-treads classic WoW territory. It also makes the caves in Nagrand more notable, as you are in tight quarters with huge ogres rather than soaring above the local wildlife.
I presume that the center of the map was a terror without flight. The PvP area is a spire, and the Alliance hub is huge with bridge-based access. I never had to learn how to navigate that.
Nagrand’s normalcy also becomes novelty by contrast. You spent your last classic WoW levels with undead, alien insect things, and/or furbolgs. You just spent five levels with demons, burning plains, infected giants, mushroom forests, parsley trees, and half a zone of dead things. And here are animals! This should be anti-climactic, back to slaughtering beasts, but it has several merits. First, everything is new again when your non-freakish wildlife experience for the past ten levels has been the few wolves in the previous zone. Second, there are giant elephants and clefthooves and birds, and your simian brain reacts to that. Third, it is a peace of familiar home after chaotic strangeness. It is a safe and comforting plate of cookies halfway through a haunted house. After Terrokar and Shattrath have bombarded you with factions and lots of people wanting you to do something for them, here is a straightforward hunt. Animals, irritable elementals, and ogres: good work done with a few sets of pieces.
One of those irritable elementals has a great moment. The big rock guy wants you to do something for him. He overcomes the lack of built-in QuestHelper by stomping on the ground, leaving a perfect topographical map of the zone. That is brilliant in both a gameplay and lore sense. Of course the genius loci can stomp the shape of the land.
Also, there are no boars.
If the entire expansion pack had been zones like this, I would have been disappointed in a retread of the classic WoW zones. As it is, one spot of normalcy stuck in the midst of chaos is both a relief and a further part of the chaos. How did this come to be next to that?
I feel like an idiot for liking the normal zone in the midst of the exotic expansion, but its normalcy makes it special. There are lots of games where you mow down zombie hordes, but if some other game has just one level of that, it becomes more memorable. Nagrand is also the product of polishing the earlier polished product, rather than the newer pieces being experimented with elsewhere.
I have the exploration achievement but not the quests. I need more levels and/or friends for the Ring of Blood, I need to grind a bit more Consortium faction, etc. The other zones led to a more natural quest achievement completion. I note the increasing number of group quests with this zone, leading into the endgame. As a Paladin, that was usually not a problem for soloing, except when the recommended team size went past 3.
Level 69.5. Up and out.