This was the event that ushered in The Burning Crusade. This was only the third time that the Dark Portal was opened on Azeroth. The first two times were the Horde invasion of Azeroth and the last invasion was the last time we saw our heroes Alleria Windrunner, Turalyon, Khadgar, Illidan Stormrage, and many others. With this re-opening, the legion tries to invade Azeroth once more and we’re forced to rally in the crater of the Dark Portal to defend it. The opening of a Dark Portal in Warcraft lore has always been a major event that changes the story and changes the fate of the races. When they allowed us to open it, it changed the game dramatically. It changed us too.
Outland was also lush with fresh adventures, new challenges, new players, new heroes, new everything! It wasn’t an ending. It was a revolution. For all that we lost, we gained twofold when the Dark Portal was opened once again.
Lord Kazzak, the commander of the legion forces left the field to return to Draenor, which couldn’t be a good sign itself, but his lieutenant, Highlord Kruul, replaced him and lead the demonic forces in an assault on Azeroth. He assaulted the gates of every major city of every race, and terrorized the countryside. Many players found themselves suddenly in unfavorable weather as infernals fell from the skies and demons pillaged the land.
This opening of the Dark Portal was significant, though it didn’t require the community muster of some other events before it. Unlike the previously discussed War Effort, this was preparing us to take the war beyond the portal to a foreign land, one that had been described in many stories since the dawn of the Warcraft franchise …but which had never before been seen by players. Those who participated directly in the event earned the unique Tabard of the Protector from the Argent Dawn, a quest reward for an easy task designed to give all current players a souvenir from this one-time event. Something to show that we were there and that we had a hand in changing the world. That thing is still tucked away in my inventory on my old character, a relic of a long-past era.
I can still vividly remember my senses about the game and re-experience them just by recalling the events.The Blasted Lands was an especially interesting zone for me. For some reason it always yanked my imagination into the lore. I remember thinking the demons looked incredible and I enjoyed, like many other players, how their presence in Azeroth was intermittent. One moment you’re fighting scourge and the next you stumble upon a demon in disguise. The hero of the horde warned us of the dangers ahead and charged us with freeing the spirits of his men from the torture of the warlocks fo Rakh’likh. Kazzak was the leader of all Doom Lords and a favorite of Kil’jaeden himself, who roamed the Tainted Scar for years. It was Kazzak who re-opened the Dark Portal using a fabled relic. I remember believing back then that this relic was Sargeras’ tomb, though I’m not sure why I thought so. It didn’t matter; the thought alone was enough to inspire me to raid.
Even though this event heralded the expansion that would crystallize the World of Warcraft experience for millions, this event also foreshadowed our future as a community as well. For players, the opening of the Dark Portal meant finally learning the fate of our heroes beyond and this is what many of us remember when we reflect on the days before the Burning Crusade. It meant finding Illidan and bringing him to justice. But it also meant that half of our raid armies would become redundant and players would go their own ways when they went beyond the Portal. It meant that we lived in Azeroth united, but we left it divided. Never before was the rift between so-called “casual vs hardcore” players so deep. I recall the hot debates about why 40-mans would be easy to trim because raid guilds were carrying a lot of bad players. I remember the excitement of intimate guilds who would finally be able to take their 10 best friends to Karazhan. I remember the announcement of heroic dungeons increasing elitist sentiment. It’s ironic that this fractured player base found themselves in a fractured world trying to pick up the pieces of the community and never finding them. For every two bridges that the opening of the Portal built, one was shattered. As it had in the past, the Dark Portal brought with it some of the most amazing events in Warcraft history, but also tremendous tragedy.
When we all stepped through that Portal on the first day, we felt awe. The sights of Hellfire were exactly as the books and the stories. The majesty of Nagrand was fitting for our war hero Thrall and it really felt like coming home. The twilight beauty of Zangarmarsh left us star struck. We all came into our own in Outland, forming new alliances, facing new threats. The old world was left behind and this new one was full of promise.
To have experienced the third Dark Portal opening was to experience something truly rare in the Warcraft lore, even to this day. It brought all the glory and all the woe one expects from such an event. We weathered it well and in the end we came out on top. Both worlds were better off for our presence there.