Entering Northrend is done by zeppelin or boat, depending on whether you’re Alliance or Horde, to either the Howling Fjord (accessed by Menethil Harbour or the Undercity) or Borean Tundra (accessed through Stormwind or Durotar). The Fjord’s Valgarde houses the Alliance dangerously close to the newly-awoken Viking giants, the vrykul, while the Horde end up doing more bitch work for the Forsaken at New Agamand. In the Tundra, the Horde’s Vengeance Landing is immediately accessible, as is the impressive Warsong Hold, while Valiance Keep is all that stands between the Alliance and a swift reaming by the ever-more-bold undead Scourge.
In comparison to the demonic, explosion-filled war zone that The Dark Portal had waiting for you, your entrance to the north is actually rather relaxed. You’ll slip in somewhat unheralded and begin collecting quests and go to work trying to establish your side’s agenda. Wherever you choose to land, it seems that old habits die hard – The Forsaken are up to new and unusual ways to make members of the Alliance suffer, while the goodie-goodie humans are trying to get along with the locals and protect their supply routes.
In fact, you’ll find a great many of the initial quests eerily similar to your experiences in The Burning Crusade, with kill X of Y quests, pick up X of Y quests, and bombing runs against large groups of otherwise unreachable opponents. It’s not that these aren’t fun or well balanced, it’s more that they lack the furious extremes of Outland. While two years ago you were fighting hellboars on charred terrain while juddering devices of the Burning Legion fought overhead, a great many of your first hours in Northrend are spent killing the wildlife or scuffling with the locals. This is an expansion of exploration, and feels more like an expedition, not an adventure.
The best example came from our personal experience jaunting around the Howling Fjord in our first few hours. Feeling the advantage of jumping off the beaten track, we sought out Winterhoof, a camp of both Tauren and Taunka (apparently their ancestral cousins), thinking that it would be ripe for the adventuring. On arrival, we received a quest that had us picking up hippogryph feathers around generic, icy/green terrain, amongst a few others involving the killing of elementals and wildlife. we threw up our hands – hadn’t we left this shit behind in the Hinterlands?
This isn’t to say that Wrath of the Lich King is a litany of repetitive boredom – far from it. There are some wonderfully intricate, atmospheric and well-done quests within the Frozen Hell. Zul’Drak, the home of the ice trolls, is simply one of the coolest environments in fantasy lore. You’re sent into gigantic troll ruins at the request of gods (gigantic Totem animals), fighting vicious ice trolls protected by eerie dancing tiki masks with floating spears. Lightning crackles in the sky, and Blizzard do their best to build on the lore started rather briefly in WarCraft III expansion The Frozen Throne.
In fact, the best parts of Wrath of the Lich King seem to be when Blizzard breaks away from making a successful MMO and focuses on pure, unfettered adventure. Be it the Death Knight quest line, the battles between the Skybreaker and Orgrim’s Hammer, insulting a vrykul’s mum, or fighting a Scourge Veteran and an army of skeletons alongside a Horde Hero, WOTLK shines when it doesn’t feel like it’s setting up the treadmill for generation after generation. Lake Wintergrasp is a great example of this. Only accessible past level 77 (when players are able to learn Cold-Weather Flight and mount their respective winged beasts), it’s high-level PvP chaos that rewards good teamwork. Either the Horde or the Alliance takes control of Wintergrasp Fortress, where they must destroy the enemy’s siege engines and workshops before they can blow the fortress to smithereens.