If you’ve ever moved– particularly in your childhood– then you know the melancholy of leaving behind cherished memories. This happened for me at the age of seven, leaving a North Carolina cul-de-sac where I played with the many neighboring kids. Many of my fondest childhood memories come from this place: building impressive forts in the backyard forests, riding our bicycles around the large housing complex and the wondrous fright that ensued when an older neighbor made MissingNo appear in my copy of Pokemon Yellow. When my parents, my sister and me left here to be closer to the rest of our family in Connecticut it was heartbreaking. While the memories persisted, the friendships I left behind quickly faded; remember that this was a time before social media, texting or even instant messaging.
Connecticut was much colder, both in temperature and cultural climate. The new cul-de-sac we lived on was unwelcoming. One next-door neighbor was a maniac who would watch his front lawn all day lest someone step on his precious grass and the others were elderly so we rarely even saw them. There was one kid who lived a few houses down and we did become friends but that community of kids would never be rekindled. I struggled to make new friends in this new town through my school years and virtually none of those I did have persisted past a few years. I always wonder what my life would have been like had I never left North Carolina, who I would be. I figure I’d be a more outgoing, social person if we had stayed. At least I’ll always have those memories.
I’m set to feel this impending loss again in 2018, yet this time in a virtual world, specifically World of Warcraft‘s Azeroth. At BlizzCon, Blizzard announced Battle for Azeroth, the game’s next expansion. World of Warcraft expansions are always exciting for me. I may only play the game for a month or two here and there these days but it’s still near and dear to my heart. It’s a place I’ve spent countless hours (don’t ask) exploring by myself and with friends. New content means more places to explore and a continent sacred to trolls– the race of the character I play– has me certifiably giddy. However, when they premiered the game’s cinematic trailer I felt that distinct melancholy sink in.
The trailer depicts an epic battle between Horde and Alliance faction leaders. It’s a thrill for sure, especially for those invested in this world’s storylines. It’s specifically where the battle was held that ignited a strong sense of worry for me: right on the doorstep of the ruins of the once great Lordaeron underneath which the undead capital of Undercity sits. My fears were confirmed when the game’s development team confirmed that Undercity would indeed be destroyed in the upcoming expansion. One of the cornerstones of a world I’d spent over a decade in, gone forever. I had months left to visit it and that’s exactly what I did.
I immediately recalled the first time I came to Undercity. Getting off the zeppelin from the Orcish capital of Orgrimmar, I descended down a small path leading to the gates of Lordaeron. The fortress was in a state of disrepair, its walls crumbling and monuments turned to rubble, the water in the courtyard turned a sickly green. The iconic bell laid upon the floor of the castle entrance, a reminder of this once-living place. I then found myself in a courtroom I knew all too well as where Arthas cut down his father. As shown in the Warcraft 3 cinematic you can watch below, the blood splatter left on the floor by the late king’s crown had left a permanent stain on the floor. The specter of this place’s past would forever haunt it– alongside the actual specters currently residing here.
Moving past this room led me to elevators submerging deep below the ruins. I run down the hallways leading to them as a door shuts in my face. This happens once or twice more until I finally close the gap and get on. Not one for grace, I clip through the edge of the elevator and fall to my death. A fitting entrance for a city of the dead, I suppose. After running back to my corpse, I stumbled through another small hallway to find myself in the city’s necrotic promenade.
Lined with skull-themed architecture, pools of green ooze and patchwork bodyguards, a chill ran through me. Did I really want to be here? Of course, being a friendly city there was probably nothing that would harm me so I ventured forward. I could almost smell the odor of rot and taste the putrid air as I walked the dizzying, claustrophobic hallways. With no sense of direction I was momentarily trapped. Then I remembered why I came here in the first place. I navigated to the Royal Quarter where I met Sylvanas Windrunner, the undead leader herself. She was a character I had already grown to love through reading Warcraft wikis and seeing her in-game was the embodiment of her troubled but badass past. It was the end of a mystifying journey like many of those I had in my early days with the game. Retracing my steps, I again realize that all of this will shortly be destroyed (lost in time like… well, you know).
The truth is, outside of being an iconic locale, Undercity is functionally identical to many other cities in the game; you have a bank, auction house, and a slew of vendors and trainers. In fact, it doesn’t have the portals transporting you around the game’s many continents as the faction capitols do meaning you really need to go out of your way to end up here. But just knowing I could visit this place to bask in its horrific glory has been a point of comfort through the years. It’s a feeling that goes full circle to what I spoke of at the beginning of this piece. I may never visit that North Carolina cul-de-sac again and even if I did, all those people I once knew would likely be gone. The place I knew is gone but the memories will forever live on. It’s those memories that make a place’s existence worthwhile, after all.