It's probably the most anticipated expansion in videogame history.
The problem for WoW fanboys like me who have been dipping their virtual toes (or, if you're a Tauren, hoofs) into the beta for the last couple of weeks is that there's absolutely masses of new stuff to wade through, and it's almost impossible to be objective about it.
I told my girlfriend that, for the fortnight I was going to spend eschewing personal hygiene for the maniacal pursuit of experience points, our relationship would be over. It turned out to be true, and I don't regret a thing. But was I enjoying myself because The Burning Crusade (TBC) is turning out to be as amazing as I had hoped, or was I enjoying myself because, well, this is new and shiny and LOOK! A NEW INSTANCE!?
I'll get to that. In the mean time, I know what you're after, and it's not an essay on my personal moral conundrums. You want to know exactly what to expect when the expansion goes retail and you can finally get to experience the wonderment that is Outland and level 70 ownage, right? HELL YEAH!
First things first, you'll want to jump on the nearest gryphon and head straight to the Blasted Lands. It's there that you'll find the newly activated Dark Portal - your one-way ticket to the shattered wastes of Outland.
'... your jaw will drop with such ferocity that it'll knock the keys out of your keyboard.'
Us game journalists are often guilty of over-exuberance, using tired and well-worn phrases like "jaw-dropping" and "stunning" to describe games that perhaps don't deserve it. But I can categorically deny that the following sentence contains any hype: as soon as you emerge on the other side of the Dark Portal, your jaw will drop with such ferocity that it'll knock the keys out of your keyboard.
You're spat out onto the front lines of a quite spectacular battle between the demons of the Burning Legion and the combined forces of the Alliance and the Horde. At the base of the Stair of Destiny, overlooked by the imposing giant portal, a hundred NPCs are desperately trying to fend off a gargantuan Pit Commander, a bulging winged demon with tusks and a huge sword, and his equally impressive side kicks - Wrath Masters, Infernal Siegebreakers and Fel Soldiers. Burning magical energy of all colours zips across the screen from the fingertips of Stormwind mages. The sound of Darkspear Troll Axes and Darnassian Archer arrows sinking into demon flesh is drowned out by the screams of dying Orgrimmar Grunts. It's the kind of scene you'd expect to see depicted alongside the word: "chaos" in the Oxford English Dictionary. And yes, it's absolutely stunning.
And frightening. The giant Pit Commander has the dreaded '??(elite)' symbol where his level should be. Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.
But you won't find any lions, tigers or bears in Outland. Oh my no. Leaving the carnage of battle behind, you'll find an NPC with a flight path to either Honor Hold (Alliance) or Thrallmar (Horde), the first cities you'll encounter in the Outland starting zone of Hellfire Peninsular (HP), for characters level 58 to 63. That's right, I said 63. You did know that TBC has raised the level cap to 70 right?
Having reassembled your jaw, Honor Hold or Thrallmar will quickly become your base of operations for the first few hours of your time exploring Outland. And it's hard to be a good little Elf and get on with some questing when there's a whole new world to be revealed.
Caught up in the excitement of it all, most players will find themselves accepting every quest available without giving the quest scripting the time of day. There's little reason to. The quests are basic - kill x amount of enemies, find x important items, talk to random NPC - and familiar to all who have characters powerful enough to get into Outland in the first place.