Moonglade was a special sanctuary zone built exclusively for druids, which made it kind of a fun curiosity for everyone else. Blizzard would revisit the concept with Legion's Class Halls, and I hope they return to that well again soon.
20. Western Plaguelands
Like Searing Gorge, the Western Plaguelands was just an off-brand taste of the true horrors of the undead found in the much better Eastern Plaguelands. Western Plaguelands would give you your first taste of Scourge, but for that pure uncut Colombian-grade shit, you knew you needed to head east.
Desolace lived up to its name. There's literally nothing there. Well, not counting all the bones and pale grey dirt. That brutal spareness always made me kinda like it, though, and the questline between the two rival centaur clans is one of the stranger relics of Vanilla Warcraft.
18. Un'Goro Crater
Un'Goro was awesome. A primeval swathe of wilderness populated by dinosaurs, elementals, and enveloping tar pits. I always felt like Blizzard could've done more here, and I suppose they did, after they themed a Hearthstone expansion around it. (Not exactly what I had in mind.)
17. Redridge Mountains
Redridge's crusty hills always reminded me of my native Southern California, which makes me a little biased here. That being said, as someone who played Alliance first, I remembered Redridge being the first time you encountered some real, unambiguous danger in World of Warcraft. Elwynn is full of lowly kobolds. Redridge has orcs and ogres. Proceed carefully.
I love the way the moon hangs over Darkshore, and how it bounces off the black-silt beaches. (Honestly, I feel like I've never even seen the zone in sunlight.) It's a winning addition to what's otherwise a fairly standard early leveling zone.
I've got great memories of getting one-shot by that elite skeleton in the graveyard that was 15 levels higher than everything else in the zone. (Wait, no I don't.) In general though, Duskwood was wonderfully, putridly gothic—the first "dark" area most Alliance players find themselves in. It's a little one-note, but again, the zone is called "Duskwood," what do you expect?
I've always enjoyed the Taurens' affinity for peaceful, rolling plains. Thunder Bluff and its surrounding villages remain the best spot for a quick nap in the grander Azerothian canon.
13. Elwynn Forest
The perfect, hopelessly generic high-fantasy forest for all of you boring people out there who rolled human as their first character. But, whatever, Elwynn got the job done and the music is iconic. It shoots up the list, because I know if it was any lower people would riot.
I loved Tanaris. It's just a big ol' honking desert in the middle of the continent. But, man oh man, was the leveling efficient. I took so many characters through their 40s here. The Zul'Farrak gauntlet alone almost automatically brings you to level 50. For anyone out there who are going to check out Vanilla for the first time with Classic, heed my advice: Go to Tanaris.
11. Burning Steppes
As a junior player you'd fly from Ironforge to Stormwind and go right over this charred, supremely dangerous wasteland and realize you're not in Kansas anymore. As a grown, virile raider you'd charge into that same wasteland a hundred hours later to take down Nefarian and Ragnaros. That's MMO storytelling at its finest.
Beautiful, viridan Feralas. My vote for the most purely stunning zone in Azeroth. Vast, full of overgrown Elven ruins and teeming wildlife. I adored it, even though questlines were sparse. It's one of the things I miss about Vanilla: zones that are just kinda there, with no express purpose, and no breadcrumbs leading you in and out. Feralas captured that wild, exploratory fantasy perfectly.
The first true Horde vs. Alliance zone, and the backdrop for the beloved Warsong Gulch. Ashenvale dipped you headfirst into dreamlike Night Elf mysticism, and taught you exactly how annoying and pompous they could be, which is probably why Warsong Gulch might as well be called "That place where Alliance noobs go to die."
8. Eastern Plaguelands
The Azerothian warfront in the struggle against the Scourge. Boy, did Eastern Plaguelands get our blood up for the inevitable Lich King expansion. To this day, it's one of the best teases in MMO history. Since Warcraft 3, players had been dreaming of seeing the horrors of the Stratholme massacre firsthand and Blizzard didn't disappoint. The Eastern Plaguelands is garish, gory, and great.
7. Tirisfal Glades
You knew what you were getting into when you rolled undead, and were immediately injected into a rotting field of abandoned homesteads, replete with bloodthirsty quests. A perfectly morally-ambiguous starting zone for one of World of Warcraft's most peculiar races.
Maybe it's the Norman Rockwell in me, but I love World of Warcraft's pastoral countryside. Shout out to the chapped fields of Westfall and the exhausted, easily-aggrieved farmers that live there. Also gains points for hosting the Deadmines (and its corresponding questlines,) which is still probably the most iconic World of Warcraft dungeon of all time.
5. Thousand Needles
This was one of the true casualties of the Cataclysm. I loved OG Thousand Needles, with those precarious stone steeples always threatening to topple over. The basin at the end of the maze held a goblin-run racetrack, which was one of my favorite micro-townships in the game. It also provided a ton of high-density questing that was faction neutral. Drain the lake, Blizzard. Make Thousand Needles as majestic as it once was.
Teldrassil is so gorgeous, man. The hazy, kaleidoscope blend of purple and green drips with the fantasy ennui that made World of Warcraft so vivid and iconic. The music is fantastic, and Darnassus was easily the most underrated capital city back in vanilla. We will never forgive you, Sylvanas.
3. Hillsbrad Foothills
A zone so iconic that Blizzard re-implemented it as a battleground; Hillsbrad was the epicenter of open-world PvP in Vanilla, which made it both an exhilarating and frustrating place to quest. It is here, in this otherwise unexciting frosty summit, where you would first discover a fiery hatred for the rival faction. Nothing could be more crucial to the Vanilla experience.
2. Stranglethorn Vale
If you did not spend your intermediate levels getting ganked over and over again in the sweltering, endless jungles of Stranglethorn Vale, then you did not play Vanilla Warcraft. When they tally up my life at the gates of Heaven, Saint Peter will realize that I spent entire days doing corpse runs back from Booty Bay.
It's a fantastic zone though, filled with the swashbuckling, blood-drinking adventures you'd expect from the lawless south coast of the Azeroth. It also made the entire playerbase thirsty for a full-blown tropical expansion, which we finally got with Battle For Azeroth.
1. The Barrens
Without context, The Barrens is a poorly designed zone. Funnelling three different races, (Tauren, Trolls, and Orcs,) into the same area was a outrageously bad idea, but through that chaos—the general chat spam, the Alliance raids, the whinging noobishness—we found real, irreplaceable magic. No zone on this list is more emblematic of the wonder, mystery, and flat-out stupidity that defines our memories of early WoW. Please, for the love of god, where is Mankrik's Wife?