Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.
Before I even understood how computers worked, I was playing World of Warcraft. The Burning Crusade, the game's first expansion, had just launched and I was on my way to Hellfire Peninsula as a clueless little tauren warrior. I wanted to see what was new, and had been waiting an excruciatingly long time to get to level 58 in order to enter the new zone.
The Dark Portal, your doorway into the unknown, was planted in The Blasted Lands, a zone that was still kind of scary as a high-level character. You had to sneak past demons with big axes to get to the stone steps that led into the portal. The gigantic swirling gateway with the cloaked figures holding it up stared you down as you approached, like at any moment they could decide you weren't worthy to enter their realm.
When I stepped through the Dark Portal, the bright expanse of Outland poured out before me. The vivid purple sky bled into the orange mountains of Hellfire Peninsula. For someone who had very little exposure to the cosmic side of Warcraft by then, the view was magnetic. That moment of fantasy colliding with sci-fi was probably when that specific blend of visual themes first wormed itself into my brain, where it's been ever since—reignited most recently by parts of Elden Ring.
Hellfire Peninsula looks red hot, like it's about to burst into flames. In addition to having loads of environmental detail, it also was covered in cracks that gushed fire every few seconds. With every burst, my graphics card chugged and my frame rate dipped into single digits. But being young and fully ignorant of PC gaming, I figured my game turning into a PowerPoint presentation was normal, and it only added to the effect.
It was worth it. Outland probably changed my life, solidifying my specific tastes in fantasy fiction and how I want my massive worlds to be built. It also gave me an appreciation for the amount of work my PC had to do to run the whole thing. I upgraded my graphics cards not long after, which further increased my love for the warped planet.
But that first step is everything. It's the moment every assumption I had about the game got thrown out, and somehow, World of Warcraft got bigger, wider, and more weird. Games don't do that often, and when they do, you spend the rest of your life waiting for it to happen again.