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World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

The portal is open, the game is live and Rhianna Pratchett is in bear-form...

My first kiss was with a French exchange student. I wore braces. He had tousled hair. Neither of us understood each other. We kissed round the back of the school swimming pool. It was magical, if a bit wet. I lost an earring. After he went home, we never spoke again, but I didn't care because every moment was etched on my brain. And, apparently, still is.

My first experiences with the original World Of Warcraft are indelibly marked on my brain, like that first kiss. When I first fell in love back then, I was a Night Elf rogue. Instead of tousled hair there was the stunning elven architecture - trees spiralling into the sky, higher than I could crane my mouse. Everywhere there was colour, everywhere there was dancing.

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OLD HAND
By the time I reached level 60 I was rolling with the Horde as a less-than-lithe tauren druid. But no matter how many instances I tried, no matter how many small corners of the world I uncovered, I could never get back that initial feeling of stepping into WOW for the first time - that first kiss that takes you into a whole new world of fumbles, gropes and late night condom-runs. Or, alternatively, epic battles, beautiful new lands and life-sucking addiction.

Or at least that was the case until I, along with half the civilised world, installed WOW's expansion pack, The Burning Crusade. Joy of joys, it felt new again! New things to see, to talk to, to kill, to loot, to pick, to eat! The colours were back, and oh how I danced - in bear-form. And that's what makes The Burning Crusade such a joy for the great and the grizzled, like me.

The six-area strong new continent of the Outlands is a fantastic addition to the WOW experience. So let's start there, on the other side of the Dark Portal.

ADVENTURE PLAYGROUND
The continent of Outlands is where the big kids go to play, beyond the Dark Portal which is situated in the Blasted Lands. Primarily, it extends the game world for the high-leveller (levels 58 and above) who've previously been kicking their heels in the dust, scraping together honour points or rep just so they could look spiffing as they go, well, absolutely nowhere really.

If you're a WOW long-timer, you might have found that after a while - unless you were heavily into PvP - nothing too interesting was dropping for you. If it did, it was so close to what you already possessed that it was hardly worth the time it took to acquire it. As for anything remotely exciting coming up on the auction house, forget it.

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But in the Outlands, everything's new and suddenly you're swapping your weapons and armour every few drops. Your pockets are weighed down with gold and even the crap sells better than it used to in Azeroth. Guild chat is full of people showing off their new booty, swapping new recipes and exchanging hints and tips on dealing with the weird and wild Outlands beasties. It's a huge, and much needed adrenalin shot for anyone that's hung in there long enough.

BUG-EYED
Once you get past the rather dreary, war-torn welcome mat of Hellfire Peninsula (which is arguably more breathtaking if you look up rather than down), the scenery in this six-area continent is stunning. From the giant glowing mushroom-themed area of Zangarmarsh (everyone's favourite) to the cool calm of the Terokkar Forest and the lush green hills of Nagrand, there are bucketloads of goodies for the eyes.

WOW has always been a highly visual game, with a depth of style and character that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. In fact, it's all so lovely and new that it contributes to one of the few flaws of the expansion - namely that it makes some of the high-level areas and instances that reside in the main continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms look rather redundant.

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