Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: January 16, 2007
What can I possibly say about the World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade expansion that hasn't been said a million times over by a billion reviews, previews, and word-of-mouth rants? Well, nothing really. The best I can do is offer some of my impressions. I'm not even clinging to the idea that you, the reader, will be basing your decision to buy this expansion on this write-up. I believe that if you play World of Warcraft, then you already own this, since it's the first major content update released by Blizzard for its flagship title. If I had to guess, I'd say you're probably reading this review just to see if my opinions mesh with your own. They probably don't, and I look forward to hearing some poorly worded vitriol from you fervent fans who consider it blasphemy to speak ill of the mighty Azeroth.
Okay, so we all know that World of Warcraft is the most popular massively multiplayer role playing game on the planet, etc., and so on. I don't need to belabor the point. What exactly does the Burning Crusade have to offer fans of this franchise? Two new races (Blood Elves for the Horde, Draenai for the Alliance), two new starter areas to go with those races, a new trade skill (jewelrycrafting), the level capacity has been pushed up to 70 (from 60), and there is a whole new multi-zone, multi-instance area for high level characters to grind around in, called the Outlands. (Not to be confused with Outland, the comic strip from the mid-1990s.) Oh yes, I almost forgot, there are spiffy new flying mounts, too.
I didn't touch the Draenai. Regardless of how cool they look, I just can't hack playing on the Alliance side because there are too many kids with absolutely zero social graces. Instead, I've based my experience on my main character, a level-60 Undead warrior; I also played a low-level Blood Elf rogue.
My initial reservations about Alliance players rolling Blood Elf avatars just because they're "pretty" have certainly panned out. Not only have I personally grouped with far more players who admitted they've never played horde before than I ever expected I would, but all of my friends who previously only played on the side of the "good guys" decided that they just had to try out these cute new pale-skin kids from the wrong side of the tracks. Can I call Blizzard on this? No, not really. Since there are more Alliance players than Horde across all servers, it's clear that they were looking for a way to balance out the faction discrepancies, and offering the "evil" side a beautiful race was a surefire way to draw over the aesthetically obsessed. The scheme worked, but that doesn't help cheer us crusty old-school Horde players at all. "We were here first!" we say, brandishing our walkers and hurtling self-righteous spitballs with wild abandon.
The overall design of the Blood Elf home city of Silvermoon is pretty, like a pastel-bright version of Darnassus, the Night Elf lands. There is less of a "crystal-gazing daze" to the overall ambience compared to the Night Elves, but there's no denying the sense that this race is functionally inept in all ways except the casting of spells. While looking at the Silvermoon ruins, I am often reminded of J.K. Rowlings mythology, which isn't a bad thing in my mind because I love Harry Potter. The animated brooms mindlessly sweeping the grounds would be entirely at home in the halls of Hogwarts.
Quests are plentiful and very faction-based; the number of faction points you gain for low-level quests has been increased dramatically, making it easier to work up to Revered status with your home city - or other cities, should you choose to do the grind. Initially I thought this was just the case with the Blood Elves as a story element, but I've since come to learn that all of the factions have been tweaked. An Undead alternate character I've begun playing is also generating more reputation than before.
My theory regains validity, though, as soon as you get to Tranquillien in the Ghostlands, a decaying forest just above the eastern plaguelands. The plucky holdouts in this area will reward you with 1,000 or more reputation points per quest, compared to the usual 250 or so from the "old world" factions. If you run through all of the quests available in the Ghostlands, your reputation will clear "Friendly," "Honored," and "Revered," a process that normally takes an excessive amount of work to achieve. Consider that my level-60 Undead warrior is still only Honored with the Undercity, and you should get an idea of how surprising it is becoming Revered at level 20. Once again, I am forced to assume that Tranquillien rewards players with so many reputation points because of desperation. Personally, I think it's a neat little sub-text.
Pushing a Blood Elf from level one to level 20 can be done in one day if you really push it, or three days if you take it easy. This will carry you all the way through the ruins of Silvermoon, the outlying woods of EverSong forest, and all of the areas in the Ghostlands. If you're at all familiar with the events in Warcraft III, you'll recall that Arthas pushed an Undead army through this area on his way to crush the sunwell of Silvermoon.
The scar this army left behind is still very much present, runs the entire length of the Ghostlands and Eversong, and leads right up to the shattered main gates of Silvermoon itself. It is now a hotbed of perpetual Undead activity. The original base that Arthas set up for his invasion force is still intact, now a collection of Scourge architecture referred to as Deatholme, and it is here that the scar begins. The nature of the soil itself has been warped; the wound will never heal. The forest on either side of this highway of death seems to be in mourning too, with the trees choking on glowing green decay, webbing from spiders and Nerubis guards. To Blizzard I say, "A+ for the ambience of the Ghostlands." Too bad I find it to be the single most aggravating area in the entire game.
Yes, the Ghostlands are hauntingly beautiful to look at, but you can't move half a foot without two or three mobs attacking you. I know, I can hear the readers thinking to themselves, "You n00b! It's like that everywhere!" Well yes, it is true you'll draw negative attention from wandering mobs in all areas of Azeroth, but nowhere as much as the Ghostlands. In all other zones, you can skirt the radius of most creatures' awareness with a little fancy footwork. Not so in the Ghostlands, where there are so many low-level creatures that you can't move in any direction at all without drawing unwanted attention from bats, lions, spiders, gnolls, trolls, and Undead, thicker than mass transit at rush hour. It's not the least bit challenging, but it's ultimately very annoying.
When you're forced to run the entire length of the zone over and over and over on various quests, you usually just want to get your objective complete. When you have to at least double your travel time due to constant little fights, things quickly become tiresome. I used to think that Tirisfal Glades was a pain due to the amount of running involved, but at least you could just run straight to your task there and get things done. I was so annoyed with the Ghostlands that I quickly fell out of love with the beautiful area.
Once I hit level 20, there was nothing left to do except go forth into the mid-level zones of the original game. As I had already done this many times, I decided to start in on the high-level content. Off to the Outlands with my warrior!
The first zone you'll encounter is the Hellfire Peninsula, a surreal landscape of blood-red stone, sickly phantasmal clouds in a perpetual night's sky, and wave after wave of demonic invasion force. It seems those pesky Burning Legion fellas are up to their old tricks again, and this time the Horde and the Alliance are taking the battle to the demons rather than just waiting for hostilities to spill over into Azeroth. The Horde outpost of Thrallmar is the starting point for us "bad guys," quickly leading to two other points that combined offer a swath of new quest options. Most of these are menial quota tasks; "Kill X demons, kill Y of those other demons, and while you're at it, grab Z of these random items off the ground." Nothing totally stunning, but the amount of gold and experience you're rewarded with is satisfying.
The long-term effect of this new "excess of gold" doesn't immediately strike me as a good thing. I believe the developers have done this in order to lessen the sway held by gold-farmers. There's no need to buy gold from a farmer when Orc NPCs are throwing coins at you like confetti. However, I don't think this will make too much of a dent in the illicit farmers trade, and all that's really going to happen is an income chasm opening wider and wider. People will still buy gold from a farmer, just because it's so much easier than these quests. As a result, the best items on the auction house will become more and more expensive, and those whose only income is the seemingly generous Outlands bounty will still be left out of the loop. Adding more zeroes to the economy doesn't really help equalize anything.
Not all of the quests are flat; there are still moments of creativity that make me chuckle. Surprisingly, I've been least impressed with the graphics in Burning Crusade. While the artistic skill has been preserved and the new lands are essentially as immersive as the original game, there are several glaring oversights that I personally find inexcusable considering the operational budget available to Blizzard. There have been six different examples of models that don't actually fit into the world that I have personally witnessed. Five were trees in the areas just outside of Silvermoon city, with roots that hover above the ground. Adjust the camera near to the floor of the world, and you can look right through the model because there are no textures on the inside. The sixth and most recent example I've seen is the bear-skin rug that lies just inside the command post at Thrallmar in the Hellfire Peninsula. This ursine foot-wipe hovers about half a foot off the ground.
In my opinion, these issues, while having little impact on the game aside from perhaps some disruption to immersion, are inexcusable simply because of the development budget available to Blizzard. Let's be blunt here: With a declared user base of roughly eight million subscribers, World of Warcraft generates something like 160 million dollars every month. It's been out since November of 2004, and hasn't stopped growing since its release date, meaning it's never not been profitable. My math is extremely sloppy, and we have to factor in a huge margin of error, but even if we allow for say, a 50 million dollar over/under, that's still an obscene amount of money that essentially means that there is no reason why these kinds of basic flaws were shipped in the final release of Burning Crusade. For all intents and purposes, there is just no excuse for any mechanical flaws in Burning Crusade, much less flaws as basic as poorly placed world-models.
Beyond the technical though, there is also a certain amount of disparity regarding the design of several new mobs. Many of the creatures look just as good as their old-world counterparts, but there are exceptions to this that clearly aren't up to scratch. An example is the demon Mo'Arg ForgeFiend in the Hellfire Peninsula area, a mutant industrial laborer that's twice the size of a player model, with extra mechanical limbs and interchangeable weapons like venom spray nozzles, drills, and buzz saws. They even have a welders-mask to protect their misshapen faces, their physique is pure construction-foreman chic, and they howl with unbridled fury while wading into battle.
Sounds pretty cool, right? How could Blizzard mess up such a great concept for a monster? Well, for starters by not including enough detail. Low poly-count models are fine for some creatures, but that doesn't mean it's always going to work. Skimping on texture detail in favor of mottled colors doesn't help, either. In effect, the ForgeFiend looks like a half-sculpted art project by an eighth-grade heavy metal fan. Once again we're led to my previous point: How did such a quality slip-up happen? Someone, somewhere, looked at that thing and said, "Good enough." Considering that "design" is one of the best features to World of Warcraft, lackluster offerings like the ForgeFiend are a real disappointment.
Directly related to my previous point regarding money, there are other issues that make one wonder, "What the...?" Most recently, I asked a guard in Silvermoon where the bank was, to which he responded, "Straight up the main promenade in Stormwind." For those rare few of you who don't know the specifics of this game, some exposition: Guards are set up as guides. If you need to find a place, right-click them and ask, they'll mark your map and you can go from there.
In this case, the guard was most helpful, except that Stormwind is the capitol city of the humans over on the Alliance side. For a Blood Elf paladin to be telling me the only bank available is a place in which I would get slaughtered.... Thanks for the tip, Mr. Crack Addict! After asking around, I've been told that this is a bug introduced with the special events surrounding Valentine's Day so I will not score this specific issue against my overall review, but I wanted to mention it as A: a slightly amusing story and B: a reflection of the instability the Burning Crusade has had on World of Warcraft. It's no coincidence that the frequency of rolling server restarts and hot-fix patches has increased dramatically since this expansion launched, and it doesn't appear to be receding in the least.
When I sit back and take general stock of how I feel about the Burning Crusade, my overall impression is "vaguely disappointed." There is a litany of technical issues, and the lack of new classes is spectacularly underwhelming, but it's the pervasive sense of same old, same old that really keeps me from singing glossy praise. There are new areas and races to explore, but this is just smoke and mirrors because there is nothing actually new or different that the Burning Crusade introduces to the World of Warcraft experience. As a result, one cannot point at this expansion and boldly proclaim, "You must have this, for it re-invents the wheel in breathtaking new ways!"
World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade is more of the same. Luckily for Blizzard, what it's more of the same of just happens to be about the best persistent-world fun on the market. If it weren't for that little tidbit of trivia, I'd say this was a failed release. Hopefully next time, the developers don't forget what made World of Warcraft the most popular MMo on earth, and turn up the "innovation" knob to 11.
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