Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: November 13, 2008
Current players, it is that time once again. Wrath of the Lich King, the expansion for Blizzard's MMO juggernaut World of Warcraft hits in a matter of weeks, and while some of its content has already been made live, such as Achievements and haircuts, the entire continent of Northrend still awaits those who are up to the task of clawing their way to level 80. The new Death Knight hero class is a big draw for many as well, and though not all players will be up for the class's level of complexity, it can be powerful in the hands of someone who fully utilizes the strengths.
It is kind of a chaotic time for Azeroth right now, with Necropolis sightings all over the world and sporadic undead attacks serving as a herald of what is yet to come. The man who was once the valiant Prince Arthas, now the dark and twisted leader of the Scourge, has awoken and begun to mount a campaign against the living from his throne in Northrend. Aiding him in his goals are the Death Knights, powerful warriors raised from the grave that Arthas speaks to telepathically to carry out his twisted will.
When choosing to make a Death Knight, you start off in just such a circumstance, meeting Arthas in person before getting orders to slaughter a village and its valiant defenders. While you strike down pitifully armed peasants and soldiers fighting for a lost cause, Arthas' voice invades your mind and instructs you to mercilessly follow his will. At one point during a truly epic event, Arthas' hold over you is broken, and as a Death Knight with your own free will, you realize that Arthas needs to be stopped.
Death Knights are truly their own beast when it comes to how they play, but they have elements to which warriors and mages can both relate. At the start of your career, you have six runes: two unholy, two blood and two shadow. Death Knights also have runic power that functions in a system similar to a warrior's rage, though it is only gained by performing certain abilities that raise your power. Once you have enough power stored up, you can unleash it alongside with one or more of your runes, which have to cool down before they can be used again. While you may still have remaining runic power after you use an ability, you cannot cast it again, or any other ability that needs those runes, until they cool down. It's an interesting system that takes some time to get accustomed to, but it basically boils down to building up your runic power before strategically using it alongside your runes and keeping tabs on their cooldown times.
Every class in the game has seen major changes to their talent trees and abilities, the likes of which have been on the public servers for some time now. Other features that have been propelled by Wrath of the Lich King are the ability to change your character's hairstyle, hair color, jewelry and facial markings. Hair isn't the only cosmetic change that the expansion brings, as the game now supports accurate shadows for all characters and most objects. This will definitely take a toll on some systems and can be turned off, but those with the capability will find that they add a fair amount of pop to the look of areas past and current.
Another feature that has been live but bears mentioning is the Achievement system, which tracks a swath of your character's actions, from how many times you've died in PvP to minutiae such as your highest damage single hit or how many times you've killed Hogger. The purpose of this system is to give out Achievement points based on certain objectives. Think of them as a ton of mini-quests: Completing them gives no experience or money but can unlock character titles, tabards, and serve as bragging rights. Many of the Achievements are retroactive, such as completing a certain number of quests, though others, such as killing old world bosses, will have to be revisited (and probably soloed).
In addition to all professions getting their skill caps raised to 450, a new one has been added in the form of Inscription. Though Inscribers can create useful scrolls to help temporarily buff stats, their marquee function is the creation of major and minor glyphs. Glyphs are kind of like sockets for your character and can augment your abilities in significant ways. One glyph changes a hunter's immolation trap to deal twice the damage but only lasts for a little more than half of its usual duration, while another lets a rogue walk on water while under the effects of sprinting. Other changes, such as the ability to polymorph a target into a penguin instead of a sheep, are purely cosmetic, but to each their own.
The continent of Northrend itself is an absolute slew of new quests, zones, instances, and experiences. Accessible only by boat, you quickly find that Northrend is now host to a vicious battle between the living and the forces of Arthas. No sooner do you leave what meager foothold your faction has on the continent than will you find crypt spiders and other soldiers of Arthas' army ready to push you right back. A mix of old and new threats are joined by a similar mix of new friends and factions. Much of the content doesn't deviate too far from what players will already be used to, but it does succeed in delivering the same level of design quality that gamers have come to expect from Blizzard.
The engine has seen some enhancements, such as the previously mentioned shadows, and there are times when the player can effectively change instances without seeing a loading screen. In the Death Knight areas, players will raise hell and then report back to Arthas, only to return to find that the battle had progressed and now the remaining villagers all litter the fields as dead bodies. This isn't a cycle that repeats itself over and over, but is triggered by your individual actions as a player and basically shows that each stage of your progression in the Death Knight starting area is its own instance. Not only does it make the quest line more believable, but it makes one wonder if similar technology could be used to omit loading screens in other areas to make the entire world a seamless experience.
Essentially, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is more of the same; Blizzard hasn't deviated from its formula of delivering high-quality content with each expansion alongside a slew of new features and changes to continue spicing things up. Blizzard has a handle on the cosmetic changes, from the updated graphics engine to the ability to change haircuts, but it's the bigger changes that really showcase their expertise, from the glyphs, the inclusion of the Northrend continent, and the introduction of the Death Knight class. Players have a lot of content to look forward to come November 13th, far beyond what Blizzard has already introduced into the wild.
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