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World Of WarCraft

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Blizzard
Developer: Blizzard
Release Date: Nov. 23, 2004 (US), Feb. 11, 2005 (EU)


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PC Review - 'World of Warcraft'

by Reldan on Dec. 7, 2004 @ 12:44 a.m. PST

Rich in legend and filled with adventure, the World of Warcraft awaits! For the first time, players experience the lands of Azeroth from a new, in-depth perspective. As heroes, they explore familiar battlefields, discover new lands and take on epic quests and challenges.

Publisher: Vivendi
Developer: Blizzard
Release Date: November 23, 2004


It's not often that a game comes along that completely immerses you within a world of its own creation and enthralls you to the point that you find yourself playing into the wee hours of the night. Many of my friends who play this game tell me that it is the first MMORPG that they've played that genuinely felt fun. Certainly all games in this style provide some entertainment value, and they are particularly effective at wasting large chunks of time, but how many do you enjoy so much that you play it more because you're having fun and less because it's something to pass the time? I've played many MMORPGs in the past, and while I've more or less had fun with all of them to some extent, World of Warcraft by far exceeds anything that's come before it.

The objective of World of Warcraft is to create, control, and grow a character in an adventurous, dynamic world filled with lots of other players. It often takes days, weeks, and even months to develop connections with other players, and possibly join a guild of like-minded individuals with whom to play. Usually you form a bond with your character, since you have almost complete control over what he says and does, what he looks like and how he acts. Your character becomes your avatar in the game world, allowing you to vicariously adventure and become powerful over a long stretch of time. Quite simply, accomplishment inside an MMORPG means more than beating some random FPS or adventure game, because your achievements carry on with your character, usually in the form of some awesome equipment that acts as a functional keepsake, and there are other people there to take note of your victories and success.

An inherent problem which makes many of the established MMORPGs difficult to get into for new players is that there is so much to do in a game that it is easy get lost or confused about what to do or where to go next. This problem is almost nonexistent in World of Warcraft, as it provides ample information regarding what you can do and where you can go, and any limitations on exploration come more from the dangers that lurk in the wilds than from any artificial barriers. There is much to like about this game, and there is much to do to occupy your time. Quests, tradeskills, PvP, exploration, loot-hunting, dungeon-diving, and even roleplaying all provide players with a variety of activities that keeps the game from becoming stale or boring. What's even more important, and incredible, is that practically everything you can do is fun.

When you start the game, you can choose between nine different classes and eight races. Four of the races are on the Alliance side (Human, Dwarf, Night Elf, and Gnome), and four on the Horde side (Orc, Troll, Tauren, and Undead). Each side has access to seven common classes (Warrior, Priest, Mage, Hunter, Druid, Warlock, and Rogue) and one side-specific class (Paladin for Alliance and Shaman for Horde). Although players start with relatively few spells and abilities in their repertoire, they quickly grow and gain new ones. The combat in the game is standard MMORPG fare for the most part, although Blizzard has done an excellent job of giving the classes enough skills to make the fighting interesting. There is enough skill involved that the combat is not mindless by any means, and groups that work in harmony will be much more successful than ones that operate in dissonance. Although some do it better than others, every class in the game can solo, which is great because you may not feel like being in a group all of the time. The PvP in the game is very dependent on skill, assuming that the levels of the combatants are at least reasonably close. Because there are a lot of options available to all the classes, fights can often last a minute or longer, giving players a chance to really make use of all their abilities.

Players will have a chance to further customize their characters through the use of a talent point system that is reminiscent of Diablo. Starting at level 10, and for every level after that, each character receives one talent point that he or she can use to purchase addition skills and abilities from one of three specializations for their class. The specializations are laid out in the form of a skill tree in which you first must invest points in the skills near the top of the tree in order to progress downwards. As you may have guessed, the most powerful abilities are usually near the bottom of each tree, rewarding players for strongly specializing in a particular field. This skill system allows players to differentiate their characters from others by giving them a multitude of options as to how they would like develop their strengths and weaknesses. A mage could perhaps choose to specialize in frost magics, allowing him to better slow and freeze enemies and protect himself with frost shields, or maybe instead would choose to specialize in fire magic, dealing much more damage faster, at the expense of personal protection and safety. A priest could choose to enhance his healing abilities, making his contribution to groups even greater, or instead could specialize in Shadow magics, gaining new attack spells and significantly increasing his damage output. Usually it is simply a matter of matching your specializations to your favorite playstyle.

Those of you familiar with the Warcraft universe will understand that the Alliance and Horde have a long history of not getting along very well. This is reflected ingame in that players on the Alliance and Horde sides do not typically interact with each other in any way other than fighting. In fact, they do not even speak the same language, which makes it impossible to communicate with someone on the other side. They cannot group together or trade normally, although there is a neutral auction house where both sides can put up items for sale. On PvP servers, there is a state of open war, in which the majority of zones (other than newbie areas) are free-for-all battlegrounds (contested territory) where Horde and Alliance players can battle in no-holds-barred glory. This creates a lot of tension and excitement, because once you hit around level 30, there is no real way to avoid questing in areas where you may encounter opposing players, oftentimes attempting to complete quests themselves right where you need to be. Battle often ensues. On normal (carebear) servers, players may only attack other players consensually if both parties have turned on a special PvP flag saying that they are willing participants, which creates a much more relaxed atmosphere which some players may enjoy.

Unlike its competitors, World of Warcraft boasts a magnificently done quest system. Each quest you take a detailed explanation written into your Quest Journal that gives you enough information ingame to solve it. The sense of immersion is greatly heightened through this as well, since many of the quests tell a story or provide rich background information about the area you're in. This is a huge improvement over the way quests are typically handled in other such games, in which the use of an online spoiler site is a necessity in order to accomplish anything due to the vagueness and lack of clear instructions given at the start of quests. WoW also distinguishes itself from competitors but placing clear icons over the heads of NPCs who either have a quest for you or need to be visited as part of a quest.

Quests are more than just an interesting diversion in WoW; they are the primary focus of progression for characters. Most MMORPGs reward players for grinding out levels, in which killing mobs as fast as possible is the best way to gain wealth and power. Blizzard chose to strongly emphasize the completion of quests as the focal point of a hero's adventures, and the rewards for successful completion usually far outweigh what a player can gain by merely killing monsters. Besides, what sounds more fun to you, investigating the plot of a band of grey dwarves to destroy a dam and flood a Dwarven city or killing 300 spiders until you gain a level? For those of you that actually think killing the spiders would be more fun (you know who you are), success can still be had through the tried-and-true grinding method. However, the point is that there IS an alternate way to progress through the game. The game has literally hundreds and hundreds of quests, spread throughout the levels so that there is almost no way a player could complete them all. There never is a point where you can say that there is nothing to do.

Many of the major quests in the game take place in special zones called "Instances." Whenever a party enters an Instance, that party goes into its own private copy of the dungeon. This allows the Instances to be rather involved and have scripted content based upon the player's actions. One of my favorites is Uldaman, a trogg-infested dig site of an ancient Dwarven city that has a very "Raiders of the Lost Ark" feel to it. The scenery and design of the Instances are usually well done, although they often are very linear, whether or not it makes sense for them to be (who builds a monastery that consists of one long snaking string of rooms?) This use of Instances alleviates crowding problems and allows players to actually progress through the dungeon.

Tradeskills are divided into two categories, collection and creation. The collection professions (Mining, Herbalism, and Skinning) allow players to collect ingredients for the creation professions. These skills give the player additional abilities to forage rare items that randomly spawn out in the world. Mining and Herbalism provide type of radar for nearby deposits of metals and rare plants, allowing players to collect stuff at their leisure while going they are also adventuring. The creation professions (Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Leatherworking, Tailoring, Engineering, and Enchanting) allow players to combine the goods found by the collectors into usable items. Each player can have two professions learned at any given time, and the professions level up as you use them, allowing access to more powerful recipes. Most people choose to take two complementary professions, such as Blacksmithing and Mining or Herbalism and Alchemy, and then use their own collection powers to supplement their creation profession. The items created are often quite powerful and almost always useful. It isn't intended that crafted items will necessarily be better than items obtained through quests or looted off of mobs, but usually they are good enough to supplement the equipment players receive while adventuring until they can find something better.

The graphics in this game will be familiar to anyone who has seen Warcraft III, only blown up to a much larger scale and with much more detail. Instead of looking down at the buildings and environment, you are looking up and around at it as though you were a unit instead of the omnipresent commander. This is a fantasy game world, and the art styling is unique and surreal. Although certain things may look a tad cartoonish to some people, there are other vistas that are simply breathtaking and amazingly beautiful. I particularly like the way Blizzard did the water effects, and the view of the ocean at night, looking out over the serene water with the moon and stars shining above should be enough to convince anyone that the graphics are superb.

Soundwise, the game excels yet again. The soundtrack is symphonic, with each city and zone having its own theme. While I wouldn't necessarily go out and buy the soundtrack and listen to it in my car, it is quite well done for a game such as this and fits nicely into the overall gameplay experience. Again, if you've ever played Warcraft III, you'll have a good idea what the sound effects in the game will be like, as I'm fairly certain that they sampled many of the sounds directly from there. As you might expect any time voice acting is used, such as when you click on NPCs, they respond with a short phrase that is quite well done (and on some NPCs, continuous clicking results in humorous phrases, a Blizzard trademark). It's the little things like this that come together so nicely and make the game what it is.

The launch was not without its issues, as Blizzard sold more copies than the servers could handle, resulting in long queue times to get in the game on certain servers, and an issue called "loot lag" has continued over from beta. Loot lag is a delay that happens when you click on a monster to loot it, oftentimes resulting in several minutes' lead time before it shows up on your screen. It's getting in the way of some people completing quests, so this isn't going to remain an issue much longer, but it's worth mentioning.

Launch issues aside, Blizzard has done a fantastic job, and World of WarCraft is by far the most polished MMOG I've played . While World of WarCraft hasn't really innovated the genre much, they've lifted the bar for what people are going to expect from MMORPGs in the future. If you like MMORPGs , you'll probably WoW, and if you've never tried one, this is the game that will make you a fan. Blizzard has always done an excellent job of supporting their products for years after release, and they have a reputation for quality that rivals or exceeds any other development house today. See you in Azeroth!

Score: 9.6/10

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