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   World of Warcraft - Review  

Shaping the World
by Anna Marie Whitehead

BATTLE SYSTEM
INTERACTION
ORIGINALITY
STORY
MUSIC & SOUND
VISUALS
CHALLENGE
Varies
COMPLETION TIME
150-500 hours
OVERALL

4/5

Rating definitions 

   Blizzard is a gaming company with an excellent reputation for putting out really good games. On the RPG front, the Diablo series has a huge fanbase which flourishes even years after the game's initial release. Equally as well-known would be the WarCraft series, however, it came as some surprise to find Blizzard would be basing a new MMORPG off of the latter series. Thus, World of WarCraft was born. Taking place about 4 years after the end of WarCraft 3: The Frozen Throne expansion, even those that did not follow the first strategy games in the series will not feel left out. For those that have followed, there is still plenty of new information to digest. With its easy and fun battle system, a continuing storyline via quests, great music, and plenty of originality, there's very little not to like about this MMORPG.

   Before the pros and cons are weighed, something of note must be brought up. WoW has suffered since its release in North America from bad lag problems. Thankfully, many of these problems have been resolved, and while some lag periods do currently exist in the game, they are generally brief and tend not to affect overall playability of the game. Because of the rampant, unexpected mass-appeal of World of Warcraft, Blizzard was originally unprepared for the droves that descended upon the world. As just an example of how the game took off, it has expanded to approximately triple the original server count of 40. Additional lag problems extend to include loot not appearing in a character's inventory, a server crashing, even a boat disappearing in the middle of the ocean, killing all the characters on it and making their corpses irretrievable - causing a huge cost to recover from an untimely death. This severe lag could also cause players to disconnect, wreaking havoc to parties, as well as causing a character to stand motionless during battles - leaving a player fuming over their dead corpse, while their intended prey sauntering away with no damage done to them. The problems included the game being pulled down during several evenings (normally a prime time to play the game), causing an outcry from many fans. With the huge influx of players comes some severe server crowding issues. This is exacerbated by the fact that Alliance characters outweigh Horde characters on most servers, more than three to one. Blizzard has been nothing but apologetic about the problems, and even gave players which had accounts during the worst time additional playtime at no cost, bumping ahead billing dates by 2-7 days depending where an account's characters were located. The issues have been mostly resolved at this point and the game as a whole is very close to being stable at all times.

Friends Alliance Group

   The battle system in World of WarCraft stands out as one of the finest available on the MMO market. It contains a lot of detail, yet manages to also be easy to understand and execute. The Alliance and the Horde oppose each other, as it has been for all the WarCraft games previously. The opposite sides have four races apiece: the Alliance consists of Humans, Gnomes, Dwarves, and Night Elves; the Horde is comprised of Orcs, Trolls, Undead, and Tauren. There are a total of seven common classes (Warrior, Hunter, Mage, Warlock, Priest, Rogue, Druid) although races are restricted as to which ones are available. Each faction also has a class specific to it - Paladins are Alliance exclusive, while Shamans can only be found within the Horde's ranks. Each class has its own way of fighting enemies; Warriors build rage, which allows them to unleash yells and strikes, giving them active abilities; Warlocks have frightening spells and a minion to soak up damage as well as aid in pummeling the mob; Rogues use energy to bulid up combo points, and then spend these points as well as energy to release finishing moves. Something is constantly going on in battle that requires the player's attention. These examples only scratch the surface, however; each class has its own individual playstyle, or multiple playstyles. Clerics can be healing, or shadow damage oriented. Thankfully, multiple characters are allowed on one server, or can be spread across many servers, and every class is viable to solo with, something few MMOs can claim. Parties can be formed with up to 5 members, and for dungeons that have elite (stronger than normal) monsters in them, these groups are often necessary. At higher level, multiple groups may band together to form a raid party. This is to do missions which are especially difficult, or to wreak havoc upon the opposing faction.

   When a character attains level ten, a new Diablo style customization option opens up to them with the addition of talent trees. Talents are what improves the character beyond the normal into the extraordinary. This is where each characer can be moved into various specialities, divided into three categories per class. Warriors can focus on defense, or be damage dealing tempests. Druids can improve their shapechanging, or choose to enhance their elemental spells. One point per level is obtained, giving a character a total of 51 points by the time they reach level 60 (the current cap). Though these points can be reset if the player so chooses, doing so is expensive, so thought must be put into where a character wants to end up by the time they reach the level cap. Some classes have quests specific to them only, which are attainable throughout their careers from their respective trainers. Trainers teach each class new abilities which are available for purchase at every even level. Priests are also given two spells which are unique to their race. All in all, there are many different ways to play WoW and a play style to suit every player.

VROOM Facing an Elite Monster

   WoW does something that few other MMOs can truly flaunt: it has a coherent storyline that pushes the player forward, deeper into the world. Quests can be found for any level scattered around towns, out in the wilderness, from items, and even inside dungeons. These quests take the normally unfocused grind of killing enemies to level up and gives it a purpose. Many quests require a certain type of foe to be slaughtered, either to simply count up their deaths, or to receive a quest item dropped from them. Suddenly, the grind becomes less of a monotonous task and has real meaning and motivation. Quests give additional experience on top of the kills, as well as monetary rewards and a selection of items, armor and weapons, or a mixture of some or even all. Even more impressive is that there is no extra fees induced for creating additional characters, so experiencing the game from many different perspectives and seeing how the stories work for the various races is a great pleasure. While this is technically the fourth entry in a series spanning 10 years, don't be lulled into thinking there's no originality. While many things will make a player groan (such as the Human female doing the macarana with the /dance command), there's plenty of novelty to the game, and this novelty - as well as the quests that knit together an intruiging storyline - is what will keep many coming back for more.

   The touchiest part of any PC game is the graphics. Like many things, the better the computer, the smoother the game. Those systems which simply squeak by will have issues such as flickering (especially in maps) and occasionally missing terrain or textures. Those that exceed the requirements generally do not run into such problems. In high populated areas, regardless of specs, the game will run slowly. The actual graphics are varied and unique to each area. This is a nice touch, and it is very obvious when a character is running from one zone to another as flora and fauna change. The character models are nice but the choices are limited, and so character customization has only so many possibilities. The detail in the world around is good, but not mind blowing; this is likely so more lower-end computers could handle the software. As for music, there is little to say about it that is bad. Each area has music that fits the ambience of the area quite well. While it is possible to ignore the music, it makes the feel of the game much deeper, and helps immerse the player into the world.

   How difficult WoW will be often varies between players and situations. Quests are judged by the game depending on the character's level into different color-coded categories. Red missions, and those marked as elite, are the hardest and generally are best to approach as a large group, or one can wait until their character is a higher level and take on the quest solo. Quests that are displayed as grey are below the character's challenge, are quite easy, and consist almost entirely of enemies which are also grey and therefore no longer give experience. The downside of waiting for a quest to become really easy is that the exp bonuses gained off of such quests are small or none, though they would still give their coin/item reward, so it is best to attack quests as soon as they turn yellow in the quest log. The quest log keeps track of all the quests accepted, to a maximum of 20 at a time. It lists what needs to be done and the rewards, as well as the hints the NPC giving the quest had towards completing the quest. As there is approximately 1000 quests for both the Alliance and the Horde, there's plenty to do in the game. Just getting up to the current max level, 60, will likely occupy an RPGamer for many hours. That doesn't include that many players opt to try out alts on either side of the conflict, upping the playing time to hundreds of hours. Though the quests for the various races are similar, there's always something new to discover as a character goes along, no matter what their choice of race.

calm Dueling Night Elves

   The interface in a game like WoW is vast, incorporating many different windows, menus, and options. Blizzard did an excellent job, basing a lot of the new system off of their previous Diablo and WarCraft games. Menus are divided into various categories depending on what the player is accessing, and can be broken down further. For example, each character can have two primary professions, as well as any or all of the three secondary skills. These can be gathering (herbalism, mining, and skinning in professions, fishing in secondary), or production (alchemy, blacksmithing, leatherworking, tailoring, engineering and enchanting in professions, first aid and cooking in secondary). To access these, they are listed in the skills menu and selecting a production skill opens up a new menu which lists what can currently be created with the skill level and abilities purchased. As the character's proficiency in the craft rises, older and easier tasks give increasingly smaller skill increases, but additional recipes, and new levels in the craft, can be purchased in major cities. Alternatively, instead of accessing the menu, then the craft, a hot button can be put into the quickbar each character has. There is one of these such bars to begin, attatched to the keys 1 to =, each corresponding to its own ability. This hotbar, which can also include attacks, spells, items, or abilities, can be reordered at any time, and is incredibly handy no matter what class is using it. Additional hotbars are accessible by using the arrows to the right hand side of the hotbar or, for some characters, by switching between modes. This easy to use interface is another reason why anyone can jump into WoW with little or no experience in MMORPGs and still find plenty of enjoyment and success.

   World of WarCraft is a game that will appeal to many RPGamers, and even those outside of the RPG genre. From the casual to the hardcore video game players, many will find a huge appeal that will suck them in for hours on end - or maybe just an hour a night; it's possible either way to enjoy the game. It may suffer slightly from a flaw or two, but these in no way drag down the game and are thoroughly outweighed by all the positives that make the game great. Though the monthly payment fee that is standard fare for an MMORPG may find some hesitating, both the 10-day pass and the 30-day trial will likely convince many that it is a good idea to visit Azeroth or Kalimdor, and to remain on their shores. With plenty of room for expansions as well, it is an exciting time to be playing such a well put together MMORPG.

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