World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King - Review  

A Blizzard from Blizzard
by Andrew Long

+ Story and lore are kicked up a notch.
+ The game has never looked (or sounded) better.
+ Quests have been greatly streamlined.
- Blizzard doing its level best to remove all difficulty.
- Certain areas feel superfluous.
- Torture quests? Really? This isn't 24...
Click here for scoring definitions 

   World of Warcraft just celebrated its fourth anniversary with Blizzard giving players cute little polar bear sidekicks. The company also gave its still-growing fanbase of eleven million subscribers a brand new continent to pick over, and boy, what a continent it is. Northrend looks, sounds, and plays better than anything that came before, as Blizzard has seemingly spared no expense in ratcheting up the production values. It has also injected a sizeable dose of story into the game with the effect that players are actually missing out big-time if they don't complete the storyline quests found in the game. All in all, World of Warcraft: the Wrath of the Lich King is exactly what a MMORPG expansion should be: an add-on that makes the game feel fresh while adding plenty of content for people to plow through, all presented with meticulous attention to detail.

    Northrend is an icy land located to the north of the game's other mainland continents, Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. With all of Outland's baddies safely vanquished, the king of Stormwind has returned and opened his port for adventurers to head north and take on Arthas, former prince of Stormwind and now the nefarious Lich King, a malevolent being whose will has been fused with an ancient wizard's to create a ruler who lords it over the northern climes with a chilly iron fist. Northrend is divided into a series of zones, each corresponding to a range of levels that players progress through. Monsters in each zone gradually increase in difficulty as the player progresses, eventually culminating in the end-game dungeon content that makes up the bulk of gameplay. The combat system isn't much changed from the last expansion; Glyphs, which alter the effects of certain spells, have been introduced, and there is a new "Hero" class, Death Knights, but all in all, it's more of the same button-mashing goodness that has kept players coming back for more thus far.

    The process of obtaining and completing quests has also been greatly streamlined. Where before it was possible to fly into a town and have to scamper about between five or six different questgivers, in Wrath of the Lich King there is usually just one or two to begin with, with more questgivers joining the fray as players complete tasks and gain the trust of the townspeople. This avoids the problem that hindered the Burning Crusade to some extent; often, quests in that expansion would fall by the wayside as there were either too many quests in an area to complete at once, or the objectives required a player to travel a distance that made handing in the quest something that could easily be forgotten.

   Now, the game's interface has seen certain improvements since it launched four years ago, most of these borrowed from various mods that most players still use such as an in-game raid calendar and a threat meter, but there are still issues that should really have been addressed by now. There are still no map coordinates with the basic interface, nor other small things, like item prices or customizable frames, that make playing the game a lot easier. The use of mods is still required to do these things, and for the purposes of this review, it should be noted that the playthrough it is based upon was completed while using the xPerl interface mod, along with bits and pieces of CTMod and the Gatherer suite.
Caption Get a haircut, you hippie!

   Wrath of the Lich King marks a bit of an improvement the graphical quality of World of Warcraft. The artwork seems to be the main culprit; most of the new zones are lavish in their design and execution, and particularly, the winter landscapes look much crisper than the often whimsical designs of the various zones in Outland, with a return to more prosaic landscapes seeming an improvement. This is not to say every zone looks great; the final zone, Icecrown, is rather bland, although the gigantic fortress that cuts across its spine is fairly impressive to look at, and Sholazar Basin, while bright and colourful, is just another jungle zone, and rather bland in the bargain. That said, overall the areas combine to create a definite atmosphere for this latest stage of the game and with the game's already decent interface art, it is a fairly tight package.

   One thing, though, that has not been upgraded is the difficulty. Blizzard seems hell-bent upon making World of Warcraft into a game at which a cognitively impaired ape could excel at, and this trend seems to be continuing through Wrath of the Lich King, as all prior bosses have been weakened, good quality items made easier to obtain, and quest experience significantly increased. Additionally, the end-game content's centerpiece is a dungeon that has been mined for strategies and items for over two years now, leaving only two boss encounters that are actually new in terms of raiding. This is not to say that playing a MMORPG should be sisyphean in nature, but at the same time, players who sink significant chunks of time into the game should see some advantage over those who do not, and badge items and easier bosses throw this into doubt. Still, with so much to do, the challenge becomes completing as much of it as possible, which remains a considerable task. The new achievement system implemented in patch 3.0.0 also offers players an opportunity to ratchet up the difficulty of certain encounters, though this is strictly optional.

Caption The lions and the lambs ain't sleepin' yet

   Blizzard has significantly increased the involvement of story in Wrath of the Lich King. There are a couple of quest chains in particular that do much to reveal what is going on in Northrend, and players would be remiss if they do not partake of them. Most of the story-oriented quest chains begin in the Dragonblight zone, and since this is basically the only zone for players to progress from level 72 to 74, it seems likely that most players will end up experiencing these quests, one chain of which ends with a FMV sequence. Even so, if for some reason these quests are missed, they're definitely worth backtracking for as they do much to show players exactly what is going on.

   There is much to be said, then, for picking up Wrath of the Lich King. The game is everything that a MMORPG expansion should be, adding story, gameplay, and thousands of new quests for players to complete, along with a plethora of new dungeons and an involving new story. If there is one thing that can be said about Blizzard, it is that the company can consistently take something that seems like a solid game as is, and then completely remake and improve it, seemingly at will. While the fee structure hasn't changed, the game definitely has, and it's worth picking up to experience those changes.

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