What a wonderful world...
We at GR like our games like we like our women: humongous and violent. Sometimes we can be tempted by the petite, minimalist Japanese types, like Katamari Damacy, and there's nothing like a good romp through a sturdy adventure game, like Sly 2: Band of Thieves. But our hearts truly belong to the ladies so large we almost get lost in their virtual folds. Pardon the imagery.
We've had many relationships over the years, but our newest mistress takes the cake. Delivered by the imaginative minds at Blizzard Entertainment from the lore of the previous Warcraft titles, World of Warcraft is just about the best MMORPG we have ever played. With two alliances covering eight races, nine classes, twelve trade skills and three different types of servers, an intuitive interface and a surprising amount of depth and end-game content, World of Warcraft has something for everybody who owns a PC and likes online role-playing.
[image1]You enter Warcraft's world after the biggest cataclysm in 10,000 years. In that time, demons and undead waged a campaign of death and destruction until an unlikely alliance of all the mortal races drove them to the Outlands. The Horde, which includes the newly autonomous Orcs, cunning Trolls, noble Tauren, and scheming Undead, is bound under the notion of a new beginning, although each of its races has its own agenda. The Alliance, comprised of the displaced Gnomes, stalwart Dwarves, battle-ravaged Humans, and mysterious Night-Elves, seek to reclaim what was lost.
The type of server you choose determines the intensity of the conflict between the two sides. On the Normal and Role-Play servers, there's no Player vs. Player combat, so the Undead are only in direct conflict with one group of humans known as the Scarlet Crusade, all of whom are NPCs. On PvP servers, however, it's open war between the Horde and the Alliance as each side seeks to conquer the other's holdings. Fortunately, you can create ten characters on any and all of World of Warcraft's sixty-something servers (a whopping six hundred or so characters, by the way), so you're free to experience both schemes.
Once you pick a server, you're off to create your character. World of Warcraft's character creator isn't deep or terribly detailed. You can alter the sex, race, hair, facial hair, and skin of your character, but not height, weight, or posture. Instead of playing as an extremely overweight gnome mage (as had initially been our intent), we made a sexy Night Elf Druid named Bonkerbabe. Though your character's appearance isn't very customizable, the models themselves look very good thanks to an ongoing bug that causes characters to appear mostly naked in the character selection window. Blizzard swears this is an accident, but Bonkerbabe's chest, complete with advanced physics, suggests otherwise.
The race you choose will grant specific traits as well as determine your starting location. If you choose to play as the Elves, you'll begin your game in an enchanted forest and all of your quests will revolve around restoring balance to nature and healing environmental wounds caused by the Scourge and Burning Legion. In turn, if you choose the Undead, your primary concern will be cultivating and sewing a plague among the members of the Scarlet Crusade.
[image2]The racial benefits are handy in that they provide some nice utilities for each race, not to mention clear advantages in certain classes. Dwarves are naturally superior riflemen, making them obvious candidates for the Hunter class. The Undead, on the other hand, can cannibalize fallen undead and humanoid corpses after battles if they need to regain health. This means that every undead class can easily heal right on the battlefield by feasting on the flesh of fallen foes, which greatly shortens the downtime between battles.
Instead of giving players tons of classes to choose from, Blizzard included a fairly small selection and made each class impressively strong and useful in its own right. Take mages: they're the strongest spell-casters in the game, but they also have some excellent crowd-control abilities and some awesome utilities, such as the ability to conjure their own food and water for replenishing health and mana. They're potent on their own and make great damage dealers for any group. The same goes for every class; each is fun to play solo or in a group.
Once you reach level 10, you'll gain access to talents. These work like skill trees, and each class has three different branches to follow. As a Druid, Bonkerbabe enjoys Balance, Feral Combat, and Restoration talent lines. Since the Balance line covers her utility spells and offensive magic and Bonkerbabe intends to become a ruthless player-killer, I put most of my points there to make her offensive spells hit harder and to eventually unlock a really powerful storm-summoning spell. However, if she had wanted to be a more efficient healer, she could have focused on Restoration, or Feral Combat if she wanted to primarily play in Cat or Bear form. In this sense, the talent lines add more customization options
Of course, you don't start out at level 10. You always begin in a small village or camp filled with NPCs. There's no tutorial, although you can turn on hint windows, which wait at the bottom of your screen in the form of little exclamation points for you to click on and read at your discretion.
While you are welcome to jump right in and start whacking away at enemies as soon as the game begins, you should probably start talking to NPCs and getting quests. Quest NPC's are easy to identify thanks to the bright-yellow exclamation points that hang over their heads. You simply walk up to one, right click, read the description of the quest, accept or decline and you're ready to go. Every description is stored verbatim in your quest journal, along with an abstract and the reward you will receive upon completion of the quest.
[image3]Taking a cue from the Homeland Security people, World of Warcraft is color-coded for your safety. Gray and green quests are easy, yellow are manageable, orange are tough and red nearly impossible to handle alone. This color code usually corresponds to the monsters you'll encounter throughout the course of the quest, which also share the same color-coding scheme depending on your level and theirs. You'll definitely know what you're in for.
There are also elite quests, which usually take place in instanced dungeons. When you or your group enter an instanced dungeon, you'll step through a portal and a version of that dungeon will be created just for you and your group. Any other groups that step through the portal will have their own versions of the dungeon created, so you won't ever have to compete with other groups or wait for particular monsters to appear because some other group got to 'em first.
Aside from elites, nearly every quest can be completed by a single player, so you'll never have to sit around and wait for a group if you don't want to. One of the best things about World of Warcraft is the fact that the entire game can be played through quests; you'll never have to just go out into the field and kill monsters for hours to gain levels. Since your character can take on up to twenty quests at once and the quests themselves vary greatly in difficulty and time required to complete, you'll always have something to do, whether you have five hours to play or just thirty minutes.
World of Warcraft is easy to play alone, but it's also remarkably easy to play in groups thanks to the quest sharing system. Players no longer have to hunt for groups that are doing the same quests or sift through their lists to find one they have in common with a group. You can simply join a group and take on whatever quest they're doing as long as you're in the right level range and have completed any prerequisites. This system makes jumping on and playing much easier, and gives players an excellent incentive to group up.
As you make your way in the world, you can also pick up trade skills. These fall into three categories: collection, production, and secondary. Bonkerbabe learned herbalism, a collection skill, which granted her the ability to find herbs. Any nearby herbs show up as little yellow dots on her mini-map, so in the course of questing she can pick any she comes upon, or, if she feels like a break from questing, she could just go pick flowers for a while.
[image4]Since Bonkerbabe also learned alchemy, a production skill, she can use the flowers she picked to make various potions. Collection and production skills are almost always centered on certain types of items; one is used to collect the items, and the other makes the items into some new, useable product. The trade skills are extremely easy to get into, fun to explore, and represent another entertaining way to spend time in World of Warcraft.
If stalking player-controlled prey suits your fancy and you selected a PvP server, you can venture into contested zones or enemy territory to start trouble with other players. Don't worry, though - most beginner areas (up to about level 20) are considered green zones, which means you don't have to worry about high-level enemy players coming out of nowhere and n00b hammering you while you kill rabbits and baby bears.
Yellow zones are contested, which means members of opposing factions can attack each other on sight, regardless of level. This is where the bulk of the PvP takes place, which means you will routinely get killed by bands of opposing players here. This isn't as bad as it sounds thanks to World of Warcraft's light stance on death. When you die, be it at the hands of another player or the claws of a monster, your un-lootable body stays where it fell while your spirit is transported to a neaby graveyard. From there, you may either resurrect and take a large hit to your equipment's durability, or run back to your body and resurrect for minimal equipment damage. You never lose experience, so you'll never feel like an hour or two have been wasted thanks to an untimely demise.
The combat found in World of Warcraft is nothing new. You run up to an enemy, press attack, and then press other buttons for special attacks, spells, and various other techniques. The same goes for PvP combat, except that certain passive qualities such as blocking, dodging, and spell resistance are evened out. In theory, a level 10 player should be able to land a shot on a level 40. It would be a weak one, but if several level 10s got together, they might be able to take a level 40 out, whereas no amount of level 10 monsters could ever hope to land a single blow against a level 40 player.
One of World of Warcraft's most pleasing qualities is the way it appeals to every type of online RPGer. There's enough depth and rich lore here to satisfy hardcore role-players, great class balance for the PvPers, and a system that's so streamlined and intuitive that even novice online RPGers will have no trouble jumping right in.
[image5]Thanks to the innovative Rest system, World of Warcraft is equally playable by those who spend thirty hours a week ramping up their mage and those who can only play occasionally. Whenever you log off, you begin to accumulate rest. When rested, you gain twice as much experience from killing monsters as a non-rested player. The idea is, if you play every day you'll gain experience at a normal rate and progress just fine, but if you only get to play one or two days a week, you'll definitely make some good progress and be satisfied with the play time you got in, because you will have easily gained one or two levels. The system is great because it doesn't penalize anybody, yet still manages to provide an incentive to people who can't play all the time.
Good luck not playing all the time, though, because World of Warcraft looks incredible. The land is lush and well-detailed in Blizzard's exaggerated fashion. While World of Warcraft doesn't look as realistic as Everquest II, its consistent artistic design and attention to detail actually make for a more immersive world. Everything runs smoothly, whether you're seeing it all from the back of a gryphon or from the inside of a dank, atmospheric dungeon. The game's considerable ambience and character is enhanced by a tastefully understated score that picks up along with the action, great voice-acting, and a plethora of excellent, ambient sounds.
World of Warcraft is not a revolutionary game in that it doesn't offer anything truly innovative to the RPG scene. Blizzard has basically taken Everquest, enveloped it in their Warcraft mythos, and improved it in a million minor ways. With its army of minor improvements and thoughtful touches, Blizzard has blessed all MMORPGers with the genre's finest, most polished title to date. Whether you enjoy hardcore role-playing, shameless griefing or something in the middle, you will find what you're looking for in this brave, new world.