The Gods must be Metal.
With the weight of a copy of Wrath of the Lich King in hand comparable to that of The One Ring, we all know basically what we're in for: sleepless nights, coffee, aggro girlfriends, porn, a lonely Thanksgiving, cheetos... Our instincts do not fail us, for WotLK is more of the same game we've loved, gotten sick of, appreciated once again, and learned to moderate in consumption. But before we continue, the “No Duh” disclaimer:
[image1]If you have had your fill of zombie STD's, weed price-gouging, and makeshift arena teams, this review is more than likely a redundant read; so thanks for the click and get back to levelling, noob! But for those who haven't fallen off the wagon just yet, this expansion is a good reason to give Addiction a call and make amends.
That is, of course, if you can break old habits, let epics be bygones, and actually enjoy the game this time around, for there's much to do and more to take in. If you have any toon above level 55 and want to do your part in ending the tanking drought, one of the most rewarding ventures to take on in WotLK is playing Blizzard's first Hero class. [If you understand 100% of this review full of strange MMO-language, consider yourself a nerd. ~Ed]
This is an apt category for it, for during the initial questline which lasts three solid levels, you'll immediately realize that if Ozzy plays a Warlock, then Amon Amarth plays a Death Knight. Yes, it's that badass, at least through its introductory phase, which is by many measures the best in any MMO to date.
From decimating legions of do-gooders from atop a Frostwyrm to chasing down helpless villagers with other Death Knights in a full-blown massacre, there is much fun to be had and even more killinating to be done. To make advancement as quick and rewarding as possible, you're given an epic steed early-on and with each trodden quest you not only get high quality gear and XP, but talent points as well. This was a very good design call, for it prompts you to take a good look at the class' potential right away and plot your painfully nerdy future. During the Death Knight's rampage, you'll witness Blizzard's new “Phasing” approach to the world around a given player, which is impressive.
[image2]Phasing can be thought of as real-time instancing, which lets the game world change all around you and any player who's on the same quest you're on, but for no one else. This tech opens the floodgates for you to experience massive sieges of undead in a wide-open environment that's all your own doing, while delivering a strong, albeit lonely, sense that your actions have wide-sweeping consequences. And since you don't have to worry about your next door neighbor's geeky catharsis bleeding into yours, you are free to take your time witnessing well-scripted NPC interaction cutscenes, which lets you enjoy the story and the game world for the first time in a long time, and in a new way.
For those fleeting moments in a Death Knight's undead life, you are free from the yanking chains of keeping up with the power-levellers. That is until you're dumped in the Eastern Plaguelands, surrounded by old world quests with the familiar sense of “I have done this before” creeping in. This is true, except you haven't done it this quickly, for levelling up a Death Knight can be done in record time with record ease. The class is essentially a self-empowering, regenerating wrecking ball with a death metal hat. But regardless of how cool it is, the chilling questions remain: Do you want to run through the rotting old world quests that you did two years ago? Or do you want to run through the dusty Burning Crusade quests you did last year?
You choose neither of the above and see what the new area of Northrend has to offer your "main", that is, your level 70 character that's been stuck in a rut for a year.
Sailing onto the new island is like taking a DeLorean back to Noobtown. You're stripped of flight and the full weight of your foolishness for getting that Albino Drake finally hits home. And it sucks. The alienation of not knowing where to go or what to do first is as exciting as it is nerve-racking, since there is so much to explore out in Northrend. It's hard to know just where to begin, let alone what the optimal path is to fashionable success. However, as soon as the anxiety slips in, you'll soon notice as you progress through the quest hubs that they're threaded together exceptionally well.
So long as you're playing the game as designed, gone are the days of mass quest-stacking and the confusion from the ensuing option deluge. You'll get a manageable handful of quests at a hub, knock them out, enjoy some story, then smoothly be guided to the next area. Repeat.
To help ensure this is the process for most players, Blizzard designed it all in a way that you won't find a flight path to the next Northrend subarea until you've gone through a decent share of the quests in the previos area. Now while this does provide a smooth gameplay experience, especially for solo players, it comes at the rather sizeable cost of alienating some of your questing buddies if they're either a level above or below you. Still, you'll find many new players on the same quest and do some quick-style pugging, whether you're digging through a lot of poop, stealing mob babies, or torturing NPCs for information. Wait what?!
[image3]High fantasy, at times, this is not. Granted, Blizzard has always had a relaxed approach to the genre and WotLK doesn't take itself all that seriously, except when Arthas the lich king himself makes his presence felt, which is always epic. What isn't so legendary is the very, very familiar quests you'll run into, such as “Kill 10 of these guys” or “Collect 15 of those things”. It's hard to fault Blizzard too much for using MMO staples like these. When they've had the massive task of coming up with 500+ quests – hitting the bottom of the beer barrel is inevitable. Either way, if you play within a couple months of WotLK's release date, you're bound to find a good lot of people levelling themselves in your range to help knock these out before your realize it. But if you're late on your new New Year's resolution to lose some weight by starving in front of your monitor, you're likely to lose out on this aspect of the game's flow.
Either way, It just feels great to finally unleash all that power you built up through level 70 endgame in a whole new romping ground once again. You've probably already played with the talent calculators for your class to death, and can't wait to try see the effect of different combinations. To Blizzard's credit, each class has gotten more interesting to play, while each still retains its own useful niche. But predictably, that same annoying feeling you had as a Death Knight at level 58 is the same one that arose at level 60 and will arise again at level 70 for your main: “What the hell am I still doing in Azeroth?” Which in WotLK is immediately followed by: “Oh yeah, Wintergrasp!”
Once you arrive to this zone-wide pvp area, you'll run around, gather up the dailies, and try to figure out piece-by-piece exactly what's going on here. It's something along the lines of an RTS, with two opposing bases fighting for control of buildings to manufacture siege vehicles. It has the faint scent of Halaa around it, for you won't be able to just jump in solo and get in a game like normal battlegrounds. These larger-scale battles are on a timer that resets every couple of hours, and though you can jump in and get into some mini-battles here and there, it remains to be seen whether or not full PvP guilds will be taking much endgame interest in the new zone. “So what was I doing here again? Oh right – dungeons!”
Instances like The Nexus, Utgarde Keep, and Azjol-Nerub are very well designed as well and they'll deliver the same fun the BC ones did at heroic in endgame. They're rather quick to run and have their own unique feel matched by gorgeous looks. Enemy packs are as reticulated as you'd expect from the masters at Blizzard, and boss battles have enough unique points to make them memorable as well.
[image4]Speaking of gorgeous, each zone seeps with unrelenting detail and the topography is amazing. Yes, even the topography, of all things, is cool. It's a joy to ride around all the variation and steep slopes of any subarea. Every quest hub you journey to will bring you to at least a couple of new, shiny environments. This gives Northrend a much more expansive scope than you'd anticipate in a mere expansion.
The voiceovers during key storyline moments are acted out at the highest caliber and the music is equally well-composed. So if you shut down that Winamp and tune the music back up for a while, it'll be worth your while.
And so would this new addition to the most popular MMO in gaming history. As long as you don't go off the deep end and treat WotLK like a payless job or a sweatless race, you'll end up having a good deal of fun. Now, if only Blizzard could add a thicker layer of meaning besides the worthless yet strangely rewarding achievement system, gear-grinding, and gold farming, few could possibly resist saying: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”