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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Role-Playing

 

Publisher

Blizzard Entertainment

 

Developer

Blizzard Entertainment

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

Q4 2004

 

 

- Very accessible to casual and power gamers alike

- Talent Trees

- Plenty of PvP options

- Tons of quests

- Plenty of crafting to be done

- It isn't a chore to acquire gold

- The game looks pretty

- It sounds good too

 

 

- Some awe-inspiring idiocy in general chat when visiting major cities

- Little of interest that one can make at high levels in most crafts

- Too many fed ex / kill xyz number of monsters quests

- Lack of a means to keep Alliance and Horde populations balanced on a server

 

 

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World of Warcraft

Score: 9.0 / 10

 

Usually when playing MMORPGs time management becomes just as important as learning the nuances of oneís characterís class.  Sitting in the same spot with a few other people killing the same types of monsters over and over again has often been the norm, with the occasional quest thrown in for good measure.  The frustrating thing is that this process has traditionally been very time consuming, requiring people to spend untold hours just trying to level up, hence the concept of grinding and time sinks became synonymous with many MMORPGs on the market.  Now World of Warcraft has stepped onto the scene, and proven that a game in the genre can be played in short spurts and still be fun.  Not only that, but it has tweaked everything many of us associate with MMORPGs to such an extent that much of what has usually been thought a drag, has become a fun, rewarding experience.  All of what makes World of Warcraft what it is has made the title the best online RPG ever created.

 

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Upon choosing a race and getting started, players have a total of eight to choose from: four representing the forces of good, the Alliance, and four representing evil with the Horde.  While the vast majority of jobs find themselves on both sides of the ethical divide, only certain races can do certain jobs.  An interesting thing about playing either Alliance or Horde is that players on either side cannot understand one another in chat.  If a Horde player tries to say something to an Alliance player standing right next to him, it will come across as gibberish, as the Alliance playerís character doesnít know how to speak Horde languages, and vice versa.

 

Getting started with a new character is quite straightforward, and quickly shows the player how much quests are emphasized in progressing through the game, as opposed to grinding like in other MMORPGs.  Players will spend most of their efforts to level up focusing on quests that reward steady experience, as well as treasure and money.  The great thing about this is that it constantly gives a sense of accomplishment, as players are always doing something for someone, while learning more about the plight of the cities they visit.  Itís a very welcome contrast to sitting in one place and beating up monsters walking by for a few hours straight.

 

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This paced progression also works well in that it makes World of Warcraft accommodating to wider range of people.  For some the prospect of playing a MMORPG is enticing, but so often the games require a significant investment of time to get things done.  The way these quest work in this game, they allow someone to blast through one, two, or maybe even three quests in the span of an hour, after which the player 

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can get a nice amount of experience points, and possibly even some cash and treasure while theyíre at it, making for a short, but very satisfying experience.  What makes the quest system even more interesting is that itís also appealing to the power gamer who has no problem with playing for three or four hours straight.  How this works is that the quests are multi-part.  So, with every quest completed a little more information is discovered and the NPC assigns a new quest to follow up on what your detective work on the previous quest uncovered.  The multi-part story arcs are very interesting, and will keep the power gamer going as they try to find out how the tale ends, and make the casual gamer happy as each part of the story arc offers more than enough rewards to give a strong sense of accomplishment to those who only have time to play World of Warcraft for an hour here and there.  One weakness of the quests, however, is that a lot of them are fed ex quests, or require players to kill a certain number of various monsters.  For the first fifteen levels or so this isn't a big deal, but as one progresses to the higher levels and still has to do this, it starts to get redundant.

 

As players make their way through the quests and start leveling up, it quickly becomes clear just how well balanced World of Warcraft is at allowing people to decide whether they want to go solo, or group with others to get things done.  This all comes down to how well balanced the different classes are in the game.  It shouldnít come as a surprise that something like a warrior, or a rogue, or a hunter in this game can handle themselves quite well going it alone in WoW, but it is very impressive to see magic users like the mages, and priests being able to hold their own while soloing (albeit with a little more difficulty).  Even more impressive is that priests can become very viable damage dealers thanks to the way their talent tree is set up, a very welcome change from the traditional heal-bot nature that priest-like classes have suffered from in the past.  As one gets to the higher levels, more of the quests become something designated as "Elite" quests.  These involve fighting particularly strong enemies, and will require grouping in order to complete them well.  It is a good way to make sure players are well-trained when they hit the end game material, but for those who would prefer to solo all the way to level 60, there are still a decent number of soloable quests available.

 

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This brings us to the talent tree in World of Warcraft, which is very similar to that found in the Diablo series.  What the talent tree allows players to do is specialize their characterís abilities, improving various offensive or defensive skills, and improve abilities relevant to their character class.  This can help to make very unique characters whose abilities better complement oneís play style.  So, if someone wants to make a very effective tank out of their warrior, for instance, they can start tweaking their skills accordingly, or they can make a combat-oriented rogue, or a highly offensive shadow priest.  The talent tree is a very nice addition to the game to allow players to make non-cookie cutter characters.  It does appear, thus far, that there is a certain segment of the online population that has expectations of what they want characters to specialize in, making for a degree of elitism in how one uses their talent points to tweak their character, but if someone doesnít want to deal with these sorts, thatís what the blacklist feature is for.

 

Thankfully, there doesnít appear to be a tremendous number of morons on World of Warcraft necessitating liberal use of the gameís ignore feature.  The most likely times one might be tempted to use it is in a pick-up party heading into an instance, as there are quite a few people in these circumstances that seem to bicker entirely too much, and get greedy on drops in these parties.  Save trips to instances for something to do with guild mates, itíll be a far more enjoyable experience that way.  Other than that, the only other time most will feel the need to ignore someone is when one gets to the higher levels, and start getting blind invites from low level players who think you have nothing better to do than drop what youíre doing to help them with their quest.  Oh, also try to ignore general chat in major cities with auction houses (like Ironforge and Ogrimmar), as it is often filled with so much idiocy it will make even the most grizzled MMORPG veteran cry.

 

For those that do want to make other players cry, their time is far better spent enjoying the PvP aspects of World of Warcraft.  Alliance vs. Horde raids can be a very fun way to test oneís mettle, trying to tear down swarms of guards and any members of the opposite faction that may come to defend their town.  On top of this, most of the servers are full-on PvP, with a handful of PvE which only allow PvP play against members of the opposite faction, and only when your flag is up.  Generally it works out quite well, though there are some people who get their kicks out of ganking, an act where they are much stronger than the players they attack, making for a very unfair battle.  The good news here is that Blizzard is introducing something called the Honor System, which is meant as a way to prevent this by penalizing bullies who like to go around harassing players of a far lower level than them and rewarding those who only engage in fair fights.  The only other problem that PvP suffers from is the horribly lop-sided server populations as there are usually three times as many Alliance players as there are Horde on any given server.  It makes for a very difficult fight for Horde as they are constantly swarmed by far greater numbers of opposing forces.  Some means of capping populations on each side would be a welcome introduction to balance the opposing forces' populations.

 

Of course, with all of this questing and PvP, players are probably going to die a few times along the way.  To help make the prospect of dying a little easier to bare in World of Warcraft, Blizzard has given players the option between doing a corpse recovery and being resurrected on the spot for a penalty.  Unlike other online RPGs, the penalty in WoW does not involve taking away experience points, or paying some sort of dept.  What happens is that a character will have all of their equipped items damaged by a certain percentage, and receive something called resurrection sickness which will vastly reduce all of their stats for a specified period of time.  It's very forgiving, but still strict enough to make people seriously consider simply retrieving their corpse, especially at higher levels where resurrection sickness lasts a long time, and it costs a fortune to repair weapons and armor.

 

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One thing that can be the bane of many an MMORPG playerís existence is trying to earn money.  Usually, players need to completely divide their time between leveling up and earning cash to keep their gear up to date, but in World of Warcraft it is quite easy to constantly have a decent flow of cash coming in, and as such keep most of oneís gear up to date.  Even when it becomes increasingly necessary to fork out large wads of cash on big ticket items like mounts and whatnot, itís not nearly the ordeal to raise funds for these things, as it would be to accumulate a lot of money in other games in the genre.  The only area where it can be troublesome to generate money is when trying to level-up certain crafting skills at a reasonable speed on your first character (Iím looking at you, Enchanting! >:( ).

 

Thankfully, the crafting skills in the game are quite varied, and generally well set-up.  The various skills are broken down into two types: primary, and secondary skills.  A character can have a maximum of two primary skills at any given time, and the full gamut of secondary skills.  The primary skills including making things via tailoring, blacksmithing, leatherwork, alchemy, enchanting, and engineering, as well as gathering skills like mining, herbalism, and skinning, while cooking, first aid, and fishing are allocated to secondary skills.  If a player is leveling up a certain primary craft and decides that they donít like it, they have the option to unlearn that craft, and start up a different one instead.  However, be careful when doing this, because if you decide to go back to the previous skill youíll have to start from scratch all over again.  Generally, itís quite easy to set up a one-two punch of a gathering and manufacturing skill so that players can be self-sufficient for getting better at a craft.  However, one can just as well double up on crafting, thus buying their supplies at the gameís auction house, or vice versa.  One problem that crafting suffers from at the moment is that a number of the skills donít offer a huge amount at top levels.  Usually there are one or two items that can be made that are pretty damn nifty once someone tops up their skill, but the overall wow factor just isnít there yet once someone maxes out a skill in World of Warcraft.

 

Another area of the game that really stands out is its visual and audio presentation.  In terms of artwork, World of Warcraft has gone for a far more whimsical, cartoon-like motif that brings a more fantastical feel to the game.  Itís a refreshing change from the legions of titles out there obsessed with shooting for photo-realism.  When wandering around Azeroth, the visuals very much so drive home the feeling that players are in another world, sucking them into the game even further.  The music cements this through its moodiness, which can be dark and brooding, soft and celestial, or aggressive and foreboding, depending on what the situation dictates.  On top of this, there is tons of voice acting in the game.  While not nearly to the extent of that found in Everquest II, there is still quite a bit, and it is all very well done.  Even better, World of Warcraft sticks to its franchise tradition of having characters say hilarious things, though in this case there is actually an option to do this via an emote, instead of having to constantly click on your character.

 

With the dust settling now on World of Warcraft, it is becoming more and more obvious that this is by far the best MMORPG currently on the market.  It manages to walk a line that makes the game appealing both to the hardened power gamer, and casual weekend warrior, where both can enjoy the game in their own special way, without stepping on each other's toes.  If you are looking for a new game in the genre, you would be doing yourself a terrible disservice by overlooking World of Warcraft.

 

Mr. Nash

March 05, 2005

 

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