World of Warcraft - Staff Retroview  

The Shadowy World of Addictive Gaming
by Andrew Long



Rating definitions 

   The MMORPG world is a strange beast indeed. Operating much as does the overall console market, the MMORPG market tends to see a game attract a large userbase and then, after peaking, steadily decline over time until the next big thing comes along. This has always been the conventional wisdom, at any rate. But what happens when a game defies expectations and fails to peak? Well, then you have World of Warcraft. Developed for several painstaking years by PC powerhouse Blizzard, the title doubtless received a high degree of fine-tuning, and yet, nothing can hone a MMORPG quite like playing it, and it is in the first six to eight months of its runtime that World of Warcraft saw the most fine tuning. From what was initially a flawed interface and solid, but ultimately standard, set of game mechanics, has risen a well-oiled machine that recently reached into the wallet of its six millionth subscriber. With its innovative mix of elements that keep players coming back for more, even after reaching the level cap, World of Warcraft is certainly a game that defies odds.

   The first decision gamers make when signing up for the title is what faction they'd like to play as. There are two choices: Horde and Alliance, and thereafter, a further subdivision into race and class. Each of these selections will have a large impact on overall gameplay, and indeed, while there are basic similarities across all character classes, playing as a rogue and playing as a shaman will result in two very different story arcs, experiences, and methods of playing. Combat is generally the same as you'll find in most MMOs; players can almost immediately wander out of town in search of foes, and once they are encountered, it is a simple matter to right-click them, which starts the attack sequence. Thereafter, players are left to choose from an arsenal of hotkeyed spells and abilities, each of which execute over a varying period of time.

   These abilities range from the spells cast by magic-using classes to the various debilitating special attacks a rogue has at his or her disposal, and the difference between each character class is considerable. While there is a staple damage and heavy damage skill across the board, the skills that define each class ensure that both individual and group play requires a specific approach for each class. Priests are always in high demand for their healing, rogues for their ability to pull enemies singly from large groups in instances, and warriors for their ability to absorb abuse.
Mmm...Crisp Spider Meat The best part about WoW: Crisp Spider Meat

   Skills are learned based upon a character's level and are generally purchased from various profession trainers. Additionally, after a character hits level 10, a second tree of abilities opens up known as talents. Each talent point spent will further specialize a character in a specific area of that class's core profiencies; for example, a priest can choose between shadow magic, light magic, or defensive endurance trees, while shamans and mages are called upon to select an elemental specialization.

   If all this wasn't enough, players are then required to select two professions. These are skills that allow players to create items or improvements upon existing items, and are generally best suited being tailored to the character's armor type and general play style - therefore, a class such as hunter that wears leather armour is well-served to take up leatherworking and skinning, both of which provide income as well as a means of improving a player's armour. In the end, the combination, while it might seem complicated, is fairly easy to pick up, and it is quite simple to jump right into a game of World of Warcraft and start grinding towards level 60.

   Characters progress in levels one of two ways: by defeating monsters, and by completing quests (the game also awards experience for exploration, but these bonuses are usually minimal at best). Quests can be found virtually anywhere in the game's world; while the majority are handed out in the game's many towns, most areas also have a smattering of NPCs out in the wild with quests to send players on. The system ensures that gameplay doesn't boil down to simply smashing palette-shifting rats; rather, one is given additional experience and item rewards for doing so, as well as a certain sense of direction and progression that can be lacking in more open-ended MMORPGs.

   All of this is conducted in an interface that has seen a lot of change over its lifetime. Early on, the initial interface provided by Blizzard fell well short of player expectations; not only were there not enough hotkey slots, there were also certain elements of the combat interface that did not contain sufficient information to fully appreciate the effectiveness of a given course of action. Compounding this was the fact that there was no uniform point of reference upon which players could refer each other to various areas on the map. Blizzard has dealt with some of these issues; more toolbars have been added and the interface has been made more micromanagement-friendly. That said, a large number of players still rely on interface add-ons to provide the map referencing, and often these tweaks can be critical for the game's larger dungeons. In this respect, then, Blizzard could have done more work; however, the skill menus and character interface leave little cause for complaint, and the actual game menus are also quite easy to navigate. The game's voice acting, meanwhile, tends towards campy, but since Blizzard uses in-house people for its character voices, there is at least the consolation that at no point do the usual console suspects show up to do their dirty work.
her eyes did thereafter take on a healthy yellow glow, however The goggles! They do nothing!

   Being a PC release, World of Warcraft's looks are variable; it is made to run on a low-end system, as Blizzard favours an approach that enables as many gamers as possible to play its games. This is not to say that it looks bad; at full graphical settings, it is quite beautiful, in point of fact, and even at lower settings it is still a great step up from the level of titles that preceded it. It also succeeds in remaining faithful to the somewhat cartoonish look of previous Warcraft titles, and all in all, the 3D engine, tweaked significantly from its original appearance in Warcraft III, holds up well.

    A number of composers were called upon to provide the game's music, and the varied sounds blend well into an overall whole. Human songs are as bombastic as any found in the series, the various Horde classes retain their tribal feel, and the Night Elf and Undead areas treat their denizens to suitably mysterious and spooky music, respectively. Some songs are overused, however, and with looped music, the music tends to repeat in rapid succession. Otherwise, though, there is little to complain about; the sound effects are better than adequate, and cities really do sound like the real thing, while environmental effects ensure that other areas have the corresponding sounds to keep up the immersion.

The surgeon general takes no responsibility for this warning, and finds it resoundingly redundant Warning: Dying increases your risk of punk-ass hair; also, of death

   While World of Warcraft has plenty of plot stashed throughout, a lot of the time gamers are forced to seek it out, and none of it is really central to the business of progressing in the game. While there are a couple of dungeons that deal rather intensively with the backstory of the gameworld, plot progression is pretty much limited to the infinite loop of completing a quest, seeing apparent changes to the world, and then seeing someone else come along and make the exact same changes all over again. While in general it is possible to gain a sense of linear progression from one quest to another, overall storyline isn't a terribly central element to the prosaic gameplay experience.

   Replaying World of Warcraft holds a great deal of appeal; not only are the various classes quite different from one another, there is also the option to play a game almost completely individually, or in groups, as the gamer chooses. This is because many of the game's dungeons, where a lot of the bigger quests take place, are instanced, which means in practical terms that entering them alone is suicide. Essentially, instances give each group their own version of a dungeon, so that loot and experience gets distributed evenly rather than going to people who camp out respawn points as tended to happen in older MMORPGs. This also means that they are designed for multiple players, and so it does not pay for a single character to attempt to complete them. Players who go it alone miss out on a lot of the game's interesting areas; that said, it is conceivably possible to get all the way to level 60, the game's current level cap, without talking to another soul. It just sort of misses the point.

   Overall, World of Warcraft represented a big step forward from its predecessors at the time of its release, something that is evidenced by the number of other titles that have now emulated features found in the game. There are currently three subscription plans available; one at $12.99 monthly for a six month term, $13.99 a month at a three month term, and $14.99 if players choose to pay monthly. This is a fairly standard price point, and it is one of the many reasons why there are now more people playing World of Warcraft than there are citizens of Denmark. That alone is a pretty compelling endorsement.

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