Just in case you have had your head in a gaming hole for the past few years, one of the industry's most anticipated MMORPGs, based on the much-lauded Warcraft series, was released last week. If you look at the history of Blizzard Entertainment, you will see that they have a habit of making all-time best-sellers, and this one lives up to the legacy (think: Starcraft, Diablo, Warcraft). 2404 has had an opportunity to delve into World of Warcraft at length, and found a surprisingly polished and well-founded game in Blizzard's first venture into the massively multiplayer world.
World of Warcraft thrusts you into a world divided by good and evil- full of quests, monsters, dungeons, treasures, and epic battles. You begin your adventure four years after the events of the familiar RTS sensation Warcraft III. Though the union of peoples against the common threat of the Burning Legion has been eliminated, lines have been drawn once again, and you must choose your path in this tumultuous time.
The raw mechanics of World of Warcraft are solid. All of the components of the user interface are geared to enhance the user's enjoyment of the rich environments. So many games feel as if seven different departments each generated a part of the game without ever talking to the rest of the teams. Not so in World of Warcraft. The interface feels complete, is intuitive, and contains an application program interface for advanced users to cook up their own features. You are able to reap the benefits of others’ work so those who are not code-savvy can rest easy. Check out the related links at the end of this article for more information on UI customization.
The standard fare for character creation applies here: faction, race, class, gender, and appearance. Most of these options serve to benefit your character and warrant your inspection before selecting. Blizzard has made each option an important factor in your path so that no person is an army of one. Factions, for example, will determine where you begin the game, as well as who will be your opponent in player versus player combat. Races affect the number of classes available to you and have inherent traits that boost a skill or provide a unique ability. Classes will affect your character the most profoundly, determining what you can or cannot be trained in. Other in-game options encourage diversity such as the talent system, which enhances the abilities of any given class in one of three class-specific areas of specialization. You may also choose two professions (of nine total), and all three secondary trade skills if you find them useful. Blizzard has focused strongly on a system of checks and balances in order to make every class and skill valuable to someone in some way. This is evidenced in mixed PvP teams, which typically do better than homogeneous groups.
Leveling in World of Warcraft is an exponential experience, and a departure from traditional RPGs. A level 60 NPC can take down multiple characters half its level without breaking much of a sweat. Two level 30's do not equal a level 60. I thought this to be a negative aspect of the game at first, but then began to enjoy the disparity. I easily knew when I was out of my league, and did not venture out into lands I was not ready for. World of Warcraft even places skulls or question marks over levels identifying creatures that are more than you could possibly handle. Many games containing experience-gaining and leveling, follow a similar formula: killing creatures to get more money to get bigger weapons to kill bigger creatures to get more money and on and on. This MMORPG carries you from rapidly gaining skills and experience in short quests to carefully and slowly honing your existing skills as you participate in more epic journeys and conquests.
Blizzard is aiming World of Warcraft at a highly diverse audience. There are enough general quests (over 2000, according to Blizzard) and skill trees to keep a Sims player busy and enough creatures to keep the hack-and-slashers covered in blood. Above this general content layer, however, is where this game innovates and builds an interactive environment. An entire player versus player scheme exists, where enormous battles are fought and honor is won. One would think that this diversity would dilute the game for at least one of the audiences being targeted, but it does not. Blizzard has supported these audiences by dedicating “realm types” to one form of play or another. Whatever you like in relation to the human interaction level, there is an exciting copy of the realm waiting for you.
World of Warcraft’s graphics engine follows with the build of the rest of the game: targeted at a wide audience. Aside from the polygon count during PvP battles, very little in World of Warcraft will really push a mid range gamer’s system. The environments are almost cartoon-like, yet detailed and elegant. Running this game on an ATI 9600 Pro with half a gig of memory and an AMD 2500+ / nForce2 Ultra worked beautifully, only skipping during large battles or long gryphon flights. If you want to throw in anti-aliasing or antisotropic filtering, you should bump up to a video card with at least 8-pixel shader pipelines. This game was also designed with NVIDIA in mind, so there may be a performance boost on those cards. Glitches have generally been minor, and seem to gravitate towards the ATI cards or older generation models from other vendors. World of Warcraft supports running in both Direct3D and OpenGL modes, although it has been designed with effects that are meant for DirectX capable cards. The game box itself states recommendations for a card with hardware pixel shading capabilities. For those having trouble rendering the game in Direct3D, a simple command line will switch to OpenGL mode when the game is launched.
World of Warcraft has exceptional sound. Musical scores highlight fearsome battles, while unique tunes bring life to venturing through many areas. Each race has enjoyable music pertinent to their kind. You will find your home music much appreciated after a long journey through a dark dungeon. The ambient sounds and surface-unique footfalls add to your immersion into the realm, and at times can serve to raise the hair on your neck. In-combat sounds are generally good, as many spells and strikes have fitting assignments. The hunter’s “Aspect of the Monkey”, for instance, plays a modified monkey sound grafted onto the spell’s casting noise. You can often tell what is happening around you by the auras and noises. I have been able to detect incoming fireballs by their distinct crackling effect. This would have been helpful had I possessed some form of fire resistance at my disposal. The quality coupled with EAX 4.0 Advanced HD 3D support makes for a great gaming experience. There are manymemorable compositions in World of Warcraft, and the tunes are wrapped up in the entire package aiming at sucking you into Blizzard’s universe. *pulls out Warcraft II CD, inserts into music player*
The team at Blizzard is no dummy when it comes to hosting large amounts of players and account data. They have been stress testing network and server configurations ever since they dreamed up BattleNet, their online multiplayer service for games such as Starcraft, the Diablo series, and the Warcraft ancestry. They have dealt with crashes, hacks, cracks, and bottlenecks over the years, and have also learned much about what players think and want. In World of Warcraft they have worked hard to design a secure server environment that appeals to a large variety of gamers.
When you pick up your copy of World of Warcraft, you will be presented with some significant choices prior to beginning your slough of in-game quests. Possibly the most significant choice is made before you create a character at all. There are several server types to adventure on, and once you pick the server, you cannot relocate the character. At launch, the game gives you three options: PvP, Normal, and RP servers. It is important to understand each of them prior to passing judgment on them.
In PvP (Player versus Player) you must watch where you journey, as game areas are labeled with various degrees of danger. A green zone is friendly, allowing members of your side of the two factions to roam freely without concern of being attacked by other human players. Yellow zones are contested, meaning that you should be ready to do battle against both monsters and opposing human players, since everyone is flagged as open to attack. Red zones are the polar opposite of green zones; you are enemy number one, and are likely standing in an enemy capital city. If the NPC guards don't kill you, the human players will be happy to do the job. This type of server can make you sweat, and adds a large degree of suspense, tension, and reality to the game. Future plans for this type of server include an honor system that rewards or assigns penalties to players based on the differential between human combatants' levels. If a level 60 Warrior decides to make a career out of killing every n00b that wanders into yellow zones unprepared, he may find higher prices at shops or even home NPCs that attack on sight. Fight tough battles instead, and you may find access to exclusive hero barracks and shops. This honor system is still in the works and has not been fully implemented at this time. N00bs beware.
|On Normal servers, also referred to as PvE (Player versus Environment), PvP is mostly optional. Human players may never attack you unless you perform an action that enables your "PvP Flag". This does not protect you from NPC guards in opposition strongholds, and you still have to watch out for creatures. This type of server is for those who want to play standard RPG fare, with the opportunity to raise your own PvP flag via a simple interface command (/pvp).
RP servers (Role Play) require, yes REQUIRE, players to speak as if they were members of the virtual world. Non-RP talk is limited to a specific channel of chat, and repeat offenders may have their account suspended or revoked per Blizzards RP server policies. There are very few of this type of server, but they do appeal to a number of people who like to play a quieter game. If you want to get immersed in the experience without much chatter to pull you out of the moment, then this may be the place for you.
All of that said, these server options are an exceptional method of catering to very different gamers while encouraging interaction between them. A non-PvP blacksmith may be making armor for a high-level combatant who frequently raids the opponent’s lands, for example. If you want to be able to watch PvP action, yet not participate, there is an option for you as well. The PvP types generally will hone their skills faster and find greater areas and items, which will flow back into the non-PvP economy. The content has not been watered down across server types; just an alteration of the rules to allow many gaming styles to coexist.
||Server performance and availability has already been increased greatly since release, and Blizzard has managed a very large launch very well. Hundreds of thousands of players have purchased this game already (yes, hundreds). It is safe to say that Blizzard is fully aware of what load their servers and character databases can handle, and has allocated additional resources to the regions that needed it most. Occasional lag is to be expected in any over-the-net game, and Blizzard has moved quickly to eliminate as many obstacles as possible.
There are many MMORPGs out that offer interactive play with other humans, yet do not possess enough content to warrant a monthly fee. You can get a large amount of unique questing, monster-bashing, and PvP action out of products like Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights, without paying out more than retail. World of Warcraft manages to exceed retail costs by creating massive amounts of content that crosses boundaries for many players’ gaming tastes, with professionals working on more as you play. A monthly fee flogs these developers to keep building content, and pays for the server environments capable of housing enormous raids and PvP wars. Many retail games limit your interaction to 64 players, yet World of Warcraft’s hosted environment commonly sees battles with that many players on one side.
The replay value in World of Warcraft is staggering. If you assembled all the possible race, class, talent, and profession combinations, you could conceivably create over 450 different characters. Albeit some of the differences would be minor, but those alterations can make or break you in a battle. You could create a character in each race and play a different class each time. Within each class, you could diverge into many unique paths of focus, yet still enjoy the journey. If you reach 60 and don’t feel like making another character, you have PvP wars to wage and huge dungeons to crawl. You may even make a name for yourself as an actual hero. Blizzard is piping in so much fresh material; they hope to make World of Warcraft a place you will not mind paying to see.
There are many options on the market right now in the MMORPG world, and Blizzard's attempt is at the top of the pack. World of Warcraft delivers great atmosphere through simplistic stylized environments, suited music, relevant quests, massive PvP raids, and party adventuring. With their customizable user interface, chat channels, and guild system, it is easy to build strong communities for rich gaming relationships. There are still a few quirks, but none that are uncommon to MMORPGs. Blizzard has indeed raised the bar. The price point, while often tough to cough up, is expected, as few other games offer this level of content and depth. If you enjoy fantasy RPGs and can afford the monthly fees, then World of Warcraft is worth your playing time. *says prayer for Starcraft MMORPG*
Key High Points
-High replay value in co-op quests, raiding parties, PvP action.
-Customizable user interface
Key Low Points
- Occasional server lag (I had to write something)
Realm Types data http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/info/basics/realmtypes.html
Cosmos UI http://www.cosmosui.org/
UI Customization http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/board.aspx?fn=wow-interface-customization