Generally my previews are fairly short, and theyíre there just as much to show off some screenshots as to tell people about the game. Thatís partly because I prefer writing reviews to previews, but also because I usually preview adventures, and there just isnít a whole lot to say about the average adventure without getting into evaluation. But now I have World of Warcraft, a big game with so much to do that although Iíve been playing it for two weeks now, I havenít come close to seeing everything. So not only will this easily be my longest preview, it might only be Part One of an ongoing series.|
World of Warcraft, if youíve somehow missed hearing about it, is Blizzard Entertainmentís foray into the realm of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (or MMORPGs). Iíll admit right away that this isnít completely my genre. Iíve played a lot of role-playing games, but after MUDs severely dinged up my college career, Iíve stayed away from MMORPGs for a while, and so I know nothing of games like EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot. So while I can talk about World of Warcraft and give my impressions of how the beta testing is going, if youíre looking for how well it stacks up against the competition, youíll have to look elsewhere.
Since World of Warcraft is a role-playing game, obviously its focus will be on killing things. But itís not going to be a 3D version of Diablo II set in the Warcraft universe. Among other things, youíll have to work together in groups of up to five characters to get stuff done (although you can solo, too, if you really want), and your main focus will be on solving quests (rather than on just randomly killing creatures). From what Iíve seen, it doesnít look like the equipment is going to be as fun in World of Wacraft, and character development seems like it will be more straightforward, but the group dynamic and the huge number of things to do should be enough to keep World of Warcraft right up there with the best of them in the Addictive Games Hall of Fame.
There are eight races in World of Warcraft. On the Alliance side are humans, dwarves, night elves and gnomes. On the Horde side are orcs, tauren, undead and trolls. Itís not clear at this point how much the Alliance and Horde will get to interact with one another, and if theyíll be able to work together or only fight each other. So far, in the amount of time Iíve played World of Warcraft, only the Alliance races have been available, and there hasnít been a great deal of difference between them. Some races can only be certain classes (night elves canít be paladins, for example), and obviously the races look and sound different, but otherwise the main difference between the races is the lands where they start out.
You see, there are six sets of starting lands. The humans and night elves get their own lands, the dwarves and gnomes share a set of lands, and I assume something similar happens with the Horde races. Each set of lands contains several ďzones.Ē The zone where you first appear has easy quests to help get you started, and then the other zones gradually ramp up the difficulty. Iím most familiar with the human lands, where Iíve spent a lot of time in places like Redridge, which is infested with orcs and gnolls, and Duskwood, where the undead hang out. Eventually, it looks like there will be around 40 zones in the game, with each zone triggering a couple dozen quests and providing a weekís worth of playing time to get through. Races will be able to travel to all zones, and so if you find youíre playing a dwarf but donít like the dwarf lands (or perhaps just donít like the main dwarf city of Ironforge) you can take a gryphon ride to the human lands and try your luck there instead.
There are nine classes in World of Warcraft. These include the druid, hunter, mage, paladin, priest, rogue, shaman, warlock and warrior. The druid and hunter havenít been implemented yet into the game (although I hear the druid is close), and the shaman is only available for Horde races, and so I donít know anything about those three classes. The other classes are about what youíd expect. Warriors are the ďtanksĒ and are built to soak up the abuse enemies can dish out. Paladins are warriors with holy and healing powers. Rogues can sneak around and backstab enemies for extra damage (or, more importantly, ďsapĒ enemies to knock them out briefly). Priests are the healers. Mages and warlocks are both spellcasters, and the only difference I know about the two is that warlocks get familiars to help them out. (Iím mostly a melee player, but Iíll get around to playing the spellcasters eventually.)
Besides having a class, characters can also learn ďtrade skills.Ē These involve things like mining, leatherworking, engineering, and alchemy. Each time you level up, you earn a skill point, and then you can use the points to learn a new skill or improve on an existing skill. The way itís set up now, with the level cap set at 30 (eventually the cap will go up to level 60), you can completely learn two or three trade skills. For example, rogues can only wear leather and cloth equipment, and so they might learn skinning, which allows them to skin animals for leathers and hides, and leathercraft, which allows them to convert the leathers and hides into useful equipment. Depending on your ability with a trade skill, you can use different ďrecipesĒ for your craft. However, these arenít anything like the Horadric Cube recipes from Diablo II. The recipes you buy (and find) will appear in a list, and then those are the only things youíll be able to make. And so if you see a really cool recipe being offered by a ďtrainer,Ē then that might motivate you to practice your skill so you can buy and use the recipe.
As I hinted at elsewhere, the main focus of play in World of Warcraft is in solving quests. Night elves try to maintain a balance in nature, dwarves spend a lot of time hunting troggs and drinking beer, and humans have a problem with bandits. And so youíll receive a lot of quests to help out. As far as I can tell, there isnít any sort of overriding storyline to the game, but lots of quests are linked together to tell shorter stories, and they do a nice job of nudging you into exploring new areas. However, if the quests have a problem, itís that theyíre largely rather similar. Youíll complete a lot of quests where you need to kill X instances of creature Y, or kill creature X until it drops Y copies of object Z. Luckily, the creatures are different enough, and the quests move quickly enough, that theyíre still fun, and a few of the quest are memorable, like hunting down a guy named Van Cleef in his lair.
Another potential problem in World of Warcraft is crowding. Every so often there are quests where you need to kill a creature, and lots of other people need to kill the creature as well, and so itís just difficult to find. As soon as the creature ďspawnsĒ somebody kills it, and so it might take a lot of sitting around and waiting to complete some quests. To offset the crowding problem a little, some dungeons create ďinstances.Ē When your party enters the dungeon, the game creates a copy just for you, and so you donít have to compete with anybody else to kill the things inside. So far in the beta testing, Iíve seen over 1000 people in the game a few times, and things have worked out well enough (especially since people can only play Alliance races right now), but I just wonder how things will go when World of Warcraft hits store shelves and masses of people start playing it. I bet the first couple of weeks will be a nightmare.
That being said, beta testing has only been going on for a couple weeks now, and World of Warcraft is still a long ways away. Blizzard isnít giving any hints about when the game might be ready, but Iím guessing weíre looking at a Christmas release, and so Blizzard still has a lot of time to work things out. But so far World of Warcraft has looked great, and itís more fun in its beta form than a lot of games are in their final releases -- including patches. Itís even worked well over dial-up connections, and so if you like role-playing games and multiplayer games, World of Warcraft is a game to look forward to.
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