World of Warcraft (PC) review
"When I originally set out to review World of Warcraft, one of the most critically and commercially successful games of all time, I reconsidered. Despite being a regular on the GameFAQs World of Warcraft forum for almost a year, and a regular visitor of that website for almost four years, I had never before reviewed a game. I decided to wait, build my chops by reviewing a few other games first. That was two months ago as I write this (January '06). Though admittedly I didn't exactly challenge mys..."
When I originally set out to review World of Warcraft, one of the most critically and commercially successful games of all time, I reconsidered. Despite being a regular on the GameFAQs World of Warcraft forum for almost a year, and a regular visitor of that website for almost four years, I had never before reviewed a game. I decided to wait, build my chops by reviewing a few other games first. That was two months ago as I write this (January '06). Though admittedly I didn't exactly challenge myself with the nine game's I chose to review (making this my tenth, what I perceived to be a kind of milestone), I believe have gotten a grasp on the art. Such a massively successful game deserves a critical, in-depth examination of what made it so popular in the first place.
Since it first appeared for the PC in the early 90s, the Warcraft franchise has been one of the most phenomenally successful franchises in PC gaming history (Only Half-Life and Starcraft come close, and Starcraft is by the same developers). Warcraft: Orcs & Humans established the Real Time Strategy genre, and pioneered one of the earliest Peer to Peer multiplayer options in PC Gaming. Its sequel, Tides of Darkness, improved upon the infrastructure of the original by offering increased micromanagement options and nearly tripling the tech tree.
Warcraft fell under the radar for a while when Blizzard Entertainment turned its attention to Diablo and Starcraft. It proved to be a turning point in Blizzard's career - both games supported Blizzard's new Battle.net computer network. For the first time in the history of gaming, people from around the world could meet anonymously and compete against one another using this crazy gadget brought to us by the U.S. Government called “The Internet.“ No more bungling around with TCP/IP connections, no more exchanging phone numbers. Battle.net revolutionized online gaming, and is arguably one of the contributing factors towards the Internet's mainstream popularity today. The phenomenal success of Diablo II solidified Battle.net as the most successful internet gaming hub on the planet.
When Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos appeared, Blizzard had once again outdone themselves. While many maintain that Starcraft is the superior game, Reign of Chaos had a few aspects in its favor which allowed it to hold its own. First, the game had a 3-dimensional game engine, a first for a Blizzard RTS. Starcraft utilized tricks of perspective to create a 3-dimensonial environment; Reign of Chaos actually was 3D. But more importantly, Blizzard introduced an experience system for Hero units, an introduction to the franchise that would prove prophetic.
When World of Warcraft was first announced, the response from gamers was overwhelming. Blizzard already had some of the most successful PC games of all time under their belts, and had produced cult SNES classics like The Lost Vikings and Rock n' Roll Racing. Blizzard was famous for working wonders with anything they were given, and doubtless they could do the same with the Massively Multiplayer Online RPG genre. But the choice of Warcraft was interesting. Diablo was already the clearly established RPG from Blizzard; why take such a great RTS formula like Warcraft and make it into an MMO? In the end, it broke down to backstory and pre-established characters, both of which Warcraft completely whipped Diablo in.
The genre of Massively Multiplayer Online RPG was not only a mouthful to say, it was a mouthful to play. The genre featured seemingly limitless gameplay options, and indeed the first MMOs released almost ten years ago still have small but highly active communities. The first successful MMO was Ultima Online, which took the cult text adventure game and created one of the first worlds where people interacted in large groups. Everquest soon followed, and immediately proved the superior. Indeed, Everquest was arguably the most dominant of all the MMOs right up until the release of World of Warcraft.
So Blizzard had a lot on their plate, and a lot to live up to. They had the reputation of being one of the best (if not the best) PC Game developers out there, had a legendary and famous gaming world to create in it’s entirety, and had already successful MMOs like Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot to contend with. Long story short, Blizzard not only lived up to expectations, Blizzard surpassed them. But the game has a few flaws, and makes some claims which frankly it doesn’t live up to. And then there’s the community of people who you have to interact with. But more on that later.
Blizzard made no secret that most of the developers of World of Warcraft were experienced players of other MMOs, particularly Everquest. This experience would prove invaluable. SOE (producers of Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies and Matrix Online MMOs to name a few) had been criticized for years for not listening to their players, and making arbitrary changes based on statistics and not actual game experience. In a sense, Warcraft was being developed by players for players. And the developers did a fantastic job, taking all of the great things about games like Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online and putting them into Warcraft, while leaving out the bad things (grinding for endless hours and spawn camping being most notable amongst these).
Other MMOs featured level caps which very few players would actually reach. Even an extremely dedicated player could take a year, perhaps longer, to reach the level cap. To make matters worse, the constant stream of “Expansion Packs” (ironically a concept pioneered by Blizzard) released for these games regularly raised the level cap, but didn’t really offer much in terms of new content to actually gain those extra levels. This is by far the way in which World of Warcraft stands out from it’s peers.
The average player can take anywhere between ten and twenty days of total played time to reach the level cap, while other MMOs the same amount of time would get you maybe halfway. Despite the fact that Warcraft caters itself as the “Casual Player’s MMO,” you still need to dedicate a lot of time to it. If you don’t have the time to commit at least one or two hours a day to it, you won’t reasonably get anywhere. Once you reach the endgame content, that time can easily reach to four or five hours a day.
Grinding is a thing of the past as well. Though you certainly can grind (repeatedly killing the same group of enemies over and over for experience) if you really wanted to, it’s not really as much fun as gaining experience levels through quests. Though at it’s heart Warcraft is like other MMOs in that majority of your experience levels are gained through grinding, the developers attempted to disguise this fact by adding in quests. Quests are received from NPC (Non Playable Characters) in “Quest Hubs” in each of the game’s “Zones.” Some quests are only available to players from a specific faction, but the majority of them are open to players of both factions.
Quests have a goal which must be accomplished, typically consisting of “Go to this place, find this kind of monster, and kill X amount of them.” Others include “Go to this place, find this kind of monster, and kill them until you get X amount of this item” or “Go to this place, find this NPC and talk to him.” There are a handful of quests which have unique aspects to them, such as “Events” which require players to interact and change the environment around them to accomplish goals, but the overwhelming majority of quests are just massive grinds in disguise.
Is this petty? Yes, it really is. But if you can get around the fact that Quests are really just a method of tricking you into grinding, it really does prove to be quite fun as the experience rewards for quests are pretty good, and many of the best equipment you can get while leveling are received through quests. Each quest is gauged by difficulty relative to your experience level, and a color-coding system tells you how hard it is. Grey is a quest you shouldn’t even bother with, Green quests will be easy, Yellow quests will be average, Orange quests will be difficult and Red quests you shouldn’t even attempt.
The more experience levels you gain, the more quests your character will become eligible for, the harder the quests will become and the more lucrative the rewards will be. Some quests require a party to complete, and are marked as Elite. Quests which require multiple parties are marked Raid, quests which require you to enter a dungeon are marked Dungeon. It is entirely possible to level all the way to the level cap only doing Quests.
Another complaint many people had about other MMOs is the focus on Group Play. Some games (Final Fantasy XI comes to mind) are regularly ridiculed because the players usually spend more time sitting around waiting for a group to form then actually playing the game. The developers of Warcraft originally claimed that they were going to remove the emphasis from Group Play and offer solo content for players. They sort of have lived up to this promise, but only sort of. Each of the game’s nine classes are capable of soloing all the way to level 60 with varying degrees of ease.
But there are several hurdles along the way where grouping speeds things along greatly, and once you hit level 55 or so you are left with two options: One, spend the next few weeks on one long, endless grind (Quests are shockingly scarce after level 55, especially ones you can solo) . Two, spend the next few days in 5-man groups raiding the level 55 dungeons. The game lauds itself as the “Casual Man’s MMO” and constantly sells the point that “You can solo the entire time” but frankly, it isn’t true. Most of the game’s best equipment at any level can only be obtained through extensive grouping and constant raiding on dungeons (which itself would be considered grinding, another thing the game professes to be rid of), and the higher you grow in level the more emphasis is placed on forming groups.
Which isn’t to say that all of the group play isn’t fun - each class has a multitude of roles rather then just being stuck with one job (more on that later) and if you find yourself in a good group the experience is infinitely more enjoyable then any solo work. My point is, the game sells itself as the MMORPG for soloing, and if you buy this game for that point alone then you will find yourself sorely disappointed and frustrated.
Other MMOs usually feature a wide range of classes, but sadly many of these classes had a hard time finding groups since either their job was next-to-useless or simply wasn’t as valuable as a job another class could do. Blizzard attempted to defeat this trend by giving each class several different tasks they could do, lending a kind of gray area to many of the classes. In the event a Priest cannot be found, for example, a Druid can stand in as a healer, or in a pinch even a Shaman or Paladin could take the job. Not only does this increase the speed of groups forming, it removes the emphasis on playing a “useful” class to feel “wanted.” This gray area in class roles is a double-edged sword, however.
Sometimes classes have so many different jobs (Warlocks, Paladins, Shamans), or their best role is sometimes so unclear (Druid, Rogue, Hunter) that the player playing them refuses to do the job, and the entire group suffers. For example, you couldn’t find a Priest for your group so you found a Druid stand-in. The problem is, the Druid is specced for Feral (more on that later) and is refusing to heal, which was the only reason he was asked to come in the first place. This isn’t really a game design problem as it is a community problem, and the appearance of these “bad apples” isn’t nearly as common as people might lead you to believe.
Each of the game’s nine classes has a multitude of different skills, each of which aids the player or the player’s group in defeating their enemies. Each class has an ideal “job” that the player is supposed to complete to contribute to the group, and depending on the player these ideals work with varying degrees of success. First is the Warrior, a real brute force class which is capable of dealing moderate amounts of damage and soaking up lots themselves. While adventuring alone, Warriors use a furious barrage of damaging attacks to defeat their opponents. While in a group, Warriors use humiliation and threats to keep their enemies focused on them, keeping the heat off the rest of the group.
Rogues utilize stealth to get the jump on their opponent, dealing lots of damage to their opponents offset by taking lots of damage themselves. Rogues contribute to a group by opening locked doors and chests and neutralizing certain targets during combat. Mages, meanwhile, add an explosive punch to a group and can distribute free food and water to his allies. Warlocks cast debilitating curses and slowly drain the life out of their enemies, and their demon allies can act as weaker stand-ins for a missing class.
Hunters, meanwhile, send a constant rain of damage to their enemies and distract individual enemies with their pets. Priests heal themselves and their allies, or can deal damage in a pinch. Druids are the jack-of-all-trades classes, able to act as a perfunctory healer, tank or damage dealer as the situation arises. Shamans are a melee spell casting class with some healing ability while, Paladins are a melee healing class with some buffing ability.
Each class has three different “Talent Trees” which are related to Diablo II’s Skill Trees. By putting Talent Points which are gained with each successive experience level into a Talent Tree, the player can enhance the abilities of his class by small margins. One talent will reduce the summoning time for Demons, while another will increase the critical hit rate of your attacks, while still one more will decrease the cooldowns on your most powerful skills. By pouring enough talents into one tree, called “speccing“, you can create a “unique” character with different skills and playing style compared to others of your same class. I put unique in quotations because even though players are encouraged to develop their own talent combinations, the overwhelming majority of players use the exact same talent builds. These are called “Cookie Cutter Builds” and are a natural consequence of a conformist society.
Each class in the game is available only to specific races of the game’s two factions, the Alliance and Horde. The Alliance get Humans, Night Elves, Dwarves and Gnomes while the Horde have Orcs, Tauren, Trolls and the Undead. Each faction has their own cities and flightpaths, and each race has unique Racial Talents they can use. Tauren, for example, gain a natural bonus to the Herbalism tradeskill (more on that later), while Humans can gain a temporary bonus to the Stealth Detection. Unlike Class Talents, Racial Talents are not progressive and remain the same no matter what your level.
Each of the game’s two continents are divided into fifteen “zones,” each of which are divided by relative experience level required to quest there and which faction that zone belongs to (more on that later). Most zones have a “quest hub,” usually a town or encampment which contains NPCs that offer quests for players to compete. Some zones contain more then one quest hub, each usually associated with one of the two factions and containing guards to prevent players from raiding the town (more on that later).
The world of Azeroth is huge, which is both a good and a bad thing. There is never a shortage of zones to quest in, but the higher in level you grow the further and further apart these zones become. Even the addition of prohibitively expensive mounts make getting from place to place a long, laborious and sometimes expensive process. Highest level players can usually expect anywhere between ten minutes to a half hour to reach their destination from their faction’s capital city. Some zones are even so large that just getting around them on foot seems to take a ridiculous amount of time (The Barrens, Stranglethorn Vale and Felwood all come to mind).
In addition to class and racial talents, there is a third aspect to a player’s characters which can make him unique to others. That is tradeskills. Each character on a player’s account can learn up two Professions and three Secondary Skills. Professions range from Blacksmithing, Tailoring and Leatherworking, which let you make your own armor, to more specialized skills like Alchemy. Engineers get to make fun toys which help them in combat, while Enchanters can improve weapons and armor using magical reagents disenchanted from other items. Mining, Skinning and Herbalism lets the player gather reagents used in other tradeskills.
Secondary Skills don’t really improve your character much, since any player can and usually does have them. By far the most useful is First Aid, which lets the player make and apply bandages using cloth looted from enemies. Fishing let’s the player… fish while Cooking lets the player make food using fish or meat looted from enemies. All Professions and Secondary Skills are ranked in 300 skill levels, and more recipes can be learned from NPCs or from enemy drops based on your skill level. There are no restrictions based on class for who can use what tradeskill, but obviously for a Warrior to have Tailoring is pretty silly.
When it comes to dungeons, Warcraft is at it’s strongest. Ranging in length from between a half hour to five hours in length (if you already know what you’re doing), each dungeon in the game is “instanced.” What this means is that when you and your group enter the dungeon through it’s swirling portal, it creates a private dungeon that only you and your party can interact with. The dungeon will always be the same no matter how many different instances of it you create, but this isn’t the point.
The point of instancing the dungeons is to prevent a problem that was prevalent in many other MMOs. Oftentimes, you and your group would spend hours on end clearing a dungeon, finally reaching your goal. You stop to rest, prepping to take on this last challenge. You’re five seconds from attacking, when from out of nowhere another group appears and steals your kill. They went through the entire dungeon with little or no work because you’ve already killed everything, and they got to reap the rewards. It was one of the most disheartening and miserable experiences in other MMOs, and thankfully it doesn’t exist at all in the World of Warcraft.
The game features a multitude of varied and unique instance dungeons. They range from the ruins of a troll empire, to a castle overwhelmed by werewolves and ghosts. The game has over 20 instance dungeons, each tailored for different kinds of groups and experience levels. The largest chunk of World of Warcraft’s endgame takes place in these dungeons, which brings me to my next point.
In order to truly succeed in this game, the most important thing a player will need is a good, active and large guild. Personally I’m not real thrilled about this. In order to do the game’s most biggest dungeons with the best equipment, you need to have a large guild with at least forty active members. Many small but active guilds are forced to assimilate into other, larger guilds to accomplish anything. Blizzard has repeatedly promised to include more content for small groups with equipment that can compete with the raid dungeons, but thus far they haven’t delivered. The last small group content they included was Silithus in 1.8 patch, which ultimately broke down into another reputation grind for items that weren’t very good and culminated in - you guessed it - a raid boss. Luckily, small guilds can still compete in the PvP Battlegrounds (more on that later).
If you can get yourself into a large, active guild then it can actually turn out to be one of the most rewarding things in the game. Unfortunately, any guild that is large enough to run the 40-man dungeons regularly is bound to have personality clashes within. Needless drama will naturally ensue, which frequently spills out into other guilds or onto the Warcraft forums. Luckily, most servers have multiple Endgame Guilds, and server populations are always on the rise. So at least you have options.
Thus far I have only discussed the PvE (Player versus Environment) aspects of World of Warcraft. Even though this game is largely PvE in nature, there are a number of aspects to it which lend very well to PvP (Players versus Player). Not without it’s flaws, the Player versus Player part of the game in nevertheless one of the most promising and enduring parts of the game. Long after the adventures in Molten Core and Blackwing Lair grow tiring, there will still be the thrill of fighting off invading forces in the game’s many PvP environments.
The first and most important part of PvP is the Honor System. When a player defeats another player of the opposing faction who is within a certain level range, the winning player is awarded a number of Honor Points. Every Tuesday, a player’s accumulated honor is added together and compared to other players. Players are then organized into 14 different ranks based on how much honor they accumulated and what their rank was the previous week. The higher one’s honor rank, the more PvP Rewards they get.
There are several kinds of PvP in World of Warcraft: World PvP, Duels and Battleground PvP. The former mostly takes place on specially designated PvP Servers (more on that later), but “mostly“ doesn‘t mean much. For a few months after it was released, World PvP was quite common and was indeed the only way to get a good chunk of real PvP in. But since the release of Battlegrounds, World PvP has all but ceased and has instead been replaced by ganking (more on that later).
In it’s prime, World PvP meant that a player was actively seeking fair and balanced PvP by attacking other players or towns. What would begin as a single Rogue picking fights with a Druid could easily escalate into a zone-wide battle royale. World PvP came to a halt thanks in no small part to Blizzard. They made some radical changes to the game’s honor system which effectively ended the concept. First, the inclusion of Battlegrounds significantly reduced people’s interest in raiding other towns. Secondly and more importantly, Blizzard made the killing of Civilian NPCs detrimental to a player’s honor. World PvP still happens, but the raid must be planned well in advance and it usually only happens within guilds.
Duels, on the other hand, are entirely voluntarily. Usually occurring outside the cities of Orgrimmar and Ironforge, a duel is initiated when one player challenges another. After a small countdown, the duel begins and the two players battle until one is defeated. Unlike in normal PvP, duels do not award honor nor does the loser die. The battles also don’t really reflect on World or Battleground PvP very well, as both players are aware that they are in a fight and both players are given ample opportunity to prepare beforehand.
Lastly and most significantly is the Battleground PvP. Part instance, part World PvP, Battlegrounds put two teams of each faction against each other to complete goals and earn bonus honor. Warsong Gulch is a standard Capture The Flag mode for ten players. Arathi Basin pits two teams of fifteen against one another, trying to capture resource nodes. The more nodes you have, the faster your resource count rises. The first team to 2000 wins. Lastly is Alterac Valley, which sets two teams of forty players against one another in what is the closest thing World of Warcraft has to being like it’s RTS counterparts. Completing quests in the battleground will improve your team’s NPC units, and attacking the enemy outposts can cripple their ability to send in reinforcements and significantly reduce the number of NPCs on the battlefield.
Battlegrounds were a good idea, but sadly there’s a severe problem with them. Like endgame dungeons, there are large guilds on each server who focus almost entirely on running Battlegrounds. Getting matched up against one of these guilds is obviously a painful experience, especially if your group is substandard. And unless you get in on your own PvP guild, chances are your group will be suck. Blizzard initially had a good idea going to make sure that players who couldn’t compete with the other faction would at least get something out of it.
In one patch, Blizzard came up with a good idea for Battleground rewards. If the team wins a Battleground, they would receive three “Marks of Honor.” The losing team would only receive one. Turning in three Marks of Honor to that Battleground’s quartermaster would award the player an honor and reputation bonus. But Blizzard has recently gotten the idea that persistence against overwhelming odds should not be rewarded. Now if the team gets absolutely spanked, meaning the battle doesn’t last more then ten minutes, they don’t receive a Mark of Honor. Most of the PvP Guilds the player can get matched up against, especially at level 60, can be so far ahead of the average pick up group that the opposing team can usually win in a few minutes. Getting into a good PvP guild is essential to Battleground success, and since there are ten and fifteen man instances available this is where the small guild really shines.
The World of Warcraft is spread across over 120 different servers. The world is, for the most part, identical on each server, only the players on the server change. The different servers are divided into four different varieties: Normal, PvP, RP and RP-PvP. Normal servers have no special rules in any zone, and a player must be flagged for PvP to be attacked by the opposing faction. RP servers are technically the same as Normal servers, but have a stricter rule set on chat and encourage players to perform, or roleplay, as their characters. PvP Servers automatically flag players for PvP when they enter certain zones, and were formerly the best place to experience World PvP until Battlegrounds completely destroyed that part of the game. RP-PvP Servers are PvP Servers with an RP ruleset.
Each different server has it’s pros and cons. Normal servers are generally the easiest to level on, but have no impromptu PvP. PvP Servers, originally the king of World PvP, have been reduced largely to gankfests. Ganking is when you are attacked by another player, who usually has a large advantage over you. Ganking is initially fun and a thrill, but it grows tedious quickly and many players (myself included) have grown weary of endless death against overwhelming odds. Resourceful players have even found ways to harass other players on PvP servers - casting Mind Control and throwing enemy players into pools of lava, for example. Unless you’re a diehard PvP nut, avoid PvP Servers with a passion. Battlegrounds on Normal servers offer plenty of PvP for the average player.
The game’s community is really hit-or-miss. With a broad range of maturity, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in a group with a complete idiot and another player who is sharp as a razor. This is unsurprising; World of Warcraft draws it’s player base from many MMOs (including Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online just to name a few), as well as Diablo II, Baldur‘s Gate and other online RPGs. For many, World of Warcraft is their first MMO and are completely foreign to the basic concepts of the game, including class roles and how much time one has to dedicate to succeed.
Despite the game’s flaws, it is overall an incredibly enjoyable experience whose longevity depends almost entirely on the community the player gets involved in. The player who spends the entire game alone, unguided and ignoring the majority of the population probably won’t enjoy it much, and will eventually reach a dead end at level 60 when they have nothing left to accomplish. Whatever the player’s preference, be it PvE, PvP, roleplaying or just socializing, how much fun the player has is based almost entirely on the quality of his guild.
With one of the flat-out longest running continuous plotline in video gaming, it's no surprise that the Warcraft franchise has one of the best storylines out there. Though each installment in the series takes liberties with the older games, changing older stories to convenience a new plot twist, it doesn't seem petty. The story only grows better with age. With this considerable inheritance in tow, it's natural that the story in World of Warcraft be splendiferous. But because of the MMO nature of the game, players addicted to previous installments constant plot development may find themselves disappointed by WoW's story.
If you look at it from a reasonable standpoint, however, it actually makes sense. World of Warcraft actually does have as much plot development as previous games. But because this plot development is buried in hundreds of quests spread over months and months of gameplay, it's a little bit harder to appreciate it. Imagine reading the Lord of the Rings, but only reading one sentence a day. This is sort of how the story is delivered in Warcraft: In tiny, insignificant chunks over a great deal of time. Every so often, you get a big chunk which pushes the story further.
World of Warcraft picks up several years after the events in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. In case you missed it, or didn't care to play it, here's how things shaped up at its end (Spoiler Alert): Arthas has bonded his soul with the Lich King and rules the Undead Scourge. Sylvanas Windrunner has regained control of her mind, and leads a band of Undead rebels known as the Forsaken (who have allied themselves with the Horde out of convenience more then ideals). Illidan, who is not dead, has lead his army of Naga and Blood Elves back to Outland and is currently consolidating his power. Lordaeron has been completely decimated by the Undead, and is now ruled by the two warring Undead factions of the Scourge and the Forsaken.
I could go in-depth with the story like I did with the gameplay, but it would triple the size of this review (which is already excessively large) so I won't bother. Every few months Blizzard releases a "Major Content Patch" which typically introduces a new dungeon, and more importantly a new branch of the storyline. Since the game's release residents of the World of Warcraft have unravelled a conspiracy involving the Stormwind Monarchy and the dragon Onyxia, learned the story of the war between the Trolls and the evil god Hakkar, aided in the Argent Dawn in their attack on the Plaguelands, and many more. Most recently was the introduction of Silithus, where players of both factions are combatting the invasion of the Silithids. There are a large number of unfinished plot strings as well, including the tragedy of the Dire Maul and the origin of the Dwarves. If you're really paying attention, then the story in World of Warcraft will keep you engaged for some time. And there is always more to come.
I am of the opinion that the keyboard and mouse is the most efficient video game controller on the planet, even though it is not necessarily the easiest to learn. Therefore any game that contains the ability to completely remap the controls to any key or mouse button will get a 10 out of 10 for controls. Guess what World of Warcraft got? The controls are quick and responsive, and even though the game's default User Interface isn't very efficient in terms of space used this is easily remedied by the hundreds upon thousands of player-made AddOns which are available all over the internet.
These AddOns add to the user interface, doing many different things from adding more buttons to the screen, to class specific abilities, to maps, to anything else you can possibly imagine. Since there is an AddOn out there which can do just about anything you want, World of Warcraft has what is probably the gaming world's first completely customizable interface. Since you can do whatever you want with the controls and the interface which control them, World of Warcraft has what is logically and practically speaking one of the best control setups I've ever used.
Though WoW's graphics don't hold up to the graphics in Everquest 2, they are still excellent and get the job done quite well. Besides, when EQ2 was originally released the computer specs didn't even commercially exist to play the game at its maximum settings (that is my favorite factoid ever). A combination of style and efficiency, the graphics look good without straining the average computer too much, though you will probably still a want a top-of-the-line computer to run the game with a minimum of lag.
Thanks to Blizzard's brilliant art design team (/hug Samwise), each area in the game has a very unique style to them. Ironforge, a city built in the heart of a mountain, is staggeringly tall with buildings that stretch from the floor to the impossibly high ceiling. Undercity, meanwhile, is quite clearly a city built into a putrid sewer, and everything is very round. Each area features its own color pallette which are very different from eachother, so with a little extra playing time you can identify your location just by looking around.
And when it comes to the game's opening CG sequence, I would like to take this opportunity to restate my demand that Blizzard open a feature film department.
I feel a bit strange writing this, but I was disappointed by Warcraft's music. Warcraft II has one of my favorite soundtracks for a video game, and Warcraft's I and III weren't slouches in that department either. In World of Warcraft, however, I barely notice the music when it plays and I don't miss it when it stops. Which isn't to say what's there isn't good. The music that plays on the game's login screen is one that plays randomly in my head quite frequently, but this is probably attributed to how much I hear it more then how good it is. The music is good, it just isn't there much.
Sound, however, is a different story. Though there aren't any real speech bites in the game (aside from some Emotive sound bites which are a nod to the original game's 'annoyed' sound effects), every spell, weapon and effect in the game has its own easily identifiable sound. With practice, you develop an ear for it and can easily identify whatever class is in combat nearby, and even what abilities they are using (a little quirk I like to call "Counter-Strike Syndrome).
I had difficulty putting a numbered score on Warcraft's extras. It technically has no extras to score. So should I give it a 0, a 5, or just disqualify the category? I eventually settled on just disqualifying it, partly out of fanboy bias for the series, and partly because the game has no clearly defined goal to begin with. Depending on how you look at it, the entire game is an Extra.
Warcraft technically has no ending; you can keep playing it forever, achieving every goal in the game but never truly "finishing it." For some, this is a great thing. For others, this is a mark against it. But this is one of the defining features of a Massively Multiplayer Online game. The idea is to socialize and interact with other people, not to truly beat the game outright. A clearly defined ending is the hallmark of the single-player RPG (and even then, the idea is becoming less and less prevalent). If you're looking for a good chunk of game which technically never ends, then Warcraft is right up your alley.
The game's difficulty varies, typically based almost entirely on the competence of your team. Later dungeons in the game actually take equipment into account for difficulty, but the best equipped player in the game will still be worthless if they have no idea how to play their own class. Soloing is no different; how hard a time you have with it, with any class, is almost entirely based on how well you play your class. So if you find yourself getting completely whipped, you should ask yourself two questions: What am I or my teammates doing wrong, and am I the right level? One of these two factors is nearly always the deciding factor in how hard the game is.
Like any MMO, Warcraft's replay value is almost entirely dependent on how you play it. The player who focuses entirely on building characters as quickly as possible, devoting themselves to getting the best equipment possible in the least amount of time, will find themselves bored very quickly. But this is not the point of Warcraft. All MMOs have their roots in the MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) and MUSHs (Multi-User Shared Hallucinations) of the Internet's infancy. These text-based games were primarily social in nature, with a little D&D inspired RPG thrown in. If you understand that Warcraft is a socializing game and act accordingly, then you will find yourself happy for years to come.
Gameplay: 10 out of 10
Story: 5 out of 5
Controls: 10 out of 10
Graphics: 5 out of 5
Sound and Music: 4 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 9 out of 10
Overall Score: 9.5 out of 10
The Good: Warcraft's many classes and a variety of personalities playing it will appeal to a broad range of players. The game has at least one aspect to it which should appeal to almost any player, and with a few exceptions it doesn't slouch off in content in any of these categories.
The Bad: The community consists of experienced MMO players and MMO first timers, both of whom regularly butt heads and create a tumultuous climate. The game's varying difficulty is dependant largely on how well your group functions as a whole, and just one weak link in the chain can bring the whole group down. Because of the large community consisting of people of all age and maturity levels, inevitably these weak links appear in every group.
The Ugly: Warcraft doesn't live up to its claims to be the Soloer's MMO. Though you certainly can level to 60 without once entering a group, and do so easily, once you reach that milestone the only content available to you is group and raid content. The recent Silithus patch was supposed to be redemption to Soloers, but if this was true then Blizzard has an awful sense of humor.
With its roots buried deeply on just about every MMO released prior to now and a story already deeply entrenched in the stuff of gaming legend, Warcraft is one brilliantly designed game. Despite a few problems pertaining to one's ability to progress without joining a large guild and some class balance issues, Warcraft is easily the best MMO to date. If you can find your niche in the community and commit a few hours daily, World of Warcraft could quite possibly be the only game you’ll ever play for a decade.
Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)
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