"World of Warcraft is considered by many to be about as good as MMORPGs are going to get. It redesigned many things to make it more accessible to a wider audience yet still kept the things that made the genre fun to the hardcore market. While the game kept the constant grind it cut a lot of the actual time out; a single level did not take weeks or months to complete, just a day or even shorter at times. World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade is the expansion to this and was meant to..."
World of Warcraft is considered by many to be about as good as MMORPGs are going to get. It redesigned many things to make it more accessible to a wider audience yet still kept the things that made the genre fun to the hardcore market. While the game kept the constant grind it cut a lot of the actual time out; a single level did not take weeks or months to complete, just a day or even shorter at times. World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade is the expansion to this and was meant to build upon the premise by making content smaller and open to more people, this is just what they have done too. While the original game managed to be casual but challenging (especially near the end of its life) the expansion has redesigned every key element of that design, completely breaking what worked perfectly.
Simple and bland is the name of the game here which is evident the moment you set foot into Outland, The Burning Crusade's central setting. Long time Warcraft fans will remember Outland as being one of the main settings of past games, most notably where Illidan defeated Magtheridon and took Outland as his own. He is bad at housekeeping though as out of the seven zones Outland has to offer all of them are bland and lifeless, save the out of place floating isles of Nagrand. Each zone usually has one feature that makes up most of the area. The swampland of Zangamarsh has tall blue mushrooms accounting for most of its landscape while long, spiked mountain cliffs make up Blade's Edge Mountains. Some of these may put you in a state of awe at first, it quickly fades away after spending a few days within the zone traveling around.
Another small quirk is the fact everything feels so out of place. Granted within the Warcraft lore Outland itself had been through an explosion it does not exactly look like it. There is a staggering difference between each area and none of them share any similarities. A barren sci-fi landscape abruptly leads to a marsh which in turn quickly changes to somewhat typical forest scenery populated with islands floating in mid-air. There is no continuity with the locals at all and it feels so awkward walking between each zone. On the flip side though, back in your home world of Azeroth there is a few zones for the new playable races Draenei and Blood Elves which look fantastic; especially the elves of the fallen kingdom Quel'Thalas which looks as if it were pulled from the heart of any fantasy book, full of magic and monsters.
Sadly the Draenei and Blood Elf zones are about the only nice touch to the game as everything else is full to the brim of downright unsatisfying content. The first and arguably biggest change to gameplay is how raid encounters now work. For those unfamiliar with raid encounters they work as so. A group of players, in most cases people in the same guild, enter an instance (which is basically a dungeon that separates you and your party from other players to defeat bosses found within the area) to clear a series of bosses and defeat the final boss; obtaining some of the best gear in the game along the way. Previously in the original game raid encounters were made up of 40 players working towards this goal but The Burning Crusade has trimmed this down to just 25.
This causes problems to older guilds in the game who for the past 2 years had taken 40 people to raid encounters now must only take 25. It can be a hassle if you have more than 25 people online who wish to take part in this. If this was not problematic enough the cut to 25 people has lead to some simplistic boss designs. World of Warcraft near the end of its life had a reputation for having some of the most fun and strategic fights of any video game. Having less people has lead to everything becoming much easier since there is not as many things 25 people can do when compared to 40, meaning people are able to clear instances at a faster pace which in turn forces Blizzard to release new content patches or the game will grow stale quick. The underlying goal of this choice is to open all of that content to more people but in reality it is broken since the same people it was made for usually can't fit the time for this new stuff into their schedule anyway, hence the term casual.
Blizzard knew this, so as a backup plan another curve ball was thrown into the game. After meeting specific requirements you can purchase what is called a heroic key, which allows you access to heroic dungeons. Simply put this any normal instance on hard mode. All the enemies hit harder, take less damage and some even have new skills to use against you. These are far from fun though as all of them are just far too hard for the audience it is meant for. While it is nice to see a game attempt to make something challenging this is crafted in the wrong way. It is not a manageable hard that some good skill can conquer, it is all brutal and luck can play a much larger role in killing the simplest enemy than any skill.
Since the allegiances of World of Warcraft (the Horde and the Alliance) was a large draw originally and the Player vs. Player was genuinely fun and accessible to anyone it is only fitting Blizzard tried to expand on that even more with a new battleground to go along with the three previous ones from the original game and a new form of PvP altogether called arena. The newly introduced arena is as chaotic and barbaric as the name implies, teams of 2, 3, or 5 fights against one another until only one team is left standing – the typical death match. Ranked matches occur within a season that lasts for a few months, each of these matches whether you win or lose directly effect a team rating; losing will lower that rating while winning will increase it. This rating determines how many points you obtain each week and can be used a currency for new armor and weapons. The whole system is for the most part flawless and boosts skill over the typical time sinks we have come to expect from the genre but in turn kills any other branch of PvP within the game.
All the gear obtained from doing these arenas are far better than any new addition to the old battleground and honor system meaning Blizzard has accidentally (or maybe intentionally) killed off one of their PvP branches. While it is true many people will still find enjoyment through the battlegrounds they offer almost nothing in return for the giant time sink they turn out to be. If you do decide to do these you will only find yourself facing off against people geared in arena armor and weapons that will rip you apart with ease. So to actually enjoy this and level the playing field you must do the arena, which in turn means less battleground time anyway.
Also in an attempt to bring more life to the sport of outdoor PvP such as other contenders of the genre accomplish many quests revolve around taking control of specific locations on the map. These cleverly give you specific benefits if they are under your control meaning there is an incentive to actually put forth the effort and control these areas which was missing from the original World of Warcraft. The problem here though, most of these places take so long to conquer if there is an equal amount of players around. So while it may be fun the first few times you engage in it there is really no reason to come back for more as any of the gear and items you can get from collecting tokens by killing opposing players is obsolete when compared to arena gear.
All of the things mentioned before are considered high level stuff meant for those that make it to the new level cap of 70. While these are new – and broken – ideas one thing remains the same from the previous game. Your time spent leveling will be about the same experience as it was gaining your first 60 levels, albeit a lot simpler. Finding your way around the vast open world of Azeroth was fun when you gained those first 60 levels, there were a lot of quests that you could stumble upon in the most random places to complete and gain experience. All of this is ripped away in Outland as for the most part as quest progression is quite linear, and to make things worse the game holds your hand from each quest hub to the next.
Overall the quest design is not much different from before though there are a few tricks here and there. A great example are these bombing runs which force you into flying over a group of enemies or buildings and toss some smiley face bombs to kill them. This is just one of the few though; most quests are still the typical talk to this person or go fetch 20 eggs and the like. While this could have worked decently as questing usually only serves the purpose of getting some gear to prepare you for level 70 content Blizzard took it upon themselves to raise the bar on the time needed to gain these new ten levels. It takes roughly 10 days of played time to do this. Given the game only offers 7 zones to do this in you will most likely be completely bored with the leveling process due to how easy and repetitive it is.
Like any expansion to a game there has to be a few key things to draw you in, The Burning Crusade attention getter is the two new races mentioned before; the somewhat new Draenei and the Blood Elves, formally High Elves from past Warcraft games. Don’t think the new races are only a cosmetic touch though as they offer much more. As with the preexisting races the Draenei and Elves feature special skills only available to their race; for example the Blood Elves are better at the enchanting craft skill than other races, can drain mana from enemies, and silence them for a couple of seconds. While this is a nice touch both of these races are a bit overpowered in terms of racial abilities when compared to any of the previous choices.
The two new races also unlock a new class to their respective allegiance. The Blood Elves bring the power of the Paladin to the Horde which was previously only available to the Alliance, while Draenei bring Shamans to the Alliance. While it is obvious why Blizzard made this change since many people were unhappy with the class split, it really kills a lot of the magic the two classes represented before. Horde players could have a large (maybe unnecessary) hate for Paladins because they were playable by the Alliance only and would feel like killing them whenever they got the chance. Now everything is on a level playing ground since nothing more than a few visuals have been changed with the new class movement.
Still, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade is broken. While it has some interesting ideas Blizzard failed at incorporating almost every single one of these into the experience. Along the way they also managed to strip the game away of every old thing that made it memorable and fun for even simpler and boring gameplay. For newcomers it can be a great experience honestly, but for the people who have already invested a large portion of time into the game it is only a slap in the face as it changes the core of the gameplay leaving only the shell of what it once was.
Community review by Zenax (November 08, 2007)
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