World of Warcraft Impressions: Part One
As most of you know, our friends up at Blizzard have been cooking up their own batch of MMORPG for some time now. Those of you who were lucky enough to be selected for the closed beta already know about the fantastic experience that this game holds for players, even in it's early stages. World of Warcraft simply screams "Greatest MMORPG of All Time" at you, every moment that you play the game. This game is better than EQ, better than FFXI, better than Asheron's Call. In fact, I'd go so far as to place a wager on this game being better than any MMORPG ever created. You want to know why? Well, read on then.
World of Warcraft, on the character creation side, is split into two factions - The Alliance, and the Horde. Between these two factions are 8 races, with 5 job classes for each race. Humans, Dwarves, Night Elves, and Gnomes populate the Alliance side of the game, while Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, and Undead are the members of the Horde. Now, each race will NOT have the same 5 classes in it, which helps to diversify and balance out the game for the Player vs. Player feature, which I'll talk about later. The individual classes are currently as follows - Warrior, Shaman, Priest, Rogue, Warlock, Paladin, Mage, and Druid. Hunters, which are another class, are currently unavailable as playable classes, but should be added with the next beta patch. Which means I'll be back with several more of these articles. For more information on the different races and classes, you can visit Blizzard at the WoW Beta site, www.worldofwarcraft.com. When you go into character creation, you'll notice that the customization options when creating your custom hero are not as deep and detailed as, say, EQ2, from what the impressions and movies of that title will lead you to believe. World of Warcraft let's you customize a hairstyle, a face, facial hair or tattoos, and skin tone. Not a whole lot, I'm sure you're thinking, but read on, you won't be disappointed.
When you start your game, you'll be introduced to the race that you picked through a short narrative, letting you know about how your race got to where it is in the present time in the game, who your faction races are, etc. It's a fun an informative way to get your character started on the road to being one of the great heroes in the World of Warcraft. Each character will start in a newbie garden, which is protected by incredibly high level guards to keep your characters safe in their infancy. You'll do some quests for NPC's, all of which are race specific, and will help you to understand how the game is played and what strategies you should be using for the class you chose at the outset. Choose your class carefully, as it can't be changed, unlike titles such as FFXI. The first 7 to 8 levels will come pretty quickly in this training area, and by the time you feel like you are able to leave, you should be comfortable with combat and game basics, and your character should look like your own character. Many of the NPC quests give you special items and armor, but often it's a choice between 2 or 3 armor pieces, so it's rare that you'll see two characters that actually look alike.
Leaving the newbie garden and starting your game, you'll should notice right away that this game is very quest driven. There will always be an abundance of NPC quests to choose from, and you can have more than one going at a time. Most of the level experience in this game comes from both completing quests, and from attempting to complete the quests. If you keep at it, you'll blow through the first 20 levels or so, earning to abilities or spells, depending on your class, and getting some pretty cool items and armor to keep your character fresh and different. Many of the quests that you'll start receiving around level 15 will be designated at Elite quests, which will typically require a group to complete. These quests are very rewarding in both experience and rare items, so they're worth waiting around 15 minutes for a group for.
Group tactics are important in these elite quests, and pretty much anywhere in the game when you are in a group. Healers should concentrate on healing injured characters, Warriors should concentrate on keeping the enemy focused on them, so they can take the majority of the damage, while Mages and other types of spellcasters should stand afar and blast the enemies to pieces with devastating fireballs or Damage Over Time spells. I'll go into more detail with the class and spell types/abilities in later articles, but if you want a more comprehensive list, check out the Beta site listed above. Groups will often be able to take on a character or two that are as high as 6 or 7 levels above their own current level, as strength really does lie numbers. This is true also for PvP, which is one of the coolest, and yet annoying features in this stage of the game.
PvP in World of Warcraft is very simple. When you are in allied territory, or territory that belongs to your faction, then players of the opposite faction from you cannot attack you, unless you attack them first. If you're a Level 15 Undead Mage, and you see a Level 45 Human Warrior trotting down the road in your territory, it's typically a wise idea to not attack him, unless of course you want to die. This helps out lower level players, who could be easily killed if they engage in PvP combat early in the game. Members of the opposite faction CAN attack your NPC's in your towns and villages, so if you are high enough level, it would be wise to do your best to protect them. Group raids happen on cities and outposts all the time, it's simply part of the game experience. A slightly different situation occurs when you are in Contested Territory, that is, territory that is not owned by either faction. Here, all characters are fair game, regardless of level, which is where the annoying part comes in. Many quests for your character will often take place in Contested Territory, and if a player of the opposite faction just happens to come along while you're fighting some gigantic monster, he could just as easily kill you and run off, as let you live and finish whatever quest needs finishing. Normally, this wouldn't be that big of a problem, but when you're a lowly Level 26 character, and a Level 50 character of the opposite faction sees you, all he needs to do is hit you once, and kill whatever it is that you were fighting, then he can be on his merry way. This is the rather unfair characteristic of PvP, in these early stages. There is no penalty for him killing you, and you have to spend the time walking back to your corpse in order to continue. It's a frustrating and often maddening experience, but Blizzard has said that they are implementing a system that will reward players for killing players of equal, or at least close to equal, levels, which should help keep higher level players away from the much lower level players.
From a presentation standpoint, the game won't necessarily win any awards for best graphics or effects, but the art style for everything simply looks like Warcraft. Fans of the series will certainly NOT be disappointed with any part of the game, from a graphics perspective, simply because this game doesn't need the glitzy bump mapping or specular highlighting of other games in the genre to look good. Being a Warcraft fan myself, I think the game looks gorgeous. Each city is well represented, each dungeon, each field area, every one of them is carefully crafted to bring you that authentic Warcraft flavor, and it never disappoints. Weather systems haven't been implemented yet, but they will be in the final version of the game, so you'll be seeing rainy nights, and snowy mountains, all in due time. Sound effects for spells and characters are pretty decent at this point, and they'll be making some changes and additions to them before the game ships to retail. Music is just awesome, and there will always be an appropriate piece playing, wherever you might be.
That's all for this little preview, but in the next article, I'll be going into more detail with the combat system, faction cities and quests, modes of transportation, such as boats and zeppelins, pets, and much more. There is simply too much in this game to bring it all to you in one small article. A new patch, filled with new features and gameplay additions, is being added this week, so expect more impressions soon.
Jake Logan out. . .
Screens courtesy of Blizzard.com