World of Warcraft

Review

posted 12/30/2004 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC
As a nice change of pace, all noobs aren’t forced to start off in the same playpen. Most races have a starting point unique from the others—the exception being that gnomes and dwarves both begin in the mountainous recesses of Dun Morogh, while orcs and trolls start off in the badlands of Durotar together. Humans commence their careers in Elwynn Forest, night elves atop the world tree of Teldrassil, tauren in the plains and mesas of Mulgore, and the undead emerge from tombs in Tirisfal Glades.

Each location provides stark visual contrast to all the others, instantly immersing you neck-deep into your homeland. This racial segregation prevents you from getting comfortable with seeing your enemy wandering around early stages with you. Sure, it fosters a xenophobic atmosphere, but we’re not here to be sympathetic towards our enemies, are we? It’s a world at war, after all. Political soapboxing aside, this method of introduction develops camaraderie with “your own kind,” slowly developing a rapport with other races in your faction as you’re gradually introduced to them. Since open communication often fosters peaceful solutions, the Horde and the Alliance have a fixed language barrier: opposite sides cannot understand one another even if they tried. Yet another stroke of brilliance from the Blizzard team.

By spanning across the entire geographical gamut, you will easily find a landscape that suits you, a place to call home. If that’s amidst the lavender and rose-colored forests of the night elves, or the throat-parching barrens of the orcs, every landscape, structure, and creature is painted with a brush that is uniquely Warcraft. You can argue that it’s graphically far-fetched, even “cartoony”, but you can’t argue with the total sensory immersion it provides. Even in a place that sounds as graphically starved as “The Barrens” you will find numerous landmarks and fascinating bends of Blizzard’s imaginative canvas. Enough can’t be said for the artistic conception behind WoW. Such blatant and unrestrained usage of the color pallet, coupled with such a convincing push away from stale fantasy norms, will surely convert the masses. Believe that!

But this is not a case of style without substance. No, admittedly there is nothing truly groundbreaking; but a series of small innovations in gameplay mechanics—all of them positive—create a momentous shove in the right direction. Less downtime, confident stat and ability progression, energetic storytelling, blessed RPG depth…it all adds up to a stronger, more memorable, more rewarding gaming experience.

The basic mission structure found within most MMOs is cut-and-pasted here, but it is hidden beneath the excellent storytelling acumen of Blizzard’s writers. Gather this many ingredients, kill that many enemies, deliver this message, return with another. Most online games fall prey to the worst of this obvious and formulaic repetitiveness, whereas WoW somehow gets you to care more about the plot than the prize. The missions flesh out culture and character, not just objectives and accomplishments. Beneath the entire warfare meta-narrative is a world rife with internal struggles, denials, revelations, and lies. With so much lore to unearth within arm’s reach you’ll often forget there is a factional enemy beyond the scope of your own adventurous world.

There are virtually no load screens to serve as borders; just the slowly emerging, evolving landscape, stream-loading to your compass needle’s content. Even transportation by griffin or ship is rendered in real-time, cutting out the teleportation-like effect that plagues public transit in other games. I used to get a lot of reading done during load screens, but that opportunity just doesn’t manifest itself in WoW. Another very welcome innovation to the gameplay schematic.

Three types of servers exist: PvP, normal, and roleplaying. Again, you have more than enough room on your account to try them all. While roleplaying servers cater to a distinct audience, it adheres to the same core rulebook as the normal servers. They are both PvE (player vs. environment, meaning that they are against the creatures and humanoids placed by the game), both have a consensual dueling system, and a combative free-for-all on the arena floor in Stranglethorn Vale exists on each server type.

PvP servers operate on fair rules of engagement, with all areas broken down into one of three categories: Horde Controlled, Alliance Controlled, and Contested. Your home territories are a green safe zone; the enemy cannot attack you unless you have specifically tagged yourself for PvP combat, or you attack them first. These rules apply vice versa should you enter red enemy territory; you can only initiate combat against NPCs, those players tagged for PvP, and players that attack you first. Yellow contested areas automatically tag you for PvP combat when you enter them.

With these rules intact, you may run around your homeland in safety until you build up to a level ready for warfare. There are also certain tweaks done to player abilities to place them on par between the classes. To further ensure fairness, an honor system is in place to reward players engaging in combat with characters (player or non-player) of a higher level. Punishment hits up players who attack characters that are much lower in level. Garner enough positive points and you will have access to rewards, merchant discounts, special tabards, and other items. Titles and guildhalls are in store for groups that can pull of several team-oriented missions on a PvP server.
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