Tuesday, February 12, 2008

World of Warcraft 1

For the past two years I have wandered the vast lands of Azeroth. I have slain members of the Alliance and other enemies of the Horde. Now I venture through the Black Portal, and patrol the Outlands on my flying Nether Drake. I ask no questions. I take no prisoners. I am the undead mage called Manasponge! A master of the Arcane arts! All those who oppose me will tremble in fear! Don't make me sheep you!

Anyone who understood any of the above may be familiar with the smash hit World of Warcraft aka WoW. This MMORPG (massive mulitplayer on-line role playing game) is the most successfully and lucrative game on the net. Players pay Blizzard $12-$15 a month, in addition to purchasing the game itself, to experience the many adventures this never ending saga has to offer. There has been one expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, and the second expansion, Wraith of the Lich King, is under development. The game world is consistently updated through various patches that introduce new content. I have personally been a part of this world for over two years. I have played as a Nightelf Druid on the Alliance pre-expansion, and I currently use two characters on the Horde: an Undead Mage and a Bloodelf Paladin. Don't despair if that last sentence didn't make any sense to you. This review will cover the basics of this fantastic world, and will be followed by a more in depth look into the two end game segments--PvP and PvE.

Everything begins somewhere, and like most RPGs, WoW begins with character creation. Players first choose a realm or server that they wish to play on. There are Player versus Player (PvP), Player versus Environment (PvE), and Role Playing (RP) realms. In PvP realms players are consistently flagged for combat making them attackable by players of the opposite faction in contested zones. PvE realms allow players to remain unflaged in contested territories, but stepping onto enemy controlled lands will flag you for combat. RP realms take the fantasy to the next level. Players take on the fictional persona of their character. Thus a player will be arrogant and stuck up as an elf, or crude and rude as an undead. I personally preferred the PvP realm over my experiences on a PvE server. It is a lot of fun to "pick on" other players as they travel throughout Azeroth.

After choosing a realm players join one of the two main factions in WoW: the Alliance or the Horde. Each has a dark history of hatred for the other that was developed through the popular Warcraft RTS games. When, however, a greater evil faces the land of Azeroth their differences are set aside and tentative alliances are forged. This doesn't mean that the two factions like teaming up, and many races have their own vendettas and agendas.

Five races are available for each faction. The Alliance consists of Gnomes, Humans, Dwarves, Nightelves, and Dranei. The Horde are a bit uglier, but way cooler consisting of Undead, Orcs, Trolls, Taurens, and Bloodelves. With the exception of Trolls and Gnomes, each race has a capital city that acts as a "safe" zone and trading hub. Each race also has a unique set of abilities. Nightelves can blend into there surroundings, and Dranei (hoofed space aliens) can improve a parties chance to hit. Undead can eat corpses for health, and Taurens (bipedal cows) can stomp the ground stunning nearby opponents. There are four abilities for each race, and they often complement the various classes available.

Not all races can be all classes. The classic example for this reasoning is a Tauren Rogue. It is hard to believe that an eight foot tall, three hundred pound, hoofed heifer could sneak up on you. There are a total of nine classes to choose from: Hunter, Mage, Warlock, Rogue, Priest, Shaman, Druid, Paladin, and Warrior. Every class has there role to play in the wider world...of Warcraft (South Park joke go Youtube it now!!!). There are three main talent trees that dictate a class’s purpose, and there are unique quest lines that only a particular class can experience. Amazingly no two classes play alike. I would go into more details about each class, but that would take forever. I will, however, go into the basics of the "Holy Trinity" that is DPS/CC, Tank, and Healer. This will highlight the roles of various classes, and give an insight to what general combat is like.

I will begin with basic definitions that the experienced MMORPGer should be familiar with. DPS stands for Damage Per Second, and refers to just about any class that can deal out massive damage. Every class has a DPS talent tree, but the four best classes for this role are Rogue, Warlock, Hunter, and Mage. (Flame on WoW nerds...it's my blog.) CC is Crowd Control, referring to the ability to stop an enemy in their tracks for a small amount of time. Mages have polymorph that turns targets into a sheep. Hunters set freezing traps, and many classes can make enemies run uncontrollably with Fear. Most classes have a CC, but certain types are more dependable than others. A Tank, aka punching bag, tries to take on as much punishment as physically possible from enemies. They use high amounts of aggro (grabbing a targets attention), and have amazing defensive abilities in order to keep others out of harms way. Only three classes can be tanks--Druids, Paladins, and Warriors. Warriors are often the most preferred, but skilled/geared Druids and Paladins should not be underestimated. The last part of the Holy Trinty is healers. There are four classes--Druid, Paladin, Shaman, and Priest--with this ability, and many have dubbed them "hybrids." Hybrid classes are offered dps and/or tanking as well as healing talents and abilities. Like any other healer in the world their job is to keep everyone alive.

So you have tanks, healers, and damage dealers. In general combat you ideally have at least one of each. The tank charges in grabbing the bad guy’s attention. The healer keeps him alive, and the damage dealer rips him a new one. Rinse, wash, repeat, and welcome to teamwork. Things do get more complicated as characters level up, but the basics never change.

Everyone starts out in a designated starting zone. This area is generally safe from harms way, and allows the player to get a feel for the basics during their first ten levels. Don't worry. This is a user friendly MMORPG. A lovely yellow exclamation mark will indicate your first quest, and game tips will pop up to explain the controls. Throughout the game four main questing duties prevail: talk to someone, kill enemies, gather items, and/or escort a "friend" to safety. This seems dull, and it does get tedious at times, but Blizzard does an excellent job of making compelling and fun quests.

For many their first quest will involve talking to an NPC (non playable character) a few yards away for another quest. After that your second quest involves killing the local beasts patrolling the area. This unlocks more adventures, and before you know it you are level ten. As you move on up in levels more abilities, talents, items, and quests will become available. Don’t worry about dieing either. When you fall in combat—or off a cliff—your spirit will spawn at a near by grave yard. There are two options from here. The first is to take Resurrection sickness and have the spirit angel bring you back to life at the graveyard. Resurrection sickness increases the repair bill of your armor, and reduces all your stats and abilities by seventy-five percent. The second option is to run back to your corpse to re-enter your body. In both scenarios you do not lose any gear that is on your character. This game does an excellent job of easing you into the various layers of this delicious cake...I mean RPG.

Eventually beginning players will get a quest that leads them to a dungeon aka instance. This is a closed off area of the game that is played with a team of five or more. The Holy Trinity mentioned above is crucial in these situations. Enemies are stronger than the average non-instance NPCs, and bosses will test your parties’ ability to work as a team. The rewards, however, are often greater than anything found by solo questing. Future posts about the PvE aspects of WoW will look over some of the various instances available.

The other major component of WoW’s gameplay experience is PvP. This is when players fight other players in various locations. Encounters with the enemy can occur just about anywhere in the game world. Capital cities, small towns, transportation networks, country sides, and more have seen countless raids and can provide hours of entertainment. There are also five Battleground’s (BG) for players to participate in. Each one offers a unique game that pits the Alliance versus the Horde. Capture the flag, territories, kill the general, death match, and a combination of ctf and territories will test players gear and skill. Players earn honor for scoring points in these game types, and can spend “honor points” at specific vendors to purchase rewards.

The final aspect of WoW that this post will cover is professions. There are a total of thirteen professions that players can choose from. Each character is allowed to train in five professions, but three of them are universal—first aide, fishing, and cooking. The remaining two can be mixed and matched as the player wishes. Many professions, however, complement each other. Mining provides materials for Blacksmiths, Engineers, and Jewelcrafters. Herbalism allows Alchemists to create potions and elixirs. These professions offer various benefits that enhance your characters effectiveness in combat. The degree of effectiveness, however, varies from profession to profession. Crafters can often make high end armor, weapons, and trinkets. They also make silly “fun” gadgets like the Engineer’s flying helicopter or mechanical yeti.

As you quest and instance your way to the level cap at 70 you will meet some amazing people—and a few douche bags. Experiencing the various trials of WoW together will strengthen gaming bonds, and produce close knit groups of players that usually form guilds. These groups of people can display there logo with tabards, and many compete with other guilds to be the best of the best. Some players will discover new friends, and others will create virtual nemeses. I personally have made friends with people that I have never met in real life. One individual, who I only knew as Shadowmists or Sirred for years, has known me longer than his wife--who is pregnant with their first child. It is simply amazing how close you can get in this game.

With such a huge and engaging game it is easy to understand why so many people play this game. Over ten-million subscriptions have been recorded from across the globe. The gameplay experience is solid, there is a variety of things to accomplish, and there is a social element that can’t be beat. As a whole World of Warcraft receives a score of 5 out of 5. Look for future posts on the PvP and PvE end game aspects of WoW. Each will receive a separate score, and dive deeper into some of the more popular segments of this game.

No comments: