This is going to be a strange series. WoW is a cultural phenomenon and the 800lb. gorilla of PC gaming. Ten million subscribers. (That number gets thrown around a lot. Is that concurrent, or all time? I ask because that number hasn’t changed in years. 10 million subscribers x $20 a month = fountain of eternal green.) I have no doubt there are people who read this site who played the game for months, got sick of it, quit, relapsed, quit again, got back into it when the expansion came out, hauled a few characters to level 70, tapered off, and now think of the game in terms of the distant past.
And here I am, going to come in and review this thing like I’m covering new ground. It’s crazy, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
As soon as I figure out where to start.
What should we discuss? The art? The gameplay? The races and sides? The player culture? The various servers? I keep looking for some approach to this series that will let me tame this deluge of information.
Some people become “addicted” to WoW, in the sense that they play, talk, and think about it more than they should. But other people seem to be able to take it or leave it in a responsible manner. As I feared, I’m the former, so it’s very important that I be exceptionally careful with this game.
The game isn’t what I expected. Detractors keep describing it as a level-grind, and I was thinking “Diablo II” type mob-killing and item harvesting. And that gameplay is indeed part of Wow. But saying this game is about leveling is like saying Grand Theft Auto is a game about driving. You certainly do a lot of it, but usually in pursuit of other, more interesting goals.
But let’s describe all the parts of the game for the benefit of those who haven’t played:
Ha! I’m joking. There are entire wikis out there dedicated to describing the game, and even at that they have bare spots and missing articles. No, what we’re going to do here is a very reckless, half-assed overview of the game:
This is the Titular “World” of Warcraft:
|Want to see more? Check out the Google Earth style WoW map. Even the tiny parts of the game are freaking huge.|
This is the biggest gameworld I’ve ever explored. I don’t know if it’s the biggest ever or not, but I know it would require monumental effort to see it all.
The game extends the story of the classic RTS Warcraft into an MMO setting, which was pretty strange to me at first. In the past we’ve looked down on Azeroth from above, commanding armies and jumping around the map with a mouse. Now we have full access to the immense world hinted at in the strategy games, but we’re on foot.
As with Warcraft, there are two major warring factions: The Alliance and the Horde. The Alliance are the nice people: Ubiquitous Humans, Stout Dwarves, Adorable Gnomes, and Tree-hugging Night Elves. The Horde are supposedly evil, although their overall character is a bit out of focus. There’s the classic hulking, green-skinned Orcs. Then there’s the… Undead? Like, you can play as a zombie if you want? Then there are the Tauren, who are kind of bipedal bison-people, a nomadic and honorable tribal society. Given their temperament, they would actually fit in better with the Alliance, but the story explains how they ended up aligned with the Horde. Finally, there are the scrawny, bent trolls.
The Orcs have undergone the same treatment that Star Trek gave the Klingons: They retconned in a warrior culture and caste society to make their previously feral antagonists a bit deeper and more interesting.
You might think – as I did at first – that one of those islands is Horde and the other is Alliance, but actually the two sides are mixed together. Each race has their own “home” area on the map, but neither side dominates either island.
So the game works like this: You pick a side. (Horde or Alliance.) Then you pick a race and gender. Then you pick a character class. (Paladin, Mage, Rogue, etc.) Then you pick a name that hasn’t already been taken and (ideally) isn’t too idiotic or infantile. Then you enter the game.
Considering the size and scope of this game, it does an excellent job of easing you into it. Each race has their own unique starting area (Er. I think the Dwarves and Gnomes share the same start area, but don’t trouble me with trivialities or we’ll never get through this. Sheesh. Thank you.) but all the starting areas work the same.
After the race-specific opening cutscene / narration, you start off in what I call the “Playpen”. This is a semi-enclosed space that will keep you from accidentally blundering out of the tutorial zone without noticing. It’s generally a field with some very harmless creatures milling around. An NPC is right in front of you, and the first thing he’ll do is assign you a job of wiping out X number of the nearby creatures. The creatures don’t aggro (that is, they don’t attack you unless you attack them first) so the Playpen is about the safest place in the whole game. You’ll do a few small quests that will teach you how to get around and how to fight. About the time you hit level 3 – say, ten minutes or so – you’ll be given a quest to leave the playpen and go to a nearby city.
At this point the game has begun in earnest. Assuming you follow the quests given to you (although there’s nothing saying you have to) You’ll operate out of this city until you hit level ten. This city acts as a hub for the next several hours as you run quests that will send you further and further afield. As you complete quests you’ll learn more about the particular set of problems facing your race.
At level ten you gain a bunch of new abilities. You can’t really have a feel for a particular character class until you hit this point. The game actually gets slowly harder as you approach level nine, and at ten this pressure is released when you gain your new powers and the difficulty steps back down.
Once you reach 10 you’re sent to the next city, which once again acts as a hub where monsters become more powerful and dangerous the further away you get. As before, you’ll stick close to town for a few levels until you’re strong enough to face the monsters further out. At about level twenty the process repeats: New town, new foes, new hub of quests. Each town has it’s own look and feel, so moving on is a visual treat.
That’s as far as I’ve gone with the game. Doesn’t sound like much, I’m sure. The premise and the pacing are simple and obvious. But millions of people pay money each and every month to play the damn thing. I’m still on my first free month, but I can’t imagine canceling right now. So let’s just include me in that tally.
So far I’ve only described to two core components of the game: Questing and leveling. But if that was all there was to the game then I’d be getting tired of it by now, instead of becoming increasingly obsessed. Questing and leveling set the pace, but it’s the other player-initiated goals and activities that drive the player. (Which I’ll talk about in another post.)
I have many petty nitpicks with the game, but when it comes to the fundamental mechanics this thing is flawlessly executed. This is a robust and highly polished experience. Some people call it “the best game ever”. I’m careful about making those sorts of claims, although if I had to pick the “best game ever”, WoW would certainly be in the running. (And I’ve seen less than a tenth of it.) You can try out a free 10-day trial if you want to find out if you’re susceptible to its addictive properties. I do not advise you to do this, particularly if you have things you wish to accomplish in the next few months. I’m just saying you could.
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