So now I’ve sunk some real time into WoW. I’ve rolled up a character from almost every race. I’ve played a few of the classes past level 10. I’ve seen most of the early-game content (Alliance-side) and I’ve taken part in both solo and group play. Given the size of this thing, I am still a newbie, but I think I have enough of a handle on the game to start talking about the mechanics and gameplay without flailing about in ignorance.
But even a couple of hours into my first session I could see what imbues the game with its addictive properties. It provides a tremendous number of highly polished activities and goals for the player to pursue.
WoW is a rich source of expansive scenery. In the past I’ve praised Oblivion for it’s size, although that game feels like a couple of parking spaces next to the immense gameworld we have in here. The locations are large, beautiful, and varied. Some people fault the game for its chunky, cartoony style but I’d rather have strong art direction than photorealism any day.
What have I been up to in the game? I’ve been roaming through the golden fields of Westfall in late afternoon, hunting down the infamous Defias gang and bringing those sons of bitches to repeated justice. I’ve enjoyed soaring over the mountains at sunset on one of the in-game
taxisflying gryphons, rushing through that narrow cleft in the snowy peak to enter the roaring underground city of Ironforge, last remaining stronghold of Dwarven kind. I’ve been prowling along the beaches of Darkshore at night, hunting the scuttling crabs while dodging clusters of Murlocs as they feasted on the carcass of some beached leviathan. I’ve been lost among the towering ancient trees of Teldrassil. I’ve seen the crazy purple crystals and those freaky moths they have around the ruined Exodar. I’ve been diving for treasure, climbing mountains, digging through dungeons, and winding my way through darkened woods.
I’ve been places, is what I’m saying. I’ve seen more spectacle than a dozen other games might offer, and I’ve seen less than a third of the World of Warcraft.
Surprisingly, this game is not the click-fest I expected. You don’t just sit there and watch your hero bash on something until it falls over. You’ll have a list of skills and abilities to use in battle, and winning means more than just picking the “best” attack and using it over and over. If you want to get the most out of your character, you have to learn to use it properly. You can go and read all the hints and tips others have written, or you can do what I did, which is try to discover these secrets for yourself. I found it very rewarding to discover some new trick or tactic that would let me bring down larger, more formidable foes, or dispatch more modest ones with greater efficiency. This gameplay gets deeper as you level up and gain new abilities that can be used in new combinations.
An example: The Rogue has combo points that build up on one enemy. The more special attacks you use, the more combo points you’ll get. These points can be unleashed using a variety of special finishing moves. Knowing how long to chain combos and when to cash in on their potential requires getting to know your foe as well as your character.
If you’re not down with the whole hotkey combo business you can have a fine time beating on monsters at your own level, but if you’re in the mood to push you can try new strategies and chains of abilities to see how far you can go. Each class is unique, so if one doesn’t suit you can just try one of the others.
I also like how foes scale above you. I think a newbie with ordinary gear is usually an even match against foes of the same level, while an expert with powerful gear can probably handle foes three levels above him without too much risk. Once in a while I get daring and take a crack at something I shouldn’t. Sometimes I have to run and sometimes I win, but it’s fun no matter how things play out. I wouldn’t want that level of risk imposed on me by the game, but it’s nice that the challenge is there when I’m up for it. The way foes are spread out, it’s pretty easy to pick an area that has the right mix of of risk vs. reward for you.
“Character Building” – which I’m using as a euphemism for leveling here – offers a lot of variety in how you want to develop your skills. Because there are seventy levels, they can afford to hand them out at a brisk pace. (“Brisk pace” being a relative measure, here. Getting to ten takes a couple of hours, but rumor has it that seventy takes months.) It wasn’t until I had a character near level twenty that I began to pay any real attention to the leveling progress meter. There’s just so much else to think about. I found leveling happened more or less as a result of my pursuit of all of my other goals.
The leveling is nice and loose, in that you can fight foes several levels below you and still get some sort of modest XP reward. Also, lower level monsters tend to look the other way when you walk by. Despite doing a lot of exploration-driven backtracking (of my own volition, because I wanted to see the sights) through lower-level areas, I never found myself obliged to hack through worthless foes just to get where I was going.
You get new abilities when you level, and starting at level ten you get talent points to spend that will let you focus your abilities on your particular play style. This stuff comes at a steady pace, so you aren’t making decisions before you know enough to choose wisely.
The quests in WoW don’t stray too far from the long-established formulas. Go kill ten of these. Bring me the hides of six of those. Take this item / message to someone else. They’re not exactly breaking new ground, but they’re usually interesting, amusing, or informative. They do an excellent job of giving you motivation and rewards for exploring the map and seeing new things, as opposed to grinding whatever monsters lurk just beyond the edge of town. They also give nice short-term goals so you have something more immediate to shoot for than your next level.
You can have two main professions in the game, out of a possible eleven. Understand that for me this choice was painful. I had already chosen one race out of a possible ten, and one character class out of a possible nine. I was already shocked at how immense and varied the game was, and I was only seeing a fraction of it. If I want to try all races, classes, and professions, then Blizzard Entertainment is about to get an awful lot of my money.
The main professions are compelling and fun. Some go together, like skinning and leatherworking, mining and blacksmithing, or herbalism and alchemy. You can pick a pair of professions like this where one supplies the raw materials for the other, or you can just take two gathering professions and sell the raw materials to others. Which brings me to…
Thank goodness for this. No more idiots standing around populated areas spamming chat with “WTS LS LVL25 15.3DPS PST!!!!” If you want to sell something, take it to the in-game auction house. Wheeling and dealing at the AH is fun and profitable. When a sale goes through the AH mails you the item (or the proceeds) which you can pick up in any major city. You can look at the prices there and get a feel for the actual worth of items, regardless of the price offered by the relentlessly cutthroat NPC vendors.
If you choose to learn to cook, you can turn your kills into food that will confer stat bonuses for a limited time. If you’re out in the wilderness you can build a fire (which itself grants a short-term morale bonus of some sort) and roast up some Spiced Wolf Meat that will give you +2 stamina and +2 spirit for 15 minutes. The more you cook the better your skills get, which lets you learn more complex recipes that will deliver even more significant bonuses.
Not as fun or as meaningful as cooking, but it’s another skill to learn and level if you so choose.
Okay, I haven’t actually done much with this skill except turn linen into bandages, but some people apparently take it further than that.
Learn to fish. The more you do, the better you get, which means you can attempt to fish in more difficult waters, yielding better fish and so on. This combines nicely with the cooking skill.
I think the addictive nature of the game should be fairly apparent by now. Exploration, combat, character building, questing, auctioning, two professions, fishing, cooking, first aid. Ten basic activities to keep you busy and engaged, so that you’re not doing just one thing for too long. All these various activities combine to make sure that it’s never a good time to stop playing:
You’re killing monsters and cooking their meat. You’re taking their pelts, making those into leather, making that into armor, and then selling the fruits of that labor on the auction house. But during this process you might level up, in which case it’s time to buy some new skills at the trainer and spend some talent points and then head out and see what new quests are available. Those quests send you somewhere new where you find new fishing areas, which lets you try out some new cooking recipe. While you’re building the fire you spot a dungeon, so when you’re done cooking you chomp down some of what you just prepared and head on in. Inside you find a treasure chest with a magic item perfect for the auction house, and that one named monster you were commissioned to slay. Time to head back to town, pick up the quest reward, and then notice you’re just a few kills away from your next level up. You head back out of town…
Cripes. Is it two in the morning already?
And all of this is just the early game content. I haven’t even touched on raiding, earning mounts, PvP, groups, instanced dungeons, guilds, or any of the late game content or social activities. Even at its most primitive this game has more breadth and depth than any other RPG I’ve ever played.
Perhaps later on this game becomes an empty level grind as others have said. But at that point I’ll have gotten more than 40 hours of gameplay out of it and I’ll still have a half-dozen races and classes to try.
Twenty bucks a month? These days we’re paying twice that for a game that offers a dozen hours of gameplay. This game is a bargain.
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