Reviewed: February 9, 2005
Released: November 23, 2004
Mac System Requirements
If you haven't heard of World of Warcraft at some time in the past couple of years then don't read this review. Right now you're thinking the current batch of MMO's really don't interest you, but maybe you'll give this one a chance. On behalf of your family, friends, significant others (should any of you out there have them), pets, bosses, landlords, carpool, teachers, roommates, houseplants, cockroaches, etc., do not buy this game. This cannot be emphasized enough. DO NOT BUY THIS GAME.
It will take over your life, much like that jello mold sitting in the back of your fridge from last summer; but instead of getting moldy and petulant before eating Idaho, this will simply envelope you like a glimmering, tasty pudding…with sharp, pointy teeth. Those of you who are already committed to living unwashed, penniless, starving lives, welcome to Azeroth. The rest of you thinking of joining us, you have been warned.
With that said, World of Warcraft is an excellent game that really nails some of the problems that have plagued past MMOs, and we have enjoyed playing this game extensively in order to bring you this review.
Okay, we could start with a little “day in the life of…” to give you a little flava of the game world, but every time I thought about giving you a little window into Meave’s head—how she came up out of Northshire just another little warlock tryin’ to make a name for herself—well, the tale of a young practitioner of the dark arts who makes good is a little overdone, and, besides, who wants to hear about my exploits when you can instead go out and make your own?
So, instead of an endearing story of the Stormwind ghetto, and the subsequent Orc pogroms, we’ll go with something a little less entertaining and more informative. WoW, if you are to believe the buzz (and believe it, because Blizzard has come through on this one) is flat out the best MMOG to date. I say this despite my misgivings which are several and varied.
Quests run from the very specific (“Take this sack to my buddy in the guard and bring me back his money; he’s in the Slap and Tickle Tavern”) to the distressingly vague (“There’s this goblin somewhere in this zone—find him.” Or, “I heard somewhere off the coast this book was lost. Go find it.” Or, “Search these gnoll camps”) to the mind numbingly repetitive (“Kill 3 million furbolgs, and maybe you can shop at our store”).
Overall I love the quest system, each individual task is very well-flavored, so you don’t often feel like you’re just level grinding, unless you go out of your way to farm mobs or just look for the ultra rare drops. Also, things are very individualized with some mention of either your name or your class in most NPC dialogue, so you feel like you’re on your own quest, telling your own story, rather than just doing the same thing that the other thousand odd jokers who have already finished that quest.
Additionally, most classes get a quest every ten levels or so that either allows them access to greater power or class-specific armor or items. There are exceptions to this due to lack of implementation, but the best example is the warlock class which gives you a quest every ten levels that you complete to gain new creatures to summon. While this is an excellent idea, especially because many of them overlap early on, so finding a group is a little easier, because people need to complete similar quests and you need a group to do them.
What is more than a little annoying about these quests is that they are insane. I mean like “climb this rope, then dance the batusi at the top, then do a triple salchow to the ground all the while holding your breath, and, oh, yeah, and make me a turkey pot pie” insane. But you definitely have a sense of accomplishment when you finish, so I guess it’s not all bad.
All this is grand and very involved, but so far I’ve only covered the adventuring part of the game, there is also a professional aspect so players can make their own items, as is the case in nearly every MMO. The difference in WoW is that it isn’t nearly as boring and doesn’t really make you feel like you’ve given up your real life drudgery for that of a digital variety (at least not until the very end when you have to wait for two days just to make one item that you need eight of in order to create that special pair of pants).
However, there is a lot of repetition involved, especially with blacksmithing at later levels, and most often all you’re doing is making equipment for yourself with the exception of tailoring (everyone can use a bigger bag). The other problem with making your own items is that you just spent two days gathering all the diverse items you need to make that Sword of Merciless Slaughter, when you happen to pick up something better off a monster you just killed.
Most of my complaints can be avoided easily though simply through joining a guild. Not only does this get you out of the endless morass of spam, stupidity, and slobbering that is the "general chat", but you can find much better groups for those instant dungeons, have people to ask questions about the vague quests, and have a ready market for selling created items and buying, borrowing, or begging for the coveted supplies. The quality of a guild can make or break your experience, but they aren’t indispensable. You can have a perfectly good gaming experience while being unguilded; being part of a guild just makes things a lot easier, especially when you need groups of other players to finish missions. Woe betide anyone venturing into Gnomeregan carting along a bunch of n00bs.
What you will first notice about this game is how much it doesn't look like the typical MMO. Objects and characters fit into and interact with the game world virtually seamlessly, creating a very believable environment. This is partially because Blizzard has spent three Warcraft titles, not including expansions, developing the look and feel of Azeroth, but this isn’t just about style.
In most MMOs, the player feels a definite lack of connection between the characters and the underlying game universe, since the avatar sprites often seem like cartoons moving over a static background. With World of Warcraft, though, you don’t get that. Instead, the characters and monsters fit in very well with each other and the world around them, both stylistically and physically. The resulting blend creates a wonderfully immersive environment, since the denizens of Azeroth feel much more like a part of the world than just animations against some pretty scenery.
True, the graphics in MMO games don’t typically compare well with those of recent non-MMOs, but of course, MMOs have additional graphical confines that must be accounted for. Nevertheless, Blizzard does an amazing job considering its limitations and just about matches the graphics of its non-MMO brethren. What much of the graphics lack in poly-count they make up for in detailed and beautifully painted textures. Each richly-colored locale looks painstakingly designed, the flora and fauna selected to match the area and each tree and rock carefully placed to suggest a living, organic environment.
Also, they certainly didn’t skimp where it counts. While a cheese wheel may look like a delectable octagonal prism upon closer inspection, your avatar’s facial features, for instance, are much more refined. Also, prepared to be impressed when taking your first gryphon flight (simply breathtaking!) or fighting your first boss monster. Even Blizzard says they threw out all customary limitations when modeling and animating the boss creatures. The results are absolutely stunning.
The animation is also nothing to sneeze at. Though no motion capture was used in the making of the game, traditional animation really did the job in this case. Character and monster animations are boldly and smoothly executed, even sometimes quite humorous. And, as a last note, there is only one cinematic in the game, but it alone is well worth the price of admission.
To give you an idea of the scope of this project, Blizzard employed the talents of about forty different voice actors in the production of World of Warcraft, as well as those of Jason Hayes, the music composer who created the excellent orchestral BGM for previous Blizzard games such as Diablo II and Warcraft III. The soundtrack enhances the atmosphere beautifully without becoming intrusive, and the variety of voices certainly adds richness to an already meticulously designed game world.
The voice acting is also well done. While I would say that there are areas that need a little help, some things are just perfect. Listen to the human male or orc female jokes or flirt lines and you’ll see what I mean. The voice fits what it’s saying perfectly, which adds a lot of personality where Blizzard could have gotten away without adding it at all.
Also, the NPC’s all have a stock set of lines for when you first click on them and when you close whatever dialogue box was open. Mobs are vocal in their aggression and have their own little set of death screams, gurgles, et cetera. Overall, the sound of this game is as well looked-after as everything else, and not only does it show, but this would not be the same game without it.
For the cost of one restaurant dinner for a month’s playtime, World of Warcraft is an excellent value, especially now that Blizzard’s smoothed out most of the lag and server downtime issues. If you got the Collector’s Edition like we did, you get additional goodies that make the extra cost worth your while, including a full-color, hardcover art book and a special making-of DVD. All in all, the price is worth the hours of addictive fun.
Also of note, there has been a lot of rumbling about server downtime and log-in issues with WoW. While I have no doubt that these issues exist for the people claiming them, I have yet to experience anything even remotely that severe. There have been a few instances of not being able to log in immediately, or perhaps of getting bumped from the server and not being able to log back in right away; however, for the most part my experience has been that I load it up and log in right away.
The only times that I have not been able to access the system has, with a few exceptions, been at the scheduled maintenance downtimes. It may be particular servers or service areas that these problems crop up more at, or I just may have been lucky. At any rate, I, and everyone who lives in my building have been able to access the WoW servers on a regular and reliable basis so take that for at least one endorsement of the job Blizzard has been doing.
Yes, there have been server issues reported, and though I have not experienced them, I’m sure they are frustrating for those who have. (Yes, I am gloating.) However, this is one of the most well crafted, and thoroughly developed game worlds made by Blizzard to date. It dazzles, it awes, and it entertains.
This game is huge, with many distinct areas with their own feel and look, but it still remains unified by the overall feel of Azeroth. Play it. If you aren’t hooked at the start then you’ll have to turn in your l33t g4m3r c4rd. n00b.