|World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade|
February 7, 2007 | Alex McLarty
So here I am, wandering the damp forest floor of Zangarmarsh. Stealthily moving as a cat to avoid attention from a nearby Fen Strider. It stretches its long plant like limbs as it wades in the shallows. Past all these creatures lies the rest of Outland, the fractured remnants of Draenor. Far from Azeroth, this place exists in the stars, blanketed in fire red deserts and green lands.
It’s all about historyWorld of Warcraft (WoW) is the largest online multiplayer game in the world. It follows the stories and lore set out in Blizzard’s previous Warcraft titles and expansion packs that revolve around two factions, the Alliance and the Horde. The history of these two factions are made up of the variety of races that populate them. A brief visit to the official Warcraft site can lead you to pages and pages of lore, scores of creatures and deities that make the foundation of the game’s universe.
The combination of interesting, accessible gameplay and rich history has grabbed the attention of millions of people and around 8 million active subscribers, with that number still growing. Players choose a race (for example Human or Dwarf, Orc or Undead), then class (for example Warrior or Priest, Druid or Mage) and complete quests to gain ‘experience’ which then allow them to advance through the levels and gain access to spells and abilities. Again, the combination of a simple system of progress coupled with the diverse community has proved to be a universal winner.
The Burning Crusade (TBC) brings in two new races, a new level cap of 70, new battleground and PvP options, flying mounts, new quests, new items, new dungeons and for the first time, socketed, individually customizable armor.
The journey has just begunTBC was released on January 16th 2007 at midnight, server time. Thousands of players gathered across most realms to wait for The Dark Portal to be opened, allowing them access to the almost mythical Outland. The sheer volume of players created a unique buzz. Chat was fast and funny, there were duals between players, even fighting between the Alliance and Horde as they waited for the opening. Everyone online was thrilled to be a part of what, in WoW, was real history in the making. History for most however was viewed at 5 frames per second, as Blizzard’s servers ground to a halt under the massive strain of hundreds of players in one area.
TBC expands the WoW universe into the stars and beyond, set on a fractured planet, once inhabited by the magical Draeni. Behind The Dark Portal players find a myriad of new zones, each with their own new quests, items, stories and history, all wonderfully designed and produced. Blizzard’s designers have once again proved that they can create a truly magnificent world, be it the floating, waterfall graced islands of Nagrand or the desolate, war ridden wastes of Shadowmoon Valley. The croaking of frogs, sound of distant drums and voice acting are all, as usual, top quality and are unique in the WoW universe.
Riding out past Hellfire Peninsula, the first zone in Outland, it was easy to see the charm of WoW in full effect. The forests of Terrokar are home to the wonderful Draeni city of Shattrath. Netherstorm lies far to the north, dark and mysterious. The urge to explore and travel to magically altered places, full of story and lore, is very much present. The horizon is no longer a coincidentally impassable mountain, but quite literally the edge of the world.
Blizzard’s main aims were clearly to provide more of the same high quality game, not something vastly different. New zones in Outland are fantastic for the higher level player, but Blizzard also introduced two new races; the alien Draeni and fallen Blood Elves. Their starting areas are neatly nestled into the existing Azeroth map, each with their own quests and history. Players will not find anything hugely different about playing the new races. In fact, Blizzard’s constant strive to balance the classes has reached a new level with these two new races. Now Alliance members can create totem wielding Shamans (previously restricted to the Horde) as the off-world Draeni and the Horde have access to Paladins as the fallen Blood Elves. The consequences of balancing the two factions are yet to be seen. Undoubtedly it will change the face of raids and PvP, giving more flexibility to players but perhaps at the expense of uniqueness of race. Some have commented that ‘balancing’ the races in fact makes them too similar. Choosing Alliance or Horde now is perhaps only cosmetic, or choices lie with wanting to affiliate with the particular community associated with the faction. In my eyes Blizzard should have embraced the differences of the two races, built upon them to create radically different play styles and therefore enhanced and furthered the differing nature of the individual factions.