Though massively multiplayer online role-playing games have been around for years, it has taken this long for the genre's breakthrough hit to finally emerge. Here is the online role-playing game you should play, no matter who you are. This is because World of Warcraft brings out all the best aspects of this style of gaming, if not many of the best aspects of gaming in general. It also features many of the specific characteristics that have made Blizzard Entertainment's previous games so entertaining, memorable, long-lasting, and successful. Of course, the company's past track record did not guarantee that World of Warcraft could have turned out this well. Such high quality simply cannot be expected, nor should it be missed.
World of Warcraft is amazing in many ways, but above all, it's a really fun game.
In World of Warcraft, you create your alter ego by choosing from a variety of colorful races and powerful classes, and then you begin exploring, questing, and battling in Azeroth, the fantasy setting featured in Blizzard's Warcraft real-time strategy games. Fans of those games (especially Warcraft III and its expansion pack) will spot tons of references here, and they will be impressed at how faithfully World of Warcraft translates so many of Warcraft's little details and even some of the finer points of its gameplay into such a seemingly different style of game. Meanwhile, fans of other online role-playing games will be impressed at the sheer breadth and volume of content on display in World of Warcraft, whose setting seamlessly connects a bunch of wildly different-looking types of places and somehow makes them appear as if they all belong as parts of a whole.
World of Warcraft is superficially similar to numerous other games that came before it, and it clearly draws inspiration from some of them. The fundamentals are all here, such as fighting dangerous creatures (optionally including other players), exploring the countryside either alone or in the company of other players, undertaking various quests, gaining experience levels and new abilities, and acquiring powerful items. However, directly comparing World of Warcraft with any of its predecessors would be almost like pitting a professional sports club against a school team. With all due respect to the other online role-playing games out there, World of Warcraft is in a league of its own. The game clearly benefits from not being the first of its kind, as the design issues that plagued previous online role-playing games are handled extremely well in World of Warcraft. In addition, the game's own subtle innovations turn out to have a dramatic impact on the flow of the action from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, and beyond. So the particulars of the game's design--along with its incredibly vast, beautiful, majestic world--translate into a one-of-a-kind experience that seems fresh and original in its own right.
Fortunately, the game is very approachable. World of Warcraft is a complex game whose complexity is carefully disguised by a simple, highly legible, uncluttered interface and an impressive 3D graphics engine, which delivers high performance on a wide range of systems while not skimping on pure flash. The game's interface is so slick and easy to learn and understand, and the gameplay itself is so quickly intuitive, that there isn't even a tutorial to wade through; there are just some helpful, optional pop-up tool tips, as well as an excellent printed reference manual that goes into specific detail about most of the various aspects of play. It's also important to point out that World of Warcraft runs fast and smooth. You can go from your desktop to being in-game in just seconds, and it's virtually just one great, big, seamless world. Loading times are as rare as they are brief. They only crop up when traveling across the game's enormous continents or entering some specific higher-level zones that are instanced for each player group, which guarantees you a fresh challenge.
So World of Warcraft is painless to get into--with the possible exception of you needing a credit card or prepaid game card to create an account, as well as initially deciding on which sort of character to play, since so many of the options seem like they could be interesting. And it turns out they are. So why not try them all? The game lets you create multiple characters on the dozens of different available "realms," each of which is a unique instance of the gameworld that is capable of hosting thousands of simultaneous players. Some of the realms cater to role-playing fans that prefer to play in character the whole time, while other realms are custom-tailored for player-versus-player action. Regardless, World of Warcraft's realms are nicely (if not densely) populated already, and the unfortunate issues with login and lag that plagued the game when it first launched were mostly taken care of in a matter of days. The game just has a solid feel to it that's uncharacteristic of the genre, and for an online RPG, World of Warcraft is surprisingly responsive. Actually, no qualifications are necessary: World of Warcraft boasts the tight control and polished presentation that's desirable in any kind of game.
The imaginative world of Azeroth is already teeming with players.
After countless hours spent playing, the great first impression doesn't wear off. This style of gaming is notorious for being a time sink and for effectively forcing players to engage in repetitive, monotonous gameplay for hours on end in order to make progress. But in contrast, World of Warcraft will keep throwing variety at you, and the combat system at the heart of it features fast, visceral, action-packed battles that are fun and intense, whether you're fighting alone or in a group. Furthermore, World of Warcraft finally achieves that long-sought-after goal of many massively multiplayer games, which is to make the player feel rewarded regardless of how much time he or she invests in a single sitting.
This is due to several key reasons. For one, World of Warcraft has a nice, brisk pace to it, and the fast-loading, seamless world obviously has a lot to do with this. But, in addition, recovery times between battles are minimal, as even those characters without healing spells can still easily recover from their wounds by using bandages, eating a quick meal, or just from natural healing. The battles themselves are quick, too, and they scale nicely so that higher-level encounters don't just seem to drag on. Yet the pacing of the combat seems to strike a perfect balance, because it's not so hectic that those unaccustomed to fast-paced action games will feel overwhelmed. You can also look forward to facing some fairly intelligent foes that will do such things as flee when injured, tag-team with their comrades, and use some dastardly special abilities against you.
Much of World of Warcraft is structured around questing, so there's always something to do or somewhere to go, even if you don't have a lot of time. Whenever you enter a major new location for the first time, you'll feel almost overwhelmed by the number of quests available, which you'll be able to clearly spot since quest-giving characters helpfully stand there with a big, noticeable exclamation mark over their heads. Luckily, the game's more-than-a-thousand quests are made quite manageable by only being offered to you when you're qualified to complete them, and you can have no more than 20 quests pending at a time. So you'll eventually be forced to pick and choose, but this is for the best. The quests will always be there waiting for you until you accomplish them.
Questing in World of Warcraft helps lend a sense of purpose to all your hunting and exploring.
Though you may venture out into the wilderness and spend hours hunting monsters for the sake of it if you so choose, you'll always be able to undertake quests that help give a bit more meaning and context to your actions, flesh out the game's interesting fiction, and, perhaps most importantly, frequently yield useful items and a good chunk of money and experience for your trouble. Some quests are highly involved, multipart affairs that naturally entice you to broaden your horizons and venture forth into previously unexplored territory. Other quests challenge you to venture deep into enemy territory. It's here where grouping with other players seems most natural, because it gives you an edge in battle and because some quests can seem a bit too popular for their own good. This is maybe one of the only apparent design issues in the game: Sometimes you'll effectively have to wait your turn for a certain enemy or quest object to respawn, while at other times, foes will keep spawning in so quickly that you'll barely have a moment to catch your breath. Both types of cases can seem a bit silly, but since the underlying action and exploration is so good, "a bit silly" is about as bad as it gets. Other rough edges, such as monster "corpses," which occasionally can be seen standing upright and looking very much alive, could probably be counted on one hand. For what it's worth, we also encountered a few specific, minor issues with a few quests, though none of this really affected our progress or enjoyment of the game, and as with any online RPG, it's all subject to improvement.
Though the world of the game is very large, you can still effectively travel on foot, taking in the often breathtaking sights of Azeroth in between key points (you even earn some experience just for setting foot in new territory for the first time). As you explore, you'll also discover a variety of means of rapid transit. For instance, you'll be able to quickly and conveniently cover large distances by flying on the backs of gryphons, wyverns, and more, which can ferry you from point to point for a small fee. But before you can begin zooming about through the skies, you'll need to reach each destination by foot, which means there's definitely going to be a lot of legwork. Luckily, the sights and sounds of Azeroth, the network of roads and road signs in the relatively civilized areas, and the presence of a very helpful onscreen minimap as well as a full map, collaborate to make the simple act of running from point to point surprisingly pleasurable. It also helps that you can simply run away from most aggressive foes, as they'll lose interest in you and go back to their business if you keep moving.
Of course, player death is inevitable in a game such as this, but it's here where one of World of Warcraft's most unlikely innovations rears its head: Death in this game really is nothing to get bent out of shape about, so when you get killed, don't worry. Previous games of this type have made it a point of penalizing the player upon death (death should be very bad, right?), such as by inflicting an increasingly steep experience point penalty, directly resulting in a sense of failure and wasted time. More-recent online RPGs have doled out more-lenient penalties in the interest of appealing to more players, but World of Warcraft all but eliminates the sense of penalty altogether--which turns out to be a great thing. Here, death mostly just puts you out of the action for a bit, which is undesirable enough as it is. You automatically respawn as a ghost (or a wisp in the case of the night elf race) at the nearest graveyard, and you can usually double back pretty quickly to where you fell; alternatively, a healer-type character can resurrect you, or you can choose to come back to life at the graveyard (although you'll be weakened for a while if you do this). When you die, your items' durability will also degrade slightly, though this isn't permanent in the long run or harmful in the short run. You'll simply need to pay to get them repaired by certain types of non-player characters before their durability ratings drop to zero and they're rendered useless. In all, the game's death penalty feels just right, in that it's consequential without being frustrating.
Another of the game's subtle but important design innovations is there to benefit those who can't necessarily commit to making World of Warcraft a huge part of everyday life (as much as it can threaten to do so). The way it works is that whenever you're not playing the game, your character is considered to be in a rest state. When you return to a well-rested character, you'll temporarily accrue double the experience points you'd normally earn by defeating monsters, and the more time you spend between play sessions, the longer you'll enjoy the experience bonus when you resume play. The result isn't a system that penalizes hardcore players because they are still going to advance much faster than those who can't spare as much time. It mostly just gives everyone else a little incentive to keep coming back and to not feel bad about taking several days off from the game. You'll get a nice tailwind as you try to catch up to your friends who kept playing during the time that you took off.
Even if you can't commit to playing World of Warcraft for hours at a time, the game can still provide an entertaining and rewarding experience.
These types of smart design choices would mean little if the actual act of playing as one of World of Warcraft's various combinations of races and classes wasn't enjoyable in and of itself. Fortunately, you pretty much can't go wrong with whichever type of character you opt for. There aren't an exhaustive number of races and classes here, but there's still plenty to choose from: eight different races and nine different classes, though not every class is available to every race. In contrast to some other such games, each of the classes feels very well developed. That is, there's no real sense of "class envy" in World of Warcraft (except maybe in player-versus-player combat). In most other online RPGs, many players invariably feel like they made a mistake in their choice of character class after a while, and they become acutely aware of their character's limitations and other characters' apparent strengths. Of course, those other characters have significant limitations of their own. In World of Warcraft, though, every class seems like the "best" choice. Each character class feels powerful and self-reliant from the get-go. No matter which type of character you choose to play, from a warrior to a mage, you'll be able to hold your own against the game's variety of monsters while also contributing significantly to a group of players.