When it was released in November 2004, World of Warcraft raised the bar for the massively multiplayer genre, and more than two years later, none of its would-be competitors have even come close to matching it. Even at launch there was very little to find fault with in Blizzard's first MMOG offering, and thanks to regular free updates and no shortage of feedback from a community that now numbers more than 8 million players, it has continued to grow and evolve into an even bigger and better game. With the recent release of The Burning Crusade, World of Warcraft has never been better, and while you don't need the expansion pack to continue playing, it's hard not to feel like you're missing out in Azeroth without it.
In the draenei the Alliance finally has a race that measures up to the Horde's tauren.
Like any great expansion pack, The Burning Crusade doesn't just offer more of the same, and it doesn't cater exclusively to experienced players. It offers a lot more of the same, and it also adds a number of new features that can be enjoyed by newcomers and level 60 veterans alike. Perhaps the most significant additions introduced in The Burning Crusade are the blood elves and the draenei--two new playable races that have made the paladin class available to the Horde faction and the shaman class available to the Alliance faction for the first time. Both of these races have quite fascinating backstories that are revealed both through their respective intro movies and via in-game quests and conversations with non-player characters. Like the eight previously existing playable races in Azeroth, the blood elves and the draenei begin their adventures in specially designed starter areas where you can play without having to worry about bothersome high-level opposing players for the first 15 to 20 levels of your character's existence. Thereafter, the new races join the rest on one of Azeroth's two continents, where there are more than enough quest-filled environments and dungeons to keep you busy to level 60 and beyond.
It's only possible to advance beyond the original game's level 60 cap if you own The Burning Crusade, which unlocks new player skills and talents for characters through to level 70. It's conceivable that you could advance through many of the levels post-60 without ever visiting the new Outland realm, but it'd be a far more time-consuming and less profitable process because quests in Outland offer significantly more experience points and gold. Furthermore, Outland is the only place where you can advance your chosen professions beyond the previous skill cap of 300 to gather all-new resources and craft powerful new items. All of the existing professions such as leatherworking, alchemy, cooking, and enchanting can now be pursued to a maximum skill level of 375, which is also true of the new jewelcrafting profession.
Along with engineering, jewelcrafting is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and useful professions to pursue in World of Warcraft right now. Every profession in the game serves a purpose, but many of the items that can be made by weaponsmiths and tailors, for example, are no better than those that regularly drop from enemies and subsequently appear in major cities' auction houses. As a jewelcrafter, you'll initially spend your time and resources making simple rings and necklaces that afford their wearers small attribute bonuses. As your skills improve (and the materials you need become less common and more expensive), you'll learn to make powerful trinkets, rings and necklaces that can be used to buff the attributes of other party members as well as your own, a handful of weapons, and gems that can be socketed into new pieces of armor and jewelry to make them even more powerful.
Skilled crafters can make items that have empty sockets for gems, and you'll occasionally be offered them as a reward for completing a quest. For the most part, these items are quite hard to come by, though, since they rarely drop from anything but dungeon bosses and the like. Choosing gems for your socketed items gives you an opportunity to tailor your gear to your character's chosen talent spec and play style, and many classes even have multiple endgame armor sets to choose from now for the same reason. Bonuses to basic attributes such as strength, stamina, agility, and intellect are now augmented by bonuses to far more specific skills, such as attack power, dodge rating, and hit rating. Before The Burning Crusade, it was generally quite obvious whether or not one item was better than another, but there are so many different factors to consider now that choosing which equipment to use often has as much to do with personal taste as anything.
If you're not already wearing epic gear, expect to replace everything you own within hours of going through the Dark Portal.
Even the relatively common gear that's available in Outland is better than much of the rare and epic equipment that has been dropping in Azeroth for the past two years. Those of you with complete sets of epic armor will find that it's good enough to get you through most of the new continent's quests and dungeons, but everyone else's equipment becomes obsolete within hours of them stepping through the Dark Portal. The new gear serves to lessen the gap between hardcore dungeon raiders and more casual players, and as a result, the Outland quests are neither too challenging for relatively inexperienced players nor too easy for those in the minority who can truly claim to have "beaten" the original game. The fact that the playing field has been leveled somewhat also makes player-versus-player encounters more enjoyable now than they've been for some time, which is just as well given that almost all of the new Outland environments have PVP objectives and rewards.
You're free to ignore these world-PVP objectives if you wish, but they offer a welcome distraction from the occasionally repetitive nature of questing, and you don't need to devote an awful lot of time to them to enjoy the benefits. In Hellfire Peninsula, for example, capturing three strategic locations will earn you PVP reward tokens that can be put toward a new ring, weapon, or gemstone. And in the Bone Wastes of Terokkar Forest, the first faction to simultaneously control all five of the PVP towers is rewarded with six hours of damage and experience bonuses anytime they do battle in the area. Perhaps the most interesting world-PVP objective can be found in picturesque Nagrand, where the Horde and the Alliance are constantly battling for control of the small town of Halaa in the center of the map. The faction that controls Halaa can purchase special items and turn in quests there, and they will be protected by up to 15 high-level guards anytime they visit. The rival faction, on the other hand, can climb aboard wyverns and fly overhead on bombing runs in an attempt to kill the guards before storming the town, although the takeoff and landing points for the wyverns can be temporarily taken out of commission by players on defense.