World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King took WoW players to the frosty continent of Northrend in pursuit of famous series baddie, Arthas the Lich King. When this expansion was first announced, players were worried that the northern setting would be a bit too same-y, but Blizzard's art team did a great job creating unique zones within the icy theme. There's the verdant beauty of the Howling Fjords, the flat Borean Tundra, the pine forest of Grizzly Hills, the mountainous Storm Peaks, and the magically gorgeous (though sadly content-free) Crystalsong Forest, among others. Northrend's design team took advantage of the wintery setting to create some lovely vistas, such as Viking-style longhouses piled up on cliffsides, a frozen wasteland dotted by exotic dragon shrines, and an entire battlefield of dwarves and giants frozen magically in time.
There are plenty of creatures that complement Northrend's setting as well. Northerly races such as the walrus-like tuskarr and a race of sentient wolverine people star in various quest lines. Creatures such as the elk-like shoveltusks, eagles, grizzly bears, mammoths, and giant wooly worms called jormungar roam the landscape. Many of the original forms of the game's races can be found in Northrend as well, such as the giant ancestors of the humans, stone ancestors of the dwarves, even-more-savage troll ancestors, and mechanical ancestors of the gnomes. These primitive races and the shaggy brown armors found in the levelling zones give the whole experience the feel of travelling back to the Ice Age.
Some of the major dungeon and raid encounters in Wrath make good use of the theme of ice and snow. Blue and undead dragons seem particularly good at using ice attacks. One dragon has a cold aura that will slowly freeze the characters if they don't move. Players quickly discovered that they could prevent themselves from being frozen by jumping, which makes the experience of fighting that boss rather amusing. Some other bosses, including the most powerful undead dragon in the expansion, have ice block attacks that can quickly spread from player to player if the group is standing too close to each other. A raid that messes up these encounters will find itself wiping in an ice-blockageddon situation. Of course the expansion culminated in players fighting Arthas in front of his famous Frozen Throne, reclaiming him from the evil influence of his magic sword, Frostmourne.
If there's a detriment to Wrath's northerly setting, it's the prevalence of Arthas' undead armies and their effect on the landscape. Like many art designers, Blizzard's art staff hasn't yet found a way to make destroyed environments visually interesting. There are large swaths of land in Northrend, including the entire zone of Icecrown, that have been occupied and decayed by the undead. Unfortunately, these areas tend to be masses of undifferentiated brown or grey textures, evoking feelings of apathy rather than anger or regret. The addition of neon green goop to many undead encampments doesn't help, other than by providing an extra dose of eye vomit.
Beyond the undead issue, though, Northrend is a very well-designed winter setting that is a lot of fun to explore. It provides a lot more diversity than typical northern settings, and has a lot of well-designed animals and races to boot. It's a shame that the more interesting ice-related combat encounters are hidden away in dungeons and raids, though, since the game has moved on and few players will be seeing those encounters from here on out.
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