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An online RPG where you don't HAVE to party?! Bollocks, I say!
By: Brian "Choco" Hagen
It should go without saying that this game is based on the massively popular Warcraft Real-Time Strategy game series, which has put developer Blizzard in such an exalted position in the game industry that they really don't have to race to release games to build up their coffers until their next decent game release. Their attention to quality and fun in the past is undeniable, but how will their newest game and newest genre fare?
Blizzard's games have always been more about style than being on the cutting edge of graphics, it seems. World of Warcraft is no different. While some of the textures are noticeably low resolution, the models lack extra polygons, and the water is merely a semi-transparent animated bitmap without any reflections, the style of this game is overwhelming. Pretty much everything from the previous Warcraft games has been translated with minimal flaws. Flaws, for example, like human females always looking like they're running in heels. Aside from that, most all character animations are smooth, lifelike, yet unlifelike. Regardless, pretty much all the players from Warcraft III are still present. The centaur threat, massive amounts of Murloc colonies, and INSANE FURBOLGS are all present after the great translation from strategy game to MMORPG. You might just forget all about the lack of polygons and low resolution textures in the first place after experiencing the world's charismatic style.
Graphics obviously weren't meant to be the selling-point of the game, though. Like most all MMORPGs(that we're aware of), World of Warcraft is driven by combat. How do you level up? How do you score new and "uncommon" equipment? How do you make the bling bling? All these things, of course, are done through going out of your way to slaughter harmless and not-so-harmless beasts, humanoids, and other players(for special items[wait, that hasn't been implemented, yet]). Battling foe after foe for experience to gain levels("the grind" as most MMORPGamers call it) is necessary, yet unnecessary in World of Warcraft. Because of its wonderful quest system, players do not have to mindlessly battle random enemies. Instead, players just need to accept a quest that wants them to hunt a specific beast, item(s) from foes, scout an area, run supplies from one place to another, etc. If a quest NPC wants you to kill something, the task is no longer called mindless killing, but mindful killing! It may not sound like a big difference, but by giving characters goals to work towards, the game produces more entertainment. Not only are the quests small goals to work towards, but the payoff(s) for such quests are exceptional. Quests always reward players with experience, which is sometimes accompanied by an item, multiple items, and a decent sum of money. With the experience aspect added, there's no reason to go back to "the grind" method unless you're item gathering for money, loot, or profession ingredients.
Of course, none of the above explains how combat actually works. For melee combat, each weapon has a delay rating and a damage range rating. Through some easy calculating, this gives the weapon a DPS (Damage Per Second) rating. These weapons are used to stab, whack, hack and impale whatever the game allows you to. In short, straight-up melee is pretty simple. Just using simple melee auto-attacks to kill things would be boring and slow, though. That's where the game's fun systems for all the classes come in. Other games seem to rely heavily on MP(Magic/Mana Points) or SP(Skill Points) to carry about special attacks and spells. World of Warcraft uses magic points for spell casters only, while warriors and rogues get their own special systems. Warriors have a rage bar that starts off at zero and maxes out at one hundred. As the warrior hits and gets hit by foes, s/he/it gains more rage points which allow for powerful melee attacks, enemy provocation, enemy enfeeblement, and more. Rogues get an energy bar that maxes at one hundred like the warrior's rage bar, but energy automatically refills by twenty about every two seconds. Use certain skills with that energy and you can rack up to five combo points. With combo points, you can sacrifice them to perform nastily powerful skills later in the battle. This makes playing a rogue very intense and involved. Warlocks can summon minions to work with them since, of course, they lack the stamina and defense to properly defend their own bodies. Hunters can tame pet beasts. Shamans can stick totems down to deal damage, hold enemies in place, heal themselves, and more. Druids are a class that must be mastered, though, as their shape shifting abilities allow them to change in to bear and cat forms. The former plays like a warrior, and the latter plays like a rogue. This makes it so a druid can fight in the way they wish without missing out on the fun of other melee classes. There's a whole lot more that could be listed, but it would take entirely too long to read.
Combat is also influenced by the controls, of course. Some people may do poorly starting out or throughout the entire game because they click on the quickbar(which lets you quickly access pretty much any attack, skill, spell, or action) instead of using the keyboard shortcuts to get things done. Warcraft strategy veterans already know how this works, though, as keyboard shortcuts were one of the things in the previous games that made victory against the odds actually somewhat possible. Furthermore, all game controls and shortcuts can be rebound according the the player's needs. This isn't all about input controls, though. The video, sound, and interface controls all play a big part in the game since each one has an extensive amount of options to turn on and off at will. There is a slight drawback here, though. It would have been nice for Blizzard to have allowed the player to set video and sound options from the title screen as well as in the game world itself. That is a minor detail, though, so don't expect it to influence the score of the game.
There are some more damaging drawbacks in the game, though. Graphically, Blizzard has made a huge blunder. It's the year 2005, now. There is absolutely no excuse for them to have blob shadows underneath characters. Though the video controls are quite extensive, the lack of turning on even semi-accurate player shadows is depressing. There are also some loading problems in the game that happen occasionally, making it very easy for someone with auto-run on during a few seconds of screen freezing to fall down in to a very bad place or in to an annoyingly hard to get out of place. There are some unfixed bugs, as well. Murlocs and Naga can detect you and swim through multi-decked ships out of their line-of-sight. Also, "lead-to-designated-area" quests haven't been working from day one to the publish date of this review. These errors don't make most parts of the game unplayable, but they make some quests nearly impossible to beat at the proper level, resulting in almost no experience gained from your efforts when completed at a later time.
One of the game's biggest drawbacks was its soundtrack. Until recently, Blizzard had left out an option to turn on music looping, but that's been fixed. Before the option was implemented, though, the music faded in and out whenever you reached new areas, or seemingly at random. The sound and music score have been upgraded due to this implementation.
World of Warcraft isn't all that difficult. It's just fun. Working at a feverish pace or slower than bullet-time allows for an entertaining experience instead of a rush to keep up with everyone else in the game. Of course, there are reasons to rush. Keeping up with one's friends and acquaintances in the game to effectively party with them is the main reason. Generally, if you are four levels below the levels of your party and of the foes you'll be encountering, you're too low level to do much good besides healing. Even if you do fall behind, though, soloing is still no problem. It takes longer and requires more perseverance to do this, but definitely isn't difficult enough to discourage anyone from hiking off and facing the opposing legions of baddies.
In conclusion, we have ourselves a fine, fine game here. It's well-balanced, pretty fun, has plenty of charisma, lets the player choose how they want to advance, and more. It's not perfect, but for an MMORPG it comes pretty close. However, those not familiar with MMORPGs might find there's more game play here than those desensitized to the genre. It is, however, definitely recommended to Warcraft fans looking to further their knowledge on the story of the Warcraft universe.
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