Blizzard Entertainment, the powerhouse behind the Diablo and Starcraft series, moves the first MMORPG based on the successful Warcraft strategy series out of beta and into retail stores next week. The title, known as World of Warcraft, seeks to immerse the player in an expansive world while solving a number of problems common with the MMORPG genre.
For those familiar with the series, World of Warcraft (or WoW) is set four years after the conclusion of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. The races of Azeroth are working to rebuild their cities as new threats once again begin to threaten their world. Players will control a hero of their design to seek out adventure amidst the turmoil. WoW is a Massively-Multiplayer Online RPG (MMORPG), meaning that thousands of players interact and can either work with or against each other.
World of Warcraft presents the player with a choice between 8 races and 9 classes. Races are divided into two factions: the "Alliance" races that include Humans, Dwarves, Night Elves, and Gnomes, and the "Horde" races that include Orcs, Trolls, Undead, and Tauren (beastmen). The available classes include Paladin, Rogue, Priest, Hunter, Warlock, Druid, Warrior, Mage, and Shaman. Each race has a specific subset of the 9 classes available to them. For example, Dwarves are limited to the Paladin, Rogue, Priest, Hunter, and Warrior classes while Gnomes can only choose between Warrior, Rogue, Mage, and Warlock. Characters can learn skills and spells from a pool of over 1000 abilities, and class will dictate the proficiency that a character will have for a given ability.
Professions are also available in World of Warcraft to keep players occupied. Professions can be used to transform raw materials into various goods, like potions, weapons, and armor. Available professions include Enchanting, Alchemy, Blacksmithing, Engineering (to make explosives, guns, etc.), Leatherworking, Tailoring, Fishing, and Cooking. These professions can be combined with gathering skills, such as Herb Gathering and Mining, which help in collecting the raw materials necessary for various recipes. In WoW, crafting recipes are available from shops and trade skill trainers, and can be found while adventuring. Recipes will never fail, so if a player has the recipe and all the necessary ingredients, they are guaranteed a finished product. In addition, each recipe is color-coded to indicate how likely it is that a player will receive a skillup from crafting the product.
The storyline of World of Warcraft is advanced through quests. Most quests are initiated by talking to certain NPCs, and can range from simple item-fetching quests to complicated ordeals that require multiple days and multiple characters to finish successfully. Rewards from these quests, in addition to a fleshed-out storyline, include money, items, equipment, trade-skill recipes, and spells. In addition, at the conclusion of a quest the player is rewarded with experience points. These experience-rewarding quests are designed to eliminate the need to go on extensive level-grinding sessions, in which a group of players slay the same kind of monster over and over to level up. When a character gains enough experience to level up, they are rewarded with skill points, which can be used to train in various abilities like trade skills, and talent points, which have a variety of effects including raising a character's effectiveness with certain weapons or against certain enemies.
Each race in World of Warcraft has their own mode of transportation. For the Alliance races, there are Horses for Humans, Nightsabers (panthers) for Night Elves, Rams for Dwarves, and Mechano-Striders (mechanical steeds) for Gnomes. The Horde has their own methods of travel, including Wolves for Orcs, Raptors for Trolls, Undead Steeds for the Undead, and Plains Running (basically running really fast) for Tauren. Air travel, which requires zero waiting time to board, is also available to travel between the six major cities of Azeroth. The Alliance can fly on Gryphons and Hippogryphs, while the Horde has Wyverns and Vampire Bats at their disposal. In these major cities, banks are available for players to store items, as well as a number of other attractions including taverns, shops, and Player vs. Player combat areas.
Many adventures take place in dungeons, which come in "micro dungeon" and "world dungeon" types. Micro dungeons vary in size, require no load time to enter, and are not limited in the number of players who may enter. World dungeons are much larger and are designed for a private questing experience on a grander scale. Deep in these dungeons private groups can enter an "instance zone", where they are free to explore in private, and thus avoid common issues found in other MMORPGs like monster camping and over-farming. "Elite" monsters, which provide far greater challenge and rewards, can be found in these world dungeons.
Graphics in WoW, including character and world designs, are full of detail and color. A 32 MB 3D graphics card is required. The soundtrack of World of Warcraft was composed by Blizzard veteran Glenn Stafford, who worked on previous titles from the Warcraft series as well as Starcraft and Diablo.
World of Warcraft developers aimed to produce a MMORPG full of depth that will overcome some of the complaints that many players have with the genre. Beta test players will know if this feat has been accomplished, and within a few days so will any RPGamer out there who is interested in the title. Look for the release of World of Warcraft on November 23rd.