Review by TheApd

"World of Rinse Wash Repeat"

When World of Warcraft first arrived in my household, I was skeptical. I myself was busy with Everquest II and Eve Online, but I was willing to give WoW a chance. Everyone was playing it; friends, family, heck, even strangers would come up to me and talk about it. Both those just mentioned and the media were hyping it to be either A) the best game ever, or B) the funnest MMO ever. So I was swept up into buying it.

Before I actually got to playing, I did a little research on the classes and whatsnot. I chose a gnome warlock, and, well, I'll kick off the official review right here. . .
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My first impression. . . the GRAPHICS:
I was a bit disappointed when I hit the character creation. Before actually choosing my gnomelock, I messed around with the other races' appearances. Only a few faces for each race/sex combo, and each of them were almost painful to look at on the males of any race. The hair and facial hair choices for each race were varied, though again, most of the male characters still looked a bit ridiculous. It seemed safe to surmise that almost every player would look alike, and later on my prediction seemed fairly accurate. I finish character creation with a little warlock having a long moustache, goatee, and bald head. Quite comic, but, sadly, it looked more 'respectable' than the other customization options. But enough with my musings on avatar creation. . . now we head into the world (of Warcraft!).

I see myself surrounded by snow, with a campfire and some wagons nearby. Snow-covered trees pretty much dominated the view, and rabbits, wolves, and a few other creatures stalked the vicinity. My first two impressions were 'fairly believable environment' and 'omgwtfbbq so cartoony!'. The snow on the ground had a slightly annoying specular lighting effect, meaning it shined and glowed when you looked at it from different angles due to the sun. Maybe if it had slightly blinded you (like real snow in the sun does to us gamers) or something, the effect would have been more 'fitting', but I found myself wishing they would have worked more on the detail of more important things, such as the total game aesthetic.

I am fully aware that the cartoon graphics and the noticeably stereotypical fantasy world are intended factors of the art, and they do the job of being 'fitting' quite well, but in the end, I just don't feel inspired, awed, or anything. A plus to this 'stiffness' of the world is that loading times are practically nonexistant, like Halo 2; sure, theres a loading screen at the beginning, but in-game it's seamless. This doesn't actually help the immersion much, as I found myself suddenly going from 'snow-world' to 'loch-ness-wannabe-world', a la your typical platformer minus the mine cart ride. Almost instantly, the environment switches from snowy mountains/hills to green hills surrounding a lake. From what little I know of the real outside world, I have discerned that this is completely unbelievable.

I could go on and on about how bland the environments tend to be, but, for sake of posterity, I'll just say that Blizzard did a great job with the aesthetic, but seriously needs to put more variety in. I got tired of seeing the same exact inn/cave/building everywhere, along with other cosmetic repetition in environments.

So, for the graphics. . . 7 out of 10
-Good aesthetic, bland execution
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GAMEPLAY
Of course, you can't stumble too far into a MMORPG (well any decent game for that matter) without discovering its gameplay mechanics. The gameplay category will be divided into 'Combat' and 'World'.

Combat gameplay:
The very first thing I did was jump off the beaten path and attack a few wolves and rabbits. I noticed it was the exact same autoattack style from just about every other MMORPG, with the few mandatory special abilities thrown in. If you've played Everquest or any one of its clones before, just think the same combat just quicker and more visually impressing. If you haven't played any other mmo's, well, you just hit auto-attack and your character attacks, and then you manually activate abilities which recharge over time. I can't remember exactly what spells I had, but it made no difference- just use them in whatever manner it takes to kill the creature fast enough. When not fighting the 'newbie creatures', you'll find that not using your abilities intelligently will get you killed. I had fun making my own patterns of ability usage, and a smart player of any class could probably take on a creature 3-4 levels higher than him with no problem. Unfortunately, I see many other people out there who just hammer the same powerful ability over and over with no regard to their group's strategies or any strategy at all.

This combat system can get quite repetitive, however. . . it boils down to a fairly varied set of abilities that you gain during your adventures(some can only be obtained from quests) that can be upgraded at certain points.You will find yourself using the same patterns and abilities over and over again. The paladin will always be expected to do this, the mage that, so on so forth. Combat, as contradictary as this might sound, has a wide variety in individual choice but a lack of strategy(it all boils down to everyone seeing how fast they can do damage). You can't really do much more than that with an MMORPG, anyway, so I suppose this is decent.

Combat recieves an 8/10
-Repetitive combat, but manages to be fun with its visuals and timing

World gameplay
"Excuse me! Sir! How would you like a barebones world infrastructure?"
That pretty much sums up my feelings about the game world. I'll start with the quest system, since it's what you'll be involved with most of the time.

Sure, the quest system is deeper than just about anything else in MMORPGs, about the equal of EQ2's quest system. Interesting narrative from the non-player characters, a managable quest log, detailed description of objectives. But this is where pretty much all MMO's fail with their task systems: do you *really* want to kill 20 hogs in attempt to gain 3 hog livers for that pie that the cook of the local village's inn will make for you(yes, it seems only certain hogs have livers, however much sense that makes)? It seems there are no exceptions to the fact that you are either A)killing certain enemies, B)fetching/delivering useless doodads, or C)escorting someone in your quests. Blizzard simply uses the quest system as a prettied-up method for players to gain items, experience, and money. The only quests I found enjoyable were the escort quests simply because they were a break from the other two types. My reaction for the start of any quest usually involved me saying either "Ah I can deal with that' or "Come on Blizzard. . .'. Despite the repetitiveness (which, if you haven't noticed by now, I feel is a problem seen throughout the game), the quests somehow feel a bit satisfying when you complete them.

One of the bigger subjects is character development. 8 races, 8 classes. This seems like bad variety compared to some current games, and it is a bit limiting, but I found the classes to have their own playstyles and thats definitely a plus. Getting to the max level, level 60, doesn't take all that long, but with all the characters you can make, you're surely to get more time out of this game than just one guy at level 60. All characters have skills with weapons, and those get higher the more you use that weapon, though each weapon skill is capped by your level. 99% of players dont take their time to max out their weapon skill for their level, instead choosing to just shoot up to level 60 as fast they can. I guess it's just a habit of mine, but I like to keep my characters at tip-top shape before moving on,. At 10th level(about 2 hours of gameplay if you're just starting), you gain a set of traits that pertains to your class. It is very much like Diablo 2, both in organization(most of the traits require that you have previous traits/a certain level, and there are multiple trees of traits) and the fact that, for lack of better words, you are screwed over if you don't map out your traits right(you only get a certain number of points to spend over the game). You can pay money to reset you traits map, however. Before playing a character, I'd advise you go to a big World of Warcraft website and look at good character builds for traits. . . a good trait map can make a big difference in gameplay.

The economy. . . there is none, really. Why do I say this, when there are plenty of tradeskillers selling their wares and services, when there is a fully featured Ebay-like auction house, and when there are ALOT of people buying stuff? Because it's so darned easy to make money in this game if you can stay focused on a goal for more than 20 minutes. I'm not exactly a market expert, but I've found ways to get rich fast, and then max out my equipment and training for my level as if I was only spending loose change. What's the point of making a player spend money if he doesn't feel like he's actually giving away something valuable for equipment? All it involves is camping enemies 10 levels lower than you for the tradeskill supplies they drop. Hoarde the stuff, then go sell it all for the lowest price of anyone on the market. I did this by killing weakling kobolds for their linen cloth, and I believe I had around 4 gold by the time I was level 15. . . enough to supply myself for the next 5 to 10 levels. And the worst part is that I could go and do that anytime. The actual auction house is easy to take advantage of- just sell for a slightly lower price then everyone else, search for the cheapest stuff when buying, voila you've played the market like a pro but with minimal effort. Also, many of the pieces of player equipment are 'binded' when you equip them- only you can use that sword, for example, from then on. So it doesn't become like Diablo II online, where a powerful item you used and sold a year ago is still being passed around the trading circuits, but rather a Goodwill where you can find things that other people didn't really need to begin with.

The tradeskill system is decent enough, and unlike most other aspects of the game, this takes a while to build up. It's very simple and quick. You have starting recipes. You find some of the ingredients in the wild, some have to be bought from tradeskill merchants. You make item. Your skill increases, buy new recipes, repeat. It does take alot of time and spending to make good stuff and I applaud that. Unlike EQII, there are no levels of quality for your items, nor is there actually any sort active involvement with your success at tradeskilling. In WoW, it's just no-risks item making. You have the ingredients(which are usually VERY easy to acquire; if you can't get it in wild, just buy it off auction house), you have the item, no questions asked.

One thing that really irks me is the PvP(Player versus Player)/faction environment. There are two main factions, the Alliance and the Horde, and according to the book, the Alliance is goodly and the Horde is more like a neutral collection of warmongering races. . . they don't want to make your life miserable, they just want to better their own. But anyway, enough with that since the setting is completely forgettable unless you're a Blizzard/Warcraft fan. You choose a race, and you automatically belong to the faction that race belongs to. Sorry, no invidual character beliefs allowed, all dwarves are goodly and all trolls just want to murder and betray in this world. Basically, all this faction system boils down to is A) you will be attacked by NPCs and be made a target for players when in enemy territory, and B) you basically just stick with your own. There are future plans for battlegrounds between the two factions, but then, looking back at Star Wars Galaxies' Imperial/Rebel battlefields. . . it will probably be nothing more than a diversion, and an empty one at that. The PvP in this game is horribly thought out yet still fun. There are no rewards, there are no penalties, which is the absolute wrong way to handle PvP in my opinion. You can only die if you're fighting a member of an enemy faction. So basically, PvP is nothing more than just a fun test of skill, a slight diversion. In most other games there are penalties and gains involved, making PvP meaningful. On a side note, the classes aren't very well balanced against each other. Expect the dueling circuit to be dominated by PvP oriented Paladins, Rogues, and Shamans.

And that brings me to the more general issue of death in this game; along with some other aspects of WoW, it babies players too much. You can either respawn as a ghost or wait for a healer player to ressurect you on the spot. If you respawn as the ghost, you'll start in the nearest graveyard. Everything about undeath(or if you are playing an Undead character, un-undeath I guess) reeks of 'awesome', I must admit. Everything becomes shades of gray, theres a huge vortex in the sky, and there's this cool looking angel sort of character hovering in front of you. If you talk to her, you'll ressurect instantly, with some minor equipment damage. And the cost for repairing that is almost a joke. Or you can run back to your corpse, and come back to life with no penalties. Oh wait, you *do* get a decrease to all your statistics for a few minutes if you just ressurect at the angel, but its not long enough to be truly punishing.

Also, the monsters. Before, I talked about how the environments can be classified as the 'iceworld' or the 'lavaworld'. The monsters are nothing more than a set of statistics for you to kill with appearances themed to your location. But my actual point is their involvement with the world; every single non-city location in the game seems to be solely designed for harboring monsters and quests. You stumble into the majestic forest, only to discover that every single meter of it is covered by some monster or another. The beaten path and little villages contain quest givers. That's how simple this game's environment this is. In summary, it all feels like the world is nothing more than your monster killing/quest finishing zone.

World: 4 points out of 10
-Barebones and too much babying. The world infrastructure, from economy to adventuring, is designed with one goal in mind: letting players get powerful/rich as easily as possible.

OVERALL GAMEPLAY-6 out of 10
-Fun moments with the adventuring. Most of this background infrastructure stuff won't be noticed/cared about by the average player, but it's really lacking.
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And, before I give the final verdict on the game, I will give two sub-categories a look-see. One is of marginal importance, and the other can perhaps affect your decision to buy this game more than any other category.

SOUND:
Oh my goodness. . . it's so bland I can't even be bothered to remember what the game sounds like. I don't play with the music on, but my relatives do. From what I notice its decent but repetitive (key word of the day hehe). Most of the sounds are uninteresting, not-catchy, and the the one-liners are grating. Everytime I hear my gnome or troll talk I just want to bash my speakers against the floor. I am also tired of hearing every single dwarf saying "Watch'ya back!" To be honest, the only sound I ever welcome or care about is that drum roll that sounds when you accept a quest. The environmental sounds are okay, but could use alot of work. Not gonna give it a score because sound generally isn't a big thing in MMORPGs anyway.

MAINTENANCE/UPDATES/PATCHES
The game itself is very buggy, but then so are most are other MMORPGs. The question is- how do they cope with it? Patches are usually released a long way apart from one another. Blizzard usually doesn't divulge much info about what bugs they fix. With these updates, however, they do do alot of class balancing.

I myself have a problem with this game crashing alot, but I'm not going to count it towards the score as it seems to be a hardware problem on my part.

The servers are down once or twice a week usually for maintenance and go down every day for a brief server refresh, and this can get annoying. The servers only go down when most Americans are at work/school, but unfortunately, I live in Germany and the servers come down as soon as I get home.

For this category. . . a 6/10
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Overall, I'll give this game a final score of 6 out of 10. You've read enough paragraphics, so I'll sum up my feelings with bullet points.

Pros
- Accesible
- Fun in the addictive manner of speaking
- Lots of players. Before WoW, I could only name like 2 people I knew that played MMOs. But it seems one out of every three people I know play World of Warcraft now.
- Gives you lots of thrills and awesomeness when you first start playing. . .

Cons
- . . . Only for you to get tired of that excitement later on.
- Repereperepereperepetive.
- Rather bland fantasy setting. Think 'big swords, lots of k1lling and koolness omgwtf!!!111'.
- The accessibility and quick fun came at the trade-off of complexity. Most other MMORPGs will offer more in the long run.
- Way overhyped. I'm tired of people calling it the best game ever, because I could name 30 other games that are more enjoyable than MMORPGs :P
- Limited character progression

P.S. Suggestion to Blizzard
MORE CONTENT, LESS FIXING!


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 03/07/05


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