Review by BlackCat4545

"Addictive, Poorly Designed, Not For A Casual Player"

The World of Warcraft sensation that has seemingly encompassed the globe is a cleverly designed product that draws people into it through very addictive gameplay. On a marketing scale, it is brilliantly designed... a true model of how to make money through exploiting people's nature. Yet underneath the sales and subscription records there is the same mundane content we all have experienced before wrapped in more frustration than the game is worth.

GAMEPLAY: The basic design of World of Warcraft revolves around obtaining items. Through your character's "journey", you will engage in quests, instance runs and raids for the sole purpose of getting better gear. This desire for better things is what keeps people coming back, but by itself has no purpose nor end. Once your gear is formidable enough, there is nothing to do with it other than visit the same run-down places and wait for expansion to provide more gear.

The gameplay is advanced through quests and levels. You quest, obtaining experience points which lead your character to the next level with consequently stronger abilities. This leveling process, as it is called, caps at the max level after which you get access to the so called "end-game content", which are various instances and raids. And here is where the game's first failure comes to light. While the leveling process can actually be fairly fun, it is constantly being streamlined and made easier by Blizzard - the game development company. Every few patches, some cut is made to the experience points needed for the next level, to get you to the top level faster. This is because Blizzard realizes that to keep you playing (and paying) it needs to get you to the top quickly to keep you interested. Once you are there, however, the play becomes simply more frustrating. You now have an option to do raids or even heroic mode dungeons. All of them require cooperation from players, which encourages guilds, which in turn prolongs the player's time with the game (more money). However, due to the poor shape of WoW community, these dungeons and raids can be very frustrating. In addition, the casual player will never see the top level heroic instances and raids, and that is where the best gear is.

INTENDED AUDIENCE: Blizzard has long made assurances that WoW was made with the casual player in mind. This, however, is as blatantly untrue now as it has been since the game release. New patches add more and more exclusive content that scale in difficulty to the point where a casual player - who can devote only so much to the game - can never get to. You are likely to leave a boss encounter frustrated with nothing to show for it. The design of such bosses (and most instances) is completely off the mark. Instead of cool, unique encounters, new bosses added to the game simply come with more abilities and more complex scripts. They are not more interesting than the previous ones but simply more frustrating. In addition, all seem immune to most - if not all - the abilities that you spent some 70 levels getting and perfecting, which makes your leveling pains completely useless. Young, hardcore groups with plenty of time to play every day do take such bosses down and do conquer such raid instances and that's clearly what the target audience is. In their obsession to make the encounters more complex for this demographic, Blizzard completely missed the casual players that they so loudly set off to cater to.

GRAPHICS: The graphics in WoW are mediocre at best. It's a cartoonish world with cartoonish characters and locations. Some outdoor areas can be breathtaking (like Feralas or Teldrassil) while others (among them many dungeons) are simply boring and very, very repetitive. Overall, this does not detract from gameplay, however. In the graphical sense, the game is very functional. Casting animations are believable, the lighting effects are adequate and particle effects can look quite good. The graphical convention of items, outfits and weapons tends towards fantastic and completely unrealistic - like massive swords bigger than the character being wielded one handed - but they do have their place in this cartoonish world. Some graphics can be quite pleasant indeed. But compared to the new titles out there, they do look quite dated.

SOUND: This is by far the best feature of the game. The sound in WoW can be very beautiful. The various musical scores can enchant you with their appeal and sneak up on you as you adventure. Various locations have nicely believable background sounds and this is one of the games where I have rarely turned the sound off and tend to miss it when I do. The actual sounds pertaining to spells and special effects, however, are just mediocre, but the music and ambient noise usually makes up for that quite nicely. Kudos to the sound department.

QUESTING: Let's just say that Blizzard did not reinvent the wheel here. They packaged the most convenient and most addictive and threw it at the player in from of quests. They pretty much revolve around killing an X amount of monster, bringing an X amount of items (which usually drop off the monsters you kill) or delivering something to someone else. If you are looking for innovation and exciting questing storylines, look elswhere. This is as simple as it gets, but it does net you gold which after a long time will finally allow you to get some ridiculously expensive mount or item.

GRIND: WoW doesn't only have grind. It excels at it in very inventive ways. In addition to questing grind (with sometimes poor directions) there is the excruciating grind for reputation with about a gazillion various factions. Each faction offers some gear benefit to your character and those benefits are cleverly spread around many of them so that attaining high status with one is not enough. You need to grind pretty much all of them if you want to have the gear that will allow you to participate in the end game raiding and heroics. Without them, you won't be invited to many groups.

In addition to the slow reputation grind, there is also a concept of "dailies". Those are repeatable quests that you can do once per day that usually net you a chunk of gold or... you guessed it... reputation. The dailies are the bane of gaming for the reason I will explain later. But they are one of the best marketing ploys to keep people playing and paying because they hit right into the vanity of human nature. Very clever.

COMMUNITY: Unless you have a thick skin or are versed in the latest version of l33t speak, I suggest a very mousy demeanor. Speaking on channels will often get you ridiculed for no apparent reason and asking for help will be met with silence. This one is not Blizzard's fault, but it's a shame nonetheless. PvP servers are worse in this regard than the PvE ones. The so called RP servers are the best, with a higher ratio of mature players, but no RP goes on them. RP there died a horrible death once reputation grind and dailies came into the full force. Overall, the community is poor, but that may be representative of all the games of this genre. Surely, changing that is beyond Blizzard's ability, but the game design simply festers such players.

SERVERS: WoW server were notorious for poor service and slow response to problems. Much of that has been addressed and the servers are now quite stable. They rarely go down and sever lag is virtually non-existant on most. Most lag that exists is rendered on the receiving end or somewhere in transit. Overall, the game is finally stable and showing no problems for the future.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: After experiencing WoW for some time, I came to the conclusion that the GMs (game managers) that act as game support within the game are more helpless than players. Customer support tickets are usually answered in a timely manner but unless your problem is so simple that to fix it you can simply delete the already infamous WTF folder (yes, that's what it's really called), you are out of luck. Over the years of its existance, WoW has already became famous for its impotent customer service that has been represented in many player-made movies, songs, comics and various other media. It's not the GMs fault, really. At least it doesn't feel like it. It appears, instead, that their powers are so limited that despite their best intentions their ability to deal with player problems is miniscule. The customer service bulletin boards are completely useless due to the sheer volume of traffic they receive.

ATMOSPHERE: WoW has a fantastic starting atmosphere. Rolling a new character is one of the most exciting moments in WoW, for it will take you through the early levels full of lore, well designed starting regions and interesting plots. Unfortunately, that will be your high point of the game. Eventually, you will reach the levels where Blizzard started copping out on content, streamlining it and commercializing it. The separation between the two factions, Horde and Alliance, will be at first fascinating only to die a horrible death when you reach the "Sanctuary" cities where both factions do business next to each other despite their hostile nature. Standing next to the other faction players waiting for the battleground queue to open so that you can start PvP with them will feel ridiculous. Sharing the same bank and services with them will destroy any charm that existed. Being constantly told that you need to cooperate with them now in order to rid the world of evil will feel completely silly in the wake of the evil being hardly scary. Instead, knowing that unless those opposite faction members are hardcore players, they will be just as frustrated as you were once they hit a raid instance makes you sympathize with them, which destroys the wonderful feeling of tension between the factions that you carried with you for some 50 levels. The sanctuary cities will feel like a copout.

The other element that destroyed any sense of great atmosphere at the higher levels in WoW are the aforementioned daily quests, which are the reason why the game is exploding in profits but turns players into mindless drones and completely destroys the climate of the game. The daily quests try to give you a reliable backstory, but once you hear it for the 25th time, you won't care. They are relatively simple, making you spend the time necessary to complete them but without any worry that you will fail. They are simply monetary rewards for time spent in game. Players in WoW perform those dailies by the score every day, destroying the sense of community and making cooperation for the more exciting areas of the game impossible because everyone is busy doing the mindless dailies. However, they do ensure great profits for Blizzard and therefore are likely to only expand in number and scope. A pity. Seems like the company is stepping all over the rather exciting backstory of the game in order to maintain its gaming superiority.

CONCLUSION: WoW is not a game for a casual player. Unless you are a hardcore gamer who can devote a lot of in-game time every day, you are out of luck. The end-game instances will leave you drained. The raid bosses will leave you frustrated. And the various unimaginative complexity of what could have been epic fights will simply leave you numb wondering who designed them. The game is fun during the constantly trimmed leveling process, but becomes a soulless money grabbing experience at the end-game level. It will suck you in with constant need for better gear, the monotony of the daily quests and the incessant grind for reputation. At the end of the day, it will offer little.

WoW is a phenomenon and it survives on the bandwagon mentality. It will be many years before its dominance over the MMO world ends, mainly due to its extremely clever addictive activities. But the new games that are coming out these days are leaps and bounds ahead of this static title and there is no reason you should get stuck in frustration and mediocrity with so much more to offer out there in the MMO world.

Reviewer's Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Originally Posted: 08/13/08

Game Release: World of Warcraft (US, 11/23/04)

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