Review by FDelles

Reviewed: 02/14/05

Addictively frustrating

World of Warcraft, the latest massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) and one dealing with the milieu of Blizzard’s best-selling Warcraft series, is one of those games where you have this mixed bag of everything good and outright horrible. This would have been a great game had it not been for the frustration factor – one that is very common in MMORPGs, unfortunately.

So what’s good about it? Much, actually. If there is one thing to give the acronym “WoW”, it’s the graphics. This is the game you want to play with, say, a brand-new Pentium 4 3.0E GHz with NVIDIA GEForce 4 setup. In my opinion, World of Warcraft has the best graphics of any game except for a couple of the later Final Fantasy games – and even in those, your ability to explore and interact is rather limited. Though the graphics of the people could be done a little better, many of the aesthetics, including diversity of raiment and practical armor, are fine as they are. The music is halfway decent - my favorites are the moody New Age in Night Elf countries and the folk-like tune in the human inn. But the sound is a bit lacking, with too few voices (i.e. there is only one voice set for each race and gender – what’s up with that?)

Those videos of World of Warcraft gameplay on Blizzard’s website do not do justice compared to actually playing the game – a fun quasi-action/strategy style similar to Secret of Mana melded with the real-time strategies of Warcraft or Starcraft. It is addictive to level up, try to be stronger than the next for bragging rights. Thanks to abilities like talents, leveling a character is choosier than you think, making even playing the same class twice much more exhilarating.

Not surprisingly, the graphics and gameplay accentuates your interaction of the world, from the Eastern Kingdoms to Kalimdor. It ends up fun – if not also addictive! – just to explore, to see the lands from the subterranean kingdom of Ironforge to Teldrassil’s lush and exotic forests and natural cities (most notably Darnassus). The populaces of the various regions are also interesting: the spiritual Tauren, the archeological dwarves, the Beavis and Butt-Head-sounding goblins, the ethereal and matriarchal (sort of) Night Elves, the uniqueness of playing the Undead. And that’s just to name a few. About the only complaint I have here is that the latter two races feel like shoo-ins for some weird reason, possibly because of their (scant) NPCs and quests, they just do not have the feel of the other six races.

Blizzard is smart enough to implement many fail-safes into the game to ensure enjoyment for many months to come. One implementation is “soulbound” items – that is, items or equipment that can never leave your character unless you sell to a vendor or “destroy” (drop forever) the item. This reduces the glut of items on the market and increases demand. Minimum level requirements for certain items also decrease the number of degenerate characters and keeps it fun for everyone.

Player vs. player (PvP) is a lot of fun, if not just plain addictive, especially when you set up an army (a.k.a. a “raid”) to attack an opposing town. Unfortunately, it takes a long time before you can participate effectively, as those guards – as well as some player opponents – are of very high level. The upcoming battlefields, where you do PvP in a mass scale, show much potential. If there is a weakness, it is the inevitability of uneven teams. On most servers, the Alliance outnumbers the Horde. Possibly because the two most popular races in MMORPGs in general – humans and elves – are on the same side. Having belief-based instead of a race-based ideology would have been better – but this was because latter was directly drawn from the other Warcraft games (humans vs. orcs).

Unfortunately, for the game’s many positives, there are many negatives as well.

First and BY FAR the worst, death and resurrection in World of Warcraft quickly turns into such a pointless chore. If you die, your spirit begins in a graveyard darn far away from your corpse – and you have to trudge ALL THE FRIGGIN’ WAY to your corpse to revive. Usually taking 5-10 minutes depending on how far you are. When you do reach and revive, your health and mana are low, your equipment suffers, you have to re-cast your enhancements, and you are still not out of the fire! Meaning you could die AGAIN (especially if you are in the middle of fighting a horde of monsters) and have to perform this crap once more. Maybe twice, maybe even more. It’s enough to make you bust your mouse in frustration. It’s enough to make even the most even-tempered curse a sailor’s streak. “Recovering your corpse” is probably the second most annoying element in the history of video gaming, behind only the “ironman RPGing” in the 80s where total death would mean deletion of your character or party. And there are the “no-fault” deaths when you lose your Internet connection and the monsters you fight just suddenly wail on you.

Talking to a spirit healer? Yeah, that sure is a fast way to make you a pauper. Resurrection sickness is bad enough.The loss of money in repairs is tantamount to Schadenfreude. One of my characters took several hours just to get back on track because I revived via spirit healer too many times and ran out of money to repair – and found it hard to get more with such broken-down equipment. I am just glad this is not the beta!

At best, it is better than what the Everquest junkies face, especially with the utter torture they have to go through when they die – you lose levels. At least you never lose experience, much less levels, in World of Warcraft. (Am I glad I did NOT play Everquest.) Thankfully, dying in PvP does not have an equipment penalty unless you talk to a spirit healer.

My solution? Eliminate the repair penalty from dying. To have a disincentive to die (of course), a “penalty box” where you can do nothing for several minutes would work best. At the least, I can get up and take a breather. It’s a shame MMORPGs aren’t like classic RPGs where you can reload and run through a difficult spot tabula rasa.

Second, some quests can also end up frustrating. Too many times have I searched forever to find a certain location or NPC. Other times, you have to kill a certain “boss”, only to find that the “boss” had recently been defeated, and you have to wait at the boss’s lair just to get your chance. The worst, in my opinion, is the quest where you have to find an item (or an amount of items) dropped by a specific set of creatures. Sometimes, the first monster you kill drops that quest item; other times, you might have to kill dozens upon dozens of monsters to get said item. Furthermore, the quest system feels like you are required to play with a whole bunch of friends, online or real-life. With a limit of 20 quests in your log, it usually ends up filled with a bunch of “elite” quests that all but require a group to complete. Yeah, you could “abandon” them and retake them in the future, but that often screws up various chains of quests (and don’t even get me started on the bugs within them).

Third, the “underworld” is not as detailed as the “overworld”. Too many dungeons seem generic (places like Gnomeregan and Maraudon are exceptions) and just plain feel boring compared to exploring the world above ground. Heck, some dungeons are identical to each other save the monsters, making some gamers think, “Haven’t I been here before?” Ditto certain cities. I was thoroughly unimpressed with Stormwind, for example; it felt too generic when you look at other kingdoms in the world.

Fourth, the servers are rather unreliable. Too many times have gamers been kicked out of the server and find themselves dead when they log back in (see the part on dying), and it is worse when servers are “rolled back”, that is, the gamer loses progress, usually since his last login. Almost as bad is the lag in big cities and in auction houses (especially in Ironforge). The staff seems to take their sweet time to fix the problems in the game. It took how long to fix to the boat problem? (And even that is only a temporary fix).

Finally, some aesthetics of graphics and sound are poorly implemented. You have only one set of sounds per race and gender, as is body type - i.e. all human men have the same height, weight, and gait. The “emotes”, where you can make characters perform actions (bow, dance, roar, etc.) seem rather limited when you see in the chat box what the gamers do when they role-play. More emotes please!

Overall, this is the mixed bag of mixed bags – it seems that what is really good is immediately ruined by something that is really bad (the utter annoyance of dying, mainly). Or maybe it’s just me; this is my first MMORPG, and I get that strange feeling that it will be my last, based on what I may face in other MMORPGs. Those that love MMORPGs (despite the aches of playing some of them) will find this a dream. Those that don’t, well… try it and you might like it, but I don’t blame you if you just stand up and quit. Of course, when you think about it, based on what Blizzard had done, and what they could have done, it could have been a whole lot worse.

The Good:
Great graphics and gameplay, especially exploration
Player vs. player implementation (including the upcoming “battlefields”)
Less grind compared to other MMORPGs
The all-female Night Elf Sentinel armies (someone had to put it in! :D)

The Bad:
Too much “grind” (i.e. the chore to resurrect your corpse) – admittedly, better than other MMORPGs
Annoying quests and poorly implemented quest system
Some locations seem generic
Extreme server unreliability
Lack of graphic and sound diversity compared to most games

The Most Ridiculous:
Can someone tell me why female Night Elves dance like Britney Spears while male Night Elves dance like Michael Jackson? I thought they were too long-lived to deal with the many shortcomings of pop culture.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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