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03 December 2004 — World of Warcraft (1)

As you may have noticed, I haven't had much to write about lately. Why is that? World of Warcraft, a "massively multiplayer online role-playing game", was released ten days ago, and I've been playing it like a man obsessed. It's difficult to write about life experiences when I'm not actually having any! (Well, not outside of a virtual world, that is.)

Uh — what is a "massively multiplayer online role-playing game"?

A massively multiplayer online role-playing game (or MMORPG) is the technological extension of early computer text-adventures. These text adventures evolved into MUDs (such as Northern Lights, which I played obsessively about ten years ago), which were essentially large text adventures played concurrently with scores of other online users.

A computer role-playing game is similar to the Dungeons and Dragons you might have played as a kid. (Or, if you're a geek, you continue to play as an adult.) You create a "character", or in-game persona, which is represented by statistics defining his (or her) strength, speed, health, etc. You control your character as he kills monsters and completes quests and gathers treasure.

These games became massively multiplayer when technology allowed hundreds — or thousands — of players to share a game world simultaneously. The orcish warrior you control is surrounded by dozens of orcish warriors and shamans and priests controlled by players in Kansas, New York, and Australia.

Ultima Online was the first major MMORPG. I thought the concept appealing, but had never played any of the Ultima games, so I passed. About five years ago, Everquest debuted, and many a geek found themselves addicted. (The game became known as Evercrack because of its addictive qualities.) MMORPGs, because of their subscription-based models, are a cash cow for games companies, yet still a value for gamers.

World of Warcraft is the latest of these MMORPGs.

Enough history! Why did you choose World of Warcraft when you've shunned MMORPGs until now?

The short answer is I've played and admired the games produced by Blizzard Entertainment — with the exception of the disappointing Warcraft 3 — for a decade. They've demonstrated a commitment to quality that surpasses most other companies in the industry. I especially admire two things about Blizzard's games: the simple, intuitive interfaces; and the plain yet evocative graphics.

I wasn't certain that I'd play World of Warcraft. In fact, up until about a month ago, the prospect was doubtful. Then, however, I participated in the open beta test. I was hooked almost from the start. I didn't fall in love with the concept, or the interface, or the game-play. No: I fell in love with the world.

You fell in love with the world?

Nick has been playing Everquest for nearly a year. To hear him speak, World of Warcraft pales in nearly every respect when compared with the former. The quests are too easy, player's options are too limited, gameplay is repetitive, and the graphics are too "cartoony".

The graphics may be cartoony — I hadn't really noticed until he pointed it out — but they're effective. I've seen some of Everquest, and have been wholly unimpressed with the blatantly polygon-mapped three-dimensional figures. Everything looks like it's computer graphics.


World of Warcraft doesn't look like its computer graphics. It doesn't look real (and I wouldn't want it too), but it doesn't look like computer graphics, either. I guess Nick's right: it looks cartoony. But whereas Nick uses the term derisively, I use it as a compliment.

A new character starts the game in one of eight home cities. (There are eight races in the game: human, dwarf, gnome, elf, orc, troll, undead, and tauren (think minotaur).) These cities are spread out over two virtual continents, and each starting location has its own peculiar charms. The dwarves start on snow-covered mountaintops. The humans start in a peaceful forest. The orcs start in a barren desert.

But as you play the game, as you develop your character, you explore more of the world. The world is vast. The world is beautiful.

You've lost me. I still don't get it.

Perhaps some examples will help.

I started as a night elf, on an island near the upper left of the world map. (Let's forget spherical planets for the moment.) The night elves live in a dark and misty land filled with tall trees and lush vegetation. There was nothing particularly spectacular about this scenery, to be honest. Fortunately, the gameplay was addictive enough to hold me captivated until I found my way off the island.

Eventually I found a ship. Because I'm reading the Patrick O'Brian novels, I spent my short boat-ride running from bow to stern, examining the vessel, its masts and rigging. Fun, but only in a limited sense. The ship docked in a town similar to the one I'd left, surrounded by shadows and tall trees. But here, at least, there were vast stretches of coast-line. And, better yet, there were areas where I could dive underwater to explore shipwrecks (while evading the dreaded murlocks).


Then I sailed to the eastern continent. I found myself in the Wetlands, a swampy area filled with crocodiles and shambling heaps of half-man, half-plant. I ran through the swamp, then into the foothills. I ran through tunnels hewn from rock. I ran up and up and up. I paused to look behind, and it seemed the entire world stretched before me. "Wow!" I thought.

I continued to run, up the steep mountainside. I came to snow-covered regions filled with wolves and bears. "Wow!" I said: as my character ran through the snow, he left little footprints behind. I ran until I reached the dwarven capital of Ironforge. "Wow! I said upon entering the city. I marvelled at the gigantic statue at the city gates. I marvelled at the vast forge in the heart of the city, molten metal dripping from the ceiling to the floor.

This was all very impressive, but it paled in comparison to what I did next. I purchased a ride on gryphon, a giant eagle-like creature that flew me from Ironforge to the human capital. For five minutes I had no control of my character, but I didn't care. I watched, transfixed as the gryphon soared over icy lakes, over bubbling volcanoes, past pristine waterfalls, and into the city of Stormwind.


It's something that has to be seen to be believed.

And I've discovered more marvels, since: the view from the bluffs of Westfall, which overlook the sea;


the stark and barren beauty of the plains where the taurens start the game; an awesome ENORMOUS wall stretching from mountain-to-mountain, resembling the Great Wall of China;


the towering Stonewrought Dam, on the face of which are carved three dwarven heads (from whose mouths flow steady streams of water);


a vast, underground mine in which goblins are building pirate ships.

Words cannot do the game justice. This world is simply enormous, and much of it is beautifully rendered, if only in a cartoonish style. In all the hours I've played so far — and don't ask me how much I've played — I've only seen maybe ten percent of all there is to see. Maybe ten percent. Probably more like three percent. Or less. The world is vast.

So you love the world. How's the rest of the game?

I think the rest of the game is pretty damn good, too. Not perfect, but very good. (Nick disagrees. His most common comment regarding any aspect of the game seems to be, "Well, that's not how Everquest does it. Everquest is better.")

The interface is fairly intuitive. Things work in a logical fashion, and most options can be found where you'd expect them to be found.

(There are exceptions, however. I'm playing a hunter. Hunters may tame pets. I, like almost every other hunter I've encountered, have been quite flumoxed trying to figure out how to train my pet. I figured it out eventually, but it took a lot of trial-and-error.)


Combat is a major aspect of the game. It's handled well. You can set up macros to automate commonly repeated combat actions. To prevent disputes, the first person to inflict damage upon a monster is the person who gets to loot its corpse. To take on more difficult areas, you can group with up to four other people, forming a party.

Quests are another important part of the game. From the very beginning, one encounters computer controlled characters who give quests that provide substantial rewards. If a character has a quest available, a yellow exclamation point appears above his head. When one completes the quest, a yellow question mark appears above the character's head.

There are several different types of quests: kill X monsters, collect X objects, deliver this item, etc. All of the quest types become repetitive after a while; it would have been nice had Blizzard been able to develop others. Maybe in a future expansion...

I quite enjoy the tradeskill aspect of the game. In addition to his major profession (warrior, rogue, mage, priest, hunter, warlock, druid, paladin, maybe one or two others), a player may choose two minor professions (herbalism, alchemy, mining, ironworking, engineering, skinning, leatherworking, enchanting). There are also three "free" professions that anyone can dabble in: fishing, cooking, and first aid.

Developing these secondary professions is a sort of mini-game in the bigger game. To develop herbalism, for example, one must be every-vigilant for special plants that can be harvested for profit. The more the skill is used, the more proficient your character becomes at it. If he picks dozens of basic plants, he'll become skilled enough to harvest more complex plants.

My hunter is able to skin large animals, and then to convert these skins into leather armor. Simple, perhaps, but fun.

Do you have any complaints about World of Warcraft?

A few, but they're mostly minor. Indeed, many of them are quibbles. There are still some odd bugs in the game. These will probably fixed with time. Two things I'd dearly love to see are more incidental non-player characters — computer-controlled people walking to-and-fro on the roads, for example — and weather effects. (It pains me that the game has no weather; I long to see snow and wind and rain.)

There's a lot of running in the game, especially when you're exploring. This isn't so much a complaint as an observation (and a warning). It took me 45 minutes the first time I travelled from my elven homeland to the human capital. Most of this was spent running.

I can't think of many other complaints right now.

This isn't really a review, is it? (It's more like an ad.)

No, I suppose not. It's not very comprehensive. How can it be? I've barely touched the surface of this game in the two weeks I've been playing it.

But I can tell you this: I love World of Warcraft. It's the most fun I've had playing a computer game in, well, maybe ever. Only time will tell if the game has what it takes to join Starcraft and Civilization II on my short-list of favorite games. From what I've seen, though, it'll not only make the list with ease, it'll rise to the very top.

And this is why you've been rather quiet for the past two weeks?

Yup.

I'm playing on the Proudmoore server (Pacific time zone) under the name Maturin. I'm a 21st level night elf hunter, though I spend most of my time in the human lands. If any of you are playing, and have a character on Proudmoore, I'd love to group with you.

Comments
On 03 December 2004 (01:41 AM), schmela said:

Ironic that you posted this today, as I just posted a screenshot to my weblog that my husband took while he was playing WoW this evening.

My husband is really liking the game as well. I occasionally watch over his shoulder, and it is pretty cool to see him run and fly all over. The graphics are really quite stunning. Your screenshot of the gryphon flying over the icy landscape is quite beautiful. I'll send him over here to read your review. I think he has created a few characters...not sure which server he plays on.


On 03 December 2004 (06:43 AM), Joel said:

I had heard that as you gain levels the quests become more complex and start to take on more of a "plot". Is this all guff? I won't stand for guff, you know.


On 03 December 2004 (07:13 AM), J.D. said:

Oh, no — that's certainly not guff, Joel. Even at low levels plots are weaved into a semblanced of a plot, which is nice. It's these plots that redeem the repetitive nature of the quests, actually.

The game world is divided into seventy-five some large countries, or zones. Each zone represents many hours of gameplay, and each is filled with quests, many of which are interrelated.

For example, I found the area called Westfall when my hunter was level 13. Westfall is a farming region southwest of the human capital. It's perpetually fall in Westfall (just as the game doesn't have weather, it doesn't have seasons). The harvest is over, but the country has been overrun by huge mechanical monstrosities that are rampaging through the fields. There are a couple of quests in which you're required to eliminate these mechanical monstrosities.

But the large plot in the area involves a group of thieves who have been raiding the farms. What starts as a simple quest to oust the thieves from one particular farm becomes prolonged into an epic struggle to actually excise their presence from all of Westfall. There is a series of maybe a dozen quests tying this plot together, the climax of which is a raid into The Deadmines to kill the leader of these rascals.

One of the screenshots above — the one with four characters standing around on the deck of a ship — shows the conclusion of this quest, the point at which Westfall has been freed from corruption. I came close to seeing this very thing last night (close to finishing this quest), but ran out of time.

There are certain large, climactic quests, such as The Deadmines, found throughout the game. I believe these are all found at the end of a plot-line. During most of the game, you're in the world with every other player. However, for these final quests, you and your party enter what is called an "instanced dungeon". An instanced dungeon is an isolated copy of an area created especially for you and your group; there might be half a dozen other groups doing the exact same quest in separate instances. This model is necessary because these final quests are long, and they're hard. My group spent ninety minutes hacking through The Deadmines yesterday, but still did not finish before I had to leave. We probably had half an hour left. (The whole thing might have gone quicker but I ran out of arrows and had to fight hand-to-hand. Then, as we neared the end, the entire party was massacred when we accidentally drew the wrath of a half-dozen pirates at the same time.)

So, I guess what I'm saying is that there are limited number of individual quest types, and that's disappointing. However, Blizzard's done a great job of milking these few quest types for all possible variety.


On 03 December 2004 (08:23 AM), Amanda said:

Geek alert! Woo woo woo!!!


On 03 December 2004 (08:23 AM), jenefer said:

Interesting that you should pick this topic today. There was an article in our local paper today covering the current GenCon in Anaheim. I am interested because Bob, my husband, was an early player and then dungeon master 30 years ago when the game started. Dungeons & Dragons is celebrating 30 years this year at the convention. As an early dabbler in D & D, I have watched as the game became less and less social over the years and the article spoke to this fact. On-line there is no verbal interchange among players and no "real" contact, as opposed to virtual contact. Every night it is a fight over the computer and the 'games', unless Adam is at work. Some entire weekends are spent on the computer in the clutches of the current game. I was going to say "What a waste of time", but that is only my opinion. Bob and Adam get great enjoyment out of playing and discussing the game both with each other and friends. It is a great topic of conversation if you are involved. I would rather live in the real world or read.


On 03 December 2004 (10:28 AM), Jon said:

I'm jealous. My home PC is not beefy enough for WoW, so there is little chance to play it soon. Sounds fun though!

I've been playing Warcraft III single player again after a long haitus. I really like it. I agree it is different, but I think the differences have merit.


On 03 December 2004 (11:02 AM), dowingba said:

That's funny. I also haven't been writing much lately due to my recently purchased Xbox (Crystal Edition). Yes, remember our debates about computers vs console gaming? It seems we've inadvertantly switched sides, J.D....


On 03 December 2004 (02:03 PM), NO Scott said:

JD or anyone - do you guys have any reviews or know people who play City of Heroes? I am thinking about getting it for Christmas.


On 03 December 2004 (09:06 PM), Lisa said:

Good grief, J.D.! Have pity on my modem!


On 04 December 2004 (03:43 PM), tammy said:

Nick and JD, you both need kids.


On 07 December 2004 (03:38 PM), Nick said:

Tammy, I'll take a couple kids if they are mute and can cook and clean. Oh, and they have good jobs so they can support me.


On 06 June 2005 (08:26 PM), Dahr said:

Plz do somehtign about ninja looting a mage just looted brain hacker from me and a warlock nin book for Quel Serra


On this day at foldedspace.org

2002Best Gingerbread Cookies Ever   In which I share Jenn's recipe for the best gingerbread cookies ever.


Comments
On 22 December 2005 (10:20 PM), Ashley said:

lol Nick. Oh, if you've still got this board tagged, I have a CoH account with about three heroes created (er, 'toons' as everyone else calls them). But I plan to delete my account. Oh well. By the way, I got WoW for my brother for Christmas; I plan to sneak in a few hours of playing it (hehehe...)