Just as the core game made it seem very reasonable to be a vengeful mouldering zombie warrior, because you knew you had a right to exist even if those damned alliance goodie-two-shoes thought you an abomination, so The Burning Crusade drags you into the worlds of the Blood Elves and the Draenei. Everywhere you go around the Draenei starter zone there are fragments of their wrecked ship, The Exodar, to remind you that you’re a stranger on a strange world, which you’re accidentally polluting. The Blood Elves, meanwhile, are continually mocked by the ruins of their own civilization. You don’t necessarily have to take this stuff all that seriously, but it all helps to build up a potent atmosphere.
Whereas in other MMOs the game world feels like background, here it really feels important, and that stretches from the historical background to the very look of the game. If you’re coming back to WoW after a spell in Oblivion or Guild Wars, there is an initial sense of disappointment at how plain the cartoon graphics are, how angular the models can be, and how short the game is on complex effects or natural lighting. The Burning Crusade does nothing to update the basic graphic engine, and it certainly doesn’t bring in any revolutionary changes to the game’s overall style. Yet through a combination of great character design and the brilliant, detailed, cohesive world Blizzard has created, you soon forget all about visual technicalities. Azeroth might not look realistic in the sense of Gears of War or a CGI cartoon, but it sweeps your misgivings aside just like a classic Disney cartoon. Somehow, WoW has made leaving the graphics arms race behind part of its distinctive appeal.
Of course, there are other areas where Guild Wars vets might feel WoW could do with a little rethinking. For one thing, Blizzard’s installation and patching procedure doesn’t seem to have got any better. Installing WoW and The Burning Crusade took me nearly an hour; patching the bloody thing using Blizzard’s downloader took me another three, and it was only later that I realised exactly why veteran players prefer to find a good mirror and download and manually install major patches instead of enduring such a wait. What’s more, at the time of writing I’m still suffering from a bizarre connection issue that prevents me connecting to the game, and from a day or so’s feverish trawling through various technical FAQs and forums, it seems this isn’t a particularly unusual situation.
Back in the game, other potential flaws emerge. WoW doesn’t have the solo-friendly features – the henchmen or the heroes introduced in Nightfall – that Guild Wars players take for granted, and those who moan on about ‘World of Walkcraft’ do have a point: between the source and target of each quest there is a lot of repetitive wandering.