From the start, it was promised that World of Warcraft (WoW) would be the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing game that the rest of us could enjoy. No more tedious hours of rat-whacking, followed by days of constant effort skinning bears and collecting herbs just to get enough gold to buy a half-decent battleaxe. Well, many of us already spend fruitless hours performing tedious or mind-numbing tasks for financial reward. We call it ‘work’ and we don’t play games to do more of it. What we do play games for is to set our imaginations free and have some fun, and if playing WoW tells you anything, it’s that Blizzard hasn’t forgotten that.
You see, Blizzard likes to think differently, as becomes clear from the moment you start creating characters. The world is roughly divided between two warring factions – the Alliance and the Horde – both of which should be familiar to Warcraft 3 old hands. In another game, the Alliance, comprising humans, dwarves, gnomes and knight-elves, would be the goodies, and the Horde, including Orcs, Trolls, the undead Forsaken, and the bestial Tauren, would be the baddies, but in Blizzard’s world, things are not so clear cut. Each race has its own background and rationale – even the rotten corpses of the Forsaken want to be loved (or at least be allowed to survive!)
It’s all about choice. Each race can choose from a number of different classes, and which race and class you select has a real impact on the way you play. Some, like the warlocks and hunters, get obvious perks - demonic minions for the warlock, faithful pets for the hunter – but all have abilities and powers that make them useful in a fight or on a quest. Warriors might suffer from a little demon-envy when they see a warlock’s familiar at work, but it soon evaporates in the heat of battle when your muscle-bound hero unleashes a storm of potent attacks. However you like to play, whether you’re a bloodthirsty brawler or a fireball-tossing mage, you’re going to find what you’re looking for.
Structurally, the game is perfectly paced. Whomever or whatever you choose, you start off in a small base of some kind, where you’re gently introduced to combat, quests, and the rest. Your first missions are of the ‘collect ten of this, bash five of that’ school, but they don’t last long and there is some attempt to make your efforts seem worthwhile. Then, just when you start thinking that it’s time to spread your wings, the quests start pushing you further afield. Two hours in and you’re based in a small town, tackling local problems and engaging in a few cool side-quests. Five hours in and you’re delivering a message to a contact in the big city, or starting off on a longer adventure. Eight hours in, you could be almost anywhere.
And WoW lets you grow gently, without punishing every mistake in brutal fashion. Health recharges fairly rapidly, but death needn’t be the end. Your unquiet spirit soon appears in a nearby graveyard and you can set off to recapture your body. That’s still bad luck if it’s lying in the local Gnoll HQ, but there’s always an option to start again at a small cost to arms and armour. In WoW, The days of dying and losing everything are thankfully over.
WoW is also well balanced in terms of solo play and group play. Some missions demand that you find some like-minded friends if you want to survive, but many allow you to handle matters alone provided you avoid the Kamikaze approach. And while there are groups that play regularly together, you don’t need to commit yourself if you don’t want to. There are usually ad-hoc gangs assembling to tackle tougher missions, and it’s perfectly fine to team up for a quest then splinter off once it’s done.