Admittedly, the quests themselves never seem to stray too far from combat or collecting, but Blizzard has packaged them in a way that makes you feel part of an unfolding story. As a human mage, I found myself caught up in a bizarre tale of inter-family squabbles and tender romance, mostly played out in the confines of a pumpkin patch. My undead warrior, meanwhile, got busy sowing the seeds of plague, recruiting reluctant lich-lords to the cause, and bringing an end to a cursed undead family. And that was just to start.
But there’s more to WoW than just quests. One of its pleasures is that it gives you the option to battle players from the other faction on specific PvP servers. While everyone else is busy tackling quests, there’s nearly always some glory-hunting dwarf demanding a raid on the Orc village to the south, or some undead wretch looking to spread some death around. Certain zones are safe, and the presence of high-level computer controlled characters in key havens should keep the newbie safe from harm, but if you want to put the war back in Warcraft, there’s no reason why you can’t get stuck in.
Yet Blizzard’s greatest achievement is the world itself. You could argue it’s nothing special. The models are fairly low in detail, and there’s nothing to match Doom 3, Half-Life 2 or even EverQuest II on a technical level. And yet Blizzard has managed to make a world that’s heavily stylised and genuinely beautiful, full of soft glowing skies, rolling hills, magnificent forests, and gloomy deserted towers. It’s hard to arrive within the city of Stormwind without feeling some sense of awe, and equally hard to explain how perfectly twisted the undead subculture is, with its eerie Undercity hidden beneath another city’s ruins, and its dark graveyard towns dotted through the shadowy woodlands. WoW shows comprehensively that artistic vision can count more than pixel shaders and polygons when they are used without imagination.
As with any MMORPG, experiences will differ. Blizzard is doing its best in the face of incredible demand to make sure there’s space for everyone on its servers, but some are getting congested, and there are instances where players are queuing to fight a monster and finish a quest. It’s also quite possible to find socially deficient halfwits who moan about stealing experience points or seem determined to grab all the goodies, but then that’s also an unfortunate part of real life. All I can say is that there is a genuinely brilliant experience in here, one that welcomes you in and sucks hours from your life without you even noticing. You could play for days on end, and still feel you haven’t sampled more than a tiny portion of what’s on offer. You could be spending every second fighting, or take time to learn the skills of tailoring or engineering. You could go deep into city society, or battle enemy players and redraw the territorial map, or just tread the wild roads on your lonesome. Whatever you choose, you’re certain to have a great time.
Blizzard set itself a tough challenge with World of Warcraft, but it has managed to surpass expectations on many levels. Of course you’re faced with the same problems that are inherent with any online game, but on the whole WoW creates a new world for you to live in whenever you’re tired of the real one.