World of Warcraft

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Upon entering Azeroth for the first time, the fictional setting for World of WarCraft, the differences between Blizzard's massive multiplayer roleplaying game and the rest of the competition was abundantly clear. As I guided my female Night Elf Hunter through the initial steps, who did indeed get me mistaken quite often as a chick regardless of my speech, I witness some of the most impressive settings, gameplay structure, presentation and execution to date.

Looks like this might be an unfair fight...The difference inWorld of WarCraft's gameplay structure comes in the way the game unfolds before you. After progression through character creation, where you can choose from a number of different traits to make a fairly unique in-game avatar, you begin in an introductory area where you'll do quests that get you into the flow of the game. While killing eight wolves or collecting spider legs might not be the most epic of tasks, their inclusion seems right in the mindset that no one is going to trust some neophyte conscript with vastly more important tasks.

This allows for almost no down time in terms of progression, as you're able to get up to 20 quests in your log, and plenty of non-player characters are willing to take advantage of the newer inhabitants for the menial tasks they'd rather not perform. Also, the fact you earn experience for completing these tasks makes it worthwhile.

The rest system also helps in this area. It's a simple system that rewards well-rested players by giving them a bonus, where they earn 200% experience for creature kills. Eventually you'll reach the normal state where you earn base experience. Apparently there is another stage after that where you earn under 100% experience, but after playing marathon sessions without dropping out of normal, I'd have to say this is more of a myth than anything else. This also rewards those who take the time to logout in inns and towns, instead of just stopping in the middle of a forest. Those who are in town will be able to earn back the coveted rested status and earn some bonus experience when they get back online.

From the first time you visit your class trainer, you'll be able to learn at least one ability, assuming you have the funds. These abilities run the gamut from passive to active, physical to magical and everything in between. Also, various classes have different race related traits that they start with. Elves get the ability to go into stealth mode if still, turn into a wisp when they die and get a 50% speed bonus, and other various traits. If you're worried that there isn't a balance to this, it's okay - there is. Dwarves are inherently better with guns and get a bonus for that, as well as the ability to locate nearby treasure. Of course, those aren't all the skills you can get. On top of intrinsic abilities and learned attacks, players also have access to profession.

Professions, available extremely early on, add more depth to character creation and also make it so that players need each other. After taking up tailoring and skinning, I was in a prime position to make bags, which increase your item storage capacity by at least six slots. Of course, I wasn't completely self sufficient. Sure, I was able to make bags, but if I wanted leather armor or to have that same leather armor enchanted, I was going to need some serious help. It's almost like Blizzard encourages cooperation with other players this way, as you can only learn two of the many skills on top of cooking, first aid and fishing.

Not all of these profession-based skills are instantly accessible. Miners need to find their copper and tin before they start hammering away with their pick. Skinners need dead animal carcasses before they can bust out their skinning knife. Enchanters need some rather expensive ingredients before they can start really making items that people want to wear better. This is one of the various checks the game has, so that you need to gain experience in your profession before attempting to create some of the more impressive items.

As you explore the world to both complete these quests, level and increase your proficiency with your secondary skills, you'll bear witness to the beautiful world created for you and hundreds of thousands of your closest friends. The scenery is just gorgeous in various places, and it makes running along great expanses of land or swimming around the coast to reach your friends extremely enjoyable. There are times I've physically stopped leveling and questing to enjoy a particular part of the environment, with one of my favorites so far being Iron Forge and the land of Dun Morogh. The Dwarven city and land are just a great contrast and are only an inkling of what's really out there in that big world.

Nothing like a good drink after a hearty adventure.There are a few minor glitches present in the game, such as corpses that run in place and herbs that lock you into position, requiring a logout to undo the damage. For the most part though, Blizzard kept up with their amazing standard of polish present in their previous games with World of WarCraft. It's not a completely bug free gaming experience. It's more like a nearly devoid of bugs gaming experience.

World of WarCraft doesn't so much usher in a new style of MMORPGs, but rather address issues that plagued others and corrects them. While there are many changes that improve the quality of gameplay tremendously, such as the quest driven system as well as the need for cooperation between players to accomplish various tasks, are all bundled in an extremely well put together world that has a visual style worth upgrading to enjoy even more. World of WarCraft will keep you enthralled for hours upon end, saying my now favorite phrase: "Yeah, I'll do that after one more quest."

The Score:
+ Visual style is extremely vibrant, and even looks great on computers running near minimum requirements
+ Game doesn't ever approach boring, with plenty of quests to undertake and professions to learn
+ With the rest system, leveling with even a limited amount of time a day becomes rewarding
+ Soundtrack has a wide variety of tracks that you might find yourself humming eventually
+/- Initially servers were having issues with the load, but that has been all but corrected
+/- World is massive, and while this is a great thing most of the time, it can make getting to your friends at lower levels a bit of a problem

Bottom Line:
If you were waiting for masses to weigh in on World of WarCraft before taking the plunge, you need to hop in those trunks post haste because the water is neither frigid nor blistering, but a perfect 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The game balances the accessibility to new players and challenge for veterans quite well, offering up a bevy of quests, professions and other activities to get involved in. At present, there isn't a better MMORPG on the market. Blizzard has done it again, creating another masterpiece for all gamers to enjoy.

Reviewed by Daniel Dormer