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?
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.