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World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade Preview

publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
developer: Blizzard Entertainment
genre: MMORPG

PIII 800, 512MB RAM, 10GB HDD, 32MB video card
ESRB rating: T

release date: Jan 16, 07
» All About World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade on ActionTrip

It goes without saying, but yes, World of Warcraft is the most successful MMORPG of all time. It is the 800-lb gorilla of MMORPGs, but what's striking is that WoW is the first game to truly bridge the gap between hardcore gamers and the mainstream crowds. Blizzard's giant cash cow is becoming a part of popular culture, supplanting The Sims as the "it" game of choice for both gamers and non-gamers alike.

When speaking of WoW and MMORPGs in general, the same principles don't apply as for other games. World of Warcraft, like any successful MMORPG, is constantly evolving; it is an ongoing project that has to keep growing in order to survive. Now, the way that WoW has been growing so far has been through content patches - the addition of new dungeons, class reviews, items, etc. So the next logical step for Blizzard is to release an expansion pack, which is exactly what they plan to do. It's called The Burning Crusade. The title is a take back on the events that took place in Warcraft III - the invasion of the Burning Legion. The lore in The Burning Crusade is tied closely to the epic battles that took place in the strategy games.

Let's shift the focus to the people behind the game. As you may or may not know, the original team that designed World of Warcraft has changed quite a bit since the game's release. If you check out the website of Red 5 Studios you'll learn that "Red 5 Studios is lead by key creative and executive talent behind the most successful MMO to date, World of Warcraft." Team lead and art director no less.

In addition to this, NCSoft has been busy "poaching" quite a few of Blizzard employees working on the Burning Crusade. They've even opened up a studio in Irvine, so that they could allegedly make it easier for Blizzard guys to switch camp.

Clearly, there is a lot going on behind the scenes as the development of both the original World of Warcraft game and the expansion continues, but that has not stopped the evolution of the end-game encounters. If you compare the rather dreary and unoriginal Onyxia encounter to the Buru the Gorger encounter in the Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj, most players would prefer to fight Buru, as the encounter is flat-out more fun. Also, while the original art work remains unrivaled, the art direction has not suffered with the addition of the new raid dungeons. The designs of the dungeons, epic armor pieces and bosses have been constantly improving since the game's release. For those of you who don't remember, the game was released with placeholder graphics for most of the tier 0 and tier 1 armor sets. (The Judgment Armor was green. I still have nightmares. - Six)

Taking all this into account, it's safe to say that The Burning Crusade has a very good chance of delivering the kind of experience that World of Warcraft gamers are hoping for. Most of you are well aware of the key points that Blizzard's marketing department is trying to concentrate on during this stage of development. Filtering through all the available information on the Internet, and after some direct talks with the guys from the company (some of which involved the hiring of... escorts), I can say with some degree of certainty that no new info was released since the game's showing at the E3. This may change, however, as The Burning Crusade will be showcased at the upcoming Comic Con in San Diego (July 20-23). Blizzard's very own BlizzCon will not happen this year - likely because of the push to start an open beta and *possibly* release the expansion by the end of the year.

The best way to find out all the important information about the background story and some of the content that'll be introduced in the game is to actually visit the World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade official site. Additionally, you can see ActionTrip's preview that covers the game's background lore and the Blood Elves - the new horde race here.

The key points of the expansion that the marketing team is pushing (post E3) are the following:

  • An increase in the level cap to 70
  • Two new playable races: the Blood Elves and the Draenei
  • New starting zones in Quel'Thalas and beyond
  • The entire new continent of Outland, reachable through the Dark Portal
  • Many new high-level dungeons to explore in Azeroth, Outland, and elsewhere
  • New flying mounts in Outland
  • Many new and dangerous monsters, including epic world bosses
  • Hundreds of new quests
  • Hundreds of new items
  • A new profession: Jewelcrafting
  • Socketed items
  • And much, much more...

In regards to the listed PVE additions, one good thing about the increase in the level cap (besides the fact that it'll finally give power levelers a chance to do something other than breed two thousand alts per realm), is that the team is looking to focus more on making enough quests available so that at no point during the 60-70 leveling should the player need to simply grind XP by killing world mobs to gain levels. The idea here is to offer enough interesting quests so that leveling comes more naturally and is more fun for the player.

The two new playable races (the Draenei on the Alliance side and Blood Elves on the Horde) are certainly cool enough to gain a loyal following amongst the players. Still, this addition is rather cosmetic. That is if we disregard the most obvious changes to the gameplay - changes in the lore, world geography in terms of new starting zones, capitals, etc. The background story on the new Alliance race can be found here. As far as the Draenei's racial abilities are concerned, they get shadow resistance, have a bonus for the jewel-crafting skill and have an ability called 'heroic presence', which gives everyone within their group a +1% hit bonus. Visually, the male characters can be somewhat regarded as a counterpart to the Horde's Tauren, while the female characters are a lot more feminine and human-looking. Of course, the Draenei will have their starting zone of Azuremist, and their capital city named Exedar.

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