World of Warcraft Review
publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
developer: Blizzard Entertainment
PIII 800, 256MB RAM, 4GB HDD, 32MB video card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 23, 04
|» All About World of Warcraft on ActionTrip|
I respect game development studios. Theirs is an enviable job, to be sure. They take their passions for gaming that took root when they were young, enthralled by the games of days gone by, and strive to tell new stories to the gamers of today. Now, as in all things, there are those that do this job better than others - as we all know, there are good games, and there are bad games - but there are a choice few studios who set the standard by consistently producing not just good games, but great games.
Blizzard Studios is one such developer.
From the company's first truly successful title, WarCraft, Blizzard earned its stripes, dominating the RTS and RPG genres by sticking to a tried and true method - not releasing a game before it's done. When highly anticipated games like StarCraft, Diablo II, and WarCraft III (along with all of the expansion modules) were in development, Blizzard always took the extra time to go over every detail, squash every bug, and take the time needed to make sure the game was done right.
The formula is this: Build the game. Test it MERCILESSLY in-house, squash the bugs, and then release a wide beta that will give you an idea of what the unwashed masses will do to the game, squash those bugs, rinse, repeat, wipe hands on pants. After all that is completed, then release the game and sit back and count the truckloads of cash that come pouring in from a job well done.
And for the most part, the formula works. Even when they shift to new genres, they take their time, meticulously learning the lessons needed to bring a great game to life, and to that end, Blizzard has yet to make a game that isn't very, very good.
So here we are, in the golden days of massively multiplayer gaming. The RTS world was set on its ear with Blizzard's offering of WarCraft III, and its follow-up expansion pack, The Frozen Throne, so the logical next move would be to convert the WarCraft world into an MMORPG to continue the story, with the world of Azeroth rendered in beautiful detail. For years, Blizzard labored to bring to life an MMORPG worthy of carrying the name WarCraft.
But even with the formula applied, Blizzard forgot about one critical factor that every MMORPG takes for granted. The players.
Mind you, Blizzard is no newcomer to scores of people playing on its servers. Blizzard runs hundreds of thousands of players daily through its Battle.Net system, hosting characters for the Diablo series, as well as hosting games on WarCraft and StarCraft, so they know what it takes to please the masses, but never have they tackled a project with such a vast scope as to render an entire world for the exclusive use of its players in real-time. A difficult task - probably the toughest challenge Blizzard has faced to date - so the question is, does the formula still hold true?
So, with that in mind, let's take a good hard look at the World of WarCraft, shall we?
The game takes place in the world of Azeroth, several years following the conclusion of WCIII: The Frozen Throne, with both continents of the world fully populated, and the d'tente between the Alliance and the Horde gone by the wayside. King Arthas, having merged with the Lich King, is holed up on the Frozen Throne of Icecrown. The former undead Scourge, now calling themselves the Forsaken, have cast their lot with Thrall, and are allied with the Horde, while the Alliance is bringing in the ancient Night Elves to help them rebuild their ravaged land. It is a time of uncertainty and chaos, and both the Alliance and the Horde need strong heroes to step forward and defend their lands from any and all who would threaten their respective ways of life. The lines of good and evil have been grayed beyond distinction, with the Alliance no longer being as "good" as they once touted themselves as, and the Horde showing their deep commitment to honor makes them not as "evil" as everyone thinks they are. Both sides find themselves on equal moral ground as they cling to their homelands.
Players can step into the shoes of any of the eight races, with the Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes and Night Elves on the Alliance side, or the Orcs, Trolls, Undead and Tauren of the Horde. Once you choose your race, it is then time to select a class dependant on which race you choose. After that, it's off to the races, with each person making his/her own way in the world.
Visually speaking, the game is gorgeous, with the entire continent seamlessly displayed as you explore new locations. You can move from a bustling city directly into the field, entering new zones with no loading times whatsoever. The only time the game reloads for any purpose is when you teleport, enter an instance dungeon or switch continents. Other than that, you can run from one end of the world to the next with no downtime. The player models are beautiful, detailed and dressed to the nines, and are very smoothly animated. There are some clipping issues between the models and the terrain, but when you have that many models running around, some of that is to be expected. The spell effects are modest, and aren't as brilliant as in WCIII, and I believe this was done to trim bandwidth more than anything else, but in all honesty they look pretty dang good. They get the job done nicely without overly taxing your system.
The audio quality is decent as well, bringing all the sounds of battle to the forefront with relatively good quality. They do a fine job of tying the whole game experience together nicely. They're not overly well done, nor are there the customary Blizzard voice-overs. If every NPC were voiced, the game would weigh in at three to five times the current size of the game, which weighs in at a good 4GB.
But let's not kid ourselves here, boys and girls. The burning question on your minds is how well does the game actually play? You've all heard the rumors and complaints about the overwhelming lag, but are these just speed bumps on the road that leads to a great game, or are they insurmountable obstacles that great storytelling can't overcome?
Well, the answer is...both. Sort of.
Brilliant visuals, excellent attention to detail, gameplay is engaging from the beginning;
Lag, lag and more lag, steep technical requirements.