Saturday, October 11, 2014

World of Warcraft: Starter Edition review

    I recently had to replace my laptop due to an accident with one of the keys and a fortuitous replacement policy which allowed me to upgrade. I'd never had a good enough computer to become a serious MMO player so I thought I'd give World of Warcraft a try now that I had a up-to-date one. I'd always been a quote-unquote lore fan but I'd never gotten much chance to play the game where most of the setting was shown off.

    The Starter Edition is Blizzard's generous offer to individuals who haven't had a chance to play around in the world for very long. It allows you to create any character race or class in the game (save Death Knight) and play for as long as you want. The Starter Edition replaces the previous Ten-Day trial pack.

My character, Level Sixteen. I've decided he'll eventually become a Death Knight.
    The only downside is you will be unable to advance past level twenty, accumulate much in the way of gold, create or join Guilds, and engage in some minor social interactions. The majority of these restrictions are designed to prevent third-party marketers from taking advantage of this free system rather than to punishing players.

    Really, playing from Level 1 to 20 in World of Warcraft was equivalent to a free console game. I got a over twenty-five hours of gameplay in before reaching the maximum level I could with the Starter Edition. If that isn't equal to Skyrim or Dragon Age then it is far better than a lot of games I've played. I appreciate Blizzard's confidence in their games that they think players will want to continue after this point.

    It certainly worked with me.

    For those who have never played World of Warcraft before, now is a good enough time as any to describe how it plays. The game, as befitting something started ten years ago, has elements which some players will find quaint. The majority of the game's storyline is told with text and only rarely are there in-universe cinematics.

The Deadmines were quite fun. Fast and furious fantasy action.
    Much of the game will be familiar to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of role-playing games both because it's such an inspiration to later games and its obvious Dungeons and Dragons roots. I chose to play a Human Alliance Hunter and quickly grew attached to my pet, a wolf I named Saladin.

    If you've played Dungeons and Dragons, you more or less have a sense of how the game works. It's real-time turn-based combat with lots of special abilities, search for better equipment and weapons, plus exploration. I chose to solo throughout my first run, mostly because I don't know too many other players and enjoyed the game just fine on my own.

   WOW's tone is, for the most part, light and airy. There's a substantial amount of humor in all of the quests I've been involved in from being required to slay a massive pig eating a farm's crops, to Kobolds speaking in broken English, to re-enacting an episode of NCIS with murderous hobos. The game doesn't take itself too seriously and, as a result, is more effective as a relaxing pastime.

    In some ways, the humor level actually detracts from the immersion of the game, however. It's funny to have a character named Horatio Laine (a parody of CSI: Miami's Horatio Caine down to the sunglasses and cheesy-one liners) investigate a murder in-game.

     It becomes somewhat less so to have him be a key figure in the, otherwise serious, peasant uprising affecting the land of Westfall. By the end of that region's main questline, I was stunned to note he'd appeared more times than any other character in the game up until that point.

     Much of WOW's gameplay is built around "fetch quests" where you go kill X number of monsters and bring back proof of their deaths, get ingredients for characters by doing the same, and retrieving items they may have lost. At the first twenty levels, this doesn't become so repetitive I wanted to stop but it does form the bulk of the gameplay.

Sadly, there's no sign of my favorite in-universe character, Jaina Proudmoore, yet.
     The Dungeon-Finder feature was something I found to be immensely useful. This allowed me to find a group to go kill monsters in the dungeons of Azeroth whenever I wanted. While there weren't always ones immediately available, long-term play meant that one would eventually appear. This saved me the cost of trying to arrange a bunch of friends to get together at once to go kill things.

     Another key feature of the game is the never-ending quest for slightly-better-than-you-have-now equipment. You will be constantly updating your equipment with newer and better material, some of which will looks ridiculous, in the hope of improving your stats. Comparing and contrasting this stuff is addictive--explaining much of WOW's appeal as there's a never-ending supply of loot with different advantages.

     There's plenty of other features to the game like Player versus Player combat, Crafting, Pet Training, and so on I didn't get a chance to try out yet. I suspect these features will be more interesting to advanced players as opposed to those who just want to game. I didn't have nearly enough gold to participate in the in-universe auction system. I'm glad those features are there, however. The Griffon-travel system also allows a limited amount of Fast Travel, somewhat slower than in console games but prettier, which I enjoyed doing just for its own sake.

Seeing the Valley of Heroes was a real stunning moment for me, especially as you get closer.
     One thing I got a sense of with the Starter Edition is the world is massive. Larger than I ever expected it to be with even the starting area being a huge source of adventures. Thoroughly exploring Azeroth will take months and I think it'll be well-worth the investment. However, I see no reason why not get your feet wet with the Starter Edition first.

    After all, it's free and that's always the right price.



  1. Great. Now you'll never be seen again by friend or foe! That game eats lives! I've seen it happen before!

  2. Meh. I found World of Warcraft rather uninspiring, It doesn't help that the game play boils down to the standard Tank-Blast-Heal setup of the MMOs that preceded before it.

    1. Eh, World of Warcraft has very little in the way of immersion and even without the fact it's been copied a million times, isn't that original in what it does. It is, however, entertaining with hundreds of hours of content so I give them that.