World of WarCraft: The Burning Crusade
Aesthetically, what kind of World Of Warcraft character do you go for? Do you like the big, no-nonsense, tough-guy orcs and taurens -the kind that could splinter bones with their little fingers and don't get invited to dinner parties? Maybe you don't like straying too far from the norm and prefer humans. Sensible, dependable, no unnecessary horns, lovely little bit of Chaucerian countryside and scones for tea. Perhaps you prefer something a bit nicer to look at, a lithe female night-elf with a chain-mail bikini and a generous nature when it comes to giving out lap-dances? Whatever you choose, there's usually a bit of you in there somewhere, or perhaps a little bit of fantasising about what you'd like to be, should you ever find yourself raised in a world of swords and sorcery.
During the last year and a half, various posts have sprung up in the WOW forums debating the visual appeal of the Horde and Alliance avatars. One of the theories was that players (with a side-note towards female ones) weren't choosing Horde characters because, well, they're a bit nasty-looking. In the US, Alliance players far outweigh the Horde ones, although we evil-inclined Europeans tend to sway a little more towards the dark side.
It certainly looks like a factor Blizzard have taken onboard when developing the Alliance-based Draenei and the Hordish Blood Elves, their new characters for WOW's expansion, 77ze Burning Crusade. Frank Pearce, senior VP of product development at Blizzard, explains further: "The aesthetic look of our new characters was certainly a consideration and it wasn't just a consideration for female players. In Asia, we've found that players of both genders are more attracted to the Alliance characters, which they find more visually pleasing. But mainly, we just wanted to focus on making the content fun and compelling, which will draw people to it regardless of their gender or culture."
The Blood Elves are very conventionally attractive avatars, very Aryan-looking. They splintered away from the High Elves, you see, after the race almost got wiped out, and now they've developed an insane lust for magic and self-preservation. They're vain, haughty and selfish - everything elves should be. In an average evening out, they'd be the ones at the back on their own, nursing a gin and tonic, while the rest go Alliance-skull bowling and letch at the seemingly un-undead breasts of undead ladies. Players opting for the Blood Elf race will get the chance to choose from warrior, mage, priest, rogue, hunter or paladin. In hues of rather Christmassy red and gold, these guys are a stark contrast to the rest of the Horde and their architecture is relentlessly cheery and colourful. But, being elves, totally over-the-top and grandiose.
Fits The Slot
But the Blood Elf and Draenei experience isn't just slotted into the front of the game. The designers are going back through all the level 20-60 areas and making sure there are appropriate bridging quests, NPCs and lore for the new races. This is being done to ensure, as Pearce puts it, that "everything feels relevant to you and you don't feel like you're an outcast".
In contrast, the Draenei seem to fill the 'slightly-unusual-looking' gap in the current Alliance line-up. Despite being blue-skinned, cloven-hoofed and semi-demonic looking, they're still quite handsome beasts. Being an alien lifeform obviously suits them very well. However, their trans-dimensional spaceship has crash-landed on Kalimdor (specifically on the Azuremyst islands off the coast of Darkshore), which doesn't sit quite so well.
Still, they're picking up the pieces (their home city, Exodar, is actually part of their huge spaceship), and are finding a home for themselves through the mastery of the paladin, shaman, warrior, hunter, priest and mage classes. They quite like this new world as it's rich in crystals, objects central to the Draenei's way of life. This dovetails nicely with the new jewel-crafting profession (in which the Draenei have a bonus). More on that later.
One of the most important aspects of the Blood Elves and the Draenei, and something that's caused huge debate in the forums, is that they give the Alliance access to the shaman class, and the Horde access to the paladin class. Previously, these two were excluded classes, which gave <i marked difference to each side.
This has caused parts of the WOW community to worry that it will mean there's no real difference between the sides, save for environments and avatars. Pearce defends this decision: "Our designers were really excited about the opportunity. They felt that the shaman and the paladin had been homogenised, due to the shaman only being accessible to the Horde and the paladin only accessible to the Alliance, yet they needed to put in content that's relevant to everyone. They were keen to do more with the paladin and shaman classes." So does this mark the end of notable differences between the races?
Pearce continues: "We're evaluating ways to make the Horde and Alliance paladins and shamans distinct from each other in the way the undead priest is distinct from the human priest. But certainly, the racial traits of the new races will add a different flavour to the classes."
While the current professions give their masters the potential to make pretty much every kind of armour or weapon in the game, the lack of a skill to make jewellery and trinkets is noticeably absent. But no longer, for jewel-crafting is about to make its debut. Players who adopt this profession will not only be able to craft all sods of bling, but they'll also be able to create refined gems, which have statistics attributed to them.
Another new feature which ties in with jewel-crafting is socketed items. As you'd expect from the name, this basically means items that have spaces for gems to be inserted. Socketed items will cover all kinds of items in the game, not just the high-level ones, and will drop from mobs. The designers are also going back and revisiting skills such as tailoring and leatherwork to allow these professions to create socketed items.
There are a few different elements to socketing. As well as simply putting gems into the slots (which can't be removed, although they can be replaced by other gems), some slots are coloured, which can offer extra benefits when the correspondingly-coloured gem is inserted. There will also be meta-gems in the game which afford extra benefits when combined with certain other gems.
Brave New World
The new area in the game is the Outlands, which lies beyond the Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands and is set to contain high-level content for levels 55-70. As well as new beasties to kill (and train), the Outlands will contain several brand-new zones and instances. Central to the Outlands area, and the feature that people are most excited by (and consequently Blizzard are dripfeeding info about), are flying mounts.
Blizzard haven't announced anything about what the mounts are going to look like or cost. The recently released mount demo shows a large dragon creature with a fish's tail and blue sparkles around it, as if it's in a permanent state of disco. Pearce is keen to point out this is "just a placeholder creature". Although he reveals that flying mounts will be able to move fast along the ground too, you can be attacked from the ground while on one (although they're not sure what to do should your mount vanish while you're flying it). They're also considering epic and rare mounts.
As the recent linked auction house feature has shown, sometimes it's the smaller things that make the biggest impact. A new feature that looks like doing just that is adjustable difficulty levels for the five-person dungeon instances. This will allow the leader of the group to select whether a dungeon is normal level or two difficulty levels above. But just so that the extra challenge is worth it, the potential spiffy loot-droppage will also increase.
Ah, there's just so much to tell you about and only a finite amount of pages to do it in. So if a new zone, two new races, a new profession, flying mounts and socketing wasn't enough, then how about five new spells/skills per class, two new tiers for the talent trees, teleporters that link cities together and outdoor arenas for gladiatorial style combat? Excited yet?
Well, soriy to have to dampen your ardour, but one of the things that the developers aren't forthcoming about is a release date. "This year" is the best that could be dragged out of Pearce. It's pretty annoying to have to circle almost half a year's worth of calendar in red. But just because it's you Blizzard, we'll do it. After all, you took our lives and you made us heroes.
The jury's still out on the new racial traits.
Both the Draenei and the Blood Elves come with some pretty damn powerful racial traits. The Blood Elves, given their natural affinity with magic, have +5 to all resistances and also a bonus to the enchanting skill. However, their most powerful racial trait comes in the form of 'Mana Tap', which allows them to suck mana from another creature, store it as buffs and then release those buffs in a silencing and interruptive attack, known as 'Arcane Torrent' This also allows the caster to gain back mana or energy.
The Draenei are very light-orientated, so Blizzard tells us, which is the reason behind their improved shadow resistance. The also have a healing buff 'The blessing of Naru', as well as a chance-to-hit bonus. At first glance these do look like rather overpowered racial traits - only time will tell how they play out in the game.
What Does One pack for travelling through the Dark Portal? Mv trusty kodo mount? Certainly, because when you're beyond the Dark Portal its like America-no-one walks when they can ride. Spider sausages in case 1 feel peckish? Handy, but maybe they have all sorts of weird and wonderful things that I can meet, kill and make into deli snacks. Healing potions up the yin-yang seems a good idea, since this is +55-level territory and it's doubtful that anything is going to be queuing up to make friends.
These and many other questions will enter your mind, as they did mine, when you stand before the giant wobbly green portal that's loomed ominously in the Blasted Lands - unreachable, until now. There are these pushy demonic invaders you see, known as the Burning Legion and weve beaten them back beyond the portal. Not content with sending them packing, the forces of Azeroth have decided to follow them through the portal and give them a sound thrashing on their own turf, just so they don't even think of doing it again. Sounds like a daft plan to me. But ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die (a lot).
One Step Beyond
Yes, were rough, were tonqli and were clearly insane. When you step through the portal and see what's waitinq for you on the other side in the new continent of the Outland (which is, basically, one hell of a nimble), you'll certainly agree with the latter. Its one of those events that you're mesmerised by, while at the same time being a serious contendei in the All-Azeroth nonchalantly-walkinq-away-from-trouble contest.
Once youve bypassed the welcoming committee though, what awaits you is the Hellfire Peninsula - an inhospitable Martian landscape, strewn with battle wreckage and very angry demons.
You'll be expected to pitch in with the war effort, whether it's doing things like picking up salvage (much more dangerous than it sounds), disrupting communications or just good old-fashioned slaughter. At present, this is where the whole +55 thing starts to break down a little. Even if you're in the high 50s, youll still find yourself flying by the seat of your pants if you choose to trundle around solo. Not only are the Burning Legion hard buggers, (and also have a strange creature on their side that sounds a lot like Glen Quagmire from Family Guy), but they seem to have an unusually wide aggro area as well, and love nothing better than a pile-up, with you at the bottom.
The bother is worth it though, because you can get some seriously nice goodies through questing, as well as a nice fistful of cash. Drops are thrilling again, and you can pick up new and mysterious loot like Nethercloth and Felweed. Master craftsmen in Honor Hold and Thrallmar will also teach you what to do with them and allow you to expand your professions, as well and create all sorts of exciting oddments to take back to Azeroth.
As opening areas qo, Hellfire Peninsula is aptly depicted as a giant battlefield, but it's not overly easy on the eye. Venture further into this arrow-shaped continent, however, and youll find that the ooohs' and ahhhs start mounting. Beyond Hellfire is Zanqarmarsh, a kind of alien, Lewis Carroll-esque area full of giant glowing mushrooms and oversized insects. This is also a nice area for hunters to pick up new pets. The sporebat in particular - a delicate ray-like floating creature that looks like something straight out of The Abyss -is likely to be a popular choice.
To the north of Zangarmarsh are the Blade's Edge Mountains, and beyond that Netherstorm, the area only accessible via the new flying mounts. Sadly, I haven't yet spotted one, let alone bought one. But then druids do get flight form at level 70, which is ixjssibly even more exciting than the prospect of a flying mount (druids FTW, etc).
Living The High Life
There's no doubting that a hell of a lot of work has gone into the high-level portion of the expansion. The Outland irea adds a great deal to the game and bigger and more comprehensive than the most ardent WOW fan could have hoped. As well as discovering the wonders of the areas themselves, there's also the integral PvP element to lure you in, should you be that way inclined. Several of the areas, including Hellfire and Zangarmarsh have their own PvP games built into the area.
Unlike the world PvP element in Silithius, these PvP elements are much more like the traditional Warsong Gulch, Alterac Valley games, only much more integrated into the areas themselves. In Hellfire Peninsula, its a case of capturing and holding three different areas in the centre of the map. In Zangarmarsh the desirable hold areas are more spread out and also contain hotspots such as graveyards.
It's nice to be able to wander by a PvP game, stop and observe for a while without worrying that some bastard rogue is going to stab you in the back.
Starting alt-characters never has that same sense of thrill as Сthe first time.' But the new Outland areas are a way to relive that same feeling without having the embarrassment of being killed by a wheezing, arthritic wolf. Balancing still seems to be a bit of an issue, but to say there's something for everyone here is an understatement Grinding has always been a somewhat unfortunate feature of WOW. But at least now theres something that makes it worthwhile. I've seen life beyond the Dark Portal, and it is good!
Citadel of chaos
Ed Zitt on scampers gingerly into Hellfire Citadel in pursuit of pliat loot
After a spell in Outland, a do-gooding Alliance hero like myself will be led to the bastion of truth, goodness and fine wines that is Honor Hold. Now, surrounding the Hold is the Hellfire Peninsula, and slap-bang in the middle of that is the Hellfire Citadel, where Pit Lord Magtheridon's blood is being used as magical death-Ribena by the Illidan's Fel Orcs. And so, for the average level-60 player, the first ports of call are its Ramparts or its Blood Furnace.
These offer an explosive start to the expansion's instance maps, with the Ramparts continuing the epic nature of The Burning Crusade by chucking dragons, demons and Fel Orcs aplenty at you in a short space of time. The Furnace is the twisted sister of Gnomeregan, where weird mutants, angry technicians and proximity bombs await you, along with some well-conceived endurance events. In both cases, the bosses are varied and a lot of fun to fight. They have a few nasty surprises up their sleeves too, from a sudden dragon onslaught to a move that flings you in the air like a frisbee; but there's some great loot to make up for it They're a laugh, not unbeatable and a clear sign of the goodness yet to come on the long march to level 70.
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