World of Warcraft Impressions

We get a hands-on look at Blizzard's upcoming massively multiplayer role-playing game. Details on three new classes inside.

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We got a look at Blizzard's upcoming massively multiplayer role-playing game, World of Warcraft, on the show floor at E3. As reported earlier, the game includes five races: dwarves, orcs, humans, tauren, and night elves. Three classes--the warrior, the mage, and the shaman--had also been reported on in the past, but three brand-new classes are being shown off at this year's E3: the hunter, the warlock, and the druid.

First off, we played around with a female night elf hunter. This particular character wielded a double-bladed sword, similar to the one used by the demon hunter in Warcraft III. She also carried a bow strapped to her back for ranged attacks. The hunter's most interesting specialty is the ability to take on pets, using a skill called beast taming. This allows you to pacify just about any animal in the game (provided your beast-taming skill level is high enough for the particular creature), though you can have only one pet at a time. The pet will remain with you as long as you like or until it dies. As you go through your adventures, your pet will gain levels and will take on new abilities just as you do. Since your creature improves with time, when you come across more impressive monsters in battle, you may have to make a decision to part with a longtime friend in order to take on a better pet that has more long-term potential. Hunters will also have a number of abilities that relate to keeping a pet, such as being able to heal them, and you can easily set their behavior disposition from a long list of options (aggressive, passive, and so on) by right-clicking on their icon underneath your own portrait in the top left corner of the screen.

In addition to being able to keep a familiar, hunters specialize in ranged attacks, with a number of passive skills, like personal true shot aura, that give them bonuses in ranged combat. You'll also have some active combat skills relating to ranged attack. Hunters aren't totally helpless when it comes to melee battle, though. We were able to deal a decent amount of damage in close combat using the twin-bladed sword.

We were also able to try out a warlock, another of the new classes being shown off at E3. Warlocks are spell casters, but their magic spells are focused in a few areas: draining life, fire-based magics, and disruptive spells, such as those relating to disease. The particular warlock we played with had the death coil ability, which, similar to the spell in the Warcraft RTS games, vampirically takes health from an enemy and adds it to your own. He also had the immolation spell, which is identical to the one used by Warcraft III's demon hunter. It engulfs you in flames for a period of time and damages any enemies in melee range.

The warlock's most unique feature is his ability to summon creatures. It's not quite the same as the hunter's beast-taming ability, since the warlock can summon a friend out of thin air, and they will have less permanence than the hunter's familiars. Some of the summoned creatures will be combat oriented, with powerful melee attacks and plenty of hit points, in order to keep pressure off the warlock who is weak in close-combat situations. Other summoned creatures will have spellcasting capability. The two summons we played around with were the voidwalker, a shadowlike fighting spirit, and the felhunter, a four-legged creature with long tentacle appendages on its head. Like with the hunter's familiars, you can set the behavior disposition of your summons, and they will follow you around as you explore the world. Many of your spells as a warlock will be closely linked to your summons, allowing you to enhance them or vice versa. For example, one spell, called soul tap, allows you to transfer hit points from your own pool of health to your summoned creature.

The third new class shown at E3 was the druid, whose primary ability is shape-shifting. Like the druid of the claw and the druid of the talon in Warcraft III, the druids in World of Warcraft can switch back and forth from humanoid to animal form. As you gain levels, you'll gain more and more different animal forms you can turn into. One of the first ones you'll get is the cat form. The cat is lithe and quick and packs a surprising amount of damage in its swipes, thanks to the passive beast attack upgrades you can get as you level up. Another animal form we tried at the show was the storm crow, a form that is primarily useful as a scout character since it can fly quickly. The storm crow might be a useful form to use in order to escape battles, to take shortcuts over bodies of water, or simply to scout around a new area. The last form we were able to shape-shift into at E3 was a bear. As you can imagine, the bear form is a powerful fighter, and it gives you a huge increase in armor and defensive capability.

Aside from the three new classes, we also extracted details about some of the crafting skills in the game. The warlock we tried had alchemy and physician skills. With alchemy, it is possible to gather up combinations of herbs, and using your learned recipes, whip them up into useful potions. The alchemy skill (as with the tailoring, cooking, and blacksmithing skills) brings up an intuitive interface that lets you select from your available recipes in a list. The ones for which you currently have all the ingredients show up as colored, while the ones with missing ingredients are grayed out. Click on any recipe, and you'll quickly see which herbs (and how many) you need to make that particular item and how many of each ingredient you have. If you're missing something, the ingredient is grayed out. Once you're ready to make a potion, click create, and you'll take a few seconds to put the ingredients together. The ready-made potion pops up in your inventory. Need to find herbs? Using your "find herbs" ability, you can quickly pinpoint spots on your minimap that have useful plants.

The physician skill allows you to make bandages out of any scrap cloth you pick up from dead monsters. The blacksmith skill lets you create weapons and armor from ore and other minerals you can mine from rocks. Tailoring lets you craft light armor, such as leather armor or robes out of hides and scraps. Cooking is a skill that lets you combine food items into tasty treats that can heal you. Though alchemy, physician, and cooking skills sound redundant, they allow Blizzard to give all races at least one way to heal themselves in a manner that makes logical sense (a warrior probably shouldn't know alchemy).

In order to learn recipes for the various crafting skills, you can find NPC trainers (like master blacksmiths or expert chefs) who will teach them to you for free, give them to you as a reward for a quest, or sell them to you for money. It's also possible to find recipes as loot from dead creatures or treasure chests. Obviously, the more difficult it is to acquire a recipe, the more valuable it is likely to be.

Graphically, World of Warcraft is as detailed and colorful as ever, with impressive attention given to the character models and the environments. As you equip and remove armor, the changes are of course reflected in the game, but what makes World of Warcraft stand apart is that adding armor and weapons actually changes model geometry and doesn't just slap a new skin on as in other games. With the addition of new content like the new classes, skills, and abilities, World of Warcraft is shaping up very nicely and looks to be on schedule for a beta test in the late summer or early fall. The game appears to have the same high level of polish and refinement we've come to expect from every Blizzard title, and it could turn out to be a major force in the massively multiplayer genre. We'll have more details on the game as they become available.

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