In case you hadn't heard, the online role-playing game World of Warcraft from developer Blizzard Entertainment and publisher Vivendi Games is one of the most popular games on the market on any platform. Hopefully, later this year, the studio will release The Burning Crusade, the expansion pack for the game that will add plenty of high-level content for veterans as well as two new playable fantasy races to build new characters with. We took the opportunity to get in depth with the two new races: the fanatical blood elves of the monstrous Horde faction and the mystical draenei characters of the noble Alliance.
Both races should have content available for them that will let them advance to approximately level 20 or so. Players of either race will probably want to join the general populace to show off their new inherent abilities, as well as to tip the scales in competitive player-versus-player battles, since each of the new races belongs to an opposing faction and each race can play as a character class that wasn't available to its faction previously. The draenei may play as shaman--a class focused on using nature-based powers to heal allies, damage enemies, and summon spirit totems that radiate various magical effects in the area. The blood elves, on the other hand, may play as everyone's favorite warriors-who-can-heal, paladins (although according to the game's story, this is only possible through a twisted and evil scheme that involves imprisoning and siphoning power from a holy spirit).
The draenei are tall, mostly pale-skinned humanoids with hooves for feet and haunches for legs and resemble satyrs of Greek mythology. After you create a new character of either race, you'll be treated to the same kind of narrated in-game cinematic sequence that opens the new life of any other World of Warcraft character. According to the narration, the draenei originate from the Outlands (the challenging, otherworldly new land added in the expansion pack), but, inspired by tales of the alliance's heroism, they have come to Azeroth to enlist help for their war against the Burning Legion.
The draenei's spaceship, the Exodar, explodes in the skies above Northern Kalimdor (the realm of the night elves), and the pieces fall to earth on the previously uncharted Azuremyst Isle, off the west coast of the Eastern Kingdoms. Parts of the ship and the remains of numerous escape pods are strewn all over the island, along with irradiated crystals that (presumably) powered the vessel but are now wreaking havoc on the local nature and wildlife. The largest surviving piece of the ship fell on the western edge of Azuremyst Isle, forming the mostly subterranean draenei city, which retains the name of the ship, The Exodar.
The Exodar is almost certainly the largest city in Azeroth, and even as a Tauren-sized draenei, the scale of it can feel quite overwhelming the first time you visit. The city boasts all of the usual districts, along with two banks and two auction houses--which will hopefully cut down on lag in those locations should the new city become a popular place for players to hang out. The Exodar is a city that feels like a combination of the dwarves' Ironforge and the undead's Undercity--the whole city is enclosed within one giant structure (the ship's hull) and has a lot of wide-open spaces that are a little disconcerting at this point but will no doubt feel quite different when populated with players.
In one area of the city, you'll find a crystal mine, which ties in nicely with one of the draenei's passive racial abilities (and a new profession for the Burning Crusade expansion), jewelcrafting. The draenei have a +5 racial bonus to jewelcrafting, as well as a +10 resistance to shadow-based magic, such as that used by priest characters. In addition, the race has two other abilities, "gift of the Naruu," a free healing spell that costs no magic power ("mana"), and "inspiring presence," a passive ability that grants a 1 percent bonus to hit for party members within 30 yards.
Since the crash was very recent, there are still many injured and unaccounted-for draenei. Your early quests, perhaps unsurprisingly, task you with killing lowly beasts (including some great-looking moths--a brand-new beast model, not just a new skin like many of the new beasts) and retrieving items from them that can be used to help the wounded. The draenei use crystals for all kinds of purposes, it would seem, and in a couple of early quests you'll be using them to cure survivors that you find scattered around the Ammen Vale starting area, as well as to purify a lake that has one of the spaceship's giant irradiated crystals polluting it.
New Neighbors, New Lore
Other early quests in Ammen Vale involve killing creatures that have been mutated and/or turned aggressive by the radiation. These include "mutated lashers" (the large flowers that walk around) and the all-new "volatile mutants," which look like aborted alien fetuses crawling around on the ground. The damage to nature in the area is so bad that even the earth elementals have gone bad, and one of the last quests before leaving the safety of the Vale tasks you with killing a number of "restless spirits of the earth" as they battle against air, water, and fire elementals.
When you leave Ammen Vale to explore the rest of the Azuremyst Isle, crossing a small river in the process where you'll notice an all-new visual effect for schools of fish, you'll find that the scenery doesn't change much. What does change, though, is that the wildlife here has been unaffected by the radiation at the crash site for the most part. In addition to regular versions of the mutated stuff you were fighting earlier, you'll find stags, deer, and even a new critter scampering about the place: a skunk. There are a handful of different settlements and outposts on the isle, none of which have a permanent feel about them.
The draenei outposts have been erected around ship remains, while the other alliance races have arrived on the island by water and started clearing an area known as Odesyus' Landing. The goblins' Venture Co. has also landed on one corner of the island and is in the process of setting up camp there. The scenery and wildlife is most reminiscent of that in Darkshore, where the Night Elves start. There are striders and nightstalker cats, and the grass and trees all have a dark color palette. Based on what we've seen thus far, it seems that--with the exception of The Exodar--there will be very little reason for you to stay on the isle beyond level 12 or so--you may wish to gain some levels then jump to the main continents to join the rest of the Alliance.
The blood elves, on the other hand, seem to have plenty of low-level content scattered and radiating outward from their starting home town. According to the game's story, the blood elves (which first appeared in the Frozen Throne expansion pack for Blizzard's Warcraft III) were originally the noble high elves until the traitorous human prince Arthas, who went on to help lead the evil undead faction known as The Scourge, cut them off from their supply of magical power. Driven mad with rage, the high elves renamed themselves blood elves and swore they would gain revenge on the parties that robbed them of their innocence.
While the blood elves may have been cut off from the original source of their sorcery, you wouldn't know it from their ornate, gilded starting town or from their ostentatious capital of Silvermoon. They begin their lives in a town that's brightly lit and open to the sun and the eerie glows of the ethereal creatures that dwell in their lands, such as the flying mana wyrms and moving tree saplings, as well as the oddly autonomous broomsticks that swish past you every so often, sweeping up dust along the way.
The blood elves are perhaps intended to be the easier of the two races to start out with, since the faction's town seems to offer numerous starter quests within spitting distance of each other. This may not come as a surprise for a Horde race that will likely become extremely popular, partially since the Horde has not had any attractive female characters (there, we said it), and partially due to the blood elves powerful innate abilities. In addition to possessing +5 bonus to magic resistance and +15 to the enchanting trade skill, all blood elf characters possess the "mana tap" ability, which siphons off a portion of its target's magical powers, and "arcane torrent," which silences any nearby enemies for two seconds standing in a very short range. Both of these abilities will probably prove extremely useful in competitive player-versus-player combat against enemy characters using spells with noninstantaneous casting times. The silencing ability of arcane torrent will probably make blood elf paladins, the race's only real front line fighter class, deadly if they can get within range of enemy magic-users.
Both races seem like they'll offer players new experiences, though we imagine the blood elves will be far more fearsome right off the bat in competitive play. We'll have more details on competition, high-level zones, and the two races as the ongoing Burning Crusade beta continues. The expansion itself is, according to Blizzard, scheduled for release later this year. Check back with GameSpot for more updates.