Blizzard Entertainment's Warcraft series is going online in a big way. We're back from our visit with a souvenir or two.
Hopefully sometime soon, developer Blizzard Entertainment will launch World of Warcraft, its massively multiplayer online role-playing game set in the fantasy-themed world in which the developer's strategy games take place. Like other massively multiplayer games, World of Warcraft will let you play as a single character from a specific race (like a human or a fantasy archetype, such as an elf, a dwarf, or an orc), and then it will let you venture in to an online world to fight monsters, perform quests, and acquire treasure and experience levels with other like-minded players. This highly anticipated game is currently going through an internal test, though Blizzard recently solicited public beta testers to test the game at an undisclosed time to be determined later this year. We recently had a chance to catch a glimpse of the game in its current pre-beta state.
For those who may not already be familiar with the game, it may be useful to review exactly what it is and what it's about. Those who are already familiar with it may wish to skip ahead. World of Warcraft will take place in the fantasy world first featured in the Warcraft strategy series, so it will include locations like the former kingdom of the humans in Warcraft III. Since the game takes place roughly four years after the events in Warcraft III and The Frozen Throne, it will also include appearances by major characters in the Warcraft series, such as the young orc warchief Thrall, the wizard Jaina Proudmoore, and the necromancer Kel-Thuzad. Further content updates to the game will include additional areas to explore, like the frozen continent of Northrend, as well as further cameo appearances by characters like the death knight Arthas, whose last known location after The Frozen Throne was Northrend.
The game will let you play as one of eight races, four of which (humans, dwarves, night elves, and gnomes) belong to the human alliance and four of which (orcs, taurens, trolls, and undead) belong to the horde. The game will feature nine different classes, including paladins, rogues, priests, hunters, warlocks, druids, warriors, mages, and shamans. Different races will be allowed to play only certain character classes. The alliance and horde will begin the game in different parts of the world, and players belonging to opposing races may engage in controlled player-versus-player battles, though the majority of the game will be focused on "player-versus-environment" adventures. That is, most players will be going on quests and fighting monsters rather than fighting other players.
To this end, World of Warcraft will have a very highly developed quest system. Since one of the primary and ongoing goals of online RPGs like World of Warcraft is to continuously develop your character by gathering piles of gold pieces and gaining experience points for leveling-up, Blizzard is designing World of Warcraft's quests to be the most lucrative activities in the game. It's common in other online RPGs to find groups of players hunkering down in choice hunting grounds to fight the same monsters over and over again, but World of Warcraft's quests will provide far greater rewards than repetitive hunting. Quests are intended to keep players moving throughout the world so that they don't overcrowd a single area. Since Blizzard currently plans to have about 3,000 players per server, this is definitely a good thing. Fortunately, the game will also feature numerous means of quick overland transport to help you accomplish your quests, such as cross-continent boats and zeppelins. There will also be inexpensive, swift-moving animal mounts available once your character reaches level 40. Some characters will also be able to transport themselves or their companions across long distances. For instance, warlocks will be able to summon their companions to them, while mages will be able to open portals to cities. Shamans will be able to use the "spiritwalk" ability to return to their home points. However, the entire world will be seamless and will not require you to sit through any jarring load times to travel from one town to another, though you may have to put up with some loading times in certain situations, such as when venturing into dungeons.
World of Warcraft is currently being tested internally by Blizzard staff and also by a small group of handpicked external testers. Interestingly, the developer is gradually rolling out certain areas for specific races to test exhaustively rather than opening the entire world at once. We visited in the midst of the orc-tauren-troll test period, so we were able to explore the rugged lands settled by the new warchief Thrall. Designer Jeff Kaplan led us through the process of creating a character, which, at this point, consisted of a very simple process that let us choose our character's race, gender, character class, and name from a single screen. All characters have five basic physical attributes, including strength, agility, stamina, intellect, and spirit, though these are preset for each race and may not be adjusted when creating a character--at least at this point in time. The current version of the game did let us customize our characters with different faces, facial markings, and skin tones, though Kaplan assured us that this basic selection of customization options was being revamped by Blizzard's art team to allow for far more options in the future.
- Release Date: Nov 23, 2004 (US)
- ESRB: TTitles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older.