E3 2002: World of Warcraft preshow report

At E3, Blizzard is showing off its colorful online RPG based on the Warcraft saga.


World of Warcraft

Blizzard feels well at home in the real-time strategy and action RPG genres after the long-running success of its Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo franchises, but World of Warcraft is the company's first 3D online role-playing game. In World of Warcraft, Blizzard intends to capture the spirit of the Warcraft games and incorporate much more storytelling than is common in the current generation of online RPG games. While Blizzard's Bill Roper has said this effort is like "orchestrating chaos on a massive scale," the company does have quite a bit of past experience to draw on and some specific ideas on how to push the genre forward.

The Warcraft saga that we've come to know is the starting point for World of Warcraft's story, environments, and characters, but Blizzard is putting all its imagination into extending the game's creative base in new directions. While one of the online RPG's primary races--the large, bullish taurens--is making its first appearance in Warcraft III, many of the neutral creatures depicted in screenshots have not been seen in previous Warcraft games. So far, just three of the game's playable races have been announced--the humans, orcs, and taurens--but there will be more. The denizens of Azeroth we've seen are visually striking, with a look that's physically imposing and often colorful. The distinctive style extends to the overall 3D world, which maintains its animated look while incorporating loads of details, including wispy clouds hanging over a forest at night, undulating waves on an ocean, and a day-and-night cycle.

Blizzard is trying to make World of Warcraft's gameplay as accessible as possible. Character creation is handled simply, but a branching skill tree lets players differentiate their characters from basic class types with a system that may be reminiscent of Diablo II. The interface will be minimally intrusive, with collapsible menu windows and a context-sensitive cursor that lets you easily interact with the environment and non-playing characters--or enter combat--with a single click. Combat is a given in any online RPG, and Blizzard's approach is fast-paced and highly tactical. Even starting out, you'll be fighting monsters that look challenging, rather than defenseless little critters. It's certain that you won't always have your way in combat, but the game handles death in a streamlined way, resurrecting characters to bind points with equipment intact.

Blizzard will demonstrate World of Warcraft in a limited network environment at E3, in what will be the game's first public hands-on showing. We'll have more details on the game from the show.

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