Wednesday, September 05, 2012

World of Warcraft - Wrath of the Lich King

Players last visited Northrend in "Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne," when Arthas Menethil fused with the spirit of Ner'zhul to become the Lich King, one of the most powerful beings in the Warcraft universe. He now broods atop the Frozen Throne deep in Icecrown Citadel, clutching the rune blade Frostmourne and marshaling the undead armies of the Scourge. 
Review By Jessy Tauboss

When reviewing the previous World of Warcraft expansion, ‘Burning Crusade', I gave it a perfect score and claimed that it was an example of how expansions should be made. Less than two years later, Blizzard one-ups itself by providing a much more immersive and satisfying expansion titled ‘Wrath of the Lich King'. Please note that when rating expansions, I only care to compare them to other expansions and not full games.

A common point brought up when discussing TBC (‘The Burning Crusade') is that players didn't really get a sense of exactly who the enemy of Outland was. They knew there was this guy from the cinematic with wings who shouted “you are not prepared!”, but seriously, who was this guy? Only followers of the Warcraft lore and story know who this demon is and what threat he poses.

Blizzard wanted to do something a little different with ‘Lich King'. Immediately, even from the very title of the expansion itself, they wanted us to know exactly who we were trying to defeat. The Lich King, otherwise known as Arthas, resides in the icy continent of Northrend. Once you step foot in this continent, you are quickly thrust into the war against the Lich King.  

The story is engrossing, and the Lich King himself makes appearances from time to time in the game, whether it's in a dungeon of after a quest, to move the story forward. Blizzard even went so far as to create in-game cutscenes. No, not just where characters simply exchange dialogue, but in true fashion where everything cuts away to a cinematic complete with voice acting.

You have your level 70 character, right? With ‘Lich King', it's time to head to Northrend, the new continent with eight solid zones filled with quests, a PvP-only zone, new instances and raids, and a floating neutral city where nearly all player needs are met.

Blizzard learned from the past, and instead of shoving everyone into one starting zone like in TBC, they gave us a choice between two large areas, where you can easily spend at least two levels each completing the various quests and dungeons.

Something you'll learn pretty much immediately is that Blizzard is constantly trying, and succeeding, to impress players with their zone design. Take, for instance, one of the two initial areas, Howling Fjord. A boat ride into Northrend has you sailing through massive canyons which hold ships between its walls, Viking-like structures at the top, and sharks in the waters beneath.  

The new floating city of Dalaran is equally impressive. Instead of placing it within the grounds of a zone, like Shattrath in TBC, Dalaran hovers near the center of Northrend where players can fly to and from on flying mounts or along flight paths. As usual, transition from Dalaran to the ground below, or from zone to zone, is seamless with no loading times.

Gone are the days of having numerous kill and fetch quests. Sure, there's still some to be had in ‘Lich King', but Blizzard went the extra mile to inject a large dose of variety into the quests, zones, and dungeons of Northrend.

In each zone, you'll find several quests where you will have to control a vehicle, whether it's a gnome's version of a helicopter, a dragon, or even a giant. Many of these vehicle quests are daily quests, which means you can repeat them once per day for cash and reputation rewards, not to mention that most of them are pretty fun as well and break up the monotony of killing the same type of mob over and over for that last quest item.

Northrend is known to have an abundance of snowy terrain. While you will see plenty of this throughout, you will also encounter landscape that hasn't been seen since the original World of Warcraft game. Some favorites include Grizzly Hills and Sholozar Basin, a throwback to the jungles of Un'goro Crater. For the most part, the monsters of each area suit the environment well, but do be prepared to kill plenty of trolls and undead, who blindly serve the Lich King.

Another facet that got a major upgrade were the dungeons. In my opinion, there were just too many in TBC. I know that's not a very common complaints, but before achievements, it was very hard to keep track of which instances you had completed, especially for a casual player such as myself.

Now when you enter a new zone, you can do an instance pretty much right off the bat. There are also several level 80-only dungeons, as well as 25-man raids. Good news for the casual players too- all raids can be done with only 10 people instead of 25. The loot may not be as nice, but it's better than not experiencing them at all, right?

The boss fights definitely need to have a mention here, since they are the most fun in the entire game. Some players are complaining of too many tank-and-spank bosses, but from my experience of completing nearly all normal instances, that's not a very accurate assessment. They take strategy and skill for the most part, and some cause you to lose control of your character as they fling you around a room or force you to fight your fellow group members to return to normal.

Besides heading off to Northrend and facing the Lich King, the other major enticement for this expansion is the new hero class, the death knight. I will admit that this class is “overpowered” and is only getting stronger in a future patch, but look at it from this perspective- it's called a hero class for a reason.

You can create a death knight if you have a level 55 character, and you can choose any race. Starting in a brand new area of Eastern Plaguelands, you quickly learn the ropes of the new class and complete quests to boost you to level 58. After a couple of hours of play, you are ready to enter the real world of the game and can then move on to Outland if you choose to do so.

The death knight was chosen as the first hero class for two main reasons: one, because it seemed to fit into the Lich King lore the best, and two, because Blizzard felt that they needed another tanking class. I'm not sure about the death knight's tanking ability at level 80, but I know that it can do ridiculous amounts of DPS (damage per second) when going off on it's own doing quests in Outland.  

Death Knights have the ability to cause multiple diseases, summon a ghoul pet, heal itself as it attacks, walk on water, and tank….all within seconds of each other, thanks to the refreshing rune system that replaces mana, energy, or rage. Even though the death knights are too many in the game right now and a bit too overpowered, they are fun to play. That fact is hard to deny. It won't ever be my main, but it's not a difficult class to play whatsoever.

Where does Blizzard go from here? They increased the level cap to 80, gave us plenty of awesome armor and weapons to obtain, and when it's added in a patch, millions of players will storm Icecrown Citadel in an attempt to take down the Lich King, one of the most well-know characters in the story of Warcraft.

Only Blizzard really knows how they can outdo themselves from here. Of course they are working on the next big expansion, certain to contain a new hero class (group healer please), but we won't hear anything about that until late 2009 at the very soonest. That's fine with me though. There's so much to do in the current game, between leveling up new characters, completing raids, playing PvP, and conquering whatever is added in future patches, that if they wait until a year and a half to release their next expansion, I won't complain.




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