Note: Review was written in 2004, though my feelings have not changed over the last four years.
What objectively defines a role-playing game? The debate has been stretched out as far back as I can certainly recall. You could say they originated in the form of classic, traditional style story-telling similar to that of Final Fantasy. Perhaps it is based off of an intricate setup of mechanics relating to the battle system and health display. Even the debate to conclude if the Legend of Zelda series is an RPG genre title continues to be heard echoing throughout the halls of the gaming realm. No matter how many ways you look at it, a role playing game should let you define what your character is. And I can assuredly say that only one table of the genre gives you the maximum customization possible, with plenty of addicting pulls along the way. All of which deriving from an expansive atmosphere and creative vision that has hit a mark others have so miserably missed.
Welcome to the World of Warcraft
It is an MMORPG at its finest and the first of such to intrigue me in such a fashion since Asheron's Call. As previously mentioned, it is the obsession you have while playing the hero or villain you have created in these games that overshadows the pre-defined protagonists of its single player predecessors. Freedom and exploration shape the incredibly expansive world that Blizzard has implemented; with so many things to do I may not leave my basement…erm room for quite a while. This is all due in part to the excellent talent system this new installment portrays. Even though each new level will earn me so many points toward my basic attributes, you can use the implemented skill tree to help shape your little avatar any way you desire. What helps root these techniques are distinct classes and races that you can select when commencing your adventure. Want to be an elven druid and have all types of shape-shifting abilities? Or would you rather be an evil troll with the pet commanding gifts of a hunter? What brings these classes into unison is the sense of war flowing through Azeroth’s divided lands, all which take place between the Alliance and the Horde.
Throughout histories and lore findings it is apparent that the huge world is sectored into two major plains of good and evil. Elves, Gnomes, Dwarfs, and Humans coincide to meld the Alliance, while the Orcs, Trolls, Undead, and Tauren form the Horde. Aside from appearance each side will let you experience a different end of the land, with unique enemies and quests essential to both. The most surprising element from these class characteristics is the contested battles that can take place. Nothing more fun than seeing two or three members of differing allegiances swarming into a smaller town and wiping out the newbies, then being able to call upon members of your respective guild to try to thwart the threat to your zone. While it all looks well and good on paper, the player vs. player combat is still a little dry. Primarily deriving from the fact that victory is placed heavily on levels. Even if you are just five or six levels under your opponent, you will most likely be whiffing at wind and shooting into space. Regardless, since this is an online game, why not take advantage of the fact that there are thousands of people playing alongside you. So go “gank” the poor bastard and dance on his corpse with a little help from your comrades.
What truly sets World of Warcraft apart from virtually every other unappealing MMORPG out there? Think of a battle system played in real time sequences with a real sense of strategy and tactics built in, all brewed into a heaping mound of exploration. Swords, maces, staves, wands, and hell even guns are all accessible as you continue to grow in strength. From these weapons you can gain different magical imbuement and techniques to apply to them in combat. I personally play a hunter and setting up traps, sending your pet on the opponent to lure them in, and then unleashing a flurry of arrows on their ass are all part of my daily outing. Meanwhile, as I am out earning my experience, I am also earning my income by way of mining and blacksmithing. The more you use materials applicable to your hobby, the better results you will have, and trading back and forth at the auction house afterwards is a blast; kind of like E-Bay but without all of the negative feedback and crooked salesmen.
No matter how sugar-coated and glamorous an MMORPG turns out, there will always be skeptics who put it down because of the constant need to be in a group. Well, there is good news for all of you soloists and loners out there…you do not need to party up to progress! Unlike the tedious FF XI, you do not need to spend hours waiting around for parties to find you and help you complete an objective. Everything comes gradual and there is an area in the world correlating to every single level. So many in fact, that you will be second guessing yourself where to head next. Each zone is more breathtaking than the next and the quests relating to each will allow you to explore these territories as much as you'd like. Though there are times you will grow weary of completing mission after mission, the challenging and non-pointless enemies are a blast to fight, with an AI that is dead on. No mindlessly walking into cliff-sides or repeating attack patterns here, instead your antagonists know when to mix and match techniques, as well as when to back off and flee. Everything seems so realistic and fluid that the sheer brilliance of it all is what manages to sky-rocket the value.
What helps fit the final piece of the puzzle are the resplendent visuals and atmospheric sounds that encompass the mystic world. Watching a disgusting ogre burst into flames compliments to your immobilization trap and then seeing the fire spread even more thanks to a monumental crimson flame attack from your fellow mage is as impressive looking as it sounds. The detail on monsters and humans alike are extremely creative and the environments are incredibly articulate and vivid. I can safely say that anyone with a non-crappy video card, that unfortunately I currently possess, is in for a treat. Complimenting the range of colors and impressive conjurations are accurate sounds all surrounded by over world themes ranging from mellow to heart-pounding. And depending on your enthusiasm toward every situation will certainly affect the experience of the game-play.
All in all, there really is nothing like World of Warcraft within the gaming world. With online games you always have people to meet, new places to visit, and the understanding that the run through does not end until you want it too. There is something here for everyone and this is, without a doubt, why it has earned the recognition it has deserved. It is exciting to know that more and more people are catching on to why these titles are so special. And it is the lore and deep quest system that allows you to enjoy your protagonist better than any other available role-playing genre available. Amazingly even though it has only been out for two months, the game has exceeded my expectations by a landslide. The minuscule faults occasionally present are completely overshadowed by the quality and execution of an RPG that will definitely be on the market for a while. So go out and purchase it already...
And enjoy what I believe is the true representation of an RPG.