knightsofround's World of Warcraft (Collector's Edition) (PC) review

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Get lost in the World of Warcraft.

The MMO is a strange beast, and I'm not going to lie; I despise the notion of paying to play games that you already own, and I've boycotted every game that has ever followed this structure. Despite the fact that I've always been a big fan of Blizzard's games, I naturally avoided World of Warcraft for years based on this principal alone. In December 2007 I had finally been convinced to see for myself what all the fuss was about, and I've been playing off and on ever since.

So what exactly is it about World of Warcraft that has absolutely captivated over eleven million people? Well, that depends on the person, but put simply: World of Warcraft is fun. Yes, you heard that right, World of Warcraft is fun. World of Warcraft is a game that provides so many different things to a massive audience of people that there's generally at least something about World of Warcraft that any one individual is bound to enjoy, even if they don't realize it yet. Want to play by your lonesome, quest, explore, get lost? You can do that. Want to raid dungeons with your friends? Sure thing. Want to battle against other players? You can do that too.

Let's get the basics out of the way first: World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that has players choose between either the Horde or the Alliance, both of which are opposed to one another. The Horde consists of the Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, and Undead. The Alliance consists of the Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Night Elves. (The Blood Elves and Draenei were later added to the Horde and Alliance respectively but can only be played as with the Burning Crusade expansion pack). After you've chosen your faction you then build your character by choosing your race, gender, and class. There is a large assortment of classes to choose from ranging from the druid, hunter, mage, paladin, priest, rogue, shaman, warlock, and warrior.

Each of the game's classes play vastly different from the other, and as you quest and explore the game world you'll level up, gain abilities, and build your character. Each class can choose from three unique talent tree specializations that are inherently based on the three different types of moves that your character's class can learn. As an example, the paladin class learns moves that are based around either holy, protection, or retribution skills, most of which can be learned from a paladin trainer. A paladin can learn and use skills based on all three of these types of skills, but will have to specialize in one of them with talents. The talent tree for a paladin is naturally split into the holy, protection, and retribution talent trees, and specializing in one of them will make your skills of that type stronger. Specializing in holy will make a paladin's healing spells more effective; specializing in protection will make a paladin an effective tank (essentially a character that distracts enemies and takes all the damage while other characters attack and heal); and finally a paladin specializing in retribution will become a powerful melee fighter who can dish out a ton of damage. The way you build your character is entirely up to you, and that's a part of what makes World of Warcraft so fun to play.

If you've ever played an MMO or at least seen one in action before, then you pretty much know what to expect from World of Warcraft from a gameplay perspective. You talk to NPCs, slay x number of x monster and retrieve x number of x random item. Thankfully not all of World of Warcraft's quests are as mundane as they sound, and there's usually some unique quests every now and then that keep things interesting. Not to mention the fact that there are plenty of dungeons and nasty boss monsters just waiting for you and a group of compatriots to take them on. This is an incredibly important part of World of Warcraft's end-game content, but there are plenty of dungeons that can be explored by eager adventurers all throughout the lower levels of the game.

Thankfully if you don't have any friends to play with, finding other people to create a party with is easy. When you want to find a group for a dungeon all you simply have to do is open the group menu, select a few dungeons you'd like to go to, select what type of role you can fulfill, and then let match making do its magic. Alternatively you can simply just choose to wait for a pre-existing group already searching for players to send an invitation your way once you've filled out the details. You don't always get into a group as fast as you'd like though, so if you want to do a dungeon it's always a good idea to set yourself up in the group search as you're questing, because even when you do get a group you may have to wait a while until you have a full party with all of the necessary roles fulfilled. Even though it can take awhile, it's immensely fulfilling when you get a good group together and you storm through a dungeon together fighting powerful monsters, finding loot, and getting powerful new equipment to deck out your characters with. Often times the dungeons also have some of the best quests in the game, such as one in particular that has a quest that will be very familiar to anyone who's seen Raiders of the Lost Ark. Dungeons are often one of the best ways to find rare and powerful new equipment, so you'd be wise not to gloss over them unless you're in an absolute rush to level as fast as possible.

Aside from its diverse gameplay options, one of the reasons why World of Warcraft is so captivating is more or less how incredibly well realized the game world is. Azeroth is absolutely massive in size - so big in fact, that depending on what faction and race you choose to play as, you'll be lucky to see at least half of what the game world has to offer. Even if you're one of those people that isn't heavily into online gaming or the competitive nature of online games, World of Warcraft is a game that you can just get absolutely lost in.

Naturally, seeing as how the game world is so huge and that it's separated into two factions, players of the opposing factions can actually kill one another when they are in the appropriate areas. Every race begins in their own unique starting zone that is allied with their faction, and you cannot be killed in these areas unless you've openly attacked a player from another faction in one of your zones. Contested territories on the other hand are neutral zones that are not owned by either faction, and the vast majority of the game takes place in these zones. Once you've reached level 20 you'll venture out into the vast wilderness where you can encounter players from the other faction, and you can and will be killed by them, and can and will kill them as well. Fortunately if you aren't into that sort of thing you can play on a Player versus Environment server (PvE), rather than a Player versus Player server (PvP). In PvE servers you can only be attacked by other players if you enable it, therefore creating a much more relaxed gaming experience if that's what you're looking for. Likewise, people looking for the intensity and danger of being attacked at any moment and being able to attack other players have that option as well.

World of Warcraft is massive in size and scale, but a part of why it's so incredibly well realized is because of Azeroth's beauty. World of Warcraft is an old game, and even when it was released back in 2004 it had already been soundly trumped in the graphics department by the triumphant Half-Life 2; a game which essentially rendered every other game released prior to itself completely obsolete from a graphical standpoint. Even with World of Warcraft's dated appearance it's still a beautiful game from an artistic point of view. All of the locales are gorgeously well realized, and are truly breathtaking to behold. There are so many unique environments ranging from the snowy Dwarven mountains, to the gorgeous Elwynn Forest, to the vast emptiness of the Barrens, that you'll never tire of simply exploring the areas, as well as trying to find the next one just to see what wonders it will behold. While World of Warcraft is visually dated it never loses it's charm, and that's the reason why it can still be described as a beautiful game, even in light of its aged appearance. The only real issue with World of Warcraft from a graphical standpoint is that you may notice the odd clipping here and there, but it's never a big enough issue to really detract from anything. Some of the animations can also occasionally be a bit funky, but all of this really amounts to nothing more than mere nitpicking.

Complementing the breathtaking world is an absolutely gorgeous symphonic soundtrack that cannot be summarized as anything but perfect. World of Warcraft's music is expertly composed and perfectly fits the game world. Each area is accompanied by its own style of music as well as beautiful and mysterious ambience, or dark and sinister undertones that really nail the feeling of each area. Voice acting is minimal, but all of the NPCs have a variety of generic dialogue they mutter whenever spoken to. It's probably not the game's strongest aspect, but since it's such a minor part of the game it's not something you'll ever pay attention to.

World of Warcraft is such a huge game, that it's really difficult to accurately describe everything that it is, and everything that it can be. World of Warcraft can essentially be whatever kind of game you want it to be. It has that vast epic scope that fans of questing and exploration will adore, and it also has a hugely competitive player versus player component to it as well. Not to mention all of the guilds, dungeons, and all of that optional stuff you can get into if you want to - but again, that's why World of Warcraft is so great, you can go through the entire game ignoring all of the conventional MMO trappings that are generally associated with the genre that some people who avoid MMOs can't stand. Guilds, socializing, PvP, don't like it? Don't do it! On the other hand, if that's your thing, then go nuts! World of Warcraft caters to pretty much everyone and that's why no other MMO ever has a chance of beating it.

Sure, paying a monthly fee for World of Warcraft sucks, but the game does everything an MMO should do, as well as all of the things that other MMOs don't do, and it does it better than all of them. If you're ever going to pay a monthly fee for a game, then World of Warcraft should be that game. Everything from the genre you'll ever need to experience is here, and it's executed at such a masterfully perfected level that only a developer with Blizzard's pedigree could ever hope to achieve. 

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