It was released to much hype and long lines, but does World of Warcraft's first expansion, The Burning Crusade, live up to the hype? Hasani Davis gives us his impressions of this new, expanded version of Azeroth.
Now that we have had a month to play it, let's sit down and talk about The Burning Crusade. First off, I must come out and say it was good to have a renewed interest in World of Warcraft. I have continued to play the game. After all, I am a gamer and always have to play something. It's just that things can get stale and the game play of the old Warcraft world wasn't something to get fanatical about. As a gamer, that's what I want in my games. I want it to have that lasting impression on me which turns me into a fanatic. Don't take it out of context, and think lunatic, but just a fanatic. I want to be at work wondering about new ways to smite my foes and then get home and be happy that I am playing something worthwhile, not just be playing to feed the need for gaming.
So Burning Crusade came out, just in case you all didn't know. To me, it is a chance for Blizzard to start the whole game over again and take it in a new direction. With a level cap raised to 70, new instances, and a host of new items, there is plenty of room and opportunity to re-balance the game and take it to a new level. The question is; has Blizzard delivered on the two year wait that WoW players have had on an expansion?
One friend put it best; the new races are fun from levels 1-10, and then you get to hit The Barrens again. That was where the fun factor wore off.
All that being said, WoW remains the top of the heap as far as MMOs. The question still remains that with their out of date graphics and run of the mill game mechanics, will WoW be able to compete with the upcoming crop of MMOs that are offering lots of changes to the genre.
First off, there is no new graphic engine, no revisions to textures to help with loading or lag. No skin upgrades for old and new models, but at least we have chipsets for the new areas. BC gives us 40 new monster models and many more changes/upgrades to old monsters in the new world.
When you first zone through the Dark Portal, the gateway that takes you to Outland, you are thrust right into the battlefront against the Burning Legion. You are able to witness a battle going on against major Pit Lords and their minions with loads of spell effects and attacks going off all at once. It's a great scene, but it's still nothing new added to the game. Our first review of the noted a graphics rating of 8.5, but you also have to take into account what was out at the time. With a release is 2004 and coming after fossils like EverQuest and Asheron's Call, the crisp Saturday morning cartoon graphics Warcraft presented where very much merited. But now, at the dawn of third generation MMOs and looking at games like Guild Wars, Eve Online and the upcoming Two Worlds, the bar is raised and the score drops to reflect it.
I have to give a score of a 4 on graphical advancement because other than a few new monster skins and very vanilla animations for new spells there is nothing new or better added graphically to the expansion. The score is saved however by 1 or 2 rather nice looking raid bosses.
A score of five is earned for the player skins and animations. As stated before, everything is still the same quality and art with no real advancement. Other games of this generation have jumped much further forward. In short, WoW and TBC look like a rather ordinary game from the 1999-2004 era and not like a cutting edge next generation game designed by a multi-million dollar company.
Adventure? Crafting? Killing? Gathering? Well anything you want to do short of ascending to become a major deity is attainable and made into a cute fun filled package with this expansion. They have added new crafting, new gathering, funny quests with high adventure, and lots of rewarding items and abilities along your trip to level 70. Don't get me wrong, grinding still exists, but the fun factor and entertainment of the game is elevated with this expansion. Not only is there a lot of content, but the lateral and side games and quests you can do for fun will keep even the most hardcore gamer satisfied for the next year and perhaps beyond. To put it simply, this is the most fun game you can pick up on the market.
The sounds are standard with no real upgrades to voiceovers. Spells, abilities, and most importantly the musical score are pretty much the same. Also, there is still no sign of battle music. The game sounds have improved more than the graphics have, but still are pale compared to scores from both past and present games. One time I entered the brand new arena and marveled at the concept of players killing each other like gladiators. Then I was let down as the background music from the old battlegrounds began to play. Its okay, but not enough to get me psyched about game play. Unlike fixing aging graphics, a musical score and sound effects can be instantly fixed with about one or two patches.
My wallet is not mad at me, a 40 dollar expansion that gives me hundreds of hours of not only game time but fun. The large amount of quests and content will make playing another class to the end game fun. New and alternate paths can be taken to reach leveling goals. It is nice that you can level two characters from 60-70 and actually not do the same quest.
Performance / Lag
It's a double bladed sword. There is no real lag or performance problem. However, the graphics and music aren't up to a level where you should have lag. With regular maintenance patches the lag is minimal.
Role play? What role play? The game is Warcraft, you play either Horde or Alliance and you are locked in a war to destroy the other faction. The feeling is ruined with neutral towns and no real incentive to attack and start a war against the other faction. If someone wants to make the point that in the Burning Crusade the fight is against the Burning Legion and not against each other, this facade is broken once you leave the first town of Outland. Past level 61 you won't get the feeling that you are banding together to stop ANYTHING. While questing and adventure are both fun, little is done to immerse you into the feeling that is Warcraft.
This goes rather hand in hand with the role-playing. Servers are very large and unless you have someone on your friends list, you can go weeks without seeing them. With plenty of instancing and grinding for gear you are constantly shut off from other people not inside your party or guild. Every class and just about every spec can solo so there is no pressing need to form friendships or interact with others in your zone or area. There is no real alliance feature so there is no formal way to form an alliance with other guilds. The community is much segmented and I am afraid will always stay that way.
Let's face it, this really shouldn't effect the game. I have little to no contact with Blizzard Customer Service, but you can often see people using exploits with no real noticeable action taken at the moment it happens. With a customer base of eight million, the service certainly has its ups and downs.
In closing, the scores I gave are very standard but the most important score which is Fun is dominant. Warcraft is the most popular MMORPG in the industry and has made the jump into pop-culture. The total score is a seven if you are looking at it as a model of total package compared to what other games are doing. I still believe the most important score is Fun which certainly remains in World of Warcraft.