Editor's Note: We had set out to do a complete re-review of World of Warcraft in advance of their expansion the Burning Crusade. However, once into the game, Staff Writer Garrett Fuller decided to go a different way. With so much time between release and an expansion, we opted to take a look at the position so many players are in: the end-game. This is not a full re-review of the entire 1 to 60 experience.
November 23, 2004 is a day that will go down in MMORPG history. It was the day that World of Warcraft went live. Here we are almost two years and six and a half million players later still fighting it out in Azaeroth. In this review I hope to give readers a perspective on the game from a level sixty character that has seen quite a bit in the Warcraft world. I think the best way to describe this review is by calling it, "WoW at 60." Players have been given several end game options in Warcraft, but have they been given enough? Many players have been level sixty for a year or more, but what have they been doing with their time? On the verge of the expansion coming late this fall this review helps readers and players understand the state of the most popular MMO in the world.
Players who have reached level sixty can work on several things for their character in the end game of Warcraft. The two biggest that come to mind are PvP and raids. Warcraft's end game is not based on achieving skills for your character, but on getting loot that will boost your character's abilities. Simply put, it is all about your gear. A player who is all geared up in epic armor and carrying an epic weapon will crush their opponents whether PC or NPC. I know, some NPCs are huge bosses that are designed for raids, but on a solo level, players who have acquired the best loot are extremely strong opponents. This dynamic has forced many (if not all) players to work on getting high-end gear for their characters. Using this gear based system Blizzard gives its players few choices to get the best armor and weapons.
Currently one of the biggest things for players to do in Warcraft at level sixty is to go on raids. There are several different types of raid dungeons that can be run on a regular basis. The high end dungeons run in five-man, ten-man, twenty-man, and the huge forty-man groups. These raid instances can be fun when first entering the dungeon to go exploring, however in order to get the full suit of gear you need (or want), you must repeat these dungeons on a regular basis. In playing my shaman at level sixty for over a year now I have run every single dungeon in the game at least once, if not five times minimum. Some of the raid dungeons I have done over twenty times each. The biggest problem with these raids is they are designed for large groups to get the best gear. A dungeon like Dire Maul (a great addition to the game for small groups of players) will not give loot that is as good as a forty man dungeon. The forty man raid dungeons give players the best loot (far better than any of the smaller dungeons) and have become the primary element for players to achieve goals at level sixty. These forty and twenty man raids are some of the only things that players log in for anymore.
If you are not raiding, then maybe PvP is more your style. Before the introduction of the Battle Grounds playing on an open PvP server was fun. You could form up groups and go hunting in various zones or areas and have small battles break out. Once the BGs were created and faction rewards were now given to players, PvP shifted into these instanced zones. The problem is the queues. Waiting to get into one of these Battle Ground fights can take forever and you may go an entire night without seeing any combat. The problem is that the good rewards take forever to get too because the faction grind is so high. One player I spoke too had run Arathi Basin (the fifteen-man Battle Ground) over four hundred times to reach exalted status and get the high end loot. That just seems way over the top and really forces players to grind for high level rewards. Blizzard has since made the rewards easier to get, but not much easier. You still have to contend with the queues to even get in these fights. I know with the next patch, Blizzard plans to link the Battle Grounds for more players to enter. I still do not think that necessarily solves the problem. Players will still have to run the same scenarios to get rewards. Also, they plan to have two zones with open PvP rewards. The Eastern Plaguelands idea of capturing and defending towers seems like a step in the right direction, but only time will tell.
The expansion for Warcraft offers some new zones and two new races to the game. However, this comes along with ten new levels to grind out as well as getting all new gear for your character at level seventy. While I do believe the expansion will be fun for a while, I do not know if it will change the dynamics of the end game all that much. As things stand now, WoW still remains the number one MMO in the world. That being said, with the limited options in the end game people may start looking for new games very soon.
While many people may disagree with me on this score, I think there is one major piece missing from WoW's graphics, customization. The game-play and world look great and work seamlessly; however, character customization is almost non-existent. If I play an orc shaman with Earthfury gear and a guild tabard; I look like every other orc shaman in Earthfury gear that is part of my guild. Spell effects and scenery are great; it is the lack of customization which takes away from player's individuality. Despite all this, the game still has some of the most solid art direction around and the new areas like Naxxramas and Ahn'Qiraj look wonderful. That earns it an above-average score.
The sound in World of Warcraft is great. Very fun to listen too and certainly adds to the feeling within the world. One of my favorite places in the game is Zul'Gurub and the voodoo drums you hear as you enter the instance are always great. The game-play (when not hitting lag) always runs smoothly and clearly. The sound simply adds to this effect. While things like quest dialogue have been left out, you still have the funny lines some NPCs say to move you on your next steps.
The reason I have scored Role-Playing so low in the re-review is because of the limited options players have at level sixty. I do not play on a RP server, so I do not have much of a role-playing experience to speak of with other players. However, when leveling up a character you definitely have some fun quests to go on and help the horde or alliance (the mechanical yeti quest is by far the best one in the game). There are some fun pop culture references and hidden jokes throughout all the quests. This part definitely has a role-playing feel to it. Once you reach level sixty, the role-playing aspect almost goes away because you now are doing repeat quests or raids for gear. It is a shame that the only real way to get high end gear is through raiding; it would be fun to do a long quest chain solo to get a personal magic item. Who knows maybe more of this will be in the expansion.
Because we are really looking at the end-game scenarios for Warcraft in this review I think the value of the game goes down tremendously. I look at the score of seven almost like a C in school, average. The Raid dungeons are difficult and require a lot of players to be in synch with each other. However, once these bosses and dungeons are mastered, the run through begins simply to get the best loot. The sheer repetition of raids takes away the value of the game. Also, faction grinding to gain better items is again very repetitive. It's funny; the leveling system in WoW seems very player friendly. The real grind comes at level sixty when you want to get your epic gear. Also, the PvP rewards I think the value in the end game is much lower than the experience of leveling up a character.
As mentioned in the Value section, the end-game really slows things down for players. The leveling up part of WoW offers tons of different zones and areas to explore. Once players reach the end game they seems much more limited to running instances and grinding for faction to advance their character. Exploring these areas for the first time can be a lot of fun, however on the fifteenth attempt at a boss the fun factor drops a little bit for players. PvP is certainly fun when it is going on, what is not fun is waiting in a queue to enter a Battle Ground only to find your team is losing and get kicked out again to get back in the queue. That last sentence may sound like a lot, but for anyone who has been there, it makes perfect sense.
6.5 million People! There is certainly a large variety there. It is one of the largest online communities ever. That being said, many players have had good and bad experiences in dealing with the community. There are a lot of kids who play the game right along side with the adults. This can make for a sometimes immature mix of players. It is frustrating when you are almost through and instance and on the final boss when some kid says, "Gotta run and do my homework..." as they log off. While these circumstances may not happen all the time, they do happen enough to get players upset. I have played with some very hardcore guilds where behavior like that was not tolerated, but even then we had people duck out of a group. While many players consider the WoW community no better than Sesame Street, I do not believe it is that bad. There are good players to be found on every server and guilds constantly recruiting for high level raids.
I have raised my rating on this because lately the lag has not been so bad. I play on one of the most populated servers and there were times when the queue to get into the game numbered up as high as three hundred. That was a disaster for players, but it is also something I believe Blizzard has worked hard to fix. When there is no lag to contend with the game run great. That lag has really gotten better over time and allows players the best chance to run through things with out difficulty. By offering things like realm transfers, Blizzard has shown that they truly want players to have the best running game possible. I just hope I never see another queue when I try to log in.
Blizzard's customer service crew has always seemed like they do not exist to me. When a ticket is put in it usually takes several hours to get a response. However I have heard stories of guilds wiping on major bosses do to lag or bugs and the customer service team has rewarded them with the proper loot as if the boss was killed. That being the case I guess customer service would be considered outstanding. Still it takes hours to get anything resolved. I have called them before and finally got to speak to a representative after waiting plenty of minutes on hold. I think this is the same for many companies when you have an issue.