One of the more surprising sights on the show floor was that of Blizzard's World of Warcraft. Being an indefinite period of time before release, it was not expected to be shown so early in development.
Despite the early showing, however, World of Warcraft was very impressive. While many of the advanced features are yet to be put in place, the graphical engine and interface had a very polished look and feel. While it is likely that the visual aspects will undergo much improvement over the development process, their current state matches or exceeds the quality of most MMORPGs on the market at the moment. Lighting and spell effects are a flash of pyrotechnics, and character models are detailed and well animated. One of the stand-out features of the demo is the inclusion of a full weapon-animation system, allowing for one of the characters to wield a flaming sword--which left behind a trail of fire as the character moved around. The environments, while slightly sparse, are nicely detailed and day/night transitions were carried out smoothly.
Blizzard representatives stressed that a key focus of the design is intended to allow unprecedented ease of use. Controls in the demo were very straightforward, with a simple keyboard/mouse control scheme. Holding down the right mouse button allowed one to rotate the camera, while the mousewheel could be used to zoom in/out at the same time. All battle options were displayed on-screen in easy to interpret icons, while also being mapped to the number pad for mouse-free operation if desired.
While no official teaming options were available in the version played, Blizzard made clear that team play would be heavily emphasized in the final version of the game. Most enemies placed on the land were in groups, so tackling them with multiple players made things considerably easier.
With the network code, interface, and graphics engine in tact, World of Warcraft seems to be pretty far down the development path. Blizzard representatives declined to offer any sort of release date, however, saying that it was too early to tell at this point.
To go along with these impressions, we have prepared 14 new screens and 10 pieces of artwork for you to take a look at.