Every so often, the heavens sing and the masses of gamers wet their pants; a Blizzard game goes gold. PC fans everywhere found themselves in adult undergarments with the recent release of Warcraft III, Blizzard’s latest release in their wildly popular RTS series. Not content to rest on their laurels, Blizzard has another potential blockbuster waiting in the wings, for on the horizon lurks World of Warcraft: their first dedicated massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). While Blizzard Entertainment has established themselves as veteran developers of games with an online component, can they succeed in creating an experience that is online-dependent?
World of Warcraft has, to say the least, stellar graphics; boasting a fully 3D polygonal engine similar to that of Warcraft III. Played from a 3rd person perspective, World of Warcraft features an expansive environment with stunning architecture highlighted with stellar texture mapping and a solid frame rate. The character and monster models appear equally impressive. Spell effects and special abilities are executed during real-time combat, and will certainly dazzle gamers accustomed to the simple 2D effects of earlier Blizzard games. The depth of player customization during character creation is laudable, boasting a wide variety of skin tones and facial features. In the case of the Taurans, a species of Minotaur, gamers can even choose their style of horns.
Unlike most MMORPGs, Blizzard is attempting to introduce some semblance of plot in World of Warcraft, giving players more atmosphere than simply dumping them into an empty world to slay an endless horde of monsters or running random fetch-quests. Blizzard wants the player to feel that there is rhyme and reason to their world and its inhabitants. When a player encounters a building, boss or dungeon, gamers will understand that they represent facets of a single cohesive story. Blizzard will be saving some space on the overworld though, as structures may be twice as large on the inside as they appear on the outside, but not nearly as skewed as previous Warcraft games. Blizzard promises non-existent loading times, with only incredibly large areas requiring any loading time at all.
Regarding gameplay, World of Warcraft has more in common with Diablo than its predecessors. The player controls a single character in a massive online world with a simple, yet intuitive interface. While many MMORPGs relate information in an entirely text-based format, World of Warcraft uses a more visual approach. Friendly characters will have a green circle beneath them, while neutral and belligerent characters are outlined in yellow and red, respectively. The GUI is simplistic, with character abilities, such as “defend”, kept in the lower-left corner of the screen. These actions can be also be used easily via hotkeys. Exploration is an important aspect of any MMORPG, and Blizzard has made traveling easy for their adventurers though the use of teleport scrolls, similar to the scrolls of Town Portal in Diablo.
The control is reminiscent of most 1st person shooters on the PC; players will use the W, A, S, and D keys to handle cardinal movement, while the mouse manipulates the camera and dictates actions. Even the on-screen cursor pulls double duty during mouse-over: graphically changing to illustrate different interactive options. The icon for “Barter” may change to the sign for “Attack”, “Talk” or vice versa depending on situation. The overall effect is comparable to taking one of your favorite units from Warcraft III and playing them individually in an over-the shoulder perspective.
World of Warcraft is a very promising prospect from the gleaming halls of Blizzard. A MMORPG with an integrated storyline is something that could keep users enthralled for an undeniably large amount of time. After all, most hardcore MMORPG players spend thousands of hours in their alternate worlds. How many more would do the same if they could truly participate in an ongoing story within an online world? Blizzard has made many promises with World of Warcraft, and while they have the talent to fulfill them, only time will tell.