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Platform(s): Win ME/2K/XP, Mac OS Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Genre: MMORPG Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Format: CD-ROM Expected Release: 2004

Hands-on Impressions
Justin Hoeger
Justin Hoeger

Blizzard’s games have always been noted for their deep and involved storylines, interesting worlds and fascinating characters. The WarCraft strategy series has an especially involved history and detailed world, even though players have only seen rectangular chunks of it in their real-time strategy battles... until now. Enter the world of Azeroth, where cities and locations only hinted at in the pre-scenario map screens of 10 years worth of strategic missions finally come to life. Players will finally be able to explore this world in Blizzard’s upcoming MMORPG, World of WarCraft. Set four years after the events of the upcoming expansion pack to WarCraft III, The Frozen Throne, this entry will follow the many races of Azeroth, including the humans, Dwarves, Night Elves, Orcs and Tauren among others, as they rebuild their war-torn world.

Each of these races has their own native regions and multiple classes to choose from, including Warriors, Mages, Druids, Hunters, Warlocks and Shamans. World of WarCraft features unique skills for each race as well as the intrinsic abilities of each profession. The gameplay is a combination of skill and level-based systems, as each character will be able to acquire a large amount of different abilities as they explore the world of Azeroth. That exploration can take a while too - though the version shown at E3 was a pre-alpha build, the world was already enormous and fairly polished. One method of travel involves riding a Griffon, which can carry a character to anywhere they've been to previously. In this case, it was from a human city to a stronghold of the Dwarves. Just flying over one of these realms (the Griffons aren’t controllable) took several minutes. When you consider that there are at least three large continents and underwater regions to explore, that leaves a lot of ground to cover.

The E3 build had very polished visuals for such an early product. As an entirely real-time polygonal world, World of Warcraft espouses an incredibly solid graphics engine with Blizzard’s distinct visual flair. Although some ability icons used in the demo were placeholder icons stolen from the strategy game, spell effects were already developed, and the characters, enemies and surroundings were extremely well detailed and fluidly animated. The realm of the Night Elves was particularly impressive with winding forest paths lit by torchlight under a dense canopy of trees. Sadly, sound and music were nearly inaudible over the din of the show floor.

Aside from the Griffons, each race also has access to land-based mounts such as horses and giant wolves. They can even use them in battle if they’re sufficiently trained. Other vehicles such as ships and zeppelins will also be available when the game is launched. Players will be able to accept quests and form parties to conquer tough objectives, and Blizzard has taken steps to ensure that other players can’t muscle in on your hard-won experience by excluding non-party members from areas your party is exploring. How exactly this feature will work is not yet fully clear.

Controlling an avatar in World of Warcraft was almost intuitive thanks to the familiar W,A,S,D keyboard movement configuration. Hotkeys were easily configurable thanks to a clear-cut icon system, despite the placeholders. Combat in the game is handled in typical MMORPG fashion - when engaging a creature, a character will automatically attack and parry, but the player must manage combat abilities and the timing of spells for maximum effect. In the E3 version, it seemed a bit difficult to get far enough away from an attacking enemy to cast a spell without being interrupted, but that may be due to inexperience; a later run with a warrior character proved much easier to manage. Polymorphing into a bear as a Night Elf and rushing an enemy like a deranged grizzly has never been so much fun.

With an expansive environment, polished visuals and plenty of character variety, MMORPG fans have much to look forward to when the world of Azeroth comes online. Even the die-hard strategy RPG fan will be interested to see Blizzard’s world from a whole new perspective when World of WarCraft is released sometime next year. Blizzard plans to begin beta testing their brave new world late this fall, though no official release date for the game has been made. World of WarCraft will be a monthly pay-to-play service, though no pricing plans have yet to be made. RPGfan will keep you posted as more news on World of WarCraft develops.

Preview First-Look
John McCarroll
John McCarroll

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.


© 2003 Blizzard Entertainment. All rights reserved.
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Don't piss off the Night Elf chick.

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"Say 'ello to my leetle frien'."

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A dwarven fortress perhaps?

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"Ok, I give up... We're lost."

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Talk about a king-sized snack.

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"The funk of 40,000 years..."

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"These day-glo contacts rock!"

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A posse gets ready to ride out.

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