The WoW Factor
I have a confession to make. I’m a total “n00b,” as it were, when it comes to World of Warcraft. I just never got around to playing the MMO that’s had everyone talking for half a decade.
The Cataclysm expansion is going to change all that. I’m going to offer a preliminary review here based on my first several hours with the game, and I’ll file weekly reports for a while afterward so you can keep tabs on my progress and Cataclysm’s unfolding content. You can catch my columns each Monday on CCC.
My hope is that these reports will prove useful to WoW diehards and a worthwhile introduction for those considering diving in for the first time. If you have questions, comments, or WoW news you’d like me to address — or would just like to give me a digital wedgie and tell me what a hack I am (I gather there’s some sort of hazing ritual between MMO fans and the journalists who cover their games) — feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]. Also, watch out for me in the game; my name is Yozz, and I’m a male goblin in the new Borean Tundra realm.
Without further ado: How much fun is World of Warcraft: Cataclysm to a total outsider? The bottom line is that the first two hours or so are a disorienting slog, but after that, the story picks up and addiction starts to set in.
It’s simply the nature of MMO expansions that downloading them takes forever, but fortunately, Blizzard allows you to play Cataclysm before everything is completely downloaded. Once you’ve managed to fire up the game, the first thing you do is set up your character and realm. For the benefit of diehard fans who know the old races, I picked one of the two new character types, a goblin. Goblins have been hanging around the game world for a long time, but in Cataclysm, they’re playable for the first time. You also get to pick a class; I made my little dude a warlock, meaning he can use a wand to attack enemies.
Further, newcomers should know to choose their realm — that is, the copy of the game world they play in (there are too many players for all of us to run around in the same space) — carefully. You can’t play with your friends if they’re in a different realm, and Blizzard charges $25 to switch realms (with exceptions for people who want to switch from overcrowded to sparsely populated realms). Also, make sure you choose a “normal” realm if you’re starting out. This means the game is strictly players versus the environment (PvE), and you can’t be killed by other humans.
The next stage is the early game content, which takes place at a goblin home base of sorts. I have to say that it didn’t draw me in at first. The first several missions help you learn the ropes, but they’re hardly compelling. I ran a few errands, killed a few small creatures, and drove my car for the first time. That car, by the way, handles terribly; you can actually turn it from side to side while it’s not moving. I didn’t expect top-notch vehicle handling from a fantasy MMO, but this was just ridiculous.
Also, I think these early moments would have benefited from a little more story. Aside from a brief opening cinematic, all I really knew was that I controlled a funny-looking green guy, had a minion named Bizfip (if any explanation was given for his presence, I didn’t catch it), and was expected to do things for the people with the exclamation points over their heads. Perhaps knowing why I was doing these quests might have made the mundane tasks feel more purposeful.
Another obstacle that total newbies will face is that while Blizzard has made efforts to make Cataclysm user-friendly, you’ll still have to learn a lot by trial and error. During my first few quests, I was almost constantly confused as to where to go next (annoyingly, your goals aren’t marked precisely on the mini-map), how to perform the steps of the quest, and how people even play this game with its awful camera (Pro Tip: click and drag the screen to change the view). Especially frustrating was that my character could not equip many of the items I earned from doing quests. It may simply be the case that any MMO will take some getting used to, but newcomers should realize they’ll be disoriented for a couple of hours.
WoW will feel unnatural to newcomers in smaller ways, too. One is that it seems claustrophobic. There are always lots of other people running around, even when they don’t affect your gameplay. Also, if you die too much, the game starts forcing you to wait to respawn. I understand that the MMO format makes it difficult for developers to handle death, but I cannot imagine anything more obnoxious than being forced to sit there, doing nothing, just so the game can punish me.
(Warning: Skip the following paragraph to avoid minor spoilers for the goblin quest line.)
But after these early hours (and what are a few hours in MMO time, really?), things get a lot more interesting. One quest required me to kick a field goal in the goblin version of football, and just as I did so, a huge dragon soared overhead, angrily breathing fire and damaging the ground below. Evidently, this is the event that sets Cataclysm off from the rest of the World of Warcraft universe: By entering the world through a dimensional barrier, this dragon alters the game’s entire landscape, improving aspects of the world that players found frustrating and paving the way for entire new quest lines. After the dragon struck, I had to pull together enough money to get onto a ship that was fleeing the site of the attack. Unfortunately, the ship got in the middle of a battle between WOW’s two main factions, the Alliance and the Horde. The vessel was destroyed, and I ended up on shore with a few other washed-up goblins, facing down some highly lethal dinosaurs and trying to figure out what was happening in the world around me.
I could go on about the new story developments, not to mention all the tiny intricacies that go into equipping your character with weapons, spells, and items — and in future columns, I intend to. I’m especially interested in getting to know the combat system. But for now, the important thing is this: Once I got past the initial confusion, I really started to see what the big deal was. Each early quest is simple and easy in and of itself, but together they keep the plot and action moving in a way that’s addictive. Even though I had just started the game, I noticed the hours going by faster than they should, and I’m eager to find out what happens next to the goblin race.
Just a few closing points. While the graphics are improved, WoW no longer holds up next to other cutting-edge PC games, such as competing MMO Final Fantasy XIV, in this area. You can see this as a good thing; big improvements would have required an equally big hike in the system requirements. I found the voice acting to be grating, though the absurd accents might be unique to the goblin race. Also, I enjoyed the dramatic music, but it doesn’t pass what I call the iTunes Test: After trying out the game for a bit, I turned off the music, played my own music in iTunes instead, and decided I liked that better. WOW may be addictive, but it doesn’t have the kind of white-knuckle moments that require just the right music at just the right time — at least, not for my low-level character.
To be sure, I’ve only scratched the surface of what Cataclysm (not to mention World of Warcraft in general) has to offer. I haven’t even explored a dungeon or conducted a multiplayer raid yet. Based on my hours with the game, though, I feel confident saying that now is a good time to try out World of Warcraft if you’ve been thinking about it. Not only has Blizzard created the most user-friendly MMO experience to date (however confusing it may still be to true n00bs), but lots of other players — including yours truly — will be starting from Level 1 right alongside you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.8 Graphics
Cataclysm looks good, but WoW no longer leads the MMO graphics race. 4.0 Control
They’ll feel clunky to someone who’s not used to MMOs, but they’re customizable and not hard to get used to. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting is annoying, and the music is just okay. 4.5 Play Value
Only time will tell how long this can hold your attention, but the game’s early moments promise an epic experience. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|