World of Warcraft

Blizzard Entertainment has finally released the long-anticipated massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft, which I previewed in the July 2004 issue. And I’m happy to report that the finished game pleases on every level.

World of Warcraft offers just about everything you could want in an online world. You can set out on epic quests; discover a king’s ransom in treasure, magic items, special weapons, and armor; and interact with a parade of player and nonplayer characters. Along your journeys, you’ll come across beautifully crafted cities, each with its own architecture, and varied landscapes filled with interesting plants and animals—many of which want to feast on your flesh.

Instead of controlling large numbers of troops and resources, you’re now responsible for taking care of just one character at a time. Who that character is and what it does is entirely up to you. You choose from among the Alliance races (human, dwarf, night elf, or gnome) or the Horde races (undead, tauren, troll, or orc), select a class or profession (everything from mages and warlocks to warriors and rogues), and define physical characteristics. You can configure your character’s gender, hair, face, and skin tone to create a somewhat unique personality—though you're bound to run into a couple of physical doppelgangers. The game lets you create multiple characters, so you can experiment to find what you like best.

When you begin playing, your character is relatively weak, defenseless, and ill-equipped. As you explore, other characters assign you quests to help you gain experience. These quests usually result in the exchange of money or goods, which you can then use or sell. As in the real world, money is an important resource in World of Warcraft: you’ll need it to buy food, medicine, supplies, and (occasionally) training.

The best way to accumulate experience—and thereby raise your character’s standing—is to fight. But don’t expect your new mage to get to Level 40 just by zapping hungry wolves and angry forest bears for 36 hours straight. In an attempt to avoid level inflation by players who send characters into constant battle, Blizzard has implemented a new rest system in World of Warcraft: players who keep their characters well-rested get an experience bonus when they go into combat.

To help differentiate your character from others in its class, you can have it learn secondary skills—for example, fishing, first aid, cooking, or creating armor—which you can then use to produce goods for selling to other players. Admittedly, you'll spend most of your time in World of Warcraft participating in quests that reward you with great wealth, skills, or valuable items. But these secondary skills are a lot of fun to hone, and very rewarding in their own right.

The game’s graphics, sound effects, and music are superlative. And the user interface should be familiar to anyone who’s played Warcraft III. However, the depth and complexity of the game’s information screens may be a bit daunting if you’re new to Warcraft; you have to juggle palettes to view inventory, character and skill attributes, spells (if applicable), and more. I highly recommend using a multibutton mouse to help manage the clutter. That said, Blizzard deserves credit for creating an interface that’s much more intuitive than that of some other MMORPGs I’ve played. Blizzard’s developers have also done a great job of making the Mac version every bit as beautiful as its PC counterpart.

The game costs $50 and requires a monthly service fee of $15 (less if you pay for more than a month at a time). This sort of recurring fee structure is par for the course in the MMORPG world. Your first 30 days are free, so make the most of them.

The Bottom Line World of Warcraft is an incredibly rich, complex, and fascinating world to explore. However, developing a high-level character isn’t something that happens in minutes or hours—the process takes weeks and months. Make sure you—re up to the commitment.

In World of Warcraft, you’ll journey across a variety of beautifully crafted landscapes in search of treasure and adventure.

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