John Funk has taken the time to experience Blizzard's upcoming expansion to World of WarCraft, The Burning Crusade. In his journeys, he's provided a wealth of content for our WoW WarCry and today is no different as he gives us an extensive preview of the expansion that launches tomorrow.
Article by John Funk
Just kidding, of course I'm talking about the first expansion pack to what is, frankly, the most popular game in the world today-World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. After having spent three months playing the TBC closed beta and writing about it, here's the game in a nutshell: Burning Crusade is a game made for people who love Warcraft, whether it's 2, 3, or World of.
People picking up TBC will find that life beyond the Dark Portal on the broken world of Outland is not much different from life on Azeroth. You've got ten more levels to gain, a slew of new talent points and abilities, and shiny new worlds to explore, but at the core, it's more of the same. Most of the quests and tasks you'll be asked to accomplish revolve around the "kill a certain thing or enough types of a certain thing or get a certain item from the bodies of dead certain things" paradigm, which will undoubtedly be familiar to MMO-players in general. TBC does offer more quests with objectives that don't involve mass indiscriminate slaughter, though often you'll find yourself having to kill in order to complete the task anyway. It's to be expected and not wholly unwelcome, though I would have honestly liked to see even more variety in terms of quest objectives.
Gamers on servers with high populations may find that their questing will be hampered by dozens of other players lining up to kill the same damn mobs or loot the same damn heads or what not, and that will be very frustrating, particularly on PvP-enabled servers. Outland is a land at war, and if you aren't on the stairs of the Dark Portal or in the neutral sanctuary city of Shattrath, you're fair game. If this is the case, players might want to head to one of the many instanced dungeons to kill and loot without fear of interruption (though these do, of course, require parties of up to 5 people to complete).
Keeping in mind the success of winged dungeons such as the Scarlet Monastery and Dire Maul, Blizzard applied that principle to their creations in Outland. The five "5-man dungeons" in Burning Crusade - Hellfire Citadel, Coilfang Reservoir, Auchindoun, Tempest Keep, and the Caverns of Time (with all but the last in Outland proper) - are all winged, with anywhere from two to four mini-dungeons for adventurers to try their luck in. In doing the quests for the surrounding zones, adventurers will slowly be introduced to the lore and backstory of the dungeons and find out why exactly they want to go put their lives on the line and kill themselves a big bad (other than the acquisition of experience points and phat lewtz, of course).
With a proper group, the dungeons are quick, ranging from an hour and a half with a slower group to a blazingly-fast Auchenai Crypts run I went on that completed in just over half an hour, and also very fun (for the most part). Over the two years of World of Warcraft, raiders have seen the developers create more and more interesting and fun encounters as they gained more experience with the genre. Blizzard, in creating the legions of nefarious beasties that seek nothing more than your total destruction, has applied that experience and some of the raiding boss mechanics to these 5-man enemies. For example, the fight with Mechano-Lord Capacitus early on in the 'Mechanar' wing of Tempest Keep is reminiscent of the battle against Majordomo Executus in the Molten Core as well as touches of the Four Horsemen and Kel'Thuzad-two of the final bosses in the extremely hardcore Naxxramas instance. The bosses are fun, intense, and often graphically impressive.
Visually, the World of Warcraft engine is showing signs of age, especially when compared to gorgeous games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Gears of War. The impact is softened by the lower-poly, cartoonish style, but it's clear that Burning Crusade is not meant to be on the cutting edge of graphics. What they lack in extraordinarily powerful graphics, however, Blizzard makes up for in art design. Every one of the seven new lands in the world once called Draenor looks cool and interesting, from the towering mushroom forests of Zangarmarsh to the demon-twisted, war-scarred crags of Shadowmoon Valley. It may not be as pretty as Oblivion, but it's certainly not hard on the eyes.
Outland isn't the only place to receive new zones. Four new areas have been added to Azeroth for the two brand-spankin'-new races. The Slavic, blue, literally holier-than-thou Draenei join the Alliance, while the crafty, magic-addicted Blood Elves find their ranks amongst the Horde. As Draenei can be Shamans and Blood Elves can be Paladins, there are no longer any faction-specific classes. On the one hand, that's a good thing, because it makes it easier to balance classes and PvE encounters without having to pigeonhole two different classes into the same role. On the other, some may feel that this makes the factions too similar, so it's a double-edged sword.
The two new races are cool, and will certainly add a bit more visual diversity to the existing factions (though I suspect that the months immediately after Burning Crusade launches will feature a severe overpopulation of Blood Elf Paladins and Draenei Shamans until the honeymoon factor wears off). Players rerolling as one of the new races will be able to quest in rather new content until about level 20, and will then have to venture out into the old World of Warcraft, so keep that in mind.
As for the rest of the WoW-ing population, you can expect to have the journey to level 70 take anywhere from a week or two (for the extremely hardcore, peeing-in-beer-bottle types) to about a month or three for the more casual. There's plenty of content to keep you interested in Outland, and I never once felt like I was being forced to grind experience, the XP I got from quests (and the killing while on the quest, of course) was more than enough.
There's also a new profession that may remind players of games like Diablo 2 and Final Fantasy VII: Jewelcrafting. Certain pieces of equipment will have "sockets" for gems that can be red, blue, or yellow. Jewelcrafters will be able to use gems obtained from Prospecting ore (gained from the current Mining ability) or randomly found on mobs to create jewels that award stat bonuses, giving bonus healing, intellect, stamina, or attack power among others. Any color gem can go in any color socket, though matching the colors will give an additional "Socket Bonus." Players who prefer, say, stamina and survivability over killing power might then choose to get gems that boost those stats, while others may decide to go the pure offensive route and hope to kill their opponent before they get killed. It adds a nice variety to gear and a little way to customize your equipment other than enchants.
Blizzard seems to be putting a slightly increased emphasis on Player vs. Player combat in Burning Crusade, with four of the seven new zones having World PvP objectives similar to the towers in Silithus. Holding the objectives will give your faction a little boost, like 5% increased damage / experience gain or an additional graveyard in a very convenient location. By far the most entertaining objective is Halaa, capturing a town on a lonely mesa in the middle of Nagrand, a zone for players level 64 to 66. The only way to reliably defeat the NPC guards in Halaa is to fly overhead on combat wyverns and chuck firebombs down at their heads. The bombs deal AoE damage to players as well, so defending Halaa is a mix of ducking under cover and then charging out to deal with the ground troops. It's very fun and exciting, and I predict Halaa will be one of the more popular features in the expansion. However, players who don't like to engage in PvP and are on a PvE-focused server will never be forced to participate if they don't want to.
The Arena system, which is currently able to be previewed in live WoW, is a mini-Battleground, with teams of 2, 3, or 5 players pitted against each other in a pure deathmatch. The last team standing wins, simple as that. Horde will fight Horde, Alliance will fight Alliance, and it's very quick and fun. At level 70, players will be able to make their own Arena Teams, with their own logo (that will be on a flag they wear on their back while in the Arena) and name. Teams with a higher win/loss record will fight other teams with good records, and the highest-ranked team on the ladder at the end of a "season" will be awarded a special flying mount. Arena gear will be updated with every "season" in order to remain competitive with the gear from raiding.
There is definitely a focus on smaller-group content in Burning Crusade, with different avenues and paths to get very good gear (instead of simply raiding, as it was in the original World of Warcraft). Craftsmen will find that they can make decently good epic gear, there are many different factions with very nice reputation rewards, and the PvP / Arena gear is also comparable to what we've seen from raids. Burning Crusade also introduces Heroic dungeons, which are harder versions of any of the 5-man dungeons that are in the expansion. Lower-level (i.e. non-70) dungeons are raised to level 70 and given beefed-up mobs, while the current level 70 instances become truly epic encounters. Like the bigger raids, the final bosses of Heroic dungeons are guaranteed to drop epics, while their predecessors drop tokens that can be redeemed in Shattrath for other gear.
The maximum size of PvE raids is being reduced from 40 to 25, a change which has had many players up in arms. However, this change does make it easier to get a raid together, as it's much simpler to find 24 other people than it is to find 39. Don't be assuming that this means that you'll just be able to walk in and get epics, though from what we've seen, the raid dungeons in Burning Crusade are all pretty tough and may require some serious trial-and-failure to get them down, all the way from Medivh's tower of Karazhan to Illidan's Black Temple.
I said earlier that Burning Crusade is a game for people who love Warcraft, and I stand by that. Not only is the final Big Bad of Outland the insane and twisted Illidan Stormrage, in for a 10,000-year-overdue smackdown, but players will face in battle two other characters from Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne, Lady Vashj the Naga and Kael'Thas Sunstrider, Prince of the Blood Elves. Other characters such as Akama and Warden Maiev Shadowsong make appearances, and people who played Frozen Throne should really get a kick out of meeting such (in)famous characters.
Warcraft 3 isn't the only game to be paid homage to, though. Gamers who remember Blizzard's classic Warcraft 2 and the expansion, Beyond the Dark Portal, are in for some treats. Most of the Alliance Expedition that was trapped in Outland at the end of the expansion are in the game, and Horde have their own goodies as well. There are several quests that Horde players can do that will tie in strongly to the lineages of Horde heroes Grom Hellscream and Thrall, as well as an excellent line of quests that deals with the most infamous Horde Death Knight of them all-Teron Gorefiend. Locations from Beyond the Dark Portal like the Blade's Edge Mountains, the Bone Wastes, and Auchindoun are referenced and can be visited, so fans of Blizzard's older games will really enjoy seeing those. I'm a Warcraft fan if not a fanboy, and there were moments in Burning Crusade that just had me in complete lore-fan rapture.
All in all, this is more of the same, but it's more of the same fun, in a way that really doesn't get old. Burning Crusade delivers a ton of content brimming up to the proverbial eyeballs with the traditional Blizzard polish that really isn't designed to draw new players in, but to remind people who played past Warcraft games why they loved it so damn much. Though it's a bit frustrating, admittedly, to lose my level 70 with his special flying mount that allowed him to soar the skies of Outland, I'm looking forward to doing the journey all over again. For fans, as they say on the Intarweb, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade is definitely FTW.
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