Tuesday, September 07, 2004
World of Warcraft - How it works
In spite of not being American, I received an invite to the World of Warcraft stress test. I assume it happened because I bookmarked the not-yet-functional download page before Fileplanet got around blocking access to that page based on your IP address. Lucky me. I played WoW all weekend long, doing little else, and trying all races and all classes. This game is huge, and thus my review is also huge. This is one of the reasons that I have decided to split it into two parts:
A game review is a curious mixture of reporting objectively how a game works, and subjectively how the reviewer likes the game. That is not necessarily a bad format, but there is a certain danger of being heavy on the impressions and light on the information. So in this first part of the WoW beta review, I am going to focus on the information, and then put most of the judgement in the second part. The review I am posting here will also be part of the bigger review on Grimwell.com, which will add the opinions of other people as well. So, this is how World of Warcraft works:
World of Warcraft (WoW) is a level based MMORPG of the classic style. You have the choice between 8 races, 4 each for the Hordes side and the Alliance side. Each race has the choice of 4 to 6 character classes, out of 9 existing classes. The choice is final, there is no way to change your character class. If you want to play something else, you need to create another character.
Your class determines what spells and abilities you can learn, and they are unique for each class. There is some overlap with spells that are called differently, but basically do the same thing, for example priests, paladins, shamans, and druids, each have their own version of healing spells. The only abilities that are not class specific are tradeskills. Some classes get talent points starting from level 10, which allow you to further specialize. The classes that don't get talents get other cool powers at level 10, for example shapeshifting for druids. It is possible that all classes will get talents in the release version, and that this part is just not finished yet in the beta.
7 of the 9 character classes are spell-casting, and use a classic mana bar below the hit point bar. Every spell costs an amount of mana, and if you are out of mana, you can't cast any more. Rogues use an energy bar instead, but it works the same way, but in addition to that they collect combo points from using one sort of attacks, which they can then spend on other sorts of attacks. Warriors have something new, a rage bar. That one starts at zero, and gets build up in combat. Then this rage can be spent to pay for special combat abilities.
But even if the ways they work are slightly different, every class has several options of what spells to cast, or what abilities to use in combat. There is the standard MMORPG auto-attack, but it is the special moves that really make the difference. So combat is relatively interesting, you don't just hit auto-attack and go for a coffee.
After combat you might be low in hitpoints and/or mana. Both regenerate even when running, but if you sit down and rest, the regeneration rate is better. You can shorten the rest further by eating and drinking. Food is completely optional, but beneficial if you use it. Many things in World of Warcraft work like that, enticing you with a bonus instead of forcing you. The downtime between combats is comparatively short. If you are in a crowded zone, like most of us were during the stress test, the limiting factor is the availability of mobs to kill. Kudos to Blizzard, who noticed that early on during the stress test, and increased the spawn rates of monsters in the newbie zones.
Whenever you rest, online or offline, you accumulate a "rest bonus" for your xp, visible as a little mark on your xp bar. This bonus grows by one "bubble" of xp for every 8 hours rested in an inn or a city, but 4 times slower if you logged out in the wilderness. The bonus is capped at 30 bubbles, which is 1.5 levels. Until your xp reach the little rest bonus xp marker on the xp bar, you will get twice as many experience points in combat. This rest bonus is obviously designed to help the casual gamers close the gap towards the power gamers, a bit like the "power hour" in Ultima Online.
World of Warcraft is a relatively easy game. Not only from the point of view of intuitive game play, but also from the point of view what your character can achieve in a given time. Every character class can solo, and often win against monsters slightly above their own level. You can also form groups of up to 5 people, but you only really need to group for big boss monsters for some quests.
If you die, you have several options, all of which are nearly painless. If you have a priest of level 10+ in your group or in the vicinity, you can be resurrected on the spot, with no xp penalty, but with your hitpoints and mana low. If you can't get a resurrect, you have to release your soul from your body, and reappear as a ghost in the closest graveyard. From there you can run back in ghost form to your corpse, which does not cost you any xp. Or you can decide to come back to live in the graveyard, but that costs a small amount of experience points. So, unless your corpse is in a really bad position, or you want to use your dead as a free teleport to the closest village, death does not cost experience points.
Most of the time, you will travel on foot. Distances are reasonable, it takes time to run somewhere, but not too much. You can also "bind" in an inn, which gives you a special hearthstone, with which you can teleport back to that inn once per hour. For longer distances, there is public transport. Most of this is with flying mounts, riding a gryphon, or a wyvern. This does not work like a teleport, but you actually fly over the landscape. That not only looks great, it also gives you a feeling of in which direction you are traveling. There are no loading screens beyond the initial login. Besides public transport, you can also acquire a mount, like a horse for humans, or a huge wolf for orcs. But those become available only at level 40. Tauren, a minotaur race which would look silly on horseback, get the plainsrunning skill at level 40 instead.
Your main activity in World of Warcraft is most likely to be quests. The game is full of quests, and they are easy to find. Quest giver NPCs have a big glowing exclamation mark over their head, while quest target NPCs have a question mark, and are marked on your mini-map. Many quests are about killing monsters appropriate to your level, so taking the quest and getting the quest reward is better than just camping monsters for xp. You can do every quest only once, and each quest tells a believable story, adding to your knowledge of the world around you. Most quest items only drop from monsters if you are actually on the quest, so there is no "I have found this quest item, now where do I get the quest for it" situation like in older games. It is possible to be on quests all of the time, there are plenty of them everywhere. Quests can be abandoned if you didn't like how they worked out. And if the people you are grouped with are eligible for the same quest, but didn't visit the quest giver NPC, you can even share your quest.
There is player vs. player (PvP) combat in World of Warcraft, but not if you don't want to. There are race war servers, where PvP between the Horde and the Alliance is always on, but there are plenty of player vs. environment (PvE) servers too. On the PvE servers, PvP combat exists only in a very limited and consentual form. PvP combat isn't completely designed yet, there are plans for battleground areas.
World of Warcraft has 13 different tradeskills, but 4 of these are gathering skills, like fishing, or mining. Some resources are gathered with those skills, some resources can be bought in shops, and some only drop from monsters. When you learn a production trade skill, you are given a limited number of recipes. Other recipes can be found on monsters, bought from the trainer, or gained in quests. Once you have the recipe and the resources, success in making the item is automatic. But if you make a difficult item, your chance to increase your skill is much better than if you make an easy item.
Even at relatively low levels, tradeskills are already useful. For example even starting alchemists can brew healing potions, or potions that make a character stronger, or improve his armor class, for a generous 60 minutes. Novice leatherworkers can produce armor kits that give +8 permanent bonus on leather armor pieces.
Such useful items produced by crafters, and many of the loot items, can be traded between players. Either directly in a secure trading window, or in an auction house, which exist in several big cities. Not all items can be traded though. Some quest items are "soulbound", which means you can only sell them to NPCs for money, not pass them on to other players. Other items are not initially soulbound, but become so if you ever equip them. This should help battling "mudflation", the traditional oversupply of items which exists in all games that do not have item decay.
I hope this review gave you an idea of the game play of World of Warcraft. But of course unless you can get into one of the numerous beta tests, you will have to wait until November to see for yourself. There is no official release date yet, but November is the most likely date, based on what different computer game shops claim. It would be reasonable to assume that Blizzard would want to launch this before the christmas shopping period.