Marc - Column for 11/11

World of Warcraft

So, Karl suggested that I write up my first impressions of World of Warcraft (WoW) for my Cant article. To do that I could simply write, ďI like it a lot!Ē That doesnít seem that satisfying though. There are definitely some aspects that I have enjoyed, but I also realize that there is a lot of the game that I donít know about. First some background on the game and the people who make it. In the end Iíll start the gushing about how good it is and all that.

For those who donít know what WoW is, it is a Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game. More commonly know by MMORPG. WoW was developed by Blizzard, the company that created the original Warcraft, the two sequels, and the Starcraft game. The company is making a concerted effort to take some of their brands created by those two franchises of games and expand them into other segments of the video game market. World of Warcraft is really the first major brand extension of this type, with the console game Ghost being the second.

From a purely business perspective, it is pretty interesting. The first thing to realize is that there is no simple Ďvideo gameí market. A modern video game exists within a diverse assortment of game genres. The bread and butter of Blizzard are three main franchises: Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo. The first two are solidly in the real-time strategy (RTS) genre. They are considered by many as the prototypical examples of RTS. Diablo is a role-playing game (RPG) that has some multi-player aspects to it, but it is a very good standalone RPG game that is light on the story and heavy on the action. Diablo and Starcraft have gotten or are getting some brand extension treatment, but that is something Iíll leave for another time.

Now, Warcraft is the topic of the day. From reading through various interviews of Blizzard folks and their website, it is clear that the folks at Blizzard aware of some of the core wants/needs of their customers. The feature that is dominant is pitting one human player against another human player. This is known as Player-Vs-Player (PvP). Warcraft and Starcraft really come into their own when you play them against other people. To facilitate this, Blizzard hosts servers that allow folks to login and link up with others players for battle.

One of the key insights and leaps of faith that Blizzard has done with WoW is that they have worked hard at maintaining this PvP environment when they take the brand of Warcraft and move it out of RTS games and stand up an MMORPG. The consistency of the brand is maintained by having the game exist within the universe that was created to facilitate the battles of the Warcraft RTS games. In other words, the creatures, monsters and major characters from previous games are present in the WoW game. Since an MMORPG is not a strategy game in that way that Warcraft is, the developers have made a point of recreating some perpetual tension between the factions that exist in the Warcraft universe, the Horde and the Alliance. This is a big part of the story line and the game itself. (This was also the cause of my poor gnome mageís demise last night, but that is another thing.)

This leaves us with a game that is set to launch on November 23, and me having spent more hours than I care to admit playing the beta version of the game.

First off, I have only played char for a significant amount of time. I created Hufflebarn, a gnome mage. Right off the bat, one appreciates the size of the world. There is a local map that can be easily zoomed out to show the other areas that one can travel to in the game. There are a lot! And itís clear that some of them are really dangerous. I know this because I have taken griffon rides over areas that seemed to be the home of creatures suspiciously reminiscent of dragons.

But Iím getting ahead of myself. The bread and butter of the game is the questing system. A player moves around the game, finding NPCs that have quests that need doing. A large Ď!í over the head of an NPC denotes someone with a quest. A large Ď?í over an NPC means that they are someone related to accomplishing your quest. This little technique makes it much easier to find the dwarf that you need to give the beer that you got from the inn. The first part of a characterís life is going on quests that are local to that its homeland. These quests give you knowledge of the local geography and help you get the hang of combat and such.

After you progress up the level ladder, your areas of exploration start expanding. This is when the game really starts getting cool. At any point, you are free to try and go anywhere you want. Of course, if you are a level five character running into level twenty beasts, youíll end up spending a lot of your time bringing your character back from the dead. The structured escalation of the quests is a nice way of widening your world without worrying that you are going too far, too fast.

The combat and grouping of the game are other aspects of the game that are quite fun. You can form groups of five characters for quests, and the game also support raid parties which are groups of groups. I havenít seen what is involved with a raid party, but a regular group is a lot of fun. You end up working with other players and that is really one of the most enjoyable parts of the game.

Now, I need to wrap because itís getting late. I relate my first experience of PvP in WoW. I was traveling through a contested area trying to find a way to the elven lands. Contested areas are places in the world that neither faction controls. If you encounter folks from the other faction, violence normally erupts. There was a group of five Horde guys waiting on the road, slaughtering any Alliance guys that came through. Poor Hufflebarn stood no chance against the 18-28 lvl chars. The one valiant, fun thing I did was act as a spy for the area defense. After I was dead, I just followed the Horde around, telling all the Alliance folks were they were. As a ghost, I couldn't be seen or attacked by the Horde guys.

I know that havenít explained large parts of the game. I have really enjoyed the beta, and I fully plan on wasting many hours trying to avenge the slaughter of Hufflebarn on the road Menethil.

Columns by Marc