World of Warcraft - Initial Impression

I've been trying out World of Warcraft on a borrowed account. Obviously, reviewing an MMO after two days playing, no grouping, and one character is not going to work well, but I do want to get my initial impressions down. The first is that it just doesn't have the sheer stickiness, for me, of Dark Age of Camelot - such that last night, I decided that levelling the WoW character was too easy, and that I'd much rather go do something challenging in Dark Age.

That ease of levelling may be one of the attractions for other people - and I understand that it levels off after about level 13 - but it annoys me. My first characters in other MMOs took many hours to get to, say, 5th level. After about six hours play, my undead warlock is Level 8. Those levels feel unearned, less than real in some way.

The graphics are another point that's annoying me. I was expecting the cartoony aspect of it to stop bothering me after a bit, but it's not stopping. The undead look faintly comical, not at all threatening or off-putting, and some of the other creatures are positively cute. The landscape has huge hillocks everywhere, and the signage and architecture have a very slight defiance of physics about them, Beetlejuice or Scooby-Doo style. And the spell animations are impressive the first time, but mostly too jarring and bright for repeated use.

Having groused about the negatives, let me get on to the positives. Firstly, the user interface is great - and I mean, really, really good. I have no dead-tree manual, only a PDF, and I haven't had to refer to it once; everything works intuitively. The quests - while I may complain about them being easy - contain no stopping points or unclear instructions, and they're pretty perfectly set for the levels at which they're given.

The cartoon aspect of the landscape has its upside in the variety. There are none of the vast barren spaces I'm familiar with from DAoC - and indeed, from Everquest and Anarchy Online as well. There's no sensation of the same tree yet again, because the surrounding terrain is different, and each building is unique. There's a level of detail that matches that of Myst and its ilk, and there's the rare effect of being able to interact with some of that detail. You can sit on chairs, for instance. And there are actual farms and livestock and so on - these are almost completely absent from Dark Age.

One thing I was completely stunned by was the level of roleplaying I saw going on. When I first created my character, I stopped in the initial area and watched five other players discuss the horror of waking up as undead. It took me a good two minutes to work out that they were in fact other players, not some sort of set-piece. This is biased, of course, because I'm playing on Argent Dawn, an RP server, but even so, I was impressed. Since there's no European RP server for Dark Age, it's hard to know if that happens elsewhere, but that single moment blew away any roleplaying I've ever seen in other games.

The quests you can collect from NPCs are good, too. They feel like part of the setting, part of the game rather than something tacked on afterwards. And one leads easily into the next, with connections between them. There was one where I had to steal pumpkins from a farm occupied by living humans. Try as I might, I couldn't work out the patterns the mobs moved in, but some strategic thinking about how to approach the pumpkin field paid off. Those are two things I haven't really seen much of before in quests.

Finally, the crafting is pretty damn good. You choose two tradeskills. There are crafts wherein you gather material, and crafts wherein you make stuff from it. You can choose to gather materials for your own craft, or buy them, or even choose two gathering crafts, and just sell the raw goods. There's a "make all" button, which allows you to make as many of a given item as you have material for - that's an element of genius, which could well be applied to other games. My undead warlock, Wormscion, is going for herbalism (gathering) and alchemy (making). I'll be trying other tradeskills with other characters too.

Things I have yet to investigate: grouping, guilds, the auction houses, dungeons, long-distance travel, PvP play, and of course, the player mounts (although I may not get to a high enough level for that before I have to return the account).

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Posted by Drew Shiel at July 14, 2005 12:14 PM

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I still think you're approaching WoW with a certain sense of bias.

The WoW graphics are perfectly true to the origins of the game (the Warcraft RTS games). On the subject of realism - yes, the graphics are more "cartoony", but having said that, the 12-foot Tauren walking past a smoking, sparking bonfire is far more "realistic" than an equivalent human's rather stilted gait in DAoC - as s/he walks past some static crystals... The same extends to the animations and graphics of the mobs, and especially the mounts. It might be a mythical, dinosaur-based kodo that Tauren is riding, but it still looks more "real" and moves more accurately than the jerky stick-figure horse you can ride in DAoC.

Each region in WoW is *very* different. Tanaris and the Shimmering Flats - (mostly) flat desert and salt-flats, respectively. Un'goro Crater - steaming jungle. Thousand Needles - Arizona canyon and mesas. The Burning Steppes (I think - I've only overflown it) - OMG that's Mordor!

Your character is too low a level to have acquired much in the way of flightpaths, but some are so gorgeous I've flown straight back after using Alt-Z just to look at the 'in flight movie.' *Never* done that in a game before. Flying from Grom'gol to the Badlands, I flew along a river and saw it blocked in the distance ahead by a building of some sort. A minute later and my wyvern had soared over the Stonewrought Dam. Amazing.

Levels 1-10 or thereabouts are deliberately designed to be easy, to the extent that 6 - 8 hours play should clear them. "Learn how the game works and what your class can do, while getting stronger and more confident, as our quests cleverly lead you about the place, without you noticing." It's a personal thing, but I liked the sense of progression as I was learning the game, and many classes have a goal - some sort of ability earned by quest at level 10. I was somewhat frustrated by the same process in DAoC.

It gets harder, believe me :-) Towards the endgame, there are areas and quests that should only be undertaken by raidgroups (40 players) and levelling can take days of play - assuming all you're doing is questing, rather than PvP or roleplay.

Like I said on LJ, I'll be happy to help you out with any of the things on your 'to be investigated' list. Won't be on tonight, but will be at various stages over the weekend.

Posted by: Bastun at July 14, 2005 3:58 PM

Oh, there's definitely a bias; I like my fantasy movie-style and my scifi cartoonish. Warcraft has never done much for me on that basis, and I do recognise that it's a bias.

As to the fast levels at the beginning, I'll see how it goes with the later ones. Although I'm beginning to wonder if the amount of fighting with the interface isn't an element in that speed.

I reognise the animation issues in DAoC too - although a lot of those have been solved in the Catacombs expansion - I'm not sure if you had access to that. At base, DAoC is an older game, and until there's a DAoC 2, or a major revamp of the game engine, that will remain the case.

I'll look for you over the weekend. :)

Posted by: Drew Shiel at July 14, 2005 4:40 PM