Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Burning Crusade: Initial Impressions

Like millions of other people around the world, I went out and bought World of Warcraft's expansion, The Burning Crusade and Tuesday and eagerly installed it, anxiously awaiting my chance to explore the Outlands. After four hours on Tuesday night and three hours last night, here are my initial impressions.

Getting into the Outlands is easy enough. Just go the the Blasted Lands and run through the portal (though be sure to grab the quest from the guy in the middle of the camp on the Azeroth-side beforehand). Once through, you're on the steps of a most impressive looking portal and down below, a continuous fight wages against very large demons. The flight master is right there and will fly you to the appropriate city where lots of quests and profession trainers await. I was a little annoyed that the guards in Thrallmar don’t give out directions around the town. Luckily, the place isn't that big. The lag outside of Thrallmar was horrendous that first night, but, to my surprise, the servers stayed up and once you got away from the mass numbers of players, it pretty much disappeared. Grade: B+

The quests are plentiful and relatively easy. And aside from the standard kill, collect, deliver fare, there is one particularly fun quest which has you fly bombing runs on a wyvern, destroying a large encampment of Fel orcs. I would redo that quest just for fun if I could! Faction and experience accumulate quickly. Without really focusing on advancement and spending some time just exploring, I'm 2/3 of the way to level 61 and about 1/4 of the way to being honored with Thrallmar (the first Horde city in the Outlands). The rewards are nice, and if I didn't already have a bunch of PvP epics, I would definitely be using some of the rewards as upgrades. Gold is also plentiful. I've made at least 50 gold already, and that includes spending over 20 gold to upgrade my professions. Grade: A

But one area that Blizzard seems to have failed miserably in again is world PvP. At least as far as Hellfire Peninsula is concerned. On paper, their plan looks great! The Horde and Alliance towns are just a stone's throw from each other. Both sides have quests to kill the orcs separating the two factions and both also have quests to cross to the other side and destroy siege engines owned by the opposition. Meanwhile, just a short ride away, lie three towers, all in close proximity to each other, that players can take control of, similar to the towers in the Eastern Plaguelands. However, it just doesn’t work. The Horde and Alliance pretty much ignore each other as both sides run around destroying each others catapults and cannons. The tower fights rarely involve an actual fight. For the most part, everyone runs around in one big group, taking control of each tower one at a time as their supposed foes do the same... but at different towers. The times where I've tried to engage the enemy resulted in my quick death at the hands of 10 allies while the rest of the Horde rides off to the next tower. And this is on a PvP server!

I think the main problem extends from the fact that holding a tower is worth nothing. Capturing it checks off one requirement for a repeatable quest that nets you tokens. These tokens are then used to buy various goodies. So there's really little point to fighting over control of a tower. You only get a bonus if your side controls all three, which rarely happens for any extended amount of time. The bonus is minimal, and the manpower required to maintain control of all three towers (the towers are relatively large and control switches quickly) is staggering! Good concepts in theory, but not enough thought was put into what the players would want (which is items). Controlling the towers or killing the enemy doesn't give any items. But running around like a herd of lemmings, avoiding any combat that’s not overwhelmingly in your favor does. Grade: D-

I didn't get much chance to explore any other zones, though I did make the run through the Marsh to Shattrath City. It proved to be an easy trek (as long as you stay on the roads), though I found that the Scryer Inn wasn't given me any rested state bonus. It looks like they have similar tower PvP objectives in every zone, and vendors that hand out items for collecting the appropriate tokens. I hope that PvP in the other zones is more engaging than Hellfire Peninsula. I also have only been in Hellfire Ramparts briefly (just long enough to make one attempt at each of the last two bosses), but it seems to have a nice layout and from what I understand, is a relatively quick instance. I look forward to trying it again soon.

Overall, the expansion has brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to WoW. The excitement that I had two years ago has returned and I'm looking forward to mining new and exotic minerals, discovering new and exotic place and killing new and exotic creatures! The PvP aspects have been less than adequate, but, I really shouldn't have expected much given WoW's history. New items are plentiful and most seem to have a lot of stat bonuses. I haven't had a chance to socket any gems, but I am eagerly eying the various options I see on the vendors.

Only time will tell if The Burning Crusade really changes the game, or, if ultimately, it's just variations on the same themes and grows stale quickly. But in the meantime, I'll be enjoying the time that everything is new and not worrying about rushing through the content or levels.

First Impressions Overall Grade: B+

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