Friday, August 08, 2008

'Wrath of the Lich King' looking good, 'WoW' fans say

Since its launch in the fall of 2004, Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft has shattered expectations at every turn.

Prior to its release, no American massively multiplayer online game (MMO) had ever reached what was then seen as the magical million subscribers level--even major hits like EverQuest and Ultima Online. Yet almost before anyone could blink, WoW, as it's known, had surpassed 4 million paying users and now has more than 10 million worldwide, and at $15 a month for most users, it may well be bringing in more than $1 billion a year.

Then, prior to the January 2007 release of World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, no one had ever heard of the kind of nationwide midnight madness lines associated with iPhone and Xbox launches for a game expansion. Sure enough, however, people lined up at game stores everywhere for hours for the right to be among the very first to buy Burning Crusade, and the update went on to sell millions of copies.

And now, with the second major WoW expansion, The Wrath of the Lich King, in beta testing, Blizzard is getting ready to prove yet again that when it comes to American MMOs, it is the undisputed gold standard.

"It's just beautiful," said longtime WoW player and Lich King beta player Katrina Glerum. "The game really feels epic in a way that The Burning Crusade didn't....Burning Crusade felt like an extension of the (original) game. This really feels epic, and that you're part of something grand."

All Lich King players will have to upgrade from Burning Crusade, in particular because the new expansion extends the top level players can reach to 80 from 70 in Burning Crusade, and 60 in the original game.

Right now, the Lich King beta has only recently opened up to those lucky enough to get invitations--or those they have passed their access codes onto. Indeed, the codes are selling on eBay for $150 or more, a testament to the passion or many hardcore WoW players, especially given that the game is still months away from its public launch and riddled with the kinds of bugs common to early beta releases.

There's no way to be sure, of course, that the new expansion--for which an official launch date has not been announced--will be a success, but there does seem to be a lot of enthusiasm being expressed for it, both among players like Glerum and on various WoW blogs and forums.

"I think it'll be just as big, if not bigger" than the Burning Crusade expansion," said Mike Schramm, the editor of WoW Insider. "BC was the biggest-selling PC game sequel ever, I think. Wrath might be a little lower than that, but there'll certainly be lines for it."

Much of the early adoption of the expansion will almost certainly come from the most accomplished Burning Crusade players who want to continue to take the game as far as is possible.

One of the most important new feature of Lich King, according to J. Allen Brack, the production director for WoW, is that it introduces death knights, which are a hero class of character and the first new class to be brought into the game since the original version.

"There will be a lot of pressure to buy it, and anyone who has a character at the highest level will pretty much consider it a necessity," said Schramm. "You'll be walking through the Barrens (an area in WoW), and you'll see a steam tank drive past you with five people sitting in it, or you'll see a death knight clad in frozen armor with five ghouls walking behind him. This stuff is Wrath only. After seeing that, who wouldn't want the expansion?"

To Glerum, there are several areas of the game that Blizzard has made major strides with. Some are practical, while others are directly related to the visceral feeling of being in the WoW universe.

"They took it up a notch, with the complexity of the scenes and the intricacy," said Glerum. "They have some areas which are now misty, which is a really interesting effect, walking through a mist. Previously, they had sort of grayed out the scene and called it mist, but now it's hard to peer through."

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18 comments:

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