For over four years now, World of Warcraft has unquestionably reigned king of the MMORPG scene, with now eleven million players playing world wide, and one add-on which further expanded the already massive world and brought us Outland. Now with the release of WoW's second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard have not only further polished their hugely successful MMO, but have added enough new content to the game that it could easily last at least another 2 years.
But to be fair, Wrath is not a game that will draw new players into the scene, as ultimately, it is targeted at the players that have already reached the previous level cap of 70, and are ready to progress further into the new end game content. It is a game built with the fans in mind, not the newcomers, and so this review is targeted at experienced WoW players and outlines why Wrath is a must-buy to the veterans of the vastly popular MMO.
Probably the most talked about and anticipated addition to the MMO is the new hero class, the Death Knight. Only available to those who have reached level 55 and over, the Death Knight begins in the Eastern Plaguelands at level 55 under the control of the Lich King, and is primarily a melee class able to take on tanking and damage roles in PvE, and have the potential to be a devastating ally in PvP. The feel perceived from a Death Knight is that of a mixture between a Warlock and Paladin, with disease debuffs doing damage over time, like a Warlock's curse, and also aiding in buffing certain other abilities the Death Knight has, much like that of a Paladin's Judgements. The Death Knight's runic power system also feels much like a Warriors rage system, where one must learn to manage it properly by using abilities and dealing damage to sustain it, then unleashing its power through abilities that require runic power. But in another twist, Death Knights also have runes they use to activate certain abilities, the runes being Frost, Unholy and Blood. The Death Knight has 2 of each specialisation to use, and as an example if they were to use their Area of Effect spell Death and Decay, they would require two of their Unholy runes, and the only time they can cast it again is when those Runes go off cool down. Though sounding fairly complex, the system once learned is highly effective, and mastering the system can lead to devastating damage outputs or huge threat gains from the Death Knight. And with the talent trees that Death Knight's have, the new class is very versatile and it is an unlikely encounter to spot two Death Knights with the same play styles.
The biggest addition to WoW though is the new continent Northrend, where level 70 players go to level up to the new level cap of 80. One of the most striking things about Northrend is its design, which is vastly different from the warped and twisted landscapes of Outland. Northrend is much more gothic in design, and holds a much darker tone to previous areas in WoW, which fits in the context of what WoW players face, which is the Lich King himself, the former Paladin, Arthas Menethil.
Questing in Northrend is also vastly improved to the quests from Outland and the older Azeroth continents, with more involvement in each quest, especially through a new system called Phasing. Phasing happens when you've completed a certain chain of quests, which then lead to an event that changes the actual world around you. It may, for example, open a new flight path that previously wasn't there, and it's unique to every player, so if someone has not done that chain of quests, they will not be able to see what you see. Of course it can be a bit of a nuisance when there is a group quest you receive from the phase, and none of your friends are up to that point and are unable to help, but nonetheless it gives a strong reason why quests should be completed, even after you've reached level 80, and even then the questing is now quite fun. Fetch quests are now quite uncommon, with new quests such as taking control of a tank and wiping hundreds of Scourge being more prevalent, which makes levelling up far more enjoyable than previous efforts. Blizzard have clearly put more thought into the grinding part of Wrath, and it's turned out to be quite fun and very rewarding.
And if you're not a big fan of the questing either way, you can grind your way to 80 through the new instances of Northrend, and pick up gear on the way. Ranging from foreboding keeps littered with Vikings known as the Vrykul, or dark caverns littered with the Lich Kings spider minions, there's a huge variety in dungeons to play through and all are not only challenging, but very enjoyable. One instance in particular known as Azjol'Nerub has you running through a dark cavern filled with undead spiders, and for the WarCraft lore fans, has you facing off against Anub'arak as a boss at the end. The instance is extremely fast paced and never lets up, and will have your blood pumping by the end of the run. It's only one example of an instance run in Northrend, but most are extremely well designed and very smooth, and many players will be happy to play them over and over again, if not for the enjoyment of it or for farming gear they want.
And for the players that have hit 80, they have the end game content to look forward to, such as Heroic 5 mans (instances attuned and tweaked for level 80 players), and Naxxramas, an older 40 man raid in the original WoW, re-released in both a 10 man and 25 man version. Many guilds will most likely seek to conquer the newly redesigned raid, whether it be in the lighter 10 man version or the more hardcore 25 man. After Naxxramas, there are even more raids to do, such as Malygos and Sartharion, so raiders have much to look forward to come end game.
But for the people who aren't big fans of raiding and PvE, there's plenty of PvP to go around too, particularly with the new Battleground, Strand of the Ancients, and a PvP focused area in Northrend named Wintergrasp.
Strand of the Ancients is a new Battleground which works much like Unreal Tournament's assault mode, where each faction plays offence and defence per round. The offensive side come by boat and must break down the doors of the fort the defenders are protecting, and capture the city. They're given siege tanks to aid in breaking down the doors, and defenders are given turrets placed around the fort. It's a fairly intense and very enjoyable Battleground that is very different to the older Battlegrounds and is sure to be popular among PvP fans.
Wintergrasp works similarly to Strand of the Ancients, where whoever has control of the area at the time is to defend the fortress from being taken over, while the opposing faction must break it down and capture it with various vehicles made by siege workshops around the map. The only difference though is that once the Wintergrasp battle is over, the winning faction opens up a new raid and several other things such as quests for their faction to use for the next few hours, giving more incentive to hold Wintergrasp for your faction. It's an interesting new addition into the game that will certainly please PvP fans.
On a visual note, Wrath has received a fair few upgrades, notably in shadows, where everything casts its own real time shadow now. Though technically nowhere near the quality of many MMO's that have been released, the art design of Wrath is second to none, with absolutely outstanding attention to detail in almost every area. Areas are incredibly well designed, and encourage exploration as there's so much to see and learn about the area. It's all very diverse too, from dense jungles to icy landscapes, and will never bore you. The monsters are just as well designed as the areas as well, with each monster having distinct features from others, and you'll never get mixed between them. It's all so fresh and full of imagination, and will suck any player into the world for hours on end and won't let go.
The sound is also well done, particularly the soundtrack, which is Blizzard's best yet. From the epic and heart pounding beats of Icecrown to the soft and soulful melodies of Scholazar Basin, Wrath will have your hairs sticking up from the beauty of its music. Sound effects also play a big part in immersion, with the clashes of swords echoing through battlegrounds and battle cries of enemies as you face the final boss of a raid. It's all very coherent and wholly appropriate, and will please the ears of any player.
Wrath of the Lich King is, on one hand, an absolutely outstanding game. The journey to level 80 is an experience many gamers will not forget, with much of the history of Northrend to discover and many places to explore. On the other hand, Wrath is a game only for the players dedicated enough to reach level 70, and level 55 if you want to play a Death Knight. So for newcomers, they are somewhat alienated, as they need to put in the time to get to level 70 first, then head onto Northrend.
That being said though, for those willing to get past the first two games and head on into Northrend, they are in for a big treat, as Wrath of the Lich King is not only a solid expansion, but Blizzard's finest achievement and one which no gamer should miss out on.