August 18, 2005
VIDEO GAME REVIEWS
by Glenn Given
(massively multi-player online game), World of Warcraft, has received
Game of the Year, Editorís Choice or Best RPG/MMO awards from more than
a dozen prominent industry magazines, and has a 100 percent fresh rating
on Rottentomatoes.com, an online review aggregator. WoW has been touted
as the most accessible, enjoyable and addictive MMO to date.
Building on the success
of their lauded real-time strategy titlesWarcraft (as well as Warcraft 2
and 3), Blizzardís WoW connects players from across the globe in the
richly developed fantasy realm of Azeroth. There is a J.R.R.
Tolkeinesque back story, and you are involved in the conflict between
the noble Alliance and the savage Horde. Suffice to say, Humans, Gnomes,
Dwarves and Elves really, really, really donít like Orcs, Trolls, Tauren
(think minotaurs) and The Undead. A lot of this will strike you as just
another high-fantasy story, but there is a difference.
Not only is the world
of World of Warcraft beautifully presented by one of the game industryís
most acclaimed art departments, but the traditional fantasy tropes have
been tweaked ever so slightly to keep them pulsing. The Bad Guys arenít
callously evil warmongers, and the Good Guys arenít flawlessly noble
paragons. In WoW good and evil are terms relative to which side of the
war you are fighting on. To half of the world, the society of Orcs and
trolls is a brutish, marauding, blood-thirsty threat intent on wiping
away everything in its path. But to a Horde player, itís a centuries-old
culture steeped in honor and savage nobility, struggling for freedom
from the tyranny of the Alliance and the corrupting evil of its former
Yeah itís a rich world,
and not just for the player but for Blizzard as well.
The success of World of
Warcraft is undeniable. Just look at the numbers. WoW currently boasts a
population equal to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and half of Rhode
Island combined. It is the number-two MMO in the world with 22 percent
of the market share; it is bested only by Lineage 2, which may very well
have all of South Korea playing. And they just launched in the
notoriously video-game-hungry Singapore (pop 4,425,720, over 60 percent
having internet access) where previous Blizzard games gained such
popularity that one could buy STARCRAFT- and WARCRAFT-branded foods.
With 3.5 million (and rapidly growing) denizens since its inception in
November 2004 WoW deserves to have its own senators, or a few
congressmen at least.
To localize it a bit
more letís put it like this. If we do a little admittedly fuzzy math (as
exact numbers of subscribers and an accurate count of game-capable
computers in America are hard to come by), it turns out that one out of
233, or about 1 percent of every home computer owner in America plays
World of Warcraft. It would be a safe bet that at least 750 southern New
Hampshire residents play for at least five hours a week. Look around
you; that groggy, eye-rubbing IT technician, heís an Undead Warlock. The
college girl in the cafť, yeah, sheís a Dwarven Paladin. Me? Iím a Human
Priest named Poirot, bent on wiping out the Gnoll and bandit population
of Westfall and the Elwynn Forest every morning from 6-8 a.m.
What the hell am I
doing every morning? Why arenít I coming into work early or writing a
novel or at least making a decent breakfast? Well, after my newborn son
wakes me up at the crack of 4 a.m., I figure, since Iím up anyway Iíll
log a few hours into my character. Poirot slays cutpurses, explores the
land and generally helps out with quests ó missions given by A.I.
characters ó as I build up her tailoring skills and save up for a sweet
set of pantaloons. Occasionally sheíll get a group of warriors, mages
and rouges together (usually late-night players from the west coast) to
go smack some unlucky Horde players around a bit. Then my wife wakes up,
I pretend I donít play this much and I merrily head to the office. And I
havenít even joined a guild (an in-game player association) which, so
Iím told, only intensifies oneís commitment.
It is, no joke, a
digital drug ó but thatís a forthcoming article.
WoW is a triumph of
design, execution, marketing and play. This amazingly complicated
virtual world has satisfied millions of players and sped smoothly
forward with nary a burp of technical issues. The Blizzard staff is
helpful, their design team is continually pouring out content and the
game community spans class and ethnicity and gender in itís devotion.
If you act fast you can
pick up a 14-day free trial in this monthís issue of PC Gamer or CGW
(Computer Graphics World) on magazine stands now.
Gobs of info and
tantalizing screens are available at worldofwarcraft.com
Loads of intriguing
sociological statistics are available at blogs.parc.com/playon and at
nickyee.com/daedalus and an amazing ongoing discuission of the
implications of virtual world gaming can be found at: