December 4, 2008

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World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, (MAC/PC)
Blizzard Entertainment, Nov. 13, T

By Glenn "11/0/60" Given production@hippopress.com

I’ve played World of Warcraft for 78 days, 17 hours, 3 minutes and 58 seconds. That’s not I’ve owned Warcraft for 78 days, 17 hours, 3 minutes and 58 seconds. No, nonono, since its release in 2004 I’ve been logged in and playing WoW for almost 1,889 hours, that’s a few hours short of twice the time Noah spent in the Ark and (fuzzy mathulations) roughly 8 percent of my waking hours over the past four years. So I’m a tad biased toward the franchise.

Hold on a second, this is the first time I’ve ever calculated that and I suddenly find myself in need of a stiff drink.

Much to the chagrin of my family and friends Wrath of the Lich King does little to turn one away from the fantasy realm of Azeroth. Boasting the frigid semi-arctic continent of Northrend and the addition of a tenth playable class (the Death Knight), WoTLK does an excellent job sprucing up its core Massively Multiplayer Online experience. While the previous expansion, The Burning Crusade, took players into a weird alternate dimension with aesthetically helter skelter environments and borderline SciFi trappings, Lich King is a decided return to High Fantasy. WoTLK doesn’t go out of its way to introduce any radically new MMO structures or playstyles and seems fat and happy to sit where TBC’s numerous patches and tweaks last left the Warcraft community. There are still five-, 10- and 25-man dungeons, still an evolving balance between its classes and you can still spend a king’s ransom of gold bedecking the gear with stat boosting gems and enchantment. Players will hack/slash/loot up 10 more levels through Northrend’s nine and a half (the player-versus-player-oriented Lake Wintergrasp isn’t really part of the core leveling experience) zones bedeviled by vampiric Norse giants, insane dragons, the undead and a whole city of bears. The titular Big Bad the Lich King Arthas (a former Prince goody-goody turned ne’er-do-well after burning a few peasant villages to the ground to thwart an undead plague) plays a prominent role in your adventures with dozens of questlines and tasks involving interaction with King Evilpants himself and establishing a firm player-centered narrative. Lich King eclipses Warcraft’s prior expansion in scope and story effectively taking players on a whirlwind tour of a staggeringly diverse and broad environment without relying on the non sequitur stylization that put many fantasy-loving gamers off TBC. While the base graphics have received a bit of an overhaul, it seems more the case that the signature Blizzard art style has found its groove and the occasional barrenness or awkward geometry of earlier content has largely been gilded over. Likewise, the goals of player quests have blossomed in variety from the simple, “kill 20 wolves for me” (which are still there) to more storyline-driven tasks. While a fair amount of “grinding” still exists, your locale and adversary, as well as variations on approach to quest completion, go a long way to present an engaging play session.

All nine original classes plus the unlockable Death Knight (available once a player has reached level 55 with any other character class) have had their maximum level increased to 80. The 10 new levels of character growth include dozens of new abilities and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new pieces of gear for players to obsess over. Again, not much breaks the fantasy MMO mold and your new spells and talents, while shiny and explodey, aren’t pushing any genre boundaries. Instanced dungeons and end-game group raiding does a fine job of mixing, honing and balancing play mechanics in a manner that rewards coordination and player experience over might and equipment requirements in a heavy nod to the 10.8 million “casual” WoW players. While some members of the top raiding community have expressed their dismay at the easy access of Lich King’s apex content, the overwhelming majority of players will find this a more rewarding and diverse expansion pack. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that I’m willing to overlook many of WoTLK’s flaws ’cause I’m deeply stare-into-the-abyss-ly addicted to the game and that it is quite likely that this is merely more of the same stat porn MMO crap with a snowy veneer to most. Fine, I’ll knock a grade down to compensate; it’s still a B+, though. — Glenn Given