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World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

26 Nov 2008  by   Paul Younger

Four years after Blizzard launched its flagship MMO, and 11 million subscribers later, it’s time for more premium content. The Realm of Azeroth is threatened once again, this time by the Lich King Arthas and his powerful Scourge army. Since the game’s launch it has managed to spawn many imitators, each trying to put their own spin on the formula. However, in spite of the competition, this expansion re-affirms why WoW has been number one for the past four years. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King shines with that classic Blizzard polish, as well as being a fresh and exciting experience.

Similar to the previous expansion before it, Burning Crusade, this expansion unlocks a new continent with 10 unique zones, all with their own specific themes. The zones are varied aesthetically and in terms of what types of quests you will be doing keeping the long grind to 80 interesting. The amount of experience required to level in the new zones is a bit higher than the previous expansions, forcing even the most focused hardcore players to spend nearly 10 hours between levels. The grind can be overwhelming at times, and might keep some casual players away from the level cap for a good amount of time. This long process doesn’t seem like much of a chore, however, considering Wrath of the Lich King boasts some of the most well-designed quests in an MMO to date.

Burning Crusade put its own spin on the classic “collect” and “deliver” missions but Wrath of the Lich King takes quest design one step further; you’ll need to pilot vehicles, chain jump across flying mounts to protect an impending attack on a thunder god, and traverse an exploding mine field to retrieve precious cargo. The quests in Wrath are so well-executed that the long hours of grinding alone could easily pass for an incredible single player RPG. They also do a good job of pointing you where you need to go next so you’ll never feel lost after completing a task. The quests are all relevant to the story, either starting a new chain of events or giving you insight into the complex lore of the Warcraft Universe.

The story in this expansion is primarily centered around the Lich King Arthas Menethil, previously the Prince of Lordaeron. His hardfought crusade against the Scourge and discovery of an ancient evil sword, Frostmourne, drove Arthas to madness. This led to him to murder his father and merge souls with the Lich King, making him the most powerful foe in Azeroth. Arthas has begun laying siege to Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms forcing the heroes of Azeroth to bring the fight to the Lich King’s doorstep. The quests in Wrath will build up to your inevitable showdown with Arthas in the final 10 or 25 man raid dungeon, the Ice Crown Citadel.

Wrath of the Lich King has numerous five man dungeons that can be set to “heroic mode”, increasing the difficulty and the reward. The biggest complaint from casual players in the previous expansion pertained to the barrier of entry for the game’s 10 and 25 man content, as it was still too high for the average players. Wrath of the Lich King counters this by offering every raid in a 10 or 25 person flavor, and making the first two raid instances achievable with little practice or gear. Blizzard also raised the bar for the next few raid dungeons to keep hardcore players satisfied. The five man dungeons and raid instances offer a variety of different boss encounters that retain some familiar gimmicks (from old bosses) yet feel fresh and exciting. Classes have been fine tuned for flexibility to make groups easier to put together, allowing you to play in your own style instead of being forced into one for raid progression. Most interesting of the classes is the expansion’s new star, the Death Knight.

The Death Knight class is a spellcasting/melee hybrid with the ability to tank and cause massive amounts of damage. To create a Death Knight, you must have have a level 55 character, then you can make a level 55 Death Knight of any race as long as he or she falls within the same faction of your other character(s). The Death Knight starting area immediately introduces you to Arthas as he forces you to complete a number of evil deeds. Through a well-written sequence of events your Death Knight breaks free from the Lich King’s control, allowing you to join your faction in the fight against evil. While Blizzard promised the Death Knight would feel epic but balanced, player vs. player encounters with the class rarely end in your favor. However, despite a few minor advantages in favour of the Death Knight, the PvP content feels balanced and works well.

The PvP is still the black sheep of the game – when the honor system was first implemented in patch 1.4 the PvP felt unbalanced and shoehorned in. Over the course of the game’s history Blizzard implemented battlegrounds to filter the PvP into manageable, balanced battles. The latest iteration of that idea is Lake Wintergrasp, an entire zone on the continent of Northrend dedicated to PvP. Wintergrasp Battles take place every 3 hours and everyone in the server (so long as they meet the proper level requirements) can participate. The focus of Wintergrasp is the unique vehicular combat giving the struggle a more Battlefield-esque feel to it. Blizzard also introduced a new battleground and some new arenas to keep the PvP players satisfied.

The process of getting to 80 was long and arduous, however the sheer diversity of the quests serves to entertain through the long nights of grinding without sleep. Some of the quests are so epic that its impossible not to feel heroic once you complete them. The escalating difficulty of the raid instances, and the massive amount of content in this expansion, is sure to keep hardcore and casual players alike entertained for a long time.

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