Times are changing in the world of games, and it seems like those clinging to last-gen consoles are being left in the dust.
World of Warcraft Review (2004-2012) Part 2
Just a couple days ago we started our retrospective on the world’s most popular MMO, World of Warcraft. We went back to before the online game even came out and talked about the franchise of WarCraft and how important it is that it keeps its identity. Then we went strong into the world of Azeroth and Vanilla WoW. The experiences of the original game never left me and most likely never will. Then the Dark Portal opened and the Burning Crusade was under way in 2007. The assault on the torn realm left a bad after taste to me.
Today we embark across the oceans to the freezing and dangerous north. War has been called and both the Alliance and Horde must do battle alongside each other rather than against. The fearsome Lich King has raised his banners and the rest of the world will not sit idly while he readies himself. The tribulations of Azeroth do not stop there, though. Just after the war in the north ends, a terrible tragedy hits the entire world as the Earth Warder awakens and escapes imprisonment. Finally, we will look towards the future as Mists of Pandaria is set to launch just next month and what could happen after the exotic island homeland is saved.
As you can see, we have a lot to get into today: two expansions to review, one to preview, and a future to consider. Not only that, the game is now scored and Leviathyn.com and myself will have finally reflected on a game that has held me for nearly eight years. It makes me laugh when I realize that only a few games have done that for such a stretch: Final Fantasy VII, Phantasy Star Online, and Diablo 2. Oh, look, another Blizzard game.
Part 1 | Part 2
In Part 1 I began by telling you how important it is that WarCraft itself not get entirely sucked into WoW’s maelstrom (see what I did there?). Unfortunately, it may already be too late. With the books and certain merchandise still continuing to hold the title of the franchise in honor, World of Warcraft has claimed certain victory in the minds of most players. I said the other day that most people forget that WarCraft has been around since 1994 and was in the RTS genre. Perhaps I misspoke when I said the word forget. I should have said “don’t know”. World of Warcraft is an extremely accessible game. Thanks to that fact, millions of non-WarCraft fans have flocked to it and as such the lore and continuity of the franchise has been hurt almost to disrepair.
Due to this, it is hard to believe that WarCraft will ever return to its RTS roots. The game just would not sell as well or, even if it did thanks to the license, not have a very long shelf life. People who would buy the game just because of the WarCraft name on the box would soon find out that they just can’t get into the RTS genre. It would be the long-standing fans, regular RTS players, and new fans of the genre that would stick to, say, WarCraft 4. Would it be enough to warrant making the game? With the way Activision-Blizzard runs these days with rushing releases and diminishing subscription numbers becoming a worry for higher-ups, I doubt it. It saddens me to admit it but I don’t see WarCraft coming back to the RTS realm, at least not in a big way like a full retail release. Don’t fret though, maybe Bobby Kotick will convince Mike that a social Facebook game featuring bare bones old school RTS gameplay where you need Facebook coins to get more heroes and more levels is a great idea. I kid! Seriously, don’t get any ideas, guys…
Also in Part 1, we ventured into Vanilla WoW and the Burning Crusade, the MMO’s first expansion. I got some flack for saying that the Crusade was the worst expansion in the WoW series. I also failed to properly do research on the quickness of content patch releases for the expansion. It seems I forgot that while most raiders had yet to complete The Eye raid, that did not stop Illidan’s Black Temple from releasing. I did, however, mention how long it took to see said content. The attunement series for each raid was absurd and was even stripped from the game in the later days of the Burning Crusade. Still, the space faring expansion left a bad taste in my mouth and is still considered the worst expansion for me.
Of course, nothing will match the number of experiences I had back in Vanilla, which I detailed in Part 1. Everything from world exploration, sneaking into unfinished zones, 40-man raids, my lucky Azuregos day, and more went into claiming some of the top spots in my epic gaming moments list. Even to this day I remember my first night of tanking a raid. The excitement, intensity, and hardship in Molten Core made for quite a mission for me as a gamer. I wouldn’t stop playing or trying to find enough Fire Resistance gear to survive and help 39 other players defeat the Firelord, Ragnaros. When his hammer fell into the lava pit in front of us and I stood there, with sword and shield, I felt like I was invincible and just achieved my greatest gaming accomplishment.
However, even as Vanilla WoW holds the highest number of epic moments on my list for the WarCraft franchise, one moment topped even my Ragnaros and Azuregos triumphs. One battle took the cake, so to say. To this day, the most epic moment in my gaming career is the war in Northrend. Specifically, the invasion of the Icecrown Citadel holds my top spot of all time in terms of epic-ness. With that note, we head into 2008 and the Wrath of the Lich King.
Just a year after we toppled Illidan Stormrage and wrested Outland from his grasp, we were called upon again. A war has been brewing for some time now. Years ago when Arthas the fallen prince, betrayed his people and single-handedly handed Lordaeron over to the Undead, everyone knew that one day he would be back to exact the rest of his anger and power on the world. In 2008, World of Warcraft’s players were send to Northrend in order to combat the Lich King and his Scourge forces. The leaders of the Alliance and Horde were not going to wait for Arthas to send his armies across the ocean. Two bulkheads were started in Borean Tundra and the Howling Fjord. From there, players headed inland until finally, the journey landed players in the Court of Bones staring at the gates of the Icecrown Citadel.
The leveling in Wrath of the Lich King employed every piece of new tech and scenario control that Blizzard had learned over the years and it really showed. The pacing of the zones sometimes felt winded but overall, you could tell that every player around you was a foot soldier killing their way to the Lich King’s front door. From Borean to Dragonblight. From Zul’Drak to the Storm Peaks. From the Storm Peaks to Icecrown. That was my progression but it wasn’t the only one you could take. Northrend, while it can be boring after your first leveling run, can be very versatile in terms of where you go and how you level. Even with my progression from levels 70 to 80, I didn’t even mention Howling Fjord, Grizzly Hills, Sholozar Basin, and Crystalsong Forest.
Northrend, even after your first runthrough if you mix up the zones you play in, is a real treat. Blizzard did one thing very right in this expansion: keep the main bad buy around and foreboding. The Lich King was everywhere. Even at the beginning his voice, presence, and image were projected to the player in many ways. This war was real and with every step of your progression, the Lich King reacted. By the time you hit Icecrown, you could hear the intensity in his voice and his words were about how close you were getting. That we were not to be trifled with. This rang true even in the dungeons and raids that led up to the Citadel. No matter where you were in Northrend, you saw and hear from Arthas and that made the expansion that much better. Even in Ulduar where the focus shifted off of the Lich King for a bit and onto a grave threat at the hands of an Old God we were seeing Arthas. Yogg-Saron knew why we were in Northrend and he fed off of that. In his mad hallucinations, he put us directly in front of the Lich King. It wasn’t real but the vision was intense and after the battle, everyone knew that the Icecorwn Citadel was next and it was time.
When the patch finally came, we were presented with new challenges in order to open the gates to the Citadel. We had to pull off incursions into three major parts of the area to make our way into the Citadel and open the doors for the armies. We infiltrated the Forge of Souls stopping production of the saronite weapons and armor. Then we broke into the Pit of Saron where the Lich King’s mining operations were still in full cycle. Instead of stopping the giant forging machines, we opted to rush for the side entrance of the Citadel itself and do what we came here to do. We fought our way past traps and plagues but we finally made it inside. We ended up in the Halls of Reflection and right in front of us was Frostmourne, Arthas’ corrupted blade. The sentient blade saw us and played with our minds. We fought against it and finally broke free just in time to try and snatch the blade away from the Lich King’s possession.
That’s when he came in. Finally, after all of this fighting and infiltrating, we were face to face with the Lich King himself. Just like the armor on his body, the sword and Arthas are one. He felt the blade’s gaze on intruders and he came to see what the fuss was all about. It was easy to feel like nothing in front of him as he scolded our hero, took Frostmourne, and left. That’s all we were to him, a needless distraction. It didn’t take much more to incur his wrath, however. We continued to infiltrate the Citadel and witnessed a fight between him and our hero (depending on your faction it was either Sylvanas or Jaina). When we interrupt it and begin our escape, the Lich King finally acts. He chases us through a chasm summoning scourge and traps along the way. We fight hard as the Lich King’s soul storm closes in. Just as things seemed too opposing, we make it to the other side where an airship comes to our aid and closes the chasm behind us sealing the Lich King’s advance on us.
That was just the infiltration. With the gates open, the invasion would now begin. Both leaders, Varian and Garrosh, stand in the lobby of the Citadel with troops littered everywhere. Ahead of us? The gatekeeper of the Icecrown Citadel stood fighting and killing both Alliance and Horde troops. Lord Marrowgar is visible from the onset, which just goes to show you how much of a task is set before us. Now when this patch first came out, the wings of the Citadel had to be defeated and settled in. To show this kind of progression, each wing was unlocked after a couple weeks of each other. This made the encounter in the Icecrown Citadel longer and more meaningful. Each boss presented a huge challenge and with 12 boss encounters in the raid, that would be plenty of time to understand each encounter, defeat them, and earn gear to get stronger for what laid ahead of us.
After weeks and week of invasion attempts, I finally stood at the pinnacle of the Citadel. As a World of Warcraft player, this was the moment the entire expansion was about. As a WarCraft fan, standing in this place was beyond awesome. It was tough to comprehend that I had carved out my own path in the WarCraft universe and made my way here to the Frozen Throne. After the shock of the area settled in, another shock took hold of me. Again, as a long-time fan, this was just too much to bare. There he was, Arthas, sitting on the throne with Frostmourne by his side. The very image of this is something I’ll never forget as a gamer. It most likely means more to me since I’m a big fan of the franchise and I’m sure others like me felt the same. The awesomeness of the sight of the Lich King sitting on the Frozen Throne was just great. Thankfully most in the guild I was in were either big fans of the franchise or huge fans of the game and almost everyone appreciated the moment. This was the first time any of us reached the final lap of the raid.
The battle itself, against the Lich King, was just as intense and tough as I thought it would be. The Lich King is extremely powerful and as such his abilities and techniques are just plain ridiculous. There is so much in that fight that can kill you in one to five seconds that everyone must be ready and watching. It is a game of back and forth and if one person is not ready, the entire fight can go the other way. It is the most intense and greatest battle I have ever been in. While the Ragnaros and Azruegos scenarios I mentioned in Part 1 were amazing, I felt that the fight with the Lich King was the culmination of everything this expansion set out for me to do from start to finish. How could anything else compare to this moment? There I stood, fighting as hard as I could on top of the Icecrown Glacier, with Arthas trying to kill us at every turn.
The battle was long and filled with storied moment. Every second of the fight holds some kind of event that requires attention. If you’ve never seen the fight before, below I have attached a video of the fight. It is set to the game’s sound, voice files, and music. There are no players talking in vent or anything like that. I feel that the game’s experience alone is worth watching. Hearing the players and raid leader bark out battle orders and strategy is great to hear just to give everyone a sense of how intense these fights can be but honestly, this is just so storied and worth listening to.
While the core game didn’t change much aside from talent updates, new spells/abilities, and the Death Knight hero class, Wrath of the Lich King succeeded in bringing story to the forefront and delivering on that in every aspect. The zones were incredible and diverse. I still don’t think I’ve seen a better looking zone than Sholozar Basin or a zone more lore-equipped than Dragonblight. Also, The Storm Peaks was a treat for any fan of mythology.
I know you’re probably guessing that I’ll say it so I’ll finally come out and say that Wrath of the Lich King is the best expansion World of Warcraft has. The story, additions, zones, raids, dungeons, and main enemy were all top notch and delivered with near perfection. Icecrown Citadel is still the best raid in the entire game with some of the best fight mechanics, flow, and design. In fact, my time with Wrath of the Lich King’s story is actually one of my top five stories in gaming. Blizzard hit the high spot that they once had back when Vanilla WoW was still fresh and content rich. It may have not changed the game but it sure did evolve it and make the Burning Crusade look like a little content patch.
With Arthas gone, Bolvar Fordragon assumes the mantle of the Lich King and strives to use his power over the scourge to keep them at bay in Northrend. Our heroes return to Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms triumphant and full of celebration. Though, the lull of battle and death never lasts long. With a world shaking eruption, the World Pillar in Deepholm shatters releasing the once noble Earth Warder turned winged death onto Azeroth once again. Deathwing returned and with him came a worldwide disaster unlike any previous. With unimaginable power, Deathwing caused the world’s elements to rupture and stray out of balance. The world was devastated and transformed. With such destruction came great change. With this great change came a new reason to fight: the survival of the world.
With this cataclysm at the hands of Deathwing, Blizzard took the opportunity to rework the entire leveling experience from level 1 to 60. Every race’s starting area and surrounding zones were changed from slightly to completely different. Night Elves shipping off to Darkshore would be graced with the sight of a monstrous storm tearing apart the middle of the zone only held in check by the infamous Malfurion Stormrage. Orcs and Tauren eager to take their first steps away from home would be trapped on one side of the Barrens by a deep scar bottomed by boiling lava. The world was very different.
For most players, this was the perfect opportunity to finally get back to their alts or finally create some. The original 1-60 leveling experience was very dull and boring. Afterall, for a game released back in 2004, was anyone expecting anything different in 6 year old zones? The Cataclysm reworked everything zone-wise in Azeroth and while it was great to see and experience, it made level 61-80 a drag. After two expansions, going through a brand new Azeroth just to face Illidan and Arthas again felt… off. With their defeat, the only way to go was forward but with Cataclysm we were given the chance to start over again fresh. Outland and Northrend suffered from this. It made even more apparent when Blizzard updated the loading screens to show The Warden and Akama triumphant in Outland and Bolvar on the Frozen Throne forever scarred by Dragonfire.
Stepping away from the old and outdated experiences of Outland and Northrend, the brand new 1-60 content and the new 81-85 zones were very impressive. For existing characters, the first steps into Mount Hyjal or Vasj’ir was exciting. By the time Cataclysm came out, Icecrown Citadel was basically farm material and getting stale. The experience was still fun but it was definitely time for something new. Still, I find it funny how I was exploring the unfinished Hyjal back in 2005/2006 and it wasn’t actually released until 2010, not counting the Caverns of Time dungeon. The wait was worth it though since Mount Hyjal is one of the most impressive zones in terms of content, design, and story.
The theme of Mount Hyjal’s quests is one of reclamation. This theme is apparent in most of Cataclysm, as well. After the major offensive we took in Northrend, the entire world was set on defensive thanks to Deathwing and the elemental invasions. This made for some compelling storytelling but it never reaches the height that Wrath of the Lich King had. Deathwing’s homecoming was fun to experience but it paled in comparison to Arthas’ war against the mortal races. Deathwing’s destruction includes some great zones, cool dungeons, and memorable raids. What was lacking was the compelling story found all over Northredn from ship’s landing to the ascent of the Frozen Throne. Sure, you see Deathwing a few times and there is some story here and there but overall it just wasn’t as good at Wrath of the Lich King.
Another thing that hurt this expansion was the flip flop of difficulty. I mentioned in Part 1 that Blizzard has been making strides in having World of Warcraft become an easier game to play. In the Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King a phrase was coined that became the focus of most fight mechanics. “Stay out of the fire”. Fire was used loosely here. It could be fire, water, poison, fog, or whatever else the devs could come up with. The point is that this was prevalent in WoW since Vanilla ended. Gone were the days where crowd control and other aspects of battle were used in order to actually defeat a dungeon. The packs were too hard all at once. You have to stop the healer not just by damage but by taking them out of the battle at the start of it. Things of this nature were gone during the first and second expansions.
However, with Cataclysm, Blizzard decided that it was time to bring some challenge back to the game. The issue is that they did not prepare their millions and millions of players. At the end of Wrath we were presented with the Ruby Sanctum, a raid that we were told would get us ready for Cataclysm-like gameplay. Bullocks. Ruby Sanctum did not get anyone ready to play like the game reverted back to Vanilla. Besides, Ruby Sanctum was the pinnacle of content in terms of gear and difficulty. The majority of players would not experience it. So even if Blizzard made RS like they said they would, it would not get the average player ready for what dungeons and heroics would be like in Cataclysm. When players began hitting the new content they were beginning to see that even though our stats were out of this world now, it didn’t matter one bit. The enemies were tougher and stronger. If we had 100k+ health, they had 300k+. If we had a group of a tank, healer, and three damage, then they had packs of two healers and 3 to 5 damage. Everything scaled except the player’s readiness.
As a Vanilla player even I was subject to learning things over again such as placing the correct crown control when and where. Everyone needed to be on the ball and ready and most were not. This was remedied after months and months of complaints by Blizzard nerfing most of the enemies’ abilities or resists. Cataclysm was still more than just “stay out of the fire” but the point that Blizzard was trying to make was now moot. Instead of making one or two of the first dungeons in the new content easier, they nerfed it all.
Cataclysm isn’t a bad expansion. In fact, it brought the most new content by far and most of it was very fun to experience. Mount Hyjal and Deepholm were awesome zones while Uldum is one of the most magnificent looking areas in the game. I consider this expansion a retooling experiment spearheaded by one of the major enemies in the franchise. If I had to classify each expansion I would say that the Burning Crusade was built on making the game fresh again. Wrath’s focal point was story and engaging the player once again. Cataclysm was all about retooling and restarting. For that purpose, Cataclysm succeeded.
So what does that make Mists of Pandaria? How do you classify this expansion? I would say this is second in a series of massive retooling. If Blizzard took everything they did in Cataclysm and what they are doing in Mists, they could have effectively made World of Warcraft 2. With Mists of Pandaria the game is very different. This expansions is going to have the most radical gameplay and class changes whereas Cataclysm held the most cosmetic and design changes. Overall, the only thing post-Mists that will need redoing are the original race models. Everything else will have been changed and worked on with only minor changes needed here and there. We will really be playing WoW 2.0 complete with everything Blizzard has learned and mastered over the years.
I expect the content in Mists of Pandaria to be come of the more involving and intrigue parts of the game we’ve ever seen. This is a huge experiment for Blizzard. Mists is introducing a ton of new features and near completely changed systems. If you find that you can’t get into Mists’ story or themes, at least take a step back and look at the changes and new features. This is the culmination of eight years of work. From now on this is what every Blizzard product will have in terms of content expectations, gameplay systems, social integration, and design philosophy.
I will say that I am excited about Mists of Pandaria, mainly for the monks, but also to see just how masterful Blizzard has become after three complete expansions. Wrath and Cataclysm introduced a ton of really neat features and Mists is looking to take those and pile them a gigantic list of WoW 2.0 changes. I keep saying that because really after three expansions full of reworking, retooling, and changes this is a brand new World of Warcraft game.
Well if that is true, then how do you follow it up? There is a lot of speculation on what is left for World of Warcraft. Most say that we’ll see at least two more expansions before the game sits in limbo while Titan drops and lives on. I talked extensively on what I believe the last two expansions will be about in another post, which is linked here.
Yes, that is a real question from an episode of Jeopardy.
So there we have it, a full World of Warcraft review with everything from 2004 up to now, a month before the fourth expansion hits. The game has evolved massively since the first couple of years. It is a very different game from Vanilla and Mists is going to further that gap even more. Since its inception, WoW has been a massive hit and still has over 10 million players. It is one of the most successful games in history and effectively changed the MMO genre forever. A lot of people scoff at that saying but it is true. WoW may not have been revolutionary or completely original but it brought to light a genre that was only fleeting in most people’s minds. Without World of Warcraft, the MMO genre would have died out a long time ago. WoW succeeded in making people want MMO’s and because of that we have games like RIFT, TERA, DC Universe Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Secret World and the list goes on and on.
World of Warcraft is so big that it could not be contained in video game form. The game has spawned comic books, more books, clothing, toys, manga, tons and tons of fan art, conventions, friendships, marriages, and memories that will last a lifetime.
To make fun of people who play World of Warcraft is to never have experienced it yourself. People can sit there and play all of the Final Fantasies or every year of Madden but they will never experience the thrill and accomplishment of everything I have said in this two part review unless they actually try it. MMO’s can be empowering. After all the purpose of gaming, and entertainment in general really, is to take us out of our own lives and place us in world where we get to experience things that we, either as humans or ourselves specifically, can not.
It is with that note and belief that I say World of Warcraft is the most empowering video game and entertainment presence in history. To some people, that could mean the world to them. To others, it’s just an escape. To me, it encompasses many years of my gaming life where I made friends who shared epic moments with me and provided endless jokes and stories for me to tell. World of Warcraft is not a game to me, it is an experience that I’ll never forget.
Part 1 | Part 2