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World of Warcraft (Open Beta preview)

Author: Johnson
Posted: 18 Nov 2004

There once was a young Orc named Stagruel. He was a Rogue Orc, living a simple life, until the day he came of age. This turning point brought about a number of changes. He had to choose a class, a "trade" if you will. He thought Rogue sounded pretty alright. From there, young Stagruel was to venture out to the Valley of Trials and begin his life of service to the Horde, through random quests and, at times, war with the Alliance. This service would only last two weeks, though, as at the end of that time his world would be obliterated and reset by a higher power. Sounds pretty keen, no?

Unless you've been living in a cave, or are only reading this site because you Googled for "boobsquad" or the Malarchuk video and ended up here, you know that Blizzard's World of Warcraft is currently in "Open Beta." I place that in quotes because it's not as "open" as it sounds, having only taken signups for a day or two before again closing its doors. There have been beta tests preceding this, open to small lotteries or invite only. I missed the boat on the stress test, as I gained a passkey but soon discovered that the week-long stress test was to take place entirely during my week running around France. Fortunately, the intrepid Tyler took the reins.

Assuming that there are no great catastrophes, in either our world or Azeroth, this will be the last beta test of World of Warcraft. It ships Tuesday, November 23 and should be ready to go.

Will it, though?

http://www.worldofwar.net/screenshots/

I've only logged (rough estimate) twenty hours in the game. My largest concern thus far is Blizzard's capacity to handle their customers. On the day the Open Beta signups began, WorldOfWarcraft.com went down like Reno hooker. While you can't pin website performance on Battle.net performance, it sure wasn't a good sign. In my five or six attempts at logging into the game itself, I've been met on three or four with "Realm is full, your position is N in line" or somesuch jazz. N has been anything from 10 to 60. This is partly my own fault, as I specified I wished to create my character on a specific realm that was already billed as heavily populated so that I could play with Tyler and his dudes at work. I'm not currently aware of how full the other realms are (there are at least twenty, if memory serves correctly; they function as servers do for EverQuest). On the plus side, though, this wait time generally seems to go rather fast. The last time I played, I was told 59th in line. I alt-tabbed out to do some other stuff, impatiently checked it a couple of minutes later, and was already in.

People talk about lag a lot. In fact, upon logging in, you're presented with a nice greeting asking you to refrain from complaining about lag as they're already aware and working on it, and you'll be taking GM time away from people with other problems. I've yet to experience anything, though, aside from an occasional blip when making a purchase from a vendor (or moving things around in my inventory in general, actually). Occasional, but noticeable when it happens.

Truth be told, I have no idea how all this will reflect actual live game capacity. They may have specifically deployed a small fraction of their hardware for the Open Beta for whatever reason. Hell, this is quite possibly already addressed and documented somewhere. I just can't bring myself to read forums populated by gaming idiots for very long, though -- only in emergency, for posting such questions as "WHARE DO I GETS TEH PASSKAY???/"

Enough about server capacity, though. How does it look? How does it play?

It looks pretty fucking awesome, if I do say so myself. I know not everyone's going to have the same experience, though. I built my box less than a year ago. It's an Athlon XP 2600+ with 1G of RAM and a 128M Radeon 9600 Pro video card. If Doom 3 looks great on your box, World of Warcraft will also be excellent. Last I knew, Tyler was deciding between his desktop and his laptop. His laptop has more oomph but, well, it's a laptop. For what it's worth, I'm playing on whatever default graphics settings it chose. I haven't even seen that menu yet.

The intro video was fantastic. I haven't been that amazed by a game's cinematics since, well, Starcraft.

The in-game graphics, while stereotypically MMORPGish, are solid. When I say "MMORPGish," I mean that scenery, things like trees, will look a little two-dimensional when they happen to get caught in the foreground of your roving camera. Some things are greatly improved, though. Character models are pretty awesome, for one. The minimap is no Harvard Graphics piece of crap like EQ's, either. Combat looks better than it does in EQ (though, honestly, I haven't yet seen visual spell effects that are as cool).



I've found gameplay to be easy to learn, hard enough to be interesting, but not so hard that I quit in frustration. One complaint I had with EQ was the death system. Corpse runs were harrowing at best and deadly at worst. The first time I died in World of Warcraft (which, to my ego, wasn't for quite a while), I was a bit confused. I found myself revived somewhere else in a grey version of Azeroth devoid of players. Not quite sure what to do, I alt-tabbed out and read a few pages on the death system (it's not like the beta comes with a manual). It seemed as though I had to either (a) find a "Spirit Healer," (b) find a graveyard, or (c) return to my corpse to be resurrected. After realizing I was a brief run away from my body, I opted for the third choice and took off. Sure enough, there on my minimap was my body marked by a gravestone. I reached my body, but...nothing. I clicked on it. I right-clicked on it. I stood on it. I asked for help but, of course, I couldn't speak publicly while dead. Unsure of what to do, I decided my only course of action was to log out, go to Good Time Emporium, and get drunk while playing pinball and air hockey.

Upon returning to the house, I found what I figured was a Spirit Healer -- this large, white, angelic figure floating in the middle of a nearby town. I spoke to it and was told I could be resurrected for a price. I didn't have much by the way of money, so I said "Goodbye" and went to experiment on my corpse some more. As I neared my body, though, a dialog box popped up. "Resurrect here?" or something. In my deaths since (and there've been many), I've since cobbled together that upon waking up dead, you're right next to the Spirit Healer closest to the inn to which you're bound (or possibly to where you died, I'm not sure). I somehow missed it the first time. Also, apparently, in order to do what I wanted to do, I had to speak with the Spirit Healer and tell it to fuck off before finding my body for automatic resurrection.

I'm quite possibly doing something wrong here, but I'll be damned if I am and I'll be damned if I can (easily) find a source that details basic game actions such as this one. What I've read seems to contradict what I said (ie, having to tell the Spirit Healer "no" first), but I'd rather not continue testing it by running back and forth.

http://wowvault.ign.com/screenshots/?category_select_id=subcat_74

In summary, I approve of the death system. It's a pain in the ass, but not nearly as much of a pain in the ass as being easily killable while doing a corpse retrieval. Overall, the graphics and sound are pretty awesome. In addition, zones are seamless. No wait times between areas. You can engage in PvP anywhere as a choice, though all I've seen thus far is bored people dueling and a brigade of Alliance players trying to invade Razor Hill. Quests are fairly inventive and fun. I've soloed all but two of mine so far. A couple involved dying a bunch of times, but hey, you can't get something for nothing and I generally dislike grouping with strangers. In the end, though, you're a recognizable figure from the Warcraft universe wandering around encampments like Orgrimmar that you've previously only seen from high above. There are dilapidated catapults and guard towers scattered around. There are even peons chopping wood.

You can speak with Thrall, Orc Warchief.

If you were expecting to literally be dropped onto the playing fields of Warcraft II and Warcraft III, you've found it.

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