World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (Collector's Edition) Review
By Jesse Alley |
Four years ago Blizzard launched World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online RPG that abruptly snatched the spotlight from former genre heavyweight, Sony Online's EverQuest, and went on to enjoy a degree of success few could have predicted. With 11 million subscribers worldwide, the cultural impact of Blizzard's creation is difficult to accurately measure. It's spawned its own lexicon, countless Internet memes, appeared as the focus of an episode of South Park, and has dominated industry discussion about online games since its release.
Games like this like this aren't one-shot, linear run-throughs or exercises in melding gameplay with abstract artistic themes; they're services. You pay a subscription fee and in return you get stable servers to play on, constant bug fixes, updates to game systems, added content, and customer support lines.
It's a much different experience from other media, such as movies or books, particularly when trying to assess some kind of worth. You don't fault a movie for crashing, for instance, you fault the projector. A paragraph in a novel will never glitch out, requiring you to close and reopen the pages to reset it. A massively multiplayer online game has so many more moving pieces and potential complications that having a company like Blizzard working behind the scenes should inspire confidence. It's got the quality assurance staff and support to ensure its products are remarkably polished, perform well, and actually work across a range of desktops and laptops with wildly varying hardware configurations. Also, the fact that there's such a large player base means this virtual world isn't getting shut down anytime soon, a danger with this type of game as most recently demonstrated with NCsoft and Tabula Rasa.
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Wrath of the Lich King is the second expansion to Blizzard's game, something the player base has already snatched up in great quantities. This kind of release schedule, with an expansion roughly every two years, differs from what Sony Online did with EverQuest, a game that just received its 15th expansion in just about 10 years. What you get with a Blizzard expansion is an incredible amount of content, some of the more prominent features being a new level cap, a new continent, the first added player class since the game's launch, and a general assurance it's all going to work correctly.
Collector's Edition Content As was the case with The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King comes in standard and Collector's Edition variations. Like with the content of the actual expansion, Blizzard doesn't cut corners when it comes to including worthwhile content for collectors and fans with this special edition. It includes:
- World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King on DVD-ROM
- The Art of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, a 208-page art book
- An exclusive in-game pet. It's a baby frost wyrm called Frosty.
- Over an hour of developer interviews, the WotLK intro cinematic with director's commentary, and more on a DVD
- An official soundtrack CD with 21 tracks from the game as well as bonus tracks
- A mouse pad with a map featuring a map of Northrend
- Two World of Warcraft Trading Card Game March of the Legion starter decks, as well as two exclusive cards only in the collector's edition
If you can find one of these things and have the cash to lock one down, it's an amazing value, particularly if you're interested in getting a behind the scenes look at production. If you're planning on picking up Lich King and have the opportunity and means to upgrade to the Collector's Edition, it's more than worth it, particularly in comparison to some of the lackluster bonus packages other publishers put out.
Simply having plenty of content and stability isn't enough to make the game worthy of your dollar however. You could, for instance, have a magazine subscription where the product is always on time, in good condition, and is full of pictures and text, but in the end it's still just another issue of Sawdust Quarterly. As most gamers out there know already, World of Warcraft is a remarkable product. From the entertaining, strongly defined classes with wildly diverse functionality and generally solid feel and timing of activating skills, to a gigantic, beautiful open world and myriad ways to spend your time leveling up professions, coordinating large-scale attacks against powerful dungeon bosses, or engaging in player versus player battles ensures you'll find something to like.
While the previous expansion, The Burning Crusade, offered quite a bit for new WoW players back in January 2007 with two new playable races and accompanying level 1 – 20 starting zones, Wrath of the Lich King is geared more for high level players. The level cap has been bumped up to 80, and the new continent of Northrend isn't accessible until you've got a higher level character, so if you're new you'll need to move through the original release content as well as territory from the first expansion, both of which are required to play Lich King. That being said, Blizzard made the leveling process up to 70 much more rapid through patches released before The Lich King's arrival, so those who activate now won't spend nearly as much time in the original release territory or Outland from The Burning Crusade as those who dove in when the content was still new.
You'll be seeing a lot of this guy.With the majority of the player base at or very much on their way to the level 80 cap at this point, any green players won't really experience the full degree of the community and social strengths of the game until later on. Even longtime players will have to retread some old content since the new class, the Death Knight, starts at level 55.
Provided you've got a high enough level character you can roll one of these demonic melee fighters as Horde or Alliance and experience right away one of the expansion's major strengths; a stronger narrative cohesion. Unlike the other classes, Death Knights get their very own introductory quest lines that have you working temporarily for Arthas, also known as the Lich King. In all it's about 49 quests that start out with your character battling against the forces of light, killing citizens, infiltrating operations, assaulting strongholds, and flying frost wyrms over battlefields to reign death on those below. Through a few in-game, voiced character interactions alter you'll witness some dramatic events that provide a nice narrative context for the class within Blizzard's alternately self-serious and flippant fictional world.
After the introductory sequence you take a bit of a detour though Outland as you'll need to level up to the requirement for entry into Northrend before rejoining the story of Arthas. At least Blizzard didn't make players restart at level 1. While it's difficult to say at this point what kind of role Death Knights will carve out in raiding groups and what kind of PvP strategies will be developed, they're certainly an entertaining class to play. Compared with the other nine alternatives in World of Warcraft, Death Knights have a distinct rhythm to their play styles, a result of two unique resource systems used to pull off moves. Death Knights start off fights by consuming different types of runes to activate skills, all of which have an accompanying cooldown sequence. Using these skills also builds runic power that makes available other skills, meaning the flow of fights with Death Knights alternates between managing rune cooldowns to trigger abilities and counterbalancing that with those that consume runic power.