Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Release: January 2007
Genre Keywords: MMO, 900 lb gorilla
The demons and corrupted beings of the Burning Legion were vanquished and forced back to the Outland, with the Dark Portal sealed behind them several years ago (this is an MMO, the several years is always true!). Unfortunately, the good guys and bad guys just can't leave well enough alone (and there's also the matter of all those heroes we left behind on the Other Side), so let's pop that sucker open and see what's what, eh? After all, the first time we did that we got the entirety of the Horde which prompted two great games and the First Great War, and the second time someone took interest it destroyed an entire world, so surely it can't be that bad!? Ok, so the lore of World of Warcraft isn't really all that - in fact, it's a hackneyed piece of stitched-together rip off of more fictional sources than anyone can keep track of. On the other hand, that's what makes it so damn approachable and let's face it - universal destruction and mayhem typically make for great games. Without further ado, here's what the opening of the portal brought to millions of WoW players.
- Level cap raised to 70 (formerly 60).
- An entirely new continent - the Outland - composed of five massive, sprawling and thematically novel areas for your trip to level 70.
- Activation of the Dark Portal, the only way to initially travel to the Outland (you must have the expansion and be level 58 or higher). A piece of lore come to life again! The area around the Portal is quiet again, but upon release it was teeming with masses of invading forces and counter-attacking players and NPCs.
- Arrival of the husky (and blue) noble Draenei and haughty, corrupt Blood Elves on Azeroth, giving Paladins to the Horde and Shamans to the Alliance. Both races alliances' are mostly a way to not ally with the opposite side; the blood elves are too arrogant for the Alliance and the Draenei just want a place to call home.
- Two new starting zones (level 1 to roughly 20) for the two new races.
- New mounts for the two races - the elephantine elekk and the chocobo err, hawkstrider.
- Flying mounts obtainable at level 70. These can only be used in the Outland, as Azeroth was constructed without flight in mind and contains many areas that need to remain unreachable for various reasons (technical trickery, future expansions, assuring safety from griefing airborne invaders).
- New class-specific, high-level spells created to round out each class.
- A total rebalance of many talent trees across the game.
- Six new dungeons in the Outland and two (will be four as of patch 2.4) in Azeroth.
- A new profession - jewelcrafting - enables not only the creation of jewelry (rings and bracelets) but also the creation of gems that can be inserted into new "socketed items" also added with the Burning Crusade. These gems can further improve stats or provide bonuses on your equipment.
- Professions level cap raised to 375, with hundreds of appropriate crafted items added for each.
- A set of introductory quests designed to gear up new players to be much closer, gearwise, to veteran players who have been equipping themselves through high level dungeons prior to Burning Crusade.
- Finally, the structure of quests for the Outlands and the new races' areas is typically more interesting, varied and rewarding than "Old World" quests - this laid the groundwork for retroactively fixing, tweaking, improving and rebalancing a truly ridiculous amount of the quests for the 1-60 level progression in the epic 2.3 Patch.
The game's basic concept remains the same: obtain quests, gather friends to complete quests or go it solo, turn in quests for rewards and repeat. Blizzard has learned enough to mix things up a bit and make Outland into a bit more active zone - soldiers ride out on missions, giant monsters roam the land, plumes of fire dot the landscape and the entire continent rumbles - as well as make quests more interactive, but the company also knows not to change things too much as so far the structure of WoW has earned them 9 million subscribers. All in all, it is a highly polished version of More Of The Same and shows that Blizzard is thinking ahead and designing and redesigning the game to keep all current and new players roughly in the same place relative to each other, regardless of the number of expansions released.
Patch 2.3, released in November 2007, has accelerated the pace of pre-60 leveling so that even the new players can launch themselves into the Outland with a very small time investment, and the game goes on. It is to be expected that when the next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, launches, the pace of 60-70 leveling will also be tweaked in order to get everyone on the same footing once again. After all, WoW is a social game and leaving your friends a continent behind serves no one. It is expected that pre-60 dungeons will be tweaked at some point to be worth running again by new players making the 1-70 journey for the first time - currently, the introductory Burning Crusade rewards easily outweigh whatever you could gain from those dungeons.
On the technical side, BC brought in some gradual but much appreciated changes. The view distance in the Outland is greater allowing for magnificent vistas, critters sport subtly more polygons and particle effects are in use here and there to great (and again, subtle) effect. Older machines (like a MacBook Pro) might have to drop down a notch to accommodate this, but should still be able to play the game without any hitches.
In a way, The Burning Crusade is a typical Blizzard update - take what already exists, polish it to perfection even beyond perfection (hey, WoW has more subscribers than some nations have citizens so already the perfection is unassailable!), and release. However, any release that goes out to 8 million players and which further increases the playing pool is certainly something special. There are trials available that will allow you to start in new areas - anyone even remotely interested should at least check out the improvements Blizzard has made in quest design, creature design and overall art direction. See you online.