After the two "serious" applications it is time for a game. World of Warcraft is currently in open beta and will remain so for at least a couple of more days. Looking around on the web, one can see that this game has been eagerly awaited by hordes of fans of "The Warcraft Universe". For the record: I am not one of them. I've never played any of the Warcraft games and the only reason I picked up this one is because I was bored and looking for something to play.
So how does it play? It a word: amazingly!
The fact I like it is very strange indeed, since fantasy doesn't interest me and "The Warcraft Universe", whatever it is, therefore even less. It is testament to the game solid design and mechanics that I didn't end up playing it for an hour or so and then deinstalling it. Instead, it is has me hooked.
Since the game's scope is so large, I'll just name a few things I particularly liked:
- Amazing environments. It is not so much that the graphics are the best ever (they are not bad, but certainly nothing like Ryzom), but the design itself. Loads of attention to details, fluid transitions between one type of scenery to the next, and the sheer size of the world. If you're an elf and you visit the city of Darnassus, you can help but be impressed by the towering structures and the tall ent-like guardians for instance. The whole place is very imaginative and because there is hardly any loading going on the suspension of disbelief is almost total.
- Great quest system. From the moment you get into the game characters give you quests. As opposed to some other online games, these are actually fun. Sure enough a chunk of them are of the "go there and there and kill stuff", but there are many that involve sneaking around, discovering new lands, even diving for treasure. A lot of care has been put into making each quest feel unique and part of some larger story. Even better than that is the fact that all the quests together more or less come to make an ever expanding tour of the world. First you are sent around the starter-area, then you get a quest to deliver something to the next city down the road, from there you are sent to check out an invasion of kind of creatures in yet another place etc. etc. I found that this is structured so well, especially in the beginning, that the kind of challenge the next quest presents, will be a good match for your character's abilities at the time you are given it. All in all, a lot of fun!
- Travel. Besides going on foot you can take a hippogryph ride (yes like Harry Potter, only more sinister) or a ferry to go from place to place. Instead of being some kind of "teleportation" devices, these things actually work as you would expect. You see yourself flying across the lands, or sailing on board of a ship. On the ferry you can even walk around, as well as talk and trade with the other players on board. The water isn't just an infinite expanse of nothing either. There tons of creatures in it, swimming around sunken ships, carcasses of giant sea-creatures long-dead and debris. You can even learn to fish and gather food (used to improve your health with) that way.
- Crafting. In a lot of games crafting (i.e. creating items) requires a special class of character. The same goes for "healing" classes. No so in WoW. First aid, leatherworking, mining, etc. are skills any character can learn "on the side". Anyone can become a first class cook (prepared food regenerates more health faster) next to being a kick-ass scout or druid or whatever. Fishing and some other abilities can even be learned next to crafting.
- Skills. Next to the range of abilities, spells, recipes and items, there are also skill points. You gets these for each level after 10. These allow you to fine-tune and improve your existing abilities. All this makes for tons of things to do and try, much like Anarchy Online's myriad options for character advancement.
There is tons more I could say, but I'll just close of with three things:
Firstly, the game isn't perfect. It does crash every now and again and sometimes won't work again until after a reboot. Like any online game it also suffers from some lag. I have not noticed this too much, but other people seem to have huge issues with it. Both suck, but so far it hasn't taken away my enjoyment of the game.
Secondly, there is a Mac version available! This is quite rare, if not almost unique in the online gaming world.
Third and lastly, I haven't enjoyed a MMORPG this much since I play Anarchy Online.
So go ahead and give it go while you still can. Get a character and build it up to at least 10 or so and then pass judgement. My first few hours with the game did have some frustrations (you talk to the various chat channels by their number, i.e. /1, /2 etc., this took me forever to find out) but when the whole thing "opened up" I couldn't put it down anymore.