World of Warcraft impressions: Game and Endgame

Technically, the title of this article is a lie. As Blizzard has stated many times, the true endgame of World of Warcraft will not be implemented until after launch, so as not to Â"spoilÂ" things by letting the rabid powergamers at it and having all the secrets of raid dungeons and battleground pvp encounters spread like a spoilerific cornucopia across the internet. In the past week, they have added three raid encounters to the game under modified circumstances so as to give them at least a bit of an external test before Nov. 22nd. but the pvp battleground elements remain elusive.

More power to them, says I. I have myself avoided some of the high level dungeon instances, although Ronsy is nearly capped, so that I can come to some of the content in retail innocent and fresh-faced. Of the five or so dungeons designed for characters over level fifty, I have been in one. And while I have explored every area that is currently open, there are several spots on both continents that have not been opened yet, a few of which are already hinted at through quests and NPC gossip. I have no interest in knowing everything yet.

But I have seen quite a bit – enough, perhaps to get an impression of whether BlizzardÂ's stated aims in the endgame are coming to fruition, or withering on the vine. Release is sooooon. Are they ready? With last-minute changes to such important facets of the game such as the warrior taunt ability, death penalties and ohmigodno! reagents for spells, is the game polished enough to withstand the assault of retail?

In short, yes.

Now for the long version.

IÂ've been playing WoW for quite a while now – nearly 20 days in /played time on Ronsy alone – and IÂ've been through many a patch. Often the beta testers are not warned of what is coming (not that they have any Â"rightsÂ" to such knowledge) and often such surprise changes are unpopular ones. The Â"item durabilityÂ" a couple patches ago springs immediately to mind. But Blizzard developers are sneaky bastards. They know fully well that to tell people a possibly unpopular change is coming will only cause rampant bitching on the WoW beta website forums, as well as in-game, and might prejudice people against actually testing said changes, whereas to spring them on the unsuspecting public causes people to play with the changes for a while before catching on completely, and thus allows for actual impressions of the change to be made, rather than some unfounded assumptions fuelled by trolls, nay-sayers and disgruntled druids. Ahem. Another tactic well-used by Blizzard is to implement some elements, such as reagents, at highly inflated prices, and then adjust the cost downwards, instead of up. Always a more popular move. Oh, theyÂ're smart, those buggers. And I canÂ't say that any implemented change, once balanced, has made the game less fun.

So I have faith. Blizzard seems to have a clear vision, and the means to make it a reality. Small issues are also being looked at – NPCs respond verbally when you click on them now, several high level quests that were unfinished have been completed, little fun touches like the /train and /silly emotes have been given to us, and on the whole, WoW seems very complete. Especially when compared to another fantasy MMORPG that is already in stores and will remain unnamed.

WhatÂ's that? You donÂ't want to hear about the way that night elves dance, or the fact that Ironforge is beautifully designed as the quintessential dwarf city? You want to hear about dragons and gods, you say. I hear cries of Â"whereÂ's the beef, and when I say beef I mean details of high level dungeons and encounters since the levelling curve of WoW is so accelerated compared to other MMORPGs that we have played?Â"

Oh very well.

Like I have stated, I personally have set foot in only one of the really high level dungeons. I know, IÂ've let you down, but exploration is one of the most fun aspects of the game to me, and I wanted to save something for retail, much as you save the caramels in a box of chocolates for last, the anticipation of the delights to come allowing you to choke down the strawberry crèmes instead. I have seen a few things, though, and what IÂ've seen has pleased me.

Blizzard did a smart thing with their instanced dungeons, eliminating the Â"waitÂ" for boss mobs that plagued EQ so, and also making for a very intense group experience. When you have only the five members of your group to depend on, down in the depths of a winding cave filled with the undead, it can be quite the bonding experience. No one else is going to run in and save your butts. You are it. Unless, of course, youÂ've gone in as a raid. Cheesers.

But Blizzard did more than that with their dungeon design. Lower level dungeons are easier, not simply in terms of the mob strength and level, but also in the way that they are designed, the way that the mob AI works, and the amount of ingenuity required to kill the boss mobs. The Deadmines, an instance for characters in their late teens and early twenties, is fairly straightforward, a simple hack n slash with a couple of neat features that are mostly visual in nature. (Sorry for the vague, but IÂ'm trying not to be too spoilerific here.) Move on to the Stockade, an instance located in Stormwind City, and the mobs are not only tougher, but some of them act and react in ways that lower level mobs have not done up to that point. They are smarter. They work together more. You need to be a better player to beat them, and you need to really work as a team to make it through. As you move through the instances, you will notice that the mobs show you new tricks, that the environments become a real factor in combat, that you are forced to change your playstyle to compensate.

Occasionally instances make a leap in complexity. Among some players, the Sunken Temple is considered to be the first Â"realÂ" boss fight. The Temple can be confusing and is certainly much more challenging than the instance of ZulÂ'Farrek, which is more or less the instance that ranks just below the Temple. Larger groups of mobs, trigger events, and quick respawn times are only the beginning here. IÂ'm not one who subscribes to the notion of the Â"holy trinityÂ" (priest, warrior, mage) but certainly if you donÂ't have a well-balanced group that knows how to work together efficiently and well, you will wipe many many times here.

Still, the learning curve is well drawn, leading the player through more complex situations and encounters at a rate that I found to be challenging but also intuitive. By the time I actually set foot in Blackrock Spire I was ready for it.

And I still died. Twice by my count, the first time I went in. After that, however, I was usually able to read the fights fairly well, and to know when it was hopeless and time to cut and run. As a rogue, once I see the tank go down, and the healer under 1/3 life, there isnÂ't much point in trying to stick around to the bitter end. Better to use my abilities to ditch aggro, hide somewhere and avoid a complete group wipe. It is certainly possible to do a high end dungeon without wiping, but it requires lots of experience with that dungeon by the majority of the players in your party to do so. Dying in large numbers is an inevitable part of gaining that experience, and to be able to save your group the task of starting all over again is a valuable skill.

My impression of Blackrock Spire, from the two times that I ventured in (never made it to the end boss) was that it was remarkably polished and complete, for an instance that had been implemented only two patches ago. I havenÂ't been in since the latest patch, but when I was there, I was impressed by the design, the look of the place (absolutely staggering, the first time you see it) and by the AI of the mobs. It wasnÂ't quite like playing other PCs, but certainly like fighting creatures that could plan and strategize and recognize when to retreat and call for help.

Instances are long, itÂ's true. IÂ'm not sure that I think that needs changing, however. There is plenty of content for the casual player that never requires the player to do an instance at all. And the argument that players who canÂ't invest four hours or more into doing an instance should still get a shot at the best gear is spurious. You donÂ't need the best gear if you are never going to do instances, or raids. And to be frank, MMORPGs are all about the time investment. WoW has a remarkable amount of content for those who canÂ't or donÂ't wish to make that investment, and to make the best gear available to everyone would cheapen the accomplishments of those who can and do. There is still great gear available from non-instance quests, from the auction house, and from player crafters which is more than adequate to keep your character in the good fight. Or the bad fight, if you should choose Horde.

PvP, I hear you cry. What about PvP? IÂ'm the wrong person to ask. I hate PvP. And battlegrounds will have to be pretty damn sexy to make me engage in PvP come retail, IÂ'll tell you right now. IÂ've been in exactly two PvP fights – a one on one duel that I won, and a Horde vs Alliance scrum in the Hillsbrad foothills where I was killed three times in rapid succession by some Undead Warlock who chain feared me.

Feel free to attempt your conversions. Better men than you have tried, and left broken!

So thatÂ's about it, as far as I can think of right now. IÂ'll do my best to answer any questions people may have in the comments for this article. End thoughts?

World of Warcraft is fun. Yeah.

- Hoochie

Comments

Excellent read. I won't ask you any more questions because I have asked you enough already in the past 6 months.

Excellent post Hoochie. In playing again the last few days I've been sucked back in. At times I was irritated and frustrated (dying multiple times will do that), however as I began to arrive in new areas to explore the rush of "something new!" hit me yet again. I'm very excited for the release, thanks for adding yet more fuel to the fire.

The game is sucking me in as well. It seems to be very softcore player friendly and I like that. I could see losing a great deal of time into this game but I also don't feel that I would necessarily have to to enjoy the game.

Great post that makes me want to play even more. *cough* Looks like a another cold is coming on for launch week!

Bravo! Thanks for the little taste of some higher level content. I havn't tried an instanced dungeon yet, but I am anxious to. I wish the game would come out already so we can play this game for real!

yeah Hoochie is back and writing, not just threatening people with a wooden spoon

I don't need to read things like this.

buzz, then I encourage you to visit this page I made to push Spleen and Gretz into joining in on WoW: WoW Travel Log.

As we have come to expect, yet another well-written and insightful, and enjoyable essay by (Ms.?) Hoochie.

Thanks again for sharing; I've resisted Beta because I *want* the suspense, and wonder of it all, once we can play "for real".

Dramatic Marlin wrote:

buzz, then I encourage you to visit this page I made to push Spleen and Gretz into joining in on WoW: WoW Travel Log.

Haha! That's awesome Marlin.

Excellent and interesting post - well written.

I'm already in EQ2 and now I will have to stop and consider getting into WOW.

Seriously though - what is it that you think is wrong (or not so good) about the game ... must be something .. eh?

-Xino

Can I group with you in retail?

=)

fangblackbone wrote:

Can I group with you in retail?

=)

If you say hi, she'll just make a rude gesture, cackle, and run off.

If you say hi, she'll just make a rude gesture, cackle, and run off.

Sadly, this is true.

I'll probably have two characters in retail - one for the GWJ guild (playing with Certis and a semi-permanent adventuring group), and one for playing with the friends I made in beta, which will no doubt be on a dif server than GWJ picks. I'd like to set up a WoW night for playing and maybe get a few GWJ people to commit to that, so that we can stay relatively the same lvl and do dungeons and whatnot together. There really is nothing like a group that plays together all the time - there's just no comparison to pick-up groups.

Actually that was a joke...

To be honest, I feel pretty flexible and havent been able to play with other GWJers much. Actually, Ive only been able to group with Reaper.

It seems when Im playing NE everyone else is human or dwarf. So I make a gnome and people are starting NE's or playing humans. *shrugs*

EQ2 has taken my time over the last couple of days but that's over. That game is just way too involved. I think its for pack rats, martyrs and/or anal retentive people. Its got that same "sucks you in" vibe from EQ that always leaves a bitter aftertaste of "did I really accomplish anything?"

Nice write-up. I've been playing WoW since the "open" beta started so its been about a week and 1/2 now of playing an hour or two every night. I've got a level 17 character and a few very low level characters. I have yet to see an instanced dungeon or any of the content you discuss in the review. I will attest to the fact that I have found all the content I need and could probably continue on this casual gameplay path for months without needing or hitting any of the advanced content. Having said that, I am pleased to hear about all the endgame content that is coming on-line.

Although I don't have a lot of MMORGP experience, I really like the fact that WoW doesn't make me concentrate on leveling up. I'm having fun and leveling up is just a reward. I don't really feel like I'm missing out on something when a much higher level character passes on by (as I have with other games). I think Blizzard is succeeding in building a game that can appeal to both the casual and hardcore gamer.

Good article!