By Todd Allen
Remember that game Blizzard made some time ago that just really stunk? You're right, me neither. The golden boys behind some of the most beloved games in the industry's history aren't about to sit on their laurels either. World of Warcraft, Blizzard's gutsiest move to date, was on display at E3 with several updated features as well as that pesky new playable race we'll talk about later. As the stakes in the online RPG race increase, one may wonder whether this was a wise move on Blizzard's part. After sitting down with the newest playable build at their booth, I'm ashamed for my lack of faith. For all intents and purposes, they've still got Midas' golden touch.
I was able to spend a good chunk of time on the current build with one of the game's artists. Speaking of art, my hat is off to the visual team behind World of Warcraft. The environments must be seen to be believed. True there are several games out there with good graphics. In fact as technology improves, finding a next-gen game with really bad graphics will become more difficult. What are they all driving at, by the way? Realism. Games today want you to think you're watching real actors and real environments. This is not so within the confines of World of Warcraft. Every building, every tree, every slobbering troll oozes with distinct style. So distinct that my guide hinted that while traversing the countryside, one could find their way using landmarks. I'm not talking about some rock that looks like Elvis Presley either. A tree may stand out to you or a certain landmass might just look unique. That's the level of artistry Blizzard is gunning for, and that's just out in the wilderness.
I also had the pleasure of playing around with the new Night Elf race. Many were looking forward to Blizzard's announcement about the Elves' inclusion and judging from my time with the newest addition, they won't be disappointed. Personally I'm a bit more taken with the Dwarves, but the Night Elves signify a very mysterious and attractive experience. I had the pleasure of playing a druid character, which, as you know, have the ability to morph into different forms of animal life. If you thought they were cool in Warcraft III, wait till you look over at your fellow as he takes on the form of a grizzly. You'll be glad he's on your side. The Night Elves will probably make up a large part of the population due to their insane popularity. For the record the existing races available to players already included Humans, Orcs, Dwarves, and Tauren.
Another cool addition is the various modes of transportation available to travelers in the Warcraft universe. Aside from the personal mounts you can come by, players will be able to board ships, zeppelins, as well as hitch a ride on one of the various Gryphons stationed throughout the land.
Despite the myriad of people that'll probably be playing World of Warcraft, the developers promise that the game will retain a personal flare thanks to its use of "instancing." In other words several parts of the game, such as key quests and other locations, are usually overrun with players, or "camped." With instancing in effect, each group will get their own chance to play through a scenario as if they were alone. The exact guidelines of what is deemed worthy of instancing is still being worked out. I also spoke with the developer about other aspects of online games like player housing. While he was unable to give a concrete answer, I got the distinct feeling that housing is a feature the developers want to add, but not at the cost of the beautiful environments they worked so hard to create. It will be interesting to see if they can find a happy medium between the absence of housing and the urban sprawl found in some online RPG's today.
Blizzard certainly has experience with online play through their Battle.net service, and they are bringing all of it to bear upon World of Warcraft. The developer promised regular updates as well as top of the line service for those having quirks with their game. This game is definitely Blizzard's baby and they are not taking any chances.
With so many online RPG's converging on the next year, players will be inundated with choices about how they want to spend their valuable time and money. Blizzard definitely has the tried and true track record that will equal thousands of automatic purchases on the part of Warcraft fans. Does the World of Warcraft have enough clout to draw in those not so easily won over? Only time will tell, but given its performance at E3, come next year Blizzard's baby is going to make some serious waves.