Computer Games: The Next World of Warcraft Thing

I didn’t title this post “It’s Starting to Look a Lich Like Christmas”, and I want someone to appreciate my sacrifice for the sake of not making this site too disreputable its very first week. Anyway.

World of Warcraft is, by a very wide margin, the most successful show in town when it comes to multiplayer computer games. Among the reasons for this is that Blizzard’s built up a world that has a lot of everything, from traditional medievalesque fantasy to elves with Korean-influenced architecture to exuberantly steampunk gnomes and goblins to Art Nouveau dimension-hopping cities. This diversity at the outset gives them a lot of room to maneuver in. And now work is underway on the second expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King.

By the way, even if you aren’t interested in ever playing something like WoW, go look at these links just to appreciate good genre artwork. Blizzard hires a lot of really talented creators and lets them do some amazing stuff.

[More after the jump…]

The first, The Burning Crusade, picked up on elements laid down in the Warcraft series of real-time strategy games, and took characters through the Dark Portal that orc armies used to invade the world of Azeroth, several times over the course of decades. Outland, the shattered world on the other side, is heavy on somewhat science-fictional elements, like the zones with bare hyperspace visible above the empty sky, floating islands looking for a Roger Dean album cover to be in, and technomagical terraforming along with the demonic strongholds and such.

Not all of this was everyone’s cuppa. Some of us thrive on more eclectic mixes than others, and in any event it was certainly true that there were unresolved plot threads and possibilities back home. So Wrath of the Lich King heads back to Azeroth. The continent of Northrend is, like the name suggests, north of the previously explorable lands in WoW, and the scenery looks to have a lot of mountains and forests. There’ll be a lot of ice, architecture out of Viking daydreams, and some interesting innovations like cold-weather dryads. Blizzard has always done epic ruins well, and Northrend has some. It’s also got the throne of the Lich King, the commander of the undead armies of the Scourge, who’s been making life a real pain all over Azeroth for several years now. Taking the battle to him, after getting through his no doubt many and varied defenses, will be the new highwater mark of accomplishment for this cycle of discovery and challenge.

The expansion pack is now in general beta testing, which means a couple of things. One is that the expansion is at least a few months away, but probably not a whole lot of months away: expecting it before Christmas is hopeful but by no means unrealistic. The other is that there’s a lot of talk about it. If you’d like to keep up on the gossip, here are some ways to do it.

First, there’s the official expansion pack website, which is getting regularly updated with info on new features and eye candy. It comes with its own forum, too. Now, it’s customary to say that the official forums for popular computer games are wretched hives of scum and villainy, and the fact is that they are, to a large degree. But not completely. It can be worth skimming from time to time, particularly for threads with the blue BLIZZ icon, which shows that one of Blizzard’s official community overseers spoke up. They tend to be informative, and several are really, really funny.

There are a lot of good unofficial news and commentary sites. I have a special fondness for WoW Insider, which has as good a signal-to-noise ratio as any I’m aware of, and is also really good about tagging categories usefully. “wrath-of-the-lich-king”, for instance, gets you pretty much all of their posts on the subject.

I personally am not seeking out a lot of spoiler/preview info right now, partly because I’m just like that and partly because I know a lot of it will change as testing goes on, because it does that. But friends of mine are avidly following developments, and one of the most appealing features promised is a new character class. The death knights are those who succumbed (or chose to submit) to the Lich King and join his forces, but then later broke free and have regained their own wills. If you want to call this really classic I’m-so-special characterization, you’d be right, and wish fulfillment is as popular a draw now as ever. Sometimes it’s fun to go ahead and indulge. In any event Deathknight.info seems to be the place for most informed and useful discussion of what’s known so far – everything from analysis of the class’ possible special talent combinations to video clips of them in early action.

And now you’re set to be as current as anybody when it comes to WoW gossip.

[Photo by Flickr user Rghrous; used under Creative Commons license.]

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