Jul 21 2008 4:01am

Computer Games: The Next World of Warcraft Thing

Iceberg such as might hold the Lich KingI 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.

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 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.]

Pete Hindle
1. Pete Hindle
I'm not a huge fan of WoW, but I was sent the special boxed edition of the Burning Crusade, which comes with a book of the concept art. It was really impressive - so much so that my girlfriend pinched it.
Debbie Moorhouse
2. GUDsqrl
I don't play online games, but Warcraft III is my favourite game ever. It's so beautiful! Shame it's (apparently) dead.
Barbara Webb
3. BJ_Webb
Love or hate WoW, you can't argue that it isn't one of the most beautifully designed games on the market. Blizzard knows what they are doing with the art design.
Pete Hindle
4. BruceB
Pete Hindle: I love that art book. Good slow-time browsing. The making-of DVD was also fun; Mom really enjoyed the bit about voice work, particularly since the naga queen's speaker reminded us so much of the mother of one of my friends in high school.
Pete Hindle
5. rutty
It's at times like this that I wish I was still playing WoW. However, real life seems to get in the way and you really need a lot of free time to make the most of it.

I suspect that I won't be resurrecting my level 70 Troll Hunter to explore the new areas, but I really, really wish that I were.

Jeffrey Richard
6. neutronjockey
Let's not forget the awesome Christie Golden who is writing the media tie-in novel for Wrath of the Lich King. AD&D fans may remember her from the Ravenloft tie-in novels, Trek fans may recognize her, or those familiar with her Harlequin Luna imprint works.

She announces the novel on her blog.
Pete Hindle
7. BruceB
Thanks, Neutronjockey!

*whispers "succumb, succumb" to rutty*
Kate Baker
8. Kate_Baker
"Hi, my name is Aveliana and I'm a level 60 warlockaholic."

Your blog post couldn't have had better timing. After a two year hiatus, I was hoodwinked,, uh, convinced to return to WoW. I must now find a bridge off which to jump and join the corpses of my friends on the rocks below.

I thought I had shaken it, really. As I approached the portal which was off-limits when I use to play, I was a bit nervous. All the purple epic items I had spent time gathering in Molten Core and BRS were useless. I vendored everything that I had in my inventory; except "Mr. Wiggles" - a pet pig, some preserved holly which turns my flaming epic steed into a reindeer, and some snowballs.

A warlock on his way to 70 stopped to inspect me in my full Felheart set and actually laughed at me through an emote. "Man, that stuff is soo two years ago!" I was about to give up when I walked through the glowing green gateway and held my breath.

Burning Crusade looks awesome. I get to walk around in a science fiction dream! You know the art is good when you want to take a screenshot and use it as your computer background.

I also hear at level 70, you get to fight "on-stage" against characters from the Wizard of Oz.

While the graphics are more cartoony than the other love of my gaming life right now, Age of Conan, I could settle back in to flying around on gryphons and shadow-bolting mobs to death with my l33t gaming skills, no matter if I look as if I shop at the Salvation Army for armor and weaponry.

Now, I'm looking forward to getting pwned by the liche king. W00t!
Dave Hughes
9. Inhibitor
Hey Kate...nice to meet a fellow level 60 'lock!

I still haven't succumbed to the urge to return. My wife and I both maxed out our characters pre-BC (she with a resto-Druid, myself on my warlock), but for some reason fell victim to a severe case of "meh" right before Burning Crusade came out, cancelled our pre-orders, unsubscribed...and never returned.

I'm a lo-o-o-ng vet of MMO's, and she's no slouch either. However, we haven't seen a game that would entice us to return once we've had our fill, no matter how much they add.

I've heard really good things about BC (and Lich, for that matter), but still don't feel the urge.

Of course, I'm deep into Everquest II at the moment, which means I didn't break my addiction so much as substitute for a different pharmacutical, but that's beside the point.

Now, if they'll institute a "No griping from the mages because the 'locks are out-critting them" rule, I might think about it. :)
Matthew Lerner
10. fuz
Ah, the Opera event. A random choice of fighting:
*Dorothee, Tinhead, Strawman, Tito, and then of course the witch
*Romulo and Julianne
*The Big Bad Wolf (who turns you into Little Red)

One of the more amusing fights in the game, IMOSHO.
Rudhraigh McGrath
11. Rudetc
For me, the difference between games like WOW and regular, offline games is like the difference between smoking a spliff and shooting crack straight into your eyeballs or between occasionally enjoying a glass of wine with dinner and having a drinking habit that includes regularly consuming fifteen bottles of straight vodka and vomiting pints and pints of mucusy blood on your living room floor until the paramedics arrive, pump your stomach and forcibly stick you back in the hospital to dry out.

I live in a strange state of worried flux, I have made it clear to my friends and loved ones that no-one is to under any circumstances buy me WOW, and that if any of my friends see or hear of me playing it they are to hold me down and beat me with soap filled socks until I agree to give it up.

I worry that one day I will somehow stumble and then suddenly, through no fault of my own I will suddenly find myself prizing the welfare of my level 2005 Undead Anti-Paladin more than that of my children because frankly, their commitment to advancing their area based Death spells and upping their agility is atrocious.

So, for those of us who have made the choice, there is no choice. Just say no.
Paul Arzooman
12. parzooman
I prefer computer games where I can either pause and think about my next move or simply have it be turn based so I can think about my next move. I'm sure it's very exciting to have to jump, jump, grab, hop, jump, shoot, dive, jump but I'm freaking 45 years old and after a day at work when my boss has been eating my brain, I just don't have the concentration to do that. Also, how about a game where I don't have to embark on a career just to learn how to play. Yes, it's very gratifying to earn my flight wings or whatever, but that's after 50 hours of screwing up the eighth level of the tutorial for the hundredth time. I'm sorry but my frustration filter is set kinda low.
Dave Rutt
13. rutty
I'm sorry BruceB - there's no going back for me. Probably. Almost certainly. Possibly not.

It just took up all my spare time, which was fine when I was living on my own, but not so much now that I'm married and living with someone else (my wife, natch!)

The game demands too much from someone with real life social activities and hobbies that actually require me to go outside on occasion. I'd love to play it again - I really would - but I just can't.

I will be buying Diablo III however! Just to try it out you understand ;)
Robert Thornton
14. rthornton777
Well, I am a full-fledged WoW-aholic with a 70 warlock in crafted epics, a 62 paladin, and a 62 hunter.

I have a great deal of fun playing but even then I am not a hard-core player. I have not been in Karazhan--where the Oz event happens--let alone any of the 25-man raids. But the Lich King is looking really nice so they've hooked me for another expansion. Maybe I'll even get to take down Elric (I mean Arthas). :)
Pete Hindle
15. Robotech_Master
Sometimes I'm vaguely tempted to check out World of Warcraft, but I know I couldn't afford it. I'm a City of Heroes player, and that I'll stay because I'm getting all the veteran rewards for having been subbed so long, and I just can't afford another $15 a month subscription.

I'm sure WoW is a great game, but unless I start earning a lot more money, I don't think I'll ever visit there.

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