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World of Warcraft Preview (PC)
game: World of Warcraft
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Blizzard
date posted: 09:10 AM Sat Jun 1st, 2002

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A title that's sure to be a big name in the genre has entered the world of massively multiplayer from one of the most respected developers in PC gaming, based in one of the most popular universes of all time. It's a combination that should make everyone but their competitors happy. Enter World of Warcraft, one of the two Warcraft products Blizzard is planning on introducing onto the market in the coming months, and it looks fantastic. Aside from the appeal of tramping around Azeroth in a deer skin loincloth and armor, Blizzard looks to have drawn some of the most rewarding elements of its other successful games, including the massive array of weapons and items in Diablo II, and implemented them in an online game. The result looks very cool. One of the more interesting yet-to-be released facts?

\"Ask anyone here at Blizzard,\" says the kind fellow who set me up with a first hand demo of World of Warcraft, \"and they'll tell you that in the next few months we'll be introducing a new race into Warcraft that is so cool people will be buying the game just to play them.\" He stresses his words when he says this, and looks mysterious when I press for more. \"People already into Warcraft will be happy,\" he grudgingly adds, \"but this new race will appeal to everyone.\" After that he's silent. Not to be thwarted, I turn my attentions instead to the game in question. With Galaxies on the way, and EverQuest II showing only a couple hundred feet away, not to mention the score of other interesting titles on the horizon, World of Warcraft has to show a strong hand in order to garner the user base it needs. No worries, though. As anyone coming off of a Diablo high will tell you, no one can do it like Blizzard.

Graphically, World of Warcraft is looking beautiful ? a strange mix of the dark atmosphere and bright cartoon-like colors that have been the mark of the series since inception. After they turn the controls over to me, I wander into a beautifully rendered hall, complete with stained-glass windows and marble floors, guarded by several magnificent statues ? monuments to the heroes of the past games. At one point I notice fireflies hovering over an open field, which is a nice effect. The classic humor embedded in each of the past games is still present; one of the animations I saw was of a beach monster flipping its tailfin out of boredom (it's funnier when you see it). There's no doubt that the World of Warcraft is exactly what it claims to be, the beloved world of Warcraft in look and feel as well as name.

The story opens four years after the completion of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, which Blizzard will be releasing this summer. So far there are four announced races, and several announced classes, though more of both are on the way. Aside from being able to adjust the basic look and feel of your character upon creation, any armor and weapons you acquire through your adventures also help to hide your battle scars. In a nod to Diablo, in which a wide variation of weapons were randomly generated and dropped by enemies when killed, Blizzard has included thousands of weapons that are available to the players (though technical issues prevent random generation). This includes enchanted items, as well.

Combat is handled through a series of buttons at the bottom of the screen that look, again, like the casting buttons from Diablo. One is a sword, the others spells and special attacks. Once you select your target, be it an unlucky wolf or an ugly harvest monster, you click on the button corresponding to the action you wish to perform. The sword will march you up to the beast and take a swing at his head, while clicking on one of the spells will...well, do the obvious. Amongst the arsenal of spells I saw demonstrated was one called Grasping Roots, which drove a group of vengeful dandelions around an enemy's legs. This too was visually appealing, well crafted, and left you with a good feeling in your gut.

At one point the demonstrator chuckled ruefully as I launched my character into a graceful leap of not-quite-natural distance, and reassured me that they were still hammering down the physics system. The game is still under development, but even so it looks to have a strong showing. Unlike EverQuest, either 1 or 2, Worlds of Warcraft has a seamless zoning system, which means all the world can be wandered to and from without pauses or delays for loading. Want to travel to the underwater area? Simply walk out to sea. It makes for a very big and immersive universe.

Although we know a great deal, Blizzard is still being tight-lipped about many things, an understandable move in an industry of fierce competition. They've publicly stated that player vs. player combat will be incorporated, but the details are being closely guarded, though they've assured us that they'll stay true to the Warcraft universe (does this mean racial conflicts, a bit of kingdom aggressions?). Along the same lines, there is little hard and fast information on World of Warcraft's political structure, aside from Blizzard's admission that there will be guilds. Is there a ruling government? Will we see the heroes of old reigning from their lofty thrones? We know that the players will encounter the heroes of the past games in the vast World of Warcraft, but who knows what function they will play?

When it comes down to it, we're on the brink of a huge massively multiplayer showdown in which the large number of companies preparing to take the gaming world online will start dishing it out. Almost all the games look good. Many look unique. Only a few have a name like Blizzard's. I've played Diablo. I've played Warcraft. I've played Starcraft. I've seen a little bit of World of Warcraft. When Blizzard tells me they've got something up their sleeve, one thing goes through my mind: they haven't missed yet, not once. They have an unbroken track record, and that means I'm prepared to desperately want to play this new race of theirs simply on their say so. They just have too many \"game of the year\" awards to think otherwise.