Last month, the World of Azeroth got a great deal larger as Blizzard released the second expansion for World of Warcraft, Wrath of the Lich King.
The ambitious new expansion pack gives players access to the icy continent of Northrend, home to the Lich King, the ungodly powerful melding of former Draenor warchief Ner'zhul and former crown prince of Lorderon, Arthas Menethil. Along with new lands to explore and new quests to fulfill, Wrath of the Lich King also introduces the game's first Hero Class in the form of the dreaded Death Knights, plate-wearing wielders of runic power.
I've spent a significant amount of time exploring all that's new in Azeroth. Was it just a temporary visit, or does Wrath pack enough punch to lure me back in full-time?
More Better Quests: Continuing the trend started with The Burning Crusade, quests in The Wrath of the Lich King are even more dynamic and enthralling that ever, with new mechanics to keep things fresh. Sure, you'll still find plenty of kill X number of Y quests, but you'll also find yourself flying rickety planes to remote locations, launching cannon attacks on huge creatures, or participating in giant battles that leave you giddy afterwards.
The Scenic Route: Northrend is far more than snow. You'll find rolling hills, steep mountain slopes, ruined temples, and floating cities in the sky — along with a fair amount of snow. Zones in Wrath are gigantic, lovely to look at, and seem a great deal more vertical than what I'm used to in World of Warcraft. Expect to see many breathtaking sights on your first run through the frozen lands.
Multiple Starting Points: A large improvement over The Burning Crusade, Wrath gives both factions two-different areas to launch their expedition into Northrend from, rather than dumping every one in the same starting area so they can kill quest mobs to extinction. It also means that leveling multiple characters in the expansion isn't quite as repetitive as it was in the previous expansion.
Open-World Instancing: Open-world instancing is a new technique they are using to effect changes to the game world without zoning you into your own private instance. It's almost like having another instance of the same location layered on top of the first, only with changes to reflect the state of the quest you are in. It's used to great effect in the Death Knight starting area, where different stages of a massive war are all played out in the same area. One moment you're fighting to take over a human settlement, the next moment things seamlessly transition to the same settlement raised to the ground by your efforts. It really gives the illusion that your actions are making a difference.
The Knights Who Say Death: Blizzard introduces the first Hero Class to World of Warcraft in a truly epic fashion. The starting area for Death Knights is brilliantly executed, deftly weaving a tale of corruption and redemption over the course of a few hours. The aforementioned open-world instancing plays a large role in the starting experience, and the final battle at Light's Hope is one of the most spectacular moments I've seen in the game. As for the Death Knights themselves, they make excellent additions to most parties, whether you play them as the far superior frost-build tank or the dime-a-dozen DPS unholy spec.
More Realistic Equipment: I'm really digging the dark and gritty look of the equipment drops I've managed to collect in the expansion so far. A far cry from The Burning Crusade's Final Fantasy meets Sid and Marty Croft colorful glowing weapons, Northrend equipment looks more like something out of a Frank Frazetta or Brom painting.
Easy Mode: The main thing that Wrath of the Lich King lacks is any sort of significant challenge. The progression to level 80 is far faster than it should be, with even casual players in my guild already at or quickly approaching level 80. The new dungeons are particularly simple, even compared to the easy beginning dungeons from The Burning Crusade. I blazed through several of them with pick-up groups the first evening of release with little or no problem at all. I know World of Warcraft isn't exactly famous for it's difficulty, but I would have expected a steeper climb.
Not For Noobins: There is absolutely no reason to buy Wrath of the Lich King if you are new to the World of Warcraft experience. You cannot create a Death Knight unless you already have a character who is level 55 or more, and all of the new content is geared towards players level 68 and above. Not a problem for veterans, but new players won't be missing out on anything should they give the expansion a pass for now.
The launch of a major expansion pack in an MMO always has its upsides and downsides, and Wrath of the Lich King is no different. It did flood Hellfire with hundreds of baby Death Knights looking for healers, fill the general chat channels were filled with players asking questions that could be easily answered by reading quest text, and there is some general bugginess in some of the new zones (hello, Zul'drak). Those few nagging issues are balanced by the excitement of discovering new things and the revitalization of guild dynamics as old players flock back to see what's going on. After nearly two years of getting to know everything there is to know about The Burning Crusade, it's good to feel like a total noob all over again, even if the feeling doesn't last very long.
Wrath of the Lich King does what an MMORPG expansion should, adding tons of new content and refreshing the sense of wonder that drew players to World of Warcraft in the first place.
Wrath of the Lich King was developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment, released in North America on Nov. 13 for Windows PC and MAC. Retails for $39.99. Spent countless hours playing through expansion content, leveling a Death Knight to 70 and Mage to 75. Participated in multiple dungeons under both guises. Completed far too many quests to mention. Earned achievement for killing turkeys.
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