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World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Preview

The Slacker's Guide - World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Preview

November 17th, 2006

The Slacker's Guide: World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Preview
By Chris Barylick

Coming Into Its Own: World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade
While it's one thing to create and sell a new video game, expansion packs are an entirely different beast altogether. Perhaps a game was successful enough to warrant new content; not a sequel, but a series of additions to keep the player base happy in the meantime.

This also runs into some fairly dangerous ground.

When a video game company decides to do this, they place their credibility on the line, perhaps more so than with the original video game itself. Sometimes the expansion brings something new to the table. Other times it just seems like a polite means of selling the same game all over to you again in the form of additional levels, weapons, vehicles and a mediocre new storyline.

Players will be able to create Blood Elf and Dranei characters in the Burning Crusade expansion pack for World of Warcraft.

Blizzard has put themselves on the line with its current major project, the Burning Crusade expansion pack for its World of Warcraft massively multiplayer online role-playing game. And true to the company's history of carefully crafting their next product, there's something worth looking forward to when this game is released to market in January of 2007.

Like the original, players traverse an epic fantasy landscape, carrying out quests, gathering items and working towards the next level. Typical for a fantasy role-playing game and what would be expected from an expansion pack. The difference comes down to execution. Blizzard has created an entire new continent to explore called Outland (last seen in Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne) as well as two new races (the Dranei for the Alliance and the Blood Elves for the Horde). The Dranei, somewhat similar in appearance to the demons they've sworn to fight, have crashed from their home world and come to Outland as aliens, while the Blood Elves, having lost the trust of the Alliance serve as a dark offshoot of the Night Elves from the original game.

It never hurts to fight with a party.

When I first began playing a few weeks ago, there was a healthy degree of skepticism. True, I like World of Warcraft and have kept my account alive with three alternate characters. The fact was that I felt hard pressed to really get into it, as my highest character is a level 39 druid and I didn't feel compelled to spend dozens of hours grinding for money, treasure and additional items to purchase a mount, then work my way towards level 60. The game was fun, but only in small to moderate doses.

Upon creating a new set of characters for the Burning Crusade open beta test, the spark is definitely back. Beautiful graphics, terrific sound and epic environments stand up to and surpass the original game. Where Blizzard could have passed this off as the expansion to one of the most popular games of all time and gotten away with only a fair amount of effort, the new continent retains the epic feel that was created in the original.

Each race's capital city, typically the graphical jewel in the crown for a given area, remains as epic as they ever were, the Blood Elf and Dranei capital cities blowing the player away in terms of depth and detail. They went back to the drawing board with this in lieu of throwing out a copied version of the same old thing and the result is a set of cities with their own look and feel to accompany their home race.

While the Burning Crusade expansion pack was designed to provide a continued experience for hardcore players who had reached the original game's maximum level of 60 (the new cap is 70 with the player needing to gather an increasing number of experience points to reach the next level - plenty to tide them over), improved game elements help new players along.

Cool and colorful mounts abound.

Flying mounts finally bring the dream of a controllable flying unit to the player. Previously only available as a non-controllable form of public transportation such as through a gryphon or giant bat in the original, Blizzard has handed over the thing that players have clamored for from day one.

New professions and talents make the game even more enjoyable, albeit the new Jewelcrafting profession seems to take a long time to gather components past the initial levels. Players can create new jewels to fit into socketed items as well as standalone items to grant new abilities and bonuses. Even though players kind of lifted an eyebrow at the inclusion of only a single new profession at the time of the game's announcement, Jewelcrafting blends well with the other professions, especially where party roles are concerned. Where a few players may take on fighting roles (a.k.a. "tanking") while others hang back and cast offensive, defensive or healing spells, professions work well together. A well-balanced group can include Jewelcrafting into its cycle of creating new items, weapons, potions and armor for the group at large before taking on a larger quest like a dungeon that needs to be explored.

The Burning Crusade expansion pack is currently in closed beta, with an eventual price of US$39.99 when it is released ($37.99 - Amazon). The game, which is written as a universal binary, runs well despite its beta status with only a few soft crashes during the early stages. Bug fixes have arrived consistently at a pace of one to two a month and typically patch a fair number of issues with each round.

Rogues can still wield multiple blades as well as stab anything they want as a source of amusement.

Not for ancient Macs but also not for the hardware-elite either, the current Burning Crusade system specifications call for Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later, a 933 MHz G4, G5 or Intel processor (a 1.8 GHz G5 or Intel processor is recommended), 512 MB of RAM (1 GB is recommended) and a video card with at least 32 MB of VRAM (64 MB of VRAM is recommended).

The Burning Crusade expansion pack is due for release on January 16th of 2007 and will be available via retail and online stores. Despite still being in beta, the game shows steady improvements over the original, especially for new players. This is the better version of what an expansion pack can be; a game running off the same core system having been carefully rethought and made that much more fun.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,

Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

The Slacker's Guide Archives.


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