In recent years, The WarCry Network has not been a site for reviews. Today, we hope to begin a new tradition by reviewing the biggest expansion of them all: World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade.

We’ve opted to stay away from grading the games we review, as the numbers are too subjective and usually, over time, become wildly inconsistent. Instead, we’re going to give you our heart-felt opinion, some pros and cons, and then let you make your own choice.

John Funk took the time to pen this review. So read on to find out what WarCry thinks of The Burning Crusade.


Review: “World of WarCraft: The Burning Crusade”
Article be John Funk

imageUnless you’ve been living under a particularly isolated rock in the middle of Greenland for the past two years, you’ve probably heard about ‘World of Warcraft.’ Though Blizzard’s past games have all been smash hits financially, their first foray into the massive genre has reached an unprecedented amount of success, with over 8 million
subscribers worldwide-an absolutely staggering figure, to be sure. There are more people in Azeroth than there are in some countries.

It’s taken them two years, but the Blue Crew in Irvine has finally launched the first expansion pack to their proverbial 800-pound gorilla, ‘World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade.’ With two new races to play, a brand-new crafting profession, and a slew of new lands filled with dangerous and deadly beasties that all hunger for your demise, ‘Burning Crusade’ has rapidly become one of the fastest-selling games of all time.

It is said that “the apple does not fall far from the tree,” and the statement holds true for the WoW expansion. Much of what is good about ‘Burning Crusade’ was good in ‘World of Warcraft,’ and many of its flaws are from the parent game as well. Even so, Blizzard has jam-packed a whole mess of content into their first expansion pack, and the vast majority of what is there is excellent.

imageGraphics

World of Warcraft, in comparison with many of its contemporaries, was never a particularly graphically-intensive title. Blizzard opted to go with a less-demanding engine to make it easier to run on systems that were older or less suited for gaming. It’s certainly not an ugly game per se, and the less-advanced graphics mesh extremely well with the ‘cartoony’ Warcraft art style, but even at launch the graphics weren’t exactly cutting-edge. Two years later, as gaming moves more and more into HD, the WoW engine is really starting to show its age-especially when up against games like ‘Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,’ and ‘Gears of War.’

imageThough dated, it still looks good and, more importantly, can run on weaker systems with little trouble. The lack of raw technical power in the engine is compensated for in tremendous art direction. Each of the eleven new lands has a distinctive visual style that practically oozes Blizzard’s trademark polish from every virtual square foot. From the eerie undead Ghostlands, to the gently rolling plains of Nagrand, the towering spires of the Blade’s Edge Mounains, or the demon-scarred wastelands of Shadowmoon Valley, it’s an incredibly beautiful and in many cases, awe-inspiring world. The addition of flying mounts in the shattered world of Outland (which are, by themselves, very cool indeed) lets you explore the world like you couldn’t in the original game, and see anything from almost any angle you choose. Combined with the art direction, one gets the feeling that this is a real world, with every digital inch painstakingly and lovingly hand-crafted.

The new models for the two new races-the Blood Elves and the Draenei–look great and seem to have a bit more flair than the original game’s eight races, with smoother and cooler animations. There are also plenty new models for the nefarious forces of Outland, which is a welcome breath of fresh air from the endlessly recycled Azerothian models though Blizzard might just end up recycling the new models for Outland all over again, it’s fresh for now.

imageGameplay

‘Burning Crusade’ doesn’t play any different from its predecessor, really. Each class has new talents and abilities gained from levels 61 through 70, which certainly adds more variety, with some more fun or useful than others. However, while a level 70 Mage will have some more tactics and tricks up his robe sleeve, it’s not all that different from a level 60 Mage.

There are hundreds of new quests in Outland, to the point where it feels overwhelming at times. However, this is a good thing because there’s always something to do – rarely will you ever feel that you need to grind to reach the next level. The quests, for the most part, are your standard MMO tasks – kill this many of this type of monster, get this many items off that type of monster, kill this particular named enemy, deliver this to there, etc. There is, admittedly, more variety in objectives than there was in the original game, which is very welcome. However, I would have liked to see even more quests like that, because mixing it up really is more interesting than kill quest after kill quest.

While the game plays essentially the same on the player’s end, the creeps and villains inhabiting the dungeons in Outland are, on the whole, more interesting to fight than their counterparts back in Azeroth. After the mindless tedium that was Molten Core, Blizzard started to create more engaging and exciting raid encounters with Blackwing Lair, Temple of Ahn’Qiraj, and Naxxramas. Many of the principles and concepts used for some of the cooler 40-man raid bosses have been scaled down and applied to the 5-man dungeons, which is certainly a welcome addition and means that fighting a boss is generally more exciting and engaging than simply pressing the “Kill stuff” button over and over again.

imageA concern of many WoW players in recent months has been the PvP imbalance, where well-geared players are capable of ending many fights in two or three hits almost instantly. To balance PvP more and lead toward longer, more intricate and strategic fights, Blizzard has drastically increased the Stamina values on nearly all the gear in Outland, meaning that players will have higher HP to hopefully last a bit longer. Whether or not they fall back into the same trend at level 70 and boost damage so much that fights aren’t any different even with the increased stamina… remains to be seen.

People who never had the time or the inclination to raid – even with the raid cap lowered to 25 people from 40 – may be happy to note that Blizzard seems to be far more interested in alternate avenues and paths to get good, powerful gear. Reputation rewards with the various factions, PvP and Arena gear, crafted items and weapons – all appear to be rather powerful and compare favorably to any of the raid gear we’ve seen thus far. Again, it remains to be seen whether this will continue or end up in the same imbalance we saw in Azeroth at Level 60. After all, Molten Core gear/weapons weren’t that much better than dungeon gear/crafted weaponry back then, either.

Presentation
Anyone who has ever played a Blizzard game will probably notice the absolutely insane amounts of polish that go into the finished product – they may take their sweet time making the games, but when they release them, it’s well worth it. The world of ‘Burning Crusade,’ like Azeroth before it, is filled with tons of quirky little touches that serve no actual purpose in-game other than to make it feel like a living, breathing world. There are ogres in Nagrand who brag about their ability to mimic the sounds of a dying Orc, a trio of bored goblin workers that occasionally visit a nearby High Elf Mage to bug him into showing them some magic tricks, and a Troll in the city of Shattrath named ‘Griftah’ that sells supposedly ‘magic’ necklaces (that give you abilities you already have, like regenerating health by eating food). I have no doubt that the majority of people that play this game will never find the hidden nursery in the mountains between Nagrand and Zangarmarsh with infants of every race in the game, but for those that do, it’s a great touch.

imageBlizzard, as always, tosses little in-jokes and references to pop culture into the game, whether to music (Thrallmar’s innkeeper Floyd Pinkus, or the would-be goblin astronauts that slip the lyrics to Elton John’s “Rocket Man” into their conversation), television (the Alliance Engineering trainer, K.Lee Smallfry, is a clear reference to Kaylee in Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly’), or even other video games (a Horde quest in Shadowmoon Valley called ‘Setting Up The Bomb’). The NPC dialogue, whether for a quest or just for the hell of it, is witty, nuanced, and in some cases – dare I say it – actually rather emotional.

The game sounds great, too. The voices for the new races are fitting and colorful, and most of the dungeon bosses have audible spoken dialogue (whereas relatively few actually spoke in Azeroth). There are a lot of really subtle touches that one really wouldn’t notice but certainly contribute: for instance, the final boss of the Shadow Labyrinth, Murmur-described as a being of pure, concentrated sound-makes different musical tones every time he’s hit. It’s very subtle and blends into the background, but well-thought-out.

Musically, it’s heads and shoulders above the first game. Whereas in the original, music was composed for certain types of zones (Forest Daytime/Nighttime, Desert Daytime/Nighttime), each new zone has its own handcrafted theme to evoke a certain type of feeling, whether that feeling is a sort of serene peace (Nagrand) or unease and fear (Shadowmoon Valley). Fans of more classical music may notice the melody of Chopin’s Nocturne while adventuring in Hellfire Peninsula.

imageFans of Blizzard’s previous ‘Warcraft’ titles should enjoy ‘Burning Crusade’ as well, and there’s definitely a part of the game that seems catered to appeal to longtime lovers of the series. Both factions can interact with some of the most famous (and infamous) heroes in the entire Warcraft storyline – Khadgar, Danath Trollbane, and Kurdran Wildhammer for the Alliance, while Horde fans will recognize Teron Gorefiend and Kargath Bladefist. Of course, the cast from ‘Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne’ features very prominently in the game, and Prince Kael’Thas, Maiev Shadowsong, Lady Vashj, Akama, and Illidan himself are all up to their old tricks. Newbies to the ‘Warcraft’ storyline will probably enjoy the localized plots and storylines that ‘Burning Crusade’ contains, but longtime fans will certainly get an extra kick out of it all.

It’s almost entirely impossible to review World of Warcraft without talking about the technical issues the game faced. In 2004, Blizzard severely underestimated how popular the game would be, and players faced server queues, frequent crashes, and severe lag during peak hours. As half-demon bad boy Illidan quips in the ‘Burning Crusade’ opening cinematic, Blizzard certainly was “not prepared.” As more and more people started playing, the technical problems improved – but not by much. Servers still crash, are laggy and have login queues.

With over eight million people playing the game, Blizzard actually did remarkably well on the technical side of the launch. There was no downtime on the release date, and the servers were relatively stable. Considering the magnitude of the launch, that’s truly a remarkable success. However, there are login queues on many servers as thousands of players reactivate their accounts to check out the new content. Servers do crash, and they’re certainly laggy during prime-time hours. Quest mobs are often camped, making it frustrating to try and finish a quest because you keep getting robbed of that one last kill you need. In many ways, the extreme popularity of the game is just as much a hindrance to the game than it is a benefit.

imageStill, these problems are likely to die down and become less of an issue as time goes on and the population thins out again. But they do exist and they are a legitimate complaint of many, many gamers.

In music, many people consider the second album a band releases to be their finest. They’re more experienced, are starting to find their own unique sound, et cetera. Likewise, Blizzard’s sophomore entry into the world of MMOs clearly shows what the Irvine company has learned over two years of running the most popular game on the planet. ‘Burning Crusade’ doesn’t bring many new concepts to the table, but takes a lot of what worked in the original ‘World of Warcraft’ and expands on it, while trying to minimize the flaws in its predecessor.

Is it a perfect game? Of course not, and if a person vehemently disliked the first WoW, ‘Burning Crusade’ isn’t likely to bring them into the fold. Still, it improves on the original in almost every way, and it will certainly be interesting to see if Blizzard can top this for whatever they’ve got planned for Expansion #2.

PROS CONS
Beautiful art direction Graphics engine showing its age
Great sound and music Server stability
Fun new dungeons and enemies Hard to complete quests with so much competition
Flying mounts kick ass Not enough variety in quest objectives (more than original)
A wonderful sense of humor Won’t bring non-WoW fans in
The trademark Blizzard polish

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