This is a guest review by Evil Plipster
World of Warcraft: The Wrath of the Lich King is the second expansion for Blizzard's mammoth of an MMO where you, the plucky adventurer, fresh from dealing with the Burning Legion in Outland are sent northwards to a continent of ice and assorted Nordic themed wonders in an effort to meet and defeat the mighty Lich King who's been the main focus of the story of Warcraft since the opening of "Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos". Then about five seconds into the new expansion you meet him.
This is where you realize that Blizzard has learned its lessons from The Burning Crusade very well. You see, while The Burning Crusade was a fine improvement over an already fine game it still had some niggling issues. The fact that you found yourself on a strange new world dealing with matters that you get the feeling that you didn't originally sign up for was one. From the get-go my original mind-set was to start of a lowly mage battling some petty bandits for the benefit of a small local militia and then finally battling the masses of undead that were seen as the main antagonist in the Warcraft universe. With Burning Crusade instead of charging across the barren plague-lands on the back of a mighty stallion to go and do battle with an undead foe that threatened the very existence of my homeland, I was suddenly flapping over a land of giant mushrooms on the back of what could only be described as a "flying eel only slightly more odd looking".
It's true that this is a personal gripe as the first expansion could realistically be called nothing but a triumph as it added many improvements and mechanics to the game. But here we come to my original point, from the beginning of entering into the content of WotLK's content you're facing the mighty Lich King himself. Unlike Illidan (the big bad from the first expansion) the King himself is out and about in the thick of the action. You're not made to "earn" the right to see him by playing all the way through to the end, he's there right before you being scary and intimidating and not hiding in some big black temple behind a near infinite number of minions! No,sir!
This is the first of many improvements, not just to the story telling but the quests and mechanics involved are also massively improved, bringing in new vehicle mechanics as well as many innovations and twists onto already existing content to keep things fresh and interesting for even the most jaded of questers with the always interesting little sub-plots that WoW has always had to keep people going from one quest to the next other then the promise of new gear to wear and gold to spend.
Everything about WotLK sings "Accessibility" and that in itself is a brave step, MMORPG's have always been the place to go if you have an urge for your willingness to spend a great deal of time repeating a task to be rewarded for something that your standard RPG will happily bestow on you for a fraction of the time. The normal five-man dungeons are eventful, entertaining and short enough for anyone to have a go and enjoy and if that item dosen't drop from the boss for you? Well, no matter because bosses also drop tokens (as in TBC) so if you're unlucky you can still go and trade in the tokens for something nice so your time hasn't been wasted. This "dungeon grinding" philosophy is carried over into the end game content. Back in ye olde days of Warcraft you needed thirty nine other people to head into the big dungeons to battle the big boys and to be honest this was never a good design in my opinion as there was a fairly large chance that of the thirty nine people you were grouped with you wouldn't actually enjoy spending time with, say, thirty of them.
Burning Crusade gave us some nice ten man content and cut down the larger instances down to twenty five. In Wrath of the Lich King this has been made even better as -all- the end game dungeons have both twenty five and ten man versions making it more accessible for players and the end game content less of a private club for the mere 9% of players that saw it.
All this is in addition to a new profession in Scribing that allows you to customize you're character's abilities in various was, added arena and PvP areas, the ability to change your character's hair and various other cosmetic features and some nice re-works to each of the classes to keep things fresh and interesting to make sure that you don't play WoW the same was as you did before.
The Hero class, Death Knight.
Well, I say "Hero Class" but it's not what you would traditionally refer to as such. Typically the hero class in a game is when you take your standard character as far as you can then they "evolve" into the hero class. In WotLK this system has been ignored in favor of a system that allows you to create one Death Knight per-server that you have a level fifty five character on. Once you created you'll find your Death Knight's starter area to be something unique as you participate in quests that tell a story of how evil the undead Scourge really are and has you doing some wonderfully evil things to some passing villagers who happen to get into your way. Here we discover a new introduction to the game, "Phasing". The "Instancing" of dungeons is a fantastic little swish to WoW's enjoyment, when you enter a place to hunt for bosses that experience is unique to you and your party so when venture in you're not greeted with a collection of rotting corpses and another group of dingbats posing around with that really nice helmet of infinite greatness that you wanted.
The phasing is a mechanic that once you've completed a part of the story of a quest, the world around you changes for your benefit. Anyone that's not on that particular part of the story will become invisible to you and indeed you will become invisible to them, it's this and other little touches like it that really won me over with this game.
However, it's not a flawless experience. The mere fact that it's an online game does leave a certain amount of your game experience in the hands of other players and anyone that's used the Internet for any length of time will know that there is not guarantee that other players will be as helpful or good natured as yourself. Also it should be remembered that the game engine is nearly five years old at this point and despite some amazing art design and upgrades to the engine there's still times when the visuals show their age. Adding to that some classes still don't fill their game roles with the ease you would expect your experience with Wrath of the Lich King may be effected in unintended ways because of such slight imbalances.
However in the end "Wrath of the Lich King" is an extremely well polished and well thought out title with fun game play, good humor, amazing music and creative visuals that breathes life in Blizzard's huge MMO juggernaut for at least a few more years. We've gone from a time where the biggest problem for the MMO player was finding the willingness to sit there and play their game of choice to a place where the WoW player needs to find the willingness to stop playing.
And if that's a problem, well, I suppose I'm in quite a bit of bother right now.