World of Warcraft has sat upon its throne for a long time now. Its impossible to deny the immense success that the game has enjoyed. A game so great that every other game released is compared to it and inevitably falls short. All good things come to an end but Blizzard believe that there is still life in WoW. The new expansion pack (Wrath of the Lich King) which will be available for most gamers on November 13th 2008 isn't revolutionary and to be honest that's probably a good thing. Evolution rather than revolution is the model that seems to have suited Blizzard and theirs fans for such a long time. The expansion includes an increase to the level cap, so now gamers can take their characters up to level 80 rather than the current cap of 70. There is a new class, the Death Knight, a new profession allowing you to inscribe items, new content suitable for level 68 upwards and also some new PvP options.
The majority of my time with the beta has been spent playing the Death Knight. When I started the character I genuinely knew nothing about the character (I have been away from WoW for a while and haven't been keeping up to date with the info) and once I began playing I was very surprised. I created a Gnome Death Knight, though wondered how a class name that had leaning towards the dark side of things would fit in. Well the truth is I'm not sure that it does, the Death knight is an evil class. I don't mean evil like the Horde are because for those of you who have played as horde characters or know the background, the horde aren't actually evil, that's just the way they are portrayed by the alliance. So we've established that the Death Knight is evil, does that make the class different to play? Yes it does. The sense of enjoyment is very different to playing other classes in the game, its a little sadistic at times. Rather than killing mobs that threaten food supplies or taking on guards from opposing factions you will find yourself killing innocents.
To help make the class stand out, the mechanics supporting it are different to other classes. Rather than having mana, rage or combo meters, the Death Knight uses runes. The runes sit below your health and mana bars in three pairs. Each rune acts as a timer, when an ability is used the relevant rune starts on a ten second timer, if you want to use an ability you need to make sure the relevant rune isn't counting down. As you use abilities a bar will build which shows your runic power (similar to rage for the warrior class). Spells require Runic power rather than mana, so using normal skills unlocks more powerful spells. When you leave combat this bar will slowly decay so its worth getting back into combat quickly if you want to make the most of the power. This system whilst quite technical adds a lot to the class, especially as the Death Knight is essentially in the Tank/DPS category.
The Death Knight is considered as a Hero class and so you are only allowed one per realm, fortunately they start at level 55. This seems a little odd at first, whilst you start with plenty of good gear, you have no cash, no mount and only a single bag. I felt a little naked starting out like this. Also you have no talents or talent points. Completing quests unlocks bonus talent points which can then be spent in one of the classes three talent trees. And don't worry you pick up a mount quite early on.
Blizzard are well aware that there will be many Death Knights created early on in the life of the expansion and there are quests that show this. One quest requires you to duel and beat fellow Death Knights, so on launch day expect there to be numerous duels in the starting area. The whole feel of this new starter area is excellent, it is jam packed full of quests and is a lot of fun to play. Humour plays a part in some of this content but that adds to the appeal rather than reducing it. The starting area definitely has a unique feel to it and I think it is an excellent new direction for the game, it keeps your attention and makes you want to spend time with the new character. This is obviously important as at level 55 you wouldn't want to dive straight into instance runs until you have a feel for your character and have tweaked the talents and equipment to suit your play style.
Something that Blizzard have really got to grips with is beta feedback. For every quest you complete you are asked to fill in a quick survey and you can feedback on each and every aspect of the expansion. This kind of commitment bodes well for the game and shows the commitment to getting it right for release.
My main gripe with the game is the graphics. As time passes they are looking more dated. I've heard conflicting information on the subject, I've heard that the game will be getting a graphical overhaul and I've also heard that Blizzard don't want to increase the system requirements of the game and alienate those playing with low end machines. I think Blizzard can get away with it for now, though there will become a point where they will have to risk losing some of their customers on low end machines for the sake of improvement.
Blizzard are taking a slight risk by not including new races and by including only one hero class. I would have liked to have seen either additional races or another hero class. The rest of the content in the expansion should make up for this shortfall.
Obviously the expansion is going to sell extremely well. If only a quarter of subscribers buy the game then Blizzard have a hit on their hands. Though the likelihood is that most subscribers will buy it and some old subscribers will return. With less than two months to release the game is on track to being a critical success and unless another developer can come up with something pretty spectacular, WotLK will help Blizzard keep their place on the throne for another year or so.