Seeing the Warcraft franchise grow up is rather like watching the progression of a precocious child. In the original game, it was a chubby orcish toddler, in Warcraft III it was a brooding adolescent and finally, with World Of Warcraft, the game's turned into a grown man - and one who has more than one saucepan and puts the toilet seat down.
So it was kind of inevitable that there'd be an online version of Warcraft - what better way to experience Lordaeron or Kalimdor than by running around in them, battleaxe at the ready and furry codpiece rippling in the breeze? So step this way and I'll take you on a short tour. Stragglers will be left behind (and possibly eaten by a slavering beast).
WOW (best acronym ever) gives you eight races to choose from. First, there are the Horde factions which comprise of trolls (the big angry guys), orcs (the big, angry green guys), tauren (half-man, half-bull, unlikely to get invited to dinner parties), and the undead (tendency to lurch a bit).
Or, if you prefer your character to be a bit more 'traditionally' shaped, you might want to look into the Alliance instead. That's where you'll find humans (the conservative choice), night elves (if you think yourself stylish and misunderstood), and not forgetting the little guys - the dwarves (small angry guys) and gnomes (smaller, angrier and a terror to kneecaps from the Tirisfal Glades to Stranglethorn Vale).
Take Your Pick
However, it's not just about shape, it's what you do with it. So be prepared to take your new creation down the path of the paladin, rogue, priest, hunter, warlock, druid, warrior, mage or shaman. Not all these classes are on offer to just anyone, though. For example, only taurens, trolls and gnomes can be a shaman - and believe me, it's not wise to make jokes of the 'garden ornament' variety when one of those little buggers has got a lightening bolt handy.
Each character starts in their homeland (humans begin in the woodlands of Elwynn Forest, for instance), and they're free to wander wherever they like on the regular servers (as long as they behave). But woe betide the Alliance adventurer who ventures into Horde territory and starts to cause trouble, as they'll find themselves with considerably more of their blood on the wrong side of their skin. If you're looking for a fight however, there are PvP servers for people like you.
Come Fly With Me
The producer behind this virtual land, Chris Sigaty, offers these wise words: "With many MMORPGs, after you create a character it's not very clear what you're supposed to do next. The main goal with WOW was to make it very easy to get into. We have an in-game help system and a simple interface, but it still has a lot of depth for hardcore players."
So whether you're a hardened MMORPGer or just a casual dabbler, WOW has something for you. Perhaps you'd like to hone your useful professional abilities, which include things like skinning, leatherworking, herbalism and alchemy. Alternatively, instead of high adventure, perhaps you dream of becoming a blacksmith or a fisherman, spending your time peacefully casting a line or two?
The stables provides the last leg of our tour, although we're not talking horses here. Griffins are just one of several creatures in the game that fly you from area to area - although take care not to surprise it from behind as those things have a mean kick... Hold on tight too, because fallers will not get a refund!
As you see the land dropping away beneath you, you might notice there are no loading screens and no darkness. Instead, you can sit back and enjoy a seamless ride through these colourful landscapes. Lush woodlands give way
to parched deserts, that in turn slowly merge into treacherous mountain ranges heavy with snow.