I'll admit that prior to entering the beta for World Of Warcraft, the game hadn't reached out its scaly hands, shaken me roughly and shouted "You must play me!" through Orcish halitosis breath. It seemed too simplistic; a mite bit cutesy around the edges and an enormously lengthy client download didn't help either.
Now my level 28 Rogue (as of writing), my level 15 Paladin and all the other characters I've tried out, are a virtual all-singing, all-dancing chorus to the fact that I was wrong. Well, sort of. World Of Warcraft certainly is a less hardcore MMORPG than the current offerings, but you know something? It works. Like with so many of its games, Blizzard has taken some simple ideas and executed them beautifully.
The Great War
Currently Blizzard is providing both non-PvP and PvP beta servers for Europe. The main difference being that the war between the Alliance and the Horde is intensified in PvP so that you're free to indulge the age-old Warcraft battle, with certain limitations from territory to territory.
Already the PvP server is proving to be very popular, and certainly it's one aspect of MMORPGs that players are taking very seriously at the moment.
The game's chat window constantly updates to tell you which territory is being attacked, and chats are full of 'Level 32 Troll Shaman on the Long Wash'-type alerts.
However, there are still a few problems that are proving rather annoying to beta players. The first is corpse-camping where your enemy stands over your dead body and kills you when you resurrect. The second is the fact that on the appropriate territory any level of character is free to attack any other level of character. Although there's an unwritten code that it's strictly not cricket to attack newbies, many low levellers have found themselves being killed just because they happened to wander into the wrong place. Them's the breaks you might say, but since WOW is trying to attract more of a casual audience, making things a bit more comfortable for newcomers would be welcome.
Spit And Polish
Nevertheless despite the fact that it's still in beta, World Of Warcraft is remarkably stable with an unprecedented level of content. There's still a bit of bug hunting going on, but it really feels like a finished game. It's a stable and seamless world, and that's exactly the right image a MMORPG needs to attract newcomers. There are lots of little details to love, like the way Orcs dance like MC Hammer's backing troupe, the giant mechanical chickens, the in-game auction and postal service, and the view you have from the back of a gryphon as you soar over the landscapes. Blizzard has certainly taken its time making sure that World Of Warcraft is as good as it can be. It's the company's ten-year-old baby after all, and now definitely isn't the time to be pushing it recklessly into the wilderness with just a stick and some sandwiches. If the state of the beta is anything to go by, then it has more than lived up to its reputation. EverQuest II beware!