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World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

Delving deep into the first expansion for Blizzard's massive MMORPG

There is a life beyond the world as you know it. I know because I've just been there. But right now I'm sitting in an office in Irvine, California, and sitting opposite me is Blizzard's creative director Chris Metzen, the man whose mind provides the motivation every time an orc raises an axe in anger. Every major nugget of Warcraft lore has passed through his hands - Frozen Thrones, Dark Portals, you name it. He's the man who gives meaning to your daily grind. He's also a full-on rock star: wide grin, muscular build, dazzling necklace, chunky rings and Bono sunglasses. He's the closest man to Henry Rollins the games industry has. And I'm here to hear him talk Orc.

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"There's this guy called Sargaris. He's a fallen titan and an extremely ill-tempered dude," begins Metzen as he cricks his neck. "Over the ages, he's gathered an army of demons that he calls the Burning Legion and he's set out to eradicate all life within the universe. As the Legion pass through the cosmos, they burn every world they encounter. They show up, destroy all sentient races, consume all magic, refuel and move on. Sargaris is pretty dedicated to wiping out all life and just becoming the ultimate god."

BEYOND THE GRIND
Really? Yesterday my Night-Elf was doing some sexy dancing and killing giant lizards with a bloke from Yorkshire who was a bit worried because his dog had run off and hadn't come back yet. I struggle to see how this affects me...

But of course it affects me, it affects me hugely: level cap to 70! New race of Blood Elves! Mounts that can fly! I haven't been quite so happy since the man from Yorkshire's dog finally returned, apparently having rolled in something unpleasant. But to understand The Burning Crusade's greatness, we have to fully understand from whence it comes. For the uninitiated and if you haven't been worshipping at the Blizzard shrine throughout its days of top-downity, a little more exposition is required. Specifically an introduction to the concept of Outland.

"Boy, this is complicated. It's good, but it's complicated," restarts Metzen from somewhere behind his orangetinted shades. "Outland is the remnants of the planet Draenor, the world the orcs came from in the first place; we saw a little bit of it in Warcraft II: Beyond The Dark Portal many moons ago. It was once a healthy place where the orcs lived. Ultimately, the Burning Legion showed up, took the orcs into their ranks and destroyed the planet. So now all that remains is a series of roughly continentsized rocks floating in the astral planes that we call the Twisting Nether."

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It was from this barren place that a gate was opened through to Azeroth (much loved home of humans, dwarves and elves), the polluted orcs spilled through and much RTS malarkey ensued. Just like a certain famed village in Gaul that stood alone against the Romans, Azeroth became the first world to have ever successfully withstood the assault of Sargaris and his Burning Legion. The uneasy mix of Alliance and Horde remained, and the setting of the most successful online game of all time was assured. The Dark Portal, meanwhile, stood derelict, mournful and distinctly shut within a part of the World Of Warcraft known as Blasted Lands. Shut, at least, until now.

WE ARE NOT ALONE
Outland, a world ripped asunder, is being designed for the upper echelons of players, those wanting to wade into the extra ten levels provided by the expansion with gusto until they hit the 70 mark and enter into a mission that will provide them with a flying mount - a Nether Dragon, no less. Instead of being race-specific as they are in Azeroth, these fl ying beasts of the Nether Storm will be available to all - although they won't be able to survive back on home territory, so you can forget any pipedreams you may have of divebombing newbies on their first batride out of the UnderCity. However, what they can do is take you to all manner of hard-to-reach places, dungeons and secret areas as soon as you hit the mythical level of three score and ten.

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