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World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

Extensive hands-on with the new Blood Elf race. Plus: new screens

Right. Erm, Horde. Blood Elf (naturally). Male. Rogue or Paladin, Rogue or Paladin? Rogue or Paladin? Rogue. Slender as a willow wand (not that you can alter body mass or height. Sigh). Skin tone virtually white - can't see the various selectable faces defined particularly well but never mind. White hair - long, flowing top-knot - white pointy chin beard and good to go. You'll never see me when it snows. Mwahahahahaha....

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One of the funky sights - or indeed sites - in Blood Elf starter zone Sunstrider Isle

Speaking of snow, Blood Elves are so cool we're thinking of starting to hire them to ice our drinks. When they jump in the air, sometimes they spin around! And, oh my word, when my Rogue sidles up to an enemy and starts prodding it with his noob dagger it looks like a ninja's just dropped into the game. Flaring arm movements, fancy blade twirls and artful dodges make them by far the slickest World of Warcraft race to watch in melee combat.

Hats off to the Blizzard chaps then for hitting the bull's-eye with the Blood Elf race, and indeed with new starter area Sunstrider Isle (contained within zone Eversong Woods) where my anaemic alter ego is learning the ropes.

Actually, for WoW veterans there's aren't exactly many new ropes to learn as core mechanics - questing, class development et cetera - are all familiar, so for this part of TBC it really IS all down to the new race and the new zone to blow our socks into orbit.

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A map of the Eversong Woods zone. I died at Tor 'Watha, a location swarming with trolls

Much of the new area the Blood Elf race starts in is a vibrant world of green-green grass and flamboyant architecture like the cross between Arabian Nights structures and an old black & white sci-fi film's vision of the future, with tall spires and floating platforms. Chuck out the monsters wandering around the land and it'd be a splendid spot for a picnic, really.

As with WoW original, quests lead you into new areas, and in the start zone there's a number of 'pockets' of critters that are requirements for 'kill quests' in the early life of a Blood Elf. Cannon-fodder mobs - consisting of the neutral and attack on site variety - and named enemies that are targeted for termination via quests respawn pretty speedily too, an obvious pre-emptive strike by Blizzard to go some way to accommodate the likely huge influx of new Blood Elf characters come TBC's launch. Precisely how well it'll bear the brunt of full-on player invasion remains to be seen, however.

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The main entrance to the Blood Elf city Silvermoon

A small yet nice touch is a quest linked specifically to the Blood Elf racial abilities Mana Tap and Arcane Torrent, the quest acting as a simple introduction to the spells. Mana Tap (cooldown 30 seconds) drains mana from targets and additionally charges a character with Arcane Energy for ten minutes. It can be stacked up to three times. Arcane Torrent (cooldown two minutes) meanwhile, silences all enemies within eight yards of the player for two seconds and additionally - for Rogues - unleashes the stored Arcane Energy and converts it to Energy - you get ten Energy points per Mana Tap charge affecting you.

Once you hit levels five to six you're nudged out the starter zone into the next location within Eversong Woods wherein lies the impressive Blood Elf city of Silvermoon and naturally further quests and monsters/creatures to bump your levels up. The environment opens up significantly with a large new area to explore and the lore and storyline revolving around the new race is developed. It's here too that you encounter The Dead Scar, a path of destruction caused by Prince Arthas in Warcraft III that's inhabited by undead and separates the ruins of the city (where adventurers can quest) from the other half that operates like existing cities in the game.

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Here I am in the Ghostlands. I didn't want to get too close to the tower as it was guarded by level 16 critters. Eek!
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