This is a refreshing take on PvP, but disappointingly closed-off for the average player. Many will (reasonably) assume that this is a counterpoint to the PvP-centric Warhammer Online, only to find that out of the box they're not going to be able to travel there - especially if they don't even have a flying mount to begin with. What could have been a drop-in, drop-out PvP war zone is now a fun little club for the elite to hang out at - which is, now especially, not what it should be in the face of what Mythic has to offer.
Wintergrasp isn't the only bizarre geographical choice that Blizzard made with Northrend. Before release, it was stated many times that the continent wouldn't be made up predominantly of icy caverns and different kinds of yeti. While this is certainly the case, much of the continent feels put together seemingly at random. Lush plains roll into barren wastelands, that in turn roll into Scourge-infested terrain, that then subsequently rolls back into icy expanses.
The Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord are the worst examples, and feel rather like eight or nine zones stuck together with varying degrees of success, but much of Northrend lacks coherent artistic direction. Once you leave the loving arms of the Tundra and the Fjord (which takes far too long, in comparison to the transition between Zangarmarsh and Hellfire in The Burning Crusade), progression becomes a little more interesting, but it lacks a vigorous, adventure-like buzz. It's more of a stroll through a series of well thought-out ideas that aren't held together as well as they should be.
In all fairness, WOTLK does everything that WOW has always done very, very well. Zones in and of themselves are always dramatic, and at times stunning, particularly Icecrown and Zul'Drak. A great deal of effort has been made to make zones feel bigger than anything Blizzard has created before, as is evident from the vertigo you'll get on flying towards the flying city of Dalaran (see 'Swoop, magic, swoop'). Character models are still cartoony and lacking in detail compared to Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, but environments are still ahead of the competition.
This makes scoring this expansion rather painful. There is so much love for the lands, the lore, and the characters in the Warcraft universe, and so many fantastic ideas that exist to go into the Northrend Saga. Somehow, Blizzard managed to take potentially the least interesting idea in history - an entire continent made of ice - and lace it with fascinating ideas, quests, and areas to explore. The problem is that these ideas aren't held together very well, and players have to push through more ho-hum content than we've yet seen from a Blizzard product. I hasten to add that it isn't bad content, but we're now four long years into WOW.
If you're on that boat, and want to continue playing a game that is enjoyable and addictive yet, ultimately, doing the same bloody thing it did on its release, then be my guest. You will love Wrath of the Lich King, because it does exactly what many want it to - it elongates a successful game model in a pleasing, easy-to-consume package, much like each year's new FIFA and Football Manager games. The instanced content is excellent, the Death Knight is a well-balanced war machine that looks good in black, and the storyline - once you hunt it down and wring it out of Northrend - is crafted well enough to sate even the most die-hard lore nut.
But by any standard, this far into the development of an MMO, and with two years since your last expansion, the envelope should be pushed a little. Blizzard could've shaken up the genre here. Wrath of the Lich King has had two years to innovate, build and refresh WOW, but all it seems to have done is prolong the same experience that people have been waiting to continue for years. Whether or not that's a bad thing is up to you.
More hmm than wow
- Great lore
- Wintergrasp is a lot of fun
- More of the same
- Bitty, disconnected areas
- Lacks Blizzard innovation