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Four years ago, Blizzard Entertainment released World of Warcraft, one of the most absorbing, in-depth massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) to ever hit the market—it currently boasts a subscriber base of more than 9 million players. Now the company is casting more magic with Wrath of the Lich King, the second expansion pack for the ever-growing fantasy universe.
Like the first expansion, Wrath of the Lich King (WOTLK) adds a new continent (Northrend) to explore, and it raises the level cap from 70 to 80. But that’s not all—WOTLK also introduces the playable Hero class, player-controlled flying mounts, a new Inscription profession, new mission and quest content, and even an improved graphics engine.
The highly anticipated Hero-class characters function as exceptionally powerful hybrids of previously available classes. The Death Knight, the first of this class, combines the damage-absorption of a warrior capable of wearing full platemail armor with elements of a magic-user through their ability to summon pets, raise armies of the undead to fight on their side, and use sigils to boost their own magic or fellow party members’.
Professions matter in World of Warcraft, and the new Inscription role in WOTLK doesn’t let players down. While a fireball spell was once considered powerful, players who take on the Inscription profession (known as Scribes) can use Glyph slots to add features such as a knockdown or daze effect to a spell or ability. This adds yet another layer of complexity, letting players customize the game to their style.
Some companies’ expansion packs contain little else but some new levels, items, and maps, but Blizzard goes futher:
WOTLK’s improved graphics engine augments the game’s flame and water effects and heightens the detail in the shadows to create stunning new environments. Plus, a terrific sound system makes the game and its storytelling elements as immersive as ever.
The terrain looks more realistic, and the overall scale of the game is heigtened—especially when you're routinely killing fairly gigantic enemies. Blizzard has put some top-notch work into the models, and the engine carries it over, adding some incredible detail without appreciably slowing the computer down. (We tested WOTLK on a 2.66GHz quad-core Mac Pro with 2GB of RAM and a 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT.)
The team-play aspects keep World of Warcraft interesting, and WOTLK brings additional 10-man content that makes it easy to gather a large, but still manageable, team to raid a dungeon, while coordinated guild play makes it fun to take down the most challenging quests. Our guild enjoyed dressing up in a Murloc suit (think of a weird anthropomorphic fish), and another tongue-in-cheek quest has you collecting ingredients to make Tasty Cupcakes to boost your stats and stamina.
But this is Azeroth, not Utopia, and so we found a few bugs too. While it’s convenient, the in-game voice chat system lags, which forced us to use alternative methods like Skype, Ventrilo, or iChat. The new Death Knight character’s strengths and weaknesses are strangely balanced, making it tough to figure out how to best customize it to your advantage. Still, overall Blizzard’s latest expansion is beautiful, imaginative, well thought-out, and challenging.
Chris Barylick would like to thank the fellow members of Team Awesome Force – Rachel Hoyer, Eli Sarver, Monika Grigore and Kimberly Hernandez – for their help in testing Wrath of the Lich King, and he apologizes for the sleep lost and caffeine ingested in the process.
Serial quitters of World of Warcraft might find Wrath of the Lich King interesting at first, just to be discouraged by the same old grind to get to the next level or complete another lengthy quest. But WOW diehards who have played through the original content and are hungry for more won’t be disappointed.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
REQUIREMENTS: 1.6GHz G5 or Intel CPU, Mac OS 10.4.11 or later, 1GB RAM, 16.88GB hard disk space, broadband Internet, World of Warcraft game and subscription
Terrific new content. Beautiful graphics and music. Useful new additions for hardcore player. New Hero class characters. ESRB rating: Teen. Universal binary.
Buggy in-game chat system. Unbalanced Death Knight character.