I finished my 10-day trial of World of Warcraft, “just to get it out of my system,” a friend told me. When I started, everybody warned me that WoW had a 100% conversion rate, that it would suck the life out of me, etc etc. Everybody also said it was a great game. I told them, “I will be the first person to do the 10-day trial and NOT buy World of Warcraft! I will prove you all wrong!”
I eat my words now, of course. (But I’m not buying WoW immediately.) Here’s why.
I have played online games before – most notably RF Online, which I spent an enormous amount of time, money, and energy on. But RF’s got nothing on WoW. WoW is undeniably the best MMO I have ever played. However, my standards may be different from everybody else’s. Some people like WoW for the online community, others for the organized PvP system, still others for the sheer power of the characters. Those were not the reasons that got me. I wasn’t even speaking to other players – I spent most of the time solo-ing, doing quests on my own. I barely tried the PvP system, if only because I thought a “Capture the Flag” setting with orcs, elves, and undead is a bit ridiculous. And as for sheer power, the 10-day trial only lets you go up to Level 20, which I reached, and at Level 20 I could do enough harm to a pack of wolves but would embarrassingly die at the hands of a humanoid with Stun or Incapacitate powers.
So what got me? One thing. The game world did. And by game world, I mean what WoW’s game designers and artists painstakingly created to make your experience “real”. It wasn’t the art by itself – by today’s standards, WoW’s graphics are decent at best. It’s WHAT art was made. Everywhere you looked, there were little details that sucked you into believing you were really part of a world at war. Traveling around the spooky land of the undead, you would see dead bodies hanging from trees, nooses around their necks; in the barren wastelands of the orcs, tribal mobiles would be hanging from trees instead.
And truth be told, it wasn’t really the game art that really sold the world to me, though it definitely built it. The game designers placed little events around the world just in case you might be passing by to see them. They had absolutely nothing to do with you, and they would repeat consistently, but they added nothing to gameplay – they just gave the world life. For example, running across the desert, I saw an orc kid NPC run around the yard, with his mom in the doorway pleading him to stop so he could eat. An apothecary in the undercity would be muttering to himself about the animals he was experimenting on, shaking his head with disappointment at yet another failure. Even the animals had virtual lives of their own – a pack of lions would always stay together, stretching beside each other slightly camouflaged in a patch of tall grass; gazelles would travel together too, sometimes leisurely walking, othertimes running together gracefully.
My favorite moment was when a friend and I had just been transported from a PvP battleground. We were in the battle hall of the Undercity. A few seconds after arriving, I saw particles of light shooting up like fireworks to the ceiling.
“LOOK UP!” I told him, and when we did, we saw that the particles were part of a light show around a choir of ghosts that we’d never seen before. The ghosts were singing (I had to turn on the game music for this), in the most beautiful voices, to the banshee queen NPC in the middle of the room. They finished an entire eerie song, and then they disappeared. The banshee queen then spoke, to no one in particular, expressing her lament over things past.
(I found out later that this happens only after a quest is completed, so somebody else must have triggered it; either way, it was an awesome touch. What other games let you enjoy a concert like that AFTER your quest is done?)
I could go on and on about how well the game was designed, and I’m not even talking about how consistent the game was, from a developer’s perspective – inns and townhalls were always structured the same from village to village so you would never get lost; the user interface and the particle systems were fantastic; etc etc. I’m talking about WoW as a gamer, which is really the best way to experience a game. And as a gamer, WoW really got me. The only reason I am not buying it immediately is that it sucked SO MUCH TIME out of my daily life that I need to live out in the real world for a bit. (My undead mage maxed out at Level 20, and my second character, an undead warlock, reached Level 15, I think, and I wasn’t even trying!) I do have some real quests to finish, and some other real mysteries to figure out.
So I won’t get it yet. Maybe next month or so. My characters aren’t going anywhere, anyway 🙂