- Title: World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
- Developer/Publisher: Blizzard / Vivendi
- System: PC / Mac
- Genre: Massively Multiplayer Online Game
- Score: 4/5 - This game is a wonderful addition to the original World of Warcraft universe and helps to alleviate many of the "problems" that players have been complaining about for a long time. If you are burnt out on the original game, now is a good time to give it another look.
The first major improvement in the game comes with the extension of the level grind. There is a vast difference in the enjoyment of leveling a character from levels 1-60 and from 60-70. While the amount of experience is relatively comparable, the mechanisms in place make it a completely different animal. With the original game, leveling was thought of as one of the main aspects of the game and designed to take a long time to do with very little continuity or help to speed you along. Instances were designed to be for gear rewards and something you did rarely in between your bouts of leveling. With The Burning Crusade, the quests were designed to make you feel like you were accomplishing smaller tasks within a grand scheme, and they actually helped to develop the plot and a feeling that you were a part of the game rather than just trying to "beat" the game to get a level.
While instances may have gotten a large push in the right direction, there are still a couple of major problems that continue to crop up, preventing players from really enjoying the content that is right in front of them. The largest of these problems are instance-breaking bugs. There have been quite a few of them since launch, and while bugs are to be expected, these are taking a long time to fix. Meanwhile the customer service reps in game are doing very little to help the players deal with the bugs beyond telling them it is a known problem and sorry about your luck. Now, I realize that some people are going to try and exploit GM assistance, but there comes a time when you just need to give your customer the benefit of the doubt and help them through any problems that crop up. The other major problem attached to instances comes before you even make it to the instance. If you aren't part of a large guild with resources always at hand, it means you are going to have to try your luck with a pickup group. While the "Looking for Group" interface was a neat addition, I think Blizzard either did too much or too little depending on what they were going for. With a simple global chat channel it was very easy for players just to type what they were looking to do and for others to answer, a quick and easy solution. In fact, most servers have seen a grass roots channel emerge to move back to this functionality. With the introduction of a user interface and automation to the process, they removed the "easy" solution but didn't go far enough with the complex solution. Ultimately, the "best" answer to this problem would be to bring back the chat channel but make the user interface "grab" names and classes from that chat channel into a larger pool of people to draw from, allowing users to use both methods of communication depending on their preference.
Despite the fact that the casual consumer has definitely been given quite a bit of content to work their way through, the hardcore player has certainly not been left in the lurch. Raid content is available in spades. The addition of a 'heroic mode' for dungeons allows players to go back and play through previous instances at a higher difficulty level (and for better rewards). This, again, requires that they have put in the time to attain a high enough reputation level with the controlling faction. With each set of instances, there is also a difficult 25-man raid (now that Blizzard has decided to limit their "large" raids to 25 players instead of 40) encounter designed to provide an additional challenge. Beyond these short raids there is also new 10-man content (Karazhan) that allows players to work through a larger dungeon and attain a new armor "set" in addition to the random drops that still occur. Once players have made their way through this 10-man content they can start working towards some of the even larger 25-man content with huge sprawling dungeons promised, eventually culminating in the battle through Mount Hyjal. However, in order to get to this final realization players must wade through a lot of content. In an effort to help players in this goal one player even put together a flow chart of what it is going to take to realize this goal.
The largest problem with the current raid content is that while it requires large amounts of work to get to and complete (as it should), the rewards for actually completing that raid content have all but eviscerated the desire to do the work. Having moved from a "hardcore" raiding style of play to a much more casual approach I was quite pleased at how much I was able to do on a daily basis with my limited time. However, looking back at my previous play style and the rewards that I would be shooting for I realized that there was very little reason for me to aim for those "end game" rewards anymore. The time spent versus rewards earned seems a little imbalanced. I'm sure that a large part of this decision was to try and cater to the larger "casual" player base and stop the hemorrhage of players they were losing to other games. Just the same, if you are going to create content that caters to your hardcore players you should probably create rewards that justify the work they are about to put into it.
In addition to all of the game play changes, each faction also has a new race, a new homeland, and tons of new starting quests to work through. While information on the new horde race, the Blood-Elf, has been available for quite some time, the new alliance race, the Draenei, has been somewhat of a mystery almost until the release of the beta. Unfortunately, this also shows in the quality of both the quests and the overall feel for each of these races. The homeland and starting quests for the Blood-Elves have a much larger degree of continuity and they lend a feeling of a long time in development while the Draenei feel like a last minute cobble when they couldn't think of anything else. This obviously doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things once you make it to Outland and the new content, but it can have a definite effect on someone just starting the game.
Overall, it seems that Blizzard is definitely listening to their player base, they just need to do a better job of communicating that fact. I realize that it is hard to release information about something if it later gets taken away or changed, but let your GM staff work for you, give the player the benefit of the doubt more often, and admit when something is wrong so that players can avoid the disappointment while it is being fixed.