So, I’ve got “Burning Crusade” loaded up and I’ve been playing around in its new areas for a few days. It’s definitely a step forward for World of Warcraft.
In particular, I’ve been playing Blood Elf characters, and I love some of the things they’ve done with that area of the game: The starting area feels truly planned and designed, the colors are gorgeous, and even though there are the usual, tedious “go harvest the spleens of 15 widgethraxes” quests, they’re broken up a little. There’s a spiral architectural design that somehow adds a sense of motion and progress to the quests, and creates a mounting sense of anticipation/dread as your character moves further up a spire to whatever he’s been sent to battle.
There are nice extra touches, too. The Tenders, rogue midget ents, get a look of Wile E. Coyotesque dismay when they’re killed, looking left and right before tumbling into two pieces. The seasonal theme of the area is autumnal, and you occasionally see a leaf falling from a tree. The music is wistful and sonorous, with stretches of cello that remind me of music in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
It all adds up to create a feel to the starting area that none of the others in the game have really matched: there’s loss, ruin and dread, all set in the midst of buildings and landscapes that are a step above the “medieval fantasy lite” rehashes of some of the other game areas.
The NPC characterizations are better, too. More work has been done to vary them. One mission involves rounding up supplies for a fop who holds an eternal party near one of the villages, and he’s convincingly irritating as someone who doesn’t understand the crisis going on around him. Other NPCs refer to him with disdain, too.
In fact, there’s a general sense that the NPCs know each other, which alleviates one of the disjointed aspects of the original game, which involved just walking up to random strangers at the behest of other random strangers. Some days it was like being the perpetual new guy at a job, wandering from cubicle to cubicle in search of the keys to the supply cabinet.
In the broader opening areas, there’s a unifying theme that takes the form of a black, blighted strip running down through the otherwise beautiful woods. It’s prowled by the undead and strewn with bones, growing increasingly more perilous as you roam further from the haven of the starting point.
Finally, the Blood Elves as a race are much more challenging in terms of character identification than any of the other horde races. Where the Orcs are “Klingon lite,” the trolls are reflective of some writers fucked up run-in with a Jamaican drug cartel, the Tauren are there for the Native American fetishists and the Forsaken are just crabby undead, the Blood Elves feel more varied and conflicted. The aforementioned sense of interconnectedness among the NPCs allows for more of a sense that there are both good and evil, with the possibility that good and bad people are in service of both. Or perhaps just that there are bad people in service of good … I haven’t yet run into the Michael Corleone of the Blood Elves.
All of it adds up to a much stronger sense of narrative drive than most of the other launchpoints in the game. I’m a lot more curious about what will happen next when I play, and I feel a lot less like I’m just wandering around killing stuff to level up.