It’s been two years since Blizzard unleashed World of Warcraft on an unsuspecting public. Two years in which this fiendishly addictive game has enslaved nearly eight million souls, smothering social lives, sundering relationships and eliminating basic personal hygiene as it sucks players into its virtual world. Dubbed ‘Warcrack’ by some, this obsessively popular game has grown into a full-blown cultural phenomenon - even inspiring an episode of South Park – and it isn’t hard to see the appeal.
Warcraft is a sublimely polished experience that boasts sufficient depth for veteran gamers while remaining so accessible even children can be armed, armoured and butchering bandits within ten minutes. The world itself is a vast one, too, spanning two huge continents. Indeed, it’s all rendered with such attention to detail that players can come to feel as at home amidst the jungles of Stranglethorn or the rolling hills of Westfall as they do anywhere in the outside world.
Once inside you begin a second life, developing a character, learning tradeskills, undertaking quests and amassing riches, all the while interacting with countless other players. It’s a solitary and yet strangely sociable experience, one that has placed Warcraft among the most successful games of all time.
All of which brings us to The Burning Crusade, the first in a series of planned expansions, designed to further enrich the Warcraft experience. As well as introducing the new high level zone of Outland, the most anticipated change for long-term players is a raise in the maximum level from 60 to 70. This allows that character you’ve invested so many hundreds of game hours in to progress further, gaining new skills and abilities with which to crush your enemies.
Upon reaching the highest level, players now have a greater variety of activities open to them, as well, rather than being forced to torture newbies out of sheer boredom. Gladiatorial combat awaits you in the outrageously enjoyable new arena league, plus there’s wealth beyond measure to be found in the nine new and extremely challenging dungeon instances - The Black Temple, for one, will have you crying like a little girl within the first five minutes. Even the simple pleasure of pummelling other players has been made infinitely more appealing thanks to a new honour system that turns kills into credits, with which you can purchase new and better gear.
For those who haven’t invested months of endless play in the long, sweaty grind to level 60, Crusade introduces two new races for beginners to choose from. The ethereal Blood Elves join the ranks of the Horde, while the Alliance gains an ally in the demonic-looking Draenei. On a purely aesthetic level these are both welcome additions, boasting greater detail than the existing races and looking far more impressive as a result. A less cosmetic change is that these newcomers open faction-specific classes to both sides, meaning the Horde can now command holy Paladins while the Alliance adds Shamans to its arsenal. The result is an interesting balance shift for player-versus-player combat but does feel a rather poor substitute for any completely new classes.
Since the simple prospect of something new to do would have made this expansion a no-brainer for existing subscribers, it’s gratifying to see that Blizzard has taken care to ensure The Burning Crusade is actually worthy of players’ time and money. It’s a breath of fresh air for long-term players, reinvigorating the experience with new lands to explore exciting new features to discover. For non-believers, this marks the most compelling reason yet to embrace the global phenomenon, abandon real life and finally succumb to the World of Warcraft.
Reviewed by James Dyer