Jan 31 2007
After countless raids on Molten Core, Zul Gurub, and Ahn Qiraj, it's no surprise that some folks were growing tired of playing World of Warcraft at the level cap. Despite small content additions made to the game through patches, many people have several level 60 characters and there just wasn't much left to explore, with the possible exception of the game's most difficult instances. World of Warcraft has been nothing short of a sensation for last two years, but it was evident that fans were ready for a major expansion, and Blizzard has answered their call with The Burning Crusade.
The Burning Crusade is a large expansion by any measure. The new persistent continent, Outland, consists of 7 zones, some of which are comparable in size to The Barrens. Hellfire Penninsula, the first area you encounter on the other side of the Dark Portal, is literally crawling with level 60 characters questing and pummelling each other over the PvP objectives in the middle of the map. Raid schedules have been abandoned, at least temporarily, and people seem genuinely thrilled to have their experience bars back as they anxiously pursue the increased level cap of 70.
New dungeons in the Outland are being conquered, although they do represent a significant challenge for characters in their early 60s that don't have top tier equipment from the "old world." The last boss in the 5-man Ramparts dungeon has certainly inflicted serious damage on groups with low fire resistance. No doubt these will get a lot more routine as people accumulate experience and loot in the expansion, but they now have difficulty settings which will make them more replayable, and there are numerous more difficult dungeons further into Outland, each of which deserves a review of its own.
When you first enter Hellfire Pennisula you witness a huge NPC battle at The Stair of Destiny. You're quickly given a flight further into the zone, where enormous level 70 elite Fel Reavers roam about crushing unsuspecting players that get caught in their path. While there are heaps of quests to tackle, only a few have really stood out so far. The bombing runs, which have you dropping explosives on mobs from the back of a Windrider, are very memorable, and they do a wonderful job of forshadowing things that could be done with the new flying mounts which can be purchased at level 70.
These flying mounts don't come cheap, and they only work in the Outland, so your trusty ground steed will still come in handy in the old world. There are, however, certain areas in the new zones that you can't reach on foot, so saving some gold is a good idea.
Altogether the Outland is rather like launch day all over again, except everyone is 60+, and there are far fewer server outages. Server queues during peak hours have been quite common, but I suspect that will gradually subside as the initial thrill wears off. Overcrowding is a bit of an issue, as the mobs in first couple zones have barely been able to spawn fast enough for the rush of players.
There's a lot of new content I haven't explored yet, and being a relatively casual player, I suspect it will take me quite a while to see it all. A few of the highly dedicated types in our guild pretty much gave up sleep and raced to level 70 in less than a week. Of course, that's not possible for the average person who actually has a life. If you're one the latter, expect to spend weeks or even months reaching the new level cap.
At the end of the day, The Burning Crusade will be judged on how much there is to keep level 70 characters busy. Raid content in the expansion is 25-man rather than 40-man, probably due to complaints about how difficult 40-man raids are to organize. As you can imagine, there are a number of additional factions to grind as well, but sooner or later players will likely end up running the same instances over and over again.
One common concern is that the additional content is bound to undermine items many people spent months persevering 40-man raids to get their hands on. As people approach level 70, it's inevitable that most of those hard-earned, soulbound items are going to get vendored. Halfway to 63, however, I can't say I've come across anything yet worth giving up tier 2 armor for. There are some very nice drops in the new areas, but taking set bonuses into consideration, I don't expect to be replacing most of my old gear for a few levels yet.
Another small issue is that the old world raids are in danger of being completely neglected by players, because it's relatively easy to get comparable equipment in the Outland. The old dungeons and raids may need revisions to get people interested in them again.
New Playable Races
Two races have been added to the game: Blood Elves for the Horde and Draenei for the Alliance, each of which comes with a new starting area. Class restrictions for the game's factions have been loosened up, because Blood Elves can play as Paladins, a class formerly only available to Alliance, and Draenei can play as Shaman. It's an understandable move from a balance point of view, but it leaves us with "evil paladins," which seems a little absurd no matter how much lore you throw at it.
I rolled a Blood Elf Hunter to check in on the budding Horde Paladins, and the starting grounds were very lively. What I've seen of the Blood Elf zones is impressive. The high standard of artistry has been maintained, even if they don't have the funniest joke emotes. My biggest problem with Blood Elves is that they look and feel like an Alliance race. The Horde was an evil army of orcs, skeletons, and other ugly creatures until these preposterously cute Blood Elves came along. Personally, I'd have gone with something foul like ogres, gargoyles, or goblins.