If you’re a fan of World of Warcraft and haven’t purchased this latest expansion yet, you should stop reading this and buy it. Suffice it to say it’s good.
This latest chapter to World of Warcraft brings several major new features.
The new continent of Northrend contains ten zones, and has a landmass larger than Outland. The environmental themes throughout most of Northrend zones have a rural and arctic feel. Jagged rock faces and aurora borealis signal an end to the otherworldly Outland and thrust you back into the ancient world of Azeroth where Undead kings, Titans, and the Dragon aspects dwell.
Crystalsong becomes the newest hub as this is where the new floating sanctuary city-kingdom of Dalaran is located; available to players once they reach level 74. Crystalsong is a land full of tree-shaped crystals that have been forming for centuries. The larger ones have broken off and seem to defy gravity as they hover near their trunks surrounded by blue dragons.
The entire zone of Zul’drak is one big ancient Troll kingdom now overrun with Scourge and scourge-controlled Zul’drak Trolls. The architecture of the zone feels new and all the while familiar.
Finally Coldarra is a large island located in northwestern Boren Tundra. The central cornerstone is the Nexus; a broken hunk of snow, ice, and blue magical energies gushing forth from a temple below like some sort of out-of-control oil well (this not withstanding a very similar occurrence within Dragonblight).
The most noticeable and reoccurring characteristic of Northrend is the extensive use of height and to that extent ample use of flying mounts (available to players once they reach level 77). Northrend heights are realistically portrayed with cliffs, ledges, and mountains ranges. There are Howling Fjords’ dragon-etched rock formations which elevate players up and down. Most of Stormpeaks’ zone are inaccessible except on a flying mount.
Howling Fjords and Borean Tundra introduce three new races. The first is an extremely tall Viking-like race called Vrykul. Their locations, titles, and names share much in common with Scandinavian language. The other two races are the Tuskarr (a walrus-like race eager to aid both the Alliance and Horde for survival reasons) and the Taunka (distant cousins of the Tauren and allied with the Horde).
Blizzard basically resets the playing field for a new expansion by increasing level cap to 80. With it the increases comes new talents, spells, and glyphs enhancements (part of the new inscription profession). As Blizzard has done in the past total experience points needed to level has been significantly reduced for levels 60-70 (a welcome change for those wishing to create a Death Knight and quickly get to Northrend). In my experience my Death Knight went from level 60 to 65 in a couple days of casual play. By the time I reached 70 I had skipped half of Zangarmarsh and Netherstorm, and entirely skipped both Blade’s Edge Mountains and Shadowmoon Valley. Counter to that Blizzard significantly increased the XP needed to level from 70-80 by 80%. Regardless of increases and decreases to XP the point is that most level 70 gear will likely become obsolete by mid-70s. What replaces your armor and weaponry is visually very different than anything from old-world Azeroth and Outlands. The central design theme is a hybrid of Viking and Native American motifs. When it comes to size "you haven’t seen big" seems to apply here. Many of the uncommon two-handed weaponry looks on par with some of the arena season weaponry.
New to this expansion are Death Knights, World of Warcraft’s first hero class. As such they get the red carpet treatment with their own starting zone and a cool intro very similar to the other races. To unlock the Death Knight class you need a level 55 character anywhere on your account (doesn’t matter about realm). The class is available to any race, any gender. If you’re wondering if you can switch factions and create a Death Knight on the other side, the answer is yes. However you are only allowed to create one Death Knight per server. This rule applies to any realm types (normal, PVP, role-play, and so forth).
As a hybrid of Warrior, Warlock, Mage, and even Shaman the play style of Death Knights is very different. The familiar rage, mana, and energy bar is replaced with a system of runic energy that powers pairs of blood, frost, and unholy runes. On the tanking totem Death Knights are somewhere between Paladin and Warrior, but they can assume the role of primary tank if needed. Death Knights are also billed as the anti-spell tank. Death Knights come with three talents: Blood, Frost, and Unholy. In crafting the Death Knight class Blizzard wanted to give players the ability to create talent build hybrids and have them be viable in various situations. During beta it was established that Frost was the tanking mechanic, Blood was the PVE mechanic, and Unholy was the PVP mechanic. However having seen the talent builds post-launch it looks like hybrid builds are just as viable as pure builds.
One of the fantastic additions to Wrath of the Lich King is phased content, which helps immerse you into the world and story. This phasing content begins in the Death Knight starting zone and continues through-out much of Northrend. There’s even an in-game cinematic, but you’ll have to find that out for yourself!
There are MANY new story arcs introduced in Northrend. The primary is a war between the Dragon Aspects. This is not featured in the cinematic but it currently consumes half of the expansion content. The epicenter of this war occurs in the zones of Dragonblight and Coldarra. For the first time you’ll be able to see three of the dragon aspects in one zone: Alexstrasza (Queen of the Dragons), Ysara (sleeping away in the Emerald Dragonshrine) and Nozdormu (a brief encounter within the Bronze Dragonshrine). Malygos (Lord of Magic) in Coldarra has turned hostile and declared war on all magic-wielding mortals and the other aspects. The only other aspect not present is Deathwing although his Obsidian Dragonshrine exists in northwestern Dragonblight.
In Wrath of the Lich King mounted combat is literally a blast. Nearly every race gets a signature vehicle. Demolishers, Forsaken Catapults, Siege Engines, Flying Machines, Bombers, and Goblin Shredders all exist within small areas for quests. Though available in many quest vehicles have a larger role within the automatic PVP zone of Lake Wintergrasp and the new Normandy Beach-styled battleground called Strands of the Ancients. In response to other PVP centric MMOs Blizzard also introduced PVP hotspots with the zone of Grizzly Hills. Within these areas there are battles raging between Alliance and Horde NPCs. Each faction has about five quest givers. When you accept the quests you are automatically flagged for PVP and told to go kill opposite faction NPCs or players with-in a contained areas. You are free to travel outside the area, but the PVP flag will stay active as long as the quest is in your log.
While most of quests focus on the on-going war with the Lich King and his armies there is also lots of side content like the war between the Dragon Aspects. The Scarlet Onslaught, an extremely racist sect of the Scarlet Crusade, has landed on Northrend with the intent of purging the lands of all enemies including the Alliance and Horde. As servants of the Lich King the ancient Nerubians’ underground kingdoms of Azjol-Nerub and Ahn’kahet is available as instances in Dragonblight. Fans of the Frozen Throne will enjoy seeing the Faceless Ones debut within Ahn’kahet and Icecrown.
Other than the larger than expected price tag of $40, I will say this expansion is by far a much better expansion than The Burning Crusade.
If you are totally new to World of Warcraft then before buying Wrath of the Lich you will need to buy the classic WOW and the Burning Crusade expansion. I believe Blizzard released a combo-pack that includes both for $40. However I will warn you, like I do all my friends, to be cautious. World of Warcraft has an uncanny ability of turning players into addicts.