Taking my first steps into a brand new world, one thing is very clear; this is no Burning Crusade. As my Blood Elf Warlock's +81 stamina boost boots crunched against the snow I knew that I was in for a exciting new adventure.
It was a rush of grinding over the weeks surrounding the WotLK release last November, having been only level 62 when the expansion hit shops. As one would expect from an obsessive compulsive such as myself I couldn't wait to be sitting outside my local Game retailer on the 13th. I even rushed home and installed the game as quickly as my (at the time) terrible laptop would allow me, all the time knowing I couldn't do anything about it. If there is one thing I've learnt over the course of my year long obsession with WoW it's how to get the job done under pressure. By the end of the week I was taking those first steps into a brand new world.
As mentioned above, the first thing one notices about WotLK is the game's striking new art direction. While In TBC gamers were introduced to Hellfire Peninsula by a demonic force crushing the human opposition, here things are a lot more serene. Even on the horde side everything seems to be moving a lot slower, there are no immediate objectives to acheive and no towering monstrosities looming on the horizon.
The two starting areas for WotLK couldn't be more different in their artistic execution. Borean Tundra is a wasteland dominated by the scourge menace, The Lich King's undying army arisen from the grave. Across its large expanse are scattered camps of Tauren, Humans, Orcs, Goblins, Gnomes and many more. The ground beneath the players feet turns from orange to green and onto white, while reaching many more areas of the colour spectrum along the way. The second in command to the Lich King, the lich Kel'Thuzad also watches over a portion of his vast army on the plains of Borean Tundra. In short, it's an unforgiving and barren area, not much fun for hours of constant grinding. That said, it's very different to anything seen before, and contains over 150 quests to complete.
Howling Fjord on the other hand could not be a bigger comparison. As the name suggests it is a rocky expanse of clifftops and vast woodland areas. As with all the areas in Northrend, aurora's flicker across the skies. Howling Fjord is by far the more recommendable of the two starting areas, as it feels far less bland and stretched out, making the levelling process far more enjoyable.
As well as an entire new continent to explore gamers are also given an entire new class, the first new one to be added since WoWs launch over four years ago. The Death Knight, a new plate wearing melee class able to both tank and DPS effectively. Death Knights are the servants of Arthas, the leaders of his undead scourge. As one would expect the new class is currently a little unbalanced and overpowered, although this is sure to be fixed via patches over the next few months. Death Knights work in a similar way to paladins in that they combine magic attacks with basic melee abilities. Their attacks also plant diseases on targets, draining life or attack power from their victims. While they are admittedly fun to play as, there isn't very much to set them apart from other melee classes at the moment.
Another big inclusion in WotLK is the addition of heroic difficulty for raid dungeons. While on TBC raids were split between being designed for 10 or 25 players, they are now split for 10 AND 25 players. This opens up a lot of end game and high end content for more casual players. If guilds are struggling with numbers and/or gear requirements they can choose to tackle the easier raids, and still get the same experience as 25 players. While it is mainly a good thing that more casual players have access to this content, it has also angered more mature and dedicated players who have always seen high end content as something for "die-hards" and no one else.
One of the big problems for players in TBC was the lack of content at level 70, other than high end raids. The problem has been addressed to a certain point in WotLK, but the problem still persists. There are actually less daily quests to complete now, especially level 80 ones. There are plenty of dungeons to tackle on heroic difficulty, but it all seems a little pointless if a player isn't aiming for high end content. The issue is still very much alive then, and the mantra "raid or die" still appears to be very much true.
This may be WotLKs only large problem, casual gamers are really not going to get a great deal out of it. Maybe 80-100 hours of level grinding before the game essentially ends. This is a great shame and is a problem that Blizzard has needed to address for a long time now. However, dedicated players who enjoyed end game content in TBC are going to lap up everything that WotLK has to offer, from its drastic new art style right up to the fight against Arthas himself.