It's been almost 4 years since World of Warcraft took gamers by storm, sky rocketing to the position of most popular Massive Multiplayer Online game. Over those years, there has been some considerable competition for WoW in the MMO genre, but none have dethroned Blizzard's game from that number one spot, and if Wrath of the Lich King is any indicator, no game will for a long, long time.
Wrath of the Lich King is Blizzard's second expansion to World of Warcraft, and improves on the game in many ways. The big, new chunk of land for adventurers to explore is the frozen continent of Northrend, the wintry wasteland that Arthas, the fallen prince of Lordaeron, has made into his dark kingdom. Long time fans of Warcraft will be happy to hear that Wrath has brought a lot of lore back to the game - no more of the space goats and blood knights of the Burning Crusade. Wrath, in fact, feels like it is picking up right where Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne left off, which is what a lot of fans were expecting with the original WoW. Later, as they say, is better than never.
Arthas, who was the big baddy of Warcraft III, takes up the mantle of antagonist once more in Wrath as, you guessed it, the Lich King. Unlike in the Burning Crusade expansion, whose prime antagonist, Illidan, was seen by only a handful of hardcore players, Arthas plays a much larger role in the grand scheme of things this time around. You'll encounter Arthas a few times on your adventures in Northrend, and when leveling your newly created Death Knight character (more on this later) he even serves as a quest giver. All in all, Blizzard did a great job of integrating one of Warcraft's biggest lore characters into the game without it being for the sole purpose of killing that character off.
So what can you expect whilst leveling your character to 80 in Northrend? Well, there are quests, quests, the occasional dungeon, and then more quests. Yes, there are still the monotonous fetch quests, but there are also quests that allow you to fight on the backs of dragons, that let you disguise yourself as Arthas' minion, and even assault a capital city. A certain quest even results in an impressive in-game cinematic that will more than likely make your jaw drop. Quests, as you can probably tell, are quite enjoyable in Northrend. A large contributing factor to this is the return of the Warcraft lore. Arthas is back and badder then ever, and has a lot to answer for. Players may want to turn their instant quest scrolling off, as many of the quests in Northrend are definitely worth reading.
The common theme running through most of the quests in Northrend is that both the Horde and Alliance are there to get to Arthas, who has recently invaded the rest of Azeroth. Apart from interesting quest lines given by a humongous cast of characters, this is accomplished through a new feature called phasing. Phasing is an actual physical change in the landscape of the world after completing a certain quest. For example, after breaching the mountain that leads into Arthas' stronghold of Icecrown, players must help some NPCs fight off wave after wave of the Scourge (that is Arthas' undead army, for all you noobs out there). After successfully invading Icecrown, there will be a small outpost of friendly units where you were fighting, complete with a flight master, vendors, and quest givers. Other players won't be able to see these benefits until they themselves have completed the same quest. This concept of physically changing the environment around you is really immersive, making you feel as if you are truly affecting the game world around you.
Not only is Northrend a joy to quest in, but it's also great to look at as well. Over four years, the graphical engine for WoW hasn't changed too significantly, however the art direction of Wrath shows the amount of time put into making Northrend make it look brand spanking new. Zones look lush and beautiful, new monsters look creative and fitting, and perhaps most importantly, all the animations are flawless. You'll come across hulking Vrykul warriors, massive mammoths, and hordes of undead monstrosities in your journeys of Northrend, and all look quite stunning. The game doesn't offer the high definition sheen of some games, however the rather low computer requirements and outstanding art direction more than make up for it. In addition to the visuals, the audio that accompanies Northrend's scenic beauty is outstanding. Each zone is fitted with its own orchestral track, each one somehow surpassing its predecessor. The special edition of the game even comes with the 21 track album as a bonus, and is well worth picking up to listen to when not adventuring in Northrend.
When not enjoying the quests that Northrend has to offer, there are plenty of dungeons to pillage and loot. During the journey from level 70 to 80, there are over 10 different 5 man dungeons to conquer, ranging from the ancient Nerubian kingdom of Azjol-Nerub, to the ice troll capital of Gundrak. In addition to having the ability to run all of these dungeons again at level 80 in heroic difficulty, Wrath launches with four larger raid dungeons. Naxxramas, the frozen dread citadel which served as the hardest raid in the original WoW, makes a return as the entry level raid dungeon in Wrath. Both the Obsidian Sanctum and the Eye of Eternity offer players the chance to challenge powerful dragons, and the Vault of Archavon is only available to players who control the PvP zone of Wintergrasp. The newest feature regarding raiding in Wrath is the ability for players to do these raids in either a 10 or 25 man group. This new feature is a welcome addition to the game, as it will allow a much larger amount of players to be able to experience the end game content.
Apart from the dungeons and raids of level 80, Wrath also offers a whole slew of player versus player content. The aforementioned PvP zone known as Wintergrasp is an entire non-instanced zone in Northrend dedicated to PvP. The new battleground, Strand of the Ancients, offers players combat on a smaller scale in an attack and defend type map, styled after the D-Day offensives. Both Wintergrasp and Strand of the Ancients feature all new siege vehicles, such as tanks and catapults, and offer a whole new layer of strategic depth in PvP. With Arena Season 5 starting on December 16th, there is more than enough PvP content in Wrath to satisfy both the casual and hardcore PvPers.
The appeal of Northrend may be great, but there is one reason not to hop on a zeppelin or boat as soon as you log into the game, and that's the brand new hero class: the death knight. The death knight is a plate wearing class that can both dps and tank, and automatically starts at level 55 as long as you have a pre-existing level 55 character. The death knight is unique in that they don't use mana or rage like other classes, but they use a new resource system using runes. There is a rune type for each of their talent trees: unholy, frost and blood, and as death knights exhaust these runes, they build up runic power used to power other abilities.
The Death Knights starting zone is also really enjoyable. As soon as you log in to your new hero class, it will be hard to miss the hulking presence of Arthas himself standing in front of you. The story of the death knight's rise and fall is definitely worth experiencing, even if you don't plan to level your death knight all the way to 80. The class is really fun, and significantly different from any other class in the game at the moment. Since Blizzard has stated that the death knight is their first hero class, we can only assume that more will be on the way in future expansions. It may be too early to tell whether or not the class is perfectly balanced, but so far, the class seems finely tuned. Utilizing an assortment of powerful diseases and excelling in melee combat, the death knight is a powerful class that will be enjoyed by all.
The only truly negative point against Wrath is that it literally has nothing to offer to new players to the World of Warcraft. The Burning Crusade introduced two new races in the addition of Outland, so new players could start right at level 1 as a Blood Elf or Draenei. In Wrath, however, any new content can only be experienced by players level 55 or higher. Thanks to recent changes in leveling from 1 to 60, as well as the recruit-a-friend option, this isn't too huge of an obstacle for new players looking to pick up the game. If you've never played WoW before, it isn't too late, however you won't be getting anything out of Wrath of the Lich King for awhile.
Aside from the lack of content for new players, Wrath of the Lich King is everything any WoW player could hope for in an expansion. A great new continent to explore? Check. Tons of new dungeons to conquer? Check. A unique new class? Check. Wrath expands on everything that has made the original World of Warcraft so popular and successful. With improved graphics, audio, and the return of the Warcraft lore that made the series so popular all those years ago, Wrath of the Lich King doesn't disappoint, and shows everyone that when it comes to MMOs, Blizzard is still the king.