The second floor of the Inn in the village of Astranaar overlooks a peaceful, shimmering lake set deep in the woodlands. I sit there beside the Innkeeper for about five minutes doing nothing in particular other than gazing out on the lake. In the meantime, I read chatter from my Guild about impending raids on far-off “instances” (difficult dungeons that require group cooperation to complete) and efforts to acquire all of the needed materials for long sought-after weapons and armor. In the meantime, one Guild member excuses herself and logs off for the night – she has to go put her kids to bed. I contemplate the possibility of setting off to a nearby region to complete a pending quest, but feel no rush to get to it. At the moment, the peace of my favorite perch in the Inn is more than enough to keep me satisfied.
Make no mistake. The star of World of Warcraft is not state-of-the-art graphics (it doesn’t have them) or some innovative new game mechanic (though – at the time it was released in 2004 – it did have a few of those). Rather, the star is…well…the world itself.
Blizzard’s remarkable accomplishment in WoW is that it has put together a breathtaking, immense environment in which its subscribers can play (some estimate it may be the size of Manhattan Island – that may not seem like much, but when you think about how long it would take to go everywhere there is to go in Manhattan, you begin to get an idea about how much material is present).
There is so much to see and do here that it boggles the mind. And the geography of the fantasy world is burned in my mind as certainly as the streets that run through the medium sized West Texas town where I live. The seldom-visited Captain’s Quarters on the Maiden’s Fancy, a shuttle that runs between the peaceful village of Ratchet and the raucous sea-town of Booty Bay at the Southern tip of the Eastern Kingdoms. The sweaty jungles of Stranglethorn Vale. The angled, snow covered mountains of Winterspring. The dilapidated ghost town that leads deep into the Deadmines. The majestic medieval spires of Stormwind. The rivers of lava that run through gigantic caverns of Ironforge.
And… because of the number of players who are online at any time – the world is literally alive. Running and dancing all around me are players from all over the world – questing, crafting, buying, selling. Sometimes, they are just goofing off. As a result, WoW never “feels” static, fabricated, or stale – rather, it takes on a comfortable familiarity over time, kind-of like a favorite easy-chair or a season-ticket seat at the ballpark.
In years to come, I expect that WoW will be viewed as a watershed event in the history of electronic gaming because – for the first time – it showed the world the possibility of creating a game that is both wonderfully challenging and fully social.
I have probably spent as much time enjoying WoW as any other game or game series, except one.
One more post to go.