Reigning Champ

There’s not a whole lot to be said to lead into my number two pick for 2007. It’s one of the biggest games of all time and has probably made more money than nearly everything that’s come before it simply because you have to pay a monthly fee to play it. A comparison between its revenues and that of Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros. or Space Invaders is something I’d like to try to figure out sometime. It’s a moving target too, since so many people play it and it shows no signs of slowing down.

It’s been blamed for a slowdown in PC game buying. With so many people playing it, the story goes, they must not be buying anything else, right? I’m not sure I believe that myself, because people still do buy an awful lot of PC games in a year, and not everyone wants to play a massive multiplayer online game exclusively. Maybe folks are supplementing with a shooter here and there? An RTS comes along and that might get in their play pile. I know my biggest problem with this game is I sometimes felt guilty for only playing it to the exclusion of everything else–stuff that I got as gifts or bought with my own cold hard cash only to toss aside when I get sucked back in.

I’ve gotten past that in the last few months, during a time when this game nearly became my top pick for the year. Something else came along to top this game, but I won’t feel guilty when I get back to…

The Burning Crusade

2. World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

It’s actually easier to talk about the picks you don’t expect than it is to talk about this one. It’s a polarizing game. Some ex-players will say lots of nasty things about it. Current players will tell them how far off their rocker they are. The game is the most streamlined massive multiplayer game you can find. Blizzard is so thorough with their polish that you rarely find things that are broken or don’t work exactly like you’d expect. They’re almost too good at that part of game design, especially when compared with everyone else. While playing The Witcher a couple nights ago, I kept having these thoughts creeping in my head about how unfinished that game felt. There just wasn’t any of the polish you find in a Blizzard game, and well, they’ve spoiled me. I want that absolutely ridiculously high quality in all my games (for the record, I still dig The Witcher quite a bit so far).

The Burning Crusade is one of the best expansions for an MMO or any boxed product ever. It’s a whole new game’s worth of content added onto a game that was already huge. Much of it is of even higher quality than the original game, and that’s quite a feat. For lore fanatics like myself, it carries on the story of the world of Warcraft in an exciting direction. Everyone wanted to go through the Dark Portal, and Blizzard obliged by letting us do just that. Outland is this fascinatingly alien place, with more superb artisitic design in one zone than a lot of games have in their entirety. Everything is placed just so, and that handcrafted design makes it so long stretches spent in one area don’t ever become tiresome. So few games can project the sense of place that World of Warcraft has since its inception, and this expansion raises that bar.

I think my favorite thing in the expansion is the addition of so many more 5-man dungeons. I’m in a guild that can easily put together five people many nights of the week, so it’s great to have so many places to go and new things to see. I do kind of miss traversing the lands for all the quests needed for these dungeons as you had to in the base game, but putting a lot of them right outside the instances is probably the right choice in the end because it encourages people to try them out–and playing with others is what makes this game so entertaining. I think a lot of what turns people off about this game is the group of people they roll with. You just have to keep looking until you find the right bunch. I was lucky that way.

One thing that really stands out about The Burning Crusade is that it allows people to play the game the way they want to and offers tons of rewards no matter which way you decide to go. If you’re the PvP type, that part of the game is expanded and fantastic. If you’re the solo-type, you have piles of new quests and backstory to unearth. And if you raid, there’s a monstrous endgame there to conquer. It’s an overwhelming amount of entertainment, and even though I’ve spent hundreds on the subscription and the boxes by now, I still feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. It’s the type of value that more games should aspire to, because as we often see with each Blizzard release, you create a fandom that will support you for years to come across multiple products.

There was only one game better than this one for me in 2007, and if Blizzard releases Wrath of the Lich King in 2008, it’s very possible you’ll be back here reading a very similar entry next year at this time. I’m looking forward to that even more than I was The Burning Crusade. A lot of people forgot that this was a 2007 game becuase it came out in January of 2007, but I sure didn’t. It’s left its mark on me and probably made me a Blizzard fan for life.

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One Response to Reigning Champ

  1. Natus says:

    You know, I don’t think it’s playing time that’s keeping gamers stuck in WoW, it’s reallt playing quality. I’m a total RTS whore, but what has really come along to sweep me off my feet? Now, yes with shooters, there is a lot more new good stuff, but still. I’m amazed at the way this game expands every ten levels or so. For me at least, it’s all about discovery and figuring out how A interacts with B. Maybe it’s just the class I’m playing now, or that I don’t have any high-level toons, but the game is staying remarkably fresh. Defias Deep-sea divers off Dustwallow’s coast! Who would have thought of that?

    And yes, the starting areas of the Draenei and the Blood Elves were amazing, so much so that I wish they could have retroactively refitting most of the other starting areas. The constant improvements and additions are great as well. I’m honestly suspicious of anyone on game forums who goes into raptures about how glad he is that he’s off the WoW teat. Because all in all, it’s just a brilliant design.

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