World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Review for PC

On: PC

The second full expansion for the hit Blizzard MMO World of Warcraft

Review Verdict Read Review
9Out of 10
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When you impersonate a murloc early on in Borean Tundra, be sure to check out the dance animation.
When you impersonate a murloc early on in Borean Tundra, be sure to check out the dance animation.

When you impersonate a murloc early on in Borean Tundra, be sure to check out the dance animation.

It's hard to conceive what PC gaming would currently be like had Blizzard not released World of Warcraft. Four years, two expansion packs and tens of thousands of man years of consumed free time later, World of Warcraft continues to steamroller over its competition in the sales charts, with a cackling goblin at the controls, no doubt laughing all the way to the bank in Booty Bay. Wrath of the Lich King was already a phenomenal sales success within 24 hours of its release, selling a mind-boggling 2.8 million copies. To put that into some kind of context, that's almost double the total sales of Warhammer Online to date, which had been widely predicted to put a significant dent into Warcraft's subscriber figures. World of Warcraft has re-written the rule book on how to make mass-market video games, and with Wrath of the Lich King Blizzard is tearing up its own rule book and replacing it with something far bigger and grander than before.

One of the first things that strikes you when you play Wrath of the Lich King is the sense of scale. The new continent, Northrend is absolutely immense, both in terms of sheer area and the grandeur and diversity of the design. There are ten new map areas and the largest, Dragonblight, surpasses anything seen in Azeroth or Outland by a significant margin. Rival dragon clans (called aspects) battle in the skies, burrower worms and giant elementals fight for the control of frozen caverns and the undead Scourge lay siege to Horde and Alliance outposts alike. Hovering ominously over it all is Naxxramas, a high-end dungeon dripping poisonous ichors over the plague fields outside Wintergarde Keep.

And that's just barely scratching the surface of Dragonblight alone. The other map areas show a similar level of diversity, making Northrend a far more interesting and varied place to be in than anything to be found in Azeroth or Outland. Maps typically have around half a dozen quest hubs each, meaning that levelling is still comparatively swift, despite experience point gains in excess of one and a half million points per level being required. By the time you have accumulated a couple of levels beyond seventy, you can expect to realistically quest in Borean Tundra, Howling Fjord, Dragonblight and Grizzly Hills, giving you access to nearly half of the content in Northrend relatively quickly.

Texture quality and draw distances are much improved for Wrath of the Lich King.

Texture quality and draw distances are much improved for Wrath of the Lich King.

If you were expecting Northrend to be simply wall-to-wall snow and ice then you're in for a pleasant surprise, as not only does Northrend have a wide variety of landscapes but is also substantially prettier than anything to be found in the World of Warcraft thus far. Each zone has its own distinct character, but unlike some zones in Azeroth and Outland, which are largely homogeneous in aesthetic, in Northrend you can find a tremendous amount of variation in a single zone, including snow-capped mountains, frigid coasts, volcanic springs and zombie-infested farmland. Early highlights are the geyser fields beyond Fizzcrank Airstrip in Borean Tundra, the spectacular frosted island mountain of Coldarra, the tall cliffs and waterfalls of the Howling Fjord overlooked by the imposing Utgarde Keep and the pine forests of Grizzly Hills. Later you will be treated to the lush, humid jungle of Sholazar Basin, the frozen wastes of the Storm Peaks, the intricate ziggurats in the Ice Troll city of Zul'Drak and the sombre ruins and ethereal glades of Crystalsong Forest, where the sanctuary city of Dalaran floats in the sky, a safe refuge for the battle-weary. Finally, there's Lake Wintergrasp and Icecrown, the home of the Lich King himself.

Of all these new zones, Lake Wintergrasp is the most unusual, given that it is entirely devoted to objective-based PvP combat and siege warfare, even on PvE and role-playing servers. This zone showcases the expansion's most eye-catching innovation, the new mounted combat system, which gives you direct control over all manner of siege machinery, from defensive cannons to tanks, goblin shredders and aerial mounts. Unfortunately, the area is not immediately accessible, as it is isolated by impassable mountains and may only be reached once you have purchased the cold weather flying skill at level 77.

Not all of Blizzard's efforts since the release of The Burning Crusade have been devoted to creating the new continent of Northrend, however. Graphically, the game is noticeably improved, though perhaps not in the way you might expect. Rather than retooling the 3D engine to provide greater detail for each of the models, Blizzard has instead decided to improve texture quality and draw distances, as well as implement new special effects and real-time shadows. The result isn't a dramatic difference in visual quality but rather a broadening of the canvas, reinforcing the sheer scale and ambition of the expansion pack's design, without sacrificing any of game's playability at lower PC specifications. World of Warcraft has drawn some criticism in recent years for its stylised, cartoon-feel visuals, but any lack of detail in the models is more than compensated for by the terrific texture art.

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george2's Avatar

george2

u shouldnt this is a great game i play it 24-7
Posted 11:41 on 11 December 2009
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noseworm

I'm ditching this for Football manager Live.
Posted 15:53 on 20 January 2009
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demon_may_cry

See My Signature
Posted 04:24 on 05 January 2009
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Anonymous

Yes yes, world of casualcraft. Very exciting. Now all the talentless mouthbreathers can get a chance to see all the content too, yaaaaaay!
Posted 21:49 on 28 December 2008
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alex

i have lost 2 friends to warcrack addiction
Posted 14:38 on 11 December 2008
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Magic

well said Iain McC, wel said.
Posted 09:40 on 09 December 2008
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Iain_McC

@lewn: A lot of your criticisms apply to every single MMORPG ever made, so I don't think you can really call out WoW specifically on that. Like I said in the review, I would have preferred more variety in the quests, but complaining about grind in MMORPGs is like complaining about the sunset or getting old - pretty futile, since there's nothing you can really do about it. (except write your own MMORPG, perhaps)

You also appear not to have grasped the very concept of making a game appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Yes, the instances can be done relatively quickly - that's the entire point. Needing to spend four hours or more on a single run in an instance is impossible for a lot of players, whereas one or two hours is a much more reasonable amount of time to take out of an evening for people like me who have a 50-hour-a-week career and a girlfriend, but still like playing games.

Similarly with the graphical improvements - there's no point revamping the graphics engine for a game with 11 million subscribers if you ramp up the engine to the point that only 2 million of them have PCs capable of running the new engine. Not exactly what I'd call a great business strategy.

And for the record, I've been playing WoW pretty much since it came out and have about 60 days /played. And I can't see myself getting bored anytime soon, not when the design and attention to detail are as good as they are in WotLK.
Posted 02:01 on 04 December 2008
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lewn

Honestly the expansion started strong, but now I just cannot be bothered to log in. Yes it is far and beyond tbc but after 4 years I expected a bit more.

Graphically some of the zones are quite pretty, starting in Howling Fjord is a very nice experience. Whereas Borean Tundra is like a jigsaw puzzle someone put together wrong. There is some improvement in the engine, but not so much that it will stress peoples machines like the newer games.

The new armour looks very nice, both in terms of design and how they are rendered. What is disappointing is that new items in WoW is very limited. Think Conan, within a month everyone will look the same. It's essentially carried on from the S4, Sunwell items with equipment looking the same based on type. For example, the very nice new plate shoulder model is used over 20 times from 71 to 80. Quest rewards, drops etc.

Quests are the same old, with the exception of vehicle quests that send you out and about in them, problem being, do it once and you've done it all.

A lot has been said about the instances, but having done most of them it's a blink and miss affair. Early instances are quick, frantic affairs. Finished leaving you standing around thinking: "Was that it?"

I could go on, but safe to say. 6/10

If you still play WoW, or are relatively new at it you will love it. If you have been playing for awhile and was looking for a new angle you will quickly find it boring.
Posted 14:23 on 02 December 2008
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Iain_McC

Not everyone has the time to PvP or raid their way to full sets of Tier 5 epics... if I had, I'd definitely want to hold onto them too, but since I only had rare gear and a couple of faction reward epics, I'd pretty much replaced everything by the time I got to level 72. As I said, it depends on what you start out with. (Not to mention how attached you are to your old gear - one thing I found slightly disappointing about the new leather gear is that while the textures and new models are pretty enough, did they all have to be so painfully brown?)

You're quite correct about the professions - a lot of the new recipes trump the old ones by a considerable margin, but I was expecting that since the same happened with The Burning Crusade. I presume it's a measure to try and level the playing field to allow more casual players to compete more effectively with the more dedicated hardcore. You can argue this one either way, really - I tend to think it's a good thing, because it encourages more casual players to play, since they're not being left behind so badly by the people who can plug 30+ hours into the game a week.
Posted 10:28 on 01 December 2008
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Veriloquus

It's totally not true - my T5 epics are still with me and I'm 77 now, I've exchanged a bit of my healing offset which was full of greens and rares meanwhile.

What bothers is that all old profession recipes are obsolete - the trainer even gives you Greater Moongoose! - and green gems are better than old epic ones...

Nevertheless Blizzard has got it lesson, this time I don't think all those evenings wiping in Mount Hyjal were not for nothing.
Posted 18:19 on 30 November 2008
Iain_McC's Avatar

Iain_McC

Well, it depends if you've got top-tier PvP gear or not, but you can certainly expect to have replaced most of your equipment by the time you've finished the first two or three map zones.

For example, one of the first quest rewards for my Druid in Borean Tundra instantly replaced my epic Staff of Natural Fury (I still haven't quite been able to bring myself to sell it yet, I was rather attached to that staff!), and a lot of the new grand master level crafting recipes will instantly supersede level 70 rare gear.
Posted 14:47 on 28 November 2008
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Bloodstorm

Not as such no. I'm still using alot of my 70 gear on my mage (just reached 72)
Posted 14:47 on 28 November 2008
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FantasyMeister

Trying to review a WoW expansion must be incredibly difficult, so thank you for giving me a great overall view of what to expect if I ever go back.

In my case I didn't leave WoW for another MMO, I left WoW to concentrate on my growing pile of console games and I'm finding the sheer variety of gameplay a welcome change. I do miss the grinding, but I don't miss pressing the same 3 buttons on my keyboard for several hours each day.

Sounds like if I ever go back I'll have a lot of nice stuff to look forward to. I do have one question though if anyone cares to answer:

Does your level 70 equipment instantly become obsolete after the first couple of new levels as it did going from 60-62 with Burning Crusade?
Posted 14:20 on 28 November 2008

Game Stats

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
9
Out of 10
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
  • Death Knights
  • Masterful art direction
  • Grand-scale design
  • More of the same old grind
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 13/11/2008
Platform: PC
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Genre: Fantasy RPG
No. Players: 1 + Online
Rating: PEGI 12+
Site Rank: 91 4
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