World of Warcraft is the king of the hill. Over 11 million players worldwide and still growing even as competitors try to nab a bite of the market so utterly dominated by Blizzard. At the top of the hill, with no serious competitors in sight to challenge the status quo and with piles of money pouring in every month. What does Blizzard do? They raise the hill. Enter the second World of Warcraft expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King.
Burning Crusade successfully established what a WoW expansion should contain - raise the level cap by 10, add play areas and quests for those 10 extra levels, introduce a reason to create a new alt character, throw in a whole new set of endgame content and expand every talent tree and tradeskill to match the new level cap and content. Wrath of the Lich King repeats the trick, sticking to the established formula. Old endgame content of Burning Crusade is replaced by a whole new continent of Northrend.
The established World of Warcraft backstory tells us that Northrend has always been there, in the far north of Azeroth - just previously inaccessible. However, once the Lich King stirs the pot by attacking both Horde and Alliance cities (as chronicled in a neat pre-launch event on all servers), it's now time to set sights on the domain of Lich King and repay the intrusions in kind. On the sidelines, Northrend's wildlife and any pre-existing population gets trampled over and looted - all in the name of revenge.
As you can see from the opening cinematic, the storyline of expansion builds on the "core" Warcraft lore and the story of Arthas and how he became the Lich King. Driven by blind lust for revenge, Arthas was corrupted by the cursed sword, Frostmourne, and did some terrible deeds, ultimately killing his own father.
The new Caverns of Time instance, The Culling of Stratholme, actually lets you play part of the Arthas backstory.
Interestingly, the overall theme of the expansion and some of the quests reflect the Arthas storyline. The driving force behind the general invasion of Northrend by the Alliance and the Horde is revenge. Players will also end up doing some rather questionable and morally ambiguous deeds during their adventures and some of the late quest lines in Icecrown hint towards interesting potential resolutions to the story - story, that is actually not going to be concluded until later content patches arrive. Some of the stuff is a bit superficial and at times the whole "the ends justify the means" theme is spelled out in big letters, but it's a huge improvement over Burning Crusade. Besides, as Kael'Thas and Illidan have already been defeated by players, it's Lich King's turn! It also nicely brings the story back to the lands of Azeroth.
The most impressive feature of the expansion from the perspective of the story is the use of the new Phasing technology that allows players to actually "play the story" and change the world they play in. Sure, the changes are all scripted with the storyline and in the end everyone gets to play the same story, but it's a huge improvement over the "normal" MMO storylines where the story is mostly told in text by NPCs in the form of quests. Lord of the Rings Online actually innovated with the mechanic a bit earlier with its wholly instanced storyline-related epic questline. Wrath of the Lich King goes a step further and actually integrates the action and the resulting changes to the normal game world through the use of Phasing.
Expanding The Game - Again
In practical terms, the expansion raises the level cap from 70 to 80 and includes eight massive new PvE zones set in Northrend with quests and dungeons for characters between level 68 and 80. Northrend also includes a new overland PvP zone (Lake Wintergrasp) and with the launch of the expansion the game also received two new Arenas and one new Battleground for competitive and casual PvP play.
Wrath of the Lich King also adds the option of playing a Death Knight. As "Hero Class", Death Knights start out at level 55 and the requirement to create one is that you must have one other level 55 or higher character on the same server in the same faction. You are also limited to only one Death Knight per server. The expansion also includes all the other necessary bits to extend the game for another ten levels in all areas - extended talent trees, extended tradeskills and related materials and whole new upgrade line for the gear your characters wear beyond what Burning Crusade offered.
It should be noted that the expansion offers absolutely nothing to a player that does not have a high level character - at least level 55 to create a Death Knight, at least level 68 to actually play in the new areas. I'm also going to concentrate mostly on the new features of the expansion box - World of Warcraft also received many expansion-related upgrades with the 3.0 patch that applied to everyone well in advance of the actual expansion. You can find more on these from our 3.0.2 Patch article.
To mix things up, I'm also going to break from the usual format of our reviews a bit and give a quick story on the launch week and my trek to level 80 - in full no-life mode. If you are not interested in that and would rather skip to the rest of the review, just hop directly to page 5. For an epic story of a man with no life, read on...
Articles: The Lich King is Coming - Part 1 Oct 09, 2008
Articles: Shadows of the Lich King Sep 02, 2008
News: New Wrath of the Lich King Shots Nov 09, 2007
News: WoW: Wrath of the Lich King Screenshots Oct 20, 2007
News: New WoW: Wrath of the Lich King Screenies Oct 05, 2007
News: BlizzCon 2007 - weekend (video) recap Aug 06, 2007
News: BlizzCon 2007 World of Warcraft summary Aug 04, 2007
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