World of WarCraft: The Burning Crusade
My First Kiss was with a French exchange student. I wore braces. He had tousled hair. Neither of us understood each other. We kissed round the back of the school swimming pool. It was magical, if a bit wet. I lost an earring. After he went home, we never spoke again, but I didn't care because every moment was etched on my brain. And, apparently, still is.
My first experiences with the original World Of Warcraft are indelibly marked on my brain, like that first kiss. When I first fell in love back then, I was a Night Elf rogue. Instead of tousled hair there was the stunning elven architecture - trees spiralling into the sky, higher than I could crane my mouse. Everywhere there was colour, everywhere there was dancing.
By the time I reached level 601 was rolling with the Horde as a less-than-lithe tauren druid. But no matter how many instances I tried, no matter how many small comers of the world I uncovered, 1 could never get back that initial feeling of stepping into WOW for the first time - that first kiss that takes you into a whole new world of fumbles, gropes and late night condom-runs. Or, alternatively, epic battles, beautiful new lands and life-sucking addiction.
Or at least that was the case until I, along with half the civilised world, installed WOW's expansion pack. The Burning Crusade. Joy of joys, it felt new again! New things to see, to talk to, to kill, to loot, to pick, to eat! The colours were back, and oh how I danced - in bear-form. And that's what makes The Burning Crusade such a joy for the great and the grizzled, like me. The six-area strong new continent of the Outlands is a fantastic addition to the WOW experience. So let's start there, on the other side of the Dark Portal.
The continent of Outlands is where the big kids go to play, beyond the Dark Portal which is situated in the Blasted Lands. Primarily, it extends the game world for the high-leveller (levels 58 and above) who've previously been kicking their heels in the dust, scraping together honour points or rep just so they could look spiffing as they go, well, absolutely nowhere really. If you're a WOW long-timer, you might have found that after a while - unless you were heavily into PvP - nothing too interesting was dropping for you. If it did, it was so close to what you already possessed that it was hardly worth the time it took to acquire it As for anything remotely exciting coming up on the auction house, forget it.
But in the Outlands, everything's new and suddenly you're swapping your weapons and armour every few drops. Your pockets are weighed down with gold and even the crap sells better than it used to in Azeroth. Guild chat is full of people showing off their new booty, swapping new recipes and exchanging hints and tips on dealing with the weird and wild Outlands beasties. It's a huge, and much needed adrenalin shot for anyone that's hung in there long enough.
Once you get past the rather dreary, war-torn welcome mat of Hellfire Peninsula (which is arguably more breathtaking if you look up rather than down), the scenery in this six-area continent is stunning. From the giant glowing mushroom-themed area of Zangarmarsh (everyone's favourite) to the cool calm of the Terokkar Forest and the lush green hills of Nagrand, there are bucketloads of goodies for the eyes. WOW has always been a highly visual game, with a depth of style and character that will undoubtedly stand it's all so lovely and new that it k contributes to one of the few flaws of the expansion - namely that it makes some of the high-level areas and instances that reside in the main continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms look rather redundant.
The Old World
Certainly Blizzard have predicted this surge over to the Outlands and they've put certain measures in place to keep you going back to the mainland, just so you don't forget it's there. For starters, there are no auction houses in the Outlands. It sounds outrageous at first. But then you realise that it keeps all the new gear from the Outlands filtering through the rest of the game (even for people without the expansion). You also realise that if this feature wasn't there, the poor old continents probably wouldn't even get so much as a postcard from you.
But it's not like you have to keep popping in and out of Dark Portal to get home. Shattrath, the main shared city of the continent is also a city of portals. So you can very easily get back to any other main city in the game. However, the portals are one way. Ha ha! So it's back to the jolly green wibbling giant in the Blasted Lands or you'll be stuck there until your hearthstone warms up.
Of course, there are now scaleable dungeons in Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms and new instances such as the Caverns of Time (68+) to go back for. But who really wants to trundle around in Stratholme for the umpteenth time when there's a brand new continent all shiny and new waiting to be discovered?
A fair amount has been written about the Blood Elves (Horde) and the Draenei (Alliance), the two new races in The Burning Crusade. But what's surprising is how well they fit into the overall live game.
Each race seems to complete the feel of the Alliance and Horde line-ups. The Blood Elves fulfil the Horde's need for something a bit pretty to look at (and yes, the Blood Elf starting area is full of salivating ex-Alliancers); and the Draenei lend a bit of sci-fi shenanigans to the Alliance's rather pedestrian line-up. On top of that, the Blood Elves bring the class of Paladin to the Horde, while the Draenei come with a bit of hot Shaman action.
All the races in the game have had a few twiddles and tweaks, much of which was put in place before Burning Crusade went fully live. Armour and weapons specifically targeted at certain races are also more prevalent. Several wish-list items have been satisfied, including a personal one of mine that means druids can now get feral-specific gear, which enhances their power in cat, dire-bear or Moonkin form.
Every professional also gets its own upgrades. Herbalists have new and exotic plants to pick, while tailors can use the ethereal-sounding netherweave cloth to make new garments and slotted bags that exceed the once decadent-sounding level of 16. There are also new ores for miners, who can now also dig up gems to facilitate the game's new gem-crafting skill. Again, all these elements are drip-fed into all the other levels in the game.
Even if you haven't purchased Burning Crusade yet, you're going to see a hundred little hints about what you're missing out on. Put simply, Burning Crusade is an astounding piece of work that has a huge impact for all players of the game. Blizzard have learned a lot since the game was first released and it's all paid off. It's simply a slicker, more polished offering than the original game, and that in itself seems so many months and numerous patches ago, that it's hard to remember it at all.
There are, as you'd expect, a few small flaws and quest bugs that cause the occasional niggle, and at peak times there are short periods of lag in crowded areas. However, Blizzard have always been pretty militant about stamping those out so no alarm bells are ringing just yet.
With the new continent, races and additions to almost every aspect of the game coming in at a flat-rate price, it's surely going to be a rare thing to find a WOW player without The Burning Crusade. In fact, 'must-buy' doesn't seem strong enough. There should probably be some kind of law forcing every player to have it. For their own good, of course.
The Burning Crusade's only real flaw is that it so outshines what has gone before. What was once beautiful only seems tarnished by the presence of a more sublime, more elegant beauty. Maybe the old country will stop looking like such a ghost town once the novelty wears off. But it won't be for a while, because this is one burning feeling that you'll be happy to hang on to.
Download World of WarCraft: The Burning Crusade
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