As Wrath of the Lich King's release date creeps up and the beta becomes more and more deserted (seriously: Dalaran is a ghost town these days, not that my computer's wheezing hardware doesn't appreciate it), I find myself turning to a few topics that readers generally never asked about, but wound up being game-defining experiences in the beta. By necessity, most of them are a little more general -- overall impressions, things you wouldn't necessarily think to ask about unless you were a fresh arrival in Northrend and noticed the differences -- but I've included a few specific things that I hope people will find interesting. Unlike --
Why are you not in bed?
What makes you think I'm not?
What's the biggest difference between "Burning Crusade" and "Wrath of the Lich King?"
Northrend is a much more immersive world than Outland. Now, part of this is purely psychological, I admit; the Warcraft universe seems more at home in a fantasy than sci-fi setting, and Outland suffered from a few fantastic elements that seemed divorced from Warcraft's classic roots (not that I didn't wind up enjoying them, mind you -- but I think we can all agree that things like the naaru didn't get the introduction they really deserved).
The world is simply more engaging than it's ever been. This expansion is Blizzard's gift to the RP community.
Short answer; turn your music on and play at night when you can.
Long answer; the music is stunning, and imbued with a great deal of personality and tone appropriate to its location. There are beautiful strings accompanying your adventures in Howling Fjord, a cold, ominous drum line in Icecrown, and eerie chorals in Storm Peaks. The one thing that's giving me a headache over whether or not to get the Collector's Edition is really wanting to get the soundtrack.
Visual effects combine for almost photorealistic landscapes in a few zones, and you will notice the dynamic lighting differences as soon as you get off the boat/zeppelin. Try to play in the evening to get the best effects with Northrend's version of the aurora borealis. I genuinely do not know what Blizzard is doing right now -- the technical aspects of their lighting and perspective and landscape design is completely beyond me and I couldn't tell you what they're doing if I tried -- but the world has a sense of polish to it that not only exceeds everything you'll find in classic WoW but also exceeds almost everything you'll find in Outland. Wrath is a beautiful game, period. I've spent hours in the beta doing the best kind of nothing -- just enjoying the world and exploring endlessly.
You'll find a lot more of what made leveling in the Draenei starting zone so compelling. Blizzard hasn't exactly moved away from the bread-and-butter leveling quests of "Kill 25 (hapless animals) for me," but you will find significantly more emphasis placed on story-driven questing that results in important lore moments. Winner, place, and show necessarily goes to the long chain that rewards you with Angrathar, the Wrath Gate, but it's far from being the only quest line that goes out with a bang. My only wish is that Blizzard had managed even more of this, although I know how long it takes to program this stuff compared to "Kill (x)." Have they managed a seamless, story-driven, unified plotline to get the player from 70 to 80? Not entirely, but you won't be hurting for quests that get you grounded in your faction's reason for being in Northrend.
My character is all of 77 in the beta (when I say I'm a terrible leveler, I mean I'm a terrible leveler, and Northrend's plentiful supply of distractions made it worse) so I can't speak to the questing beyond that, but yes, you'll see Artha and references to him quite a bit. A particular quest produces a cutscene with him at the end of Drak'Tharon Keep, he's one of the obvious highlights of the Angrathar cinematic, if you're Alliance you'll get a fairly major quest involving a heavy spoiler on the Forgotten Coast, and everyone can get a chilling cutscene with him at the end of a lengthy questline in Zul'Drak. Otherwise, major lore figures are more involved with the Wrath leveling experience than they generally were in Outland (although this seems to be more true for Alliance). This has had an extremely positive effect on gameplay.
Flying over the Wrathgate and joyriding in Icecrown. There's almost no safe place to land barring the Argent Dawn settlement at the southeastern edge of the territory, and (as you'll shortly discover) the camp's not that safe either. Alternatively, you can find the Alliance and Horde gunships circling the east-central portion of the territory (they should pop up on the map after a little while). Icecrown is what Mordor would be like if the Uruk-Hai ever got around to putting out the fires and if Sauron moved his big-ass eye into a subterranean condo. Don't afk in the air even if you think you're safe. You're not.
- At the moment, professions seem to need some help, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of new recipes patched into the game in the next few months.
- The quantum leap in the game's overall artistic sense has left much of its older self looking fairly dated, if not outright shabby. I don't know that it would really be worth it to overhaul a lot of classic WoW, but I am forced to join the chorus clamoring for unique faction leader/major lore figure models and perhaps a little more spit and polish on elements of the classic game that will continue to see heavy traffic. Blizzard probably finds these requests somewhat annoying at this point, but they've done such a fantastic job with Sylvanas (and Druid swift flight form, below) especially that I'd kill to see what they do updating, say, Tirion Fordring, Thrall, or Jaina Proudmoore.
- On that note, Tauren cat form is regrettably still in the game.
- I'm also still a little ambivalent on the virtue of consolidating gear for different classes. Cloth, leather, mail, and plate are overwhelmingly itemized with the needs of pure classes in mind, e.g. feral Druids should not expect to find melee leather with anything a Rogue wouldn't want, enhancement Shamans should not expect to find dps mail with anything a Hunter wouldn't want (although, yeah, there's still an issue with the amount of +haste itemization on mail in contrast to more useful stats for Hunters), and retribution Paladins should not expect to get dps plate with anything a Warrior wouldn't want. While talents and abilities are (generally) being tuned around the stats on this gear, it's still a little disquieting to realize that certain aspects of your class are essentially being stealth-nerfed because you have the bad luck to share gear with a more widely-played class or spec that doesn't need the same things you do. Unless some miracle occurs, I'm going to have less mana at 80 than I do now at 70, and I still remember what it was like hitting 70 in rogue gear and Heavy Clefthoof. The mana situation was ugly then, and I don't expect it to be any better at 80.