Gearing up for WoW: The Razer Naga [Updated]

We don't normally do hardware reviews. That's usually the domain of the guys over at our sister site, Engadget. But when Razer broke out the $79.99 Razer Naga last August 19 at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany (along with a glow-in-the-dark mousepad), and previewed it a BlizzCon a few days later, we knew we just had to get our hands on it and take it out for a spin. This was Razer's first mouse aimed squarely at the MMO market, and at World of Warcraft players specifically. It isn't the first mouse that tried to appeal to the huge MMO player base -- Steelseries unleashed a World of Warcraft mouse last year, although some players found some issues with the mouse and the way it interacted with the game. In hindsight, we probably should've done our own review of that product. So when Razer announced that the Naga "wasn't going be just a great MMO mouse (but) the best MMO mouse," we weren't going to let the opportunity slip away.

[Update: Razer's Heathcliff Hatcher aka Razer|Agent responded to some concerns about the Razer Naga and how its keys currently can't be remapped right out of the box without third party applications. Razer|Agent says, "software driver remapping of keys is a standard function for most of Razer products and we do have suitable solutions that we intend to release in the near future for Naga that will enable this feature out of game." This means that the standard 123 and NUM configurations should be remappable through a future update.]

Mike wrote an excellent hands-on report on the Razer Naga when we were at BlizzCon which should give everyone a fair idea of what we're dealing with. Writing a product review for an MMO gaming mouse wasn't going to be a simple task -- one reason there aren't too many full reviews of the Razer Naga is because it takes a bit of commitment to do it. Unlike first person shooters or even real-time strategy games where about an hour or two of gameplay would be enough to give fair impressions of the mouse, properly assessing an MMO gaming mouse needs to be an immersive experience. It requires mapping keys and adapting one's personal playing style to accommodate the hardware.

As I'd mentioned in my gearing series that talked briefly about gaming mice, the features of most modern gaming mice are far beyond what MMOs generally demand. You won't need 5600dpi, insane APM (Actions-Per-Minute) values, or even fancy technologies like Razer's HyperResponse buttons. If there's any indication that Razer is on the right track with the Naga, it's that they've loaded it with buttons. MMO players tend to press a lot of buttons. They also took the extra step of creating (or adapting) an AddOn that allows the mapping of keybindings from inside the game. When the Razer Naga finally arrived at my doorstep after a torturous tussle with an ineffectual DHL, I finally buckled down -- as Razer would say -- to get imba. Let's take a closer look at the Razer Naga after the jump.


The Razer Naga

Razer keeps a peculiar naming convention for their product lines, with keyboards named after arachnids, mousepads named after non-arachnid insects, audio gear after aquatic predators, and finally gaming mice after snakes. The cleverly named Naga is taken from the Sanskrit for cobra, but as Mike pointed out in his hands-on report, everybody who plays WoW is familiar with those snake-men that pester us all over Azeroth. Razer is taking square aim at World of Warcraft players and there's nothing subtle about it.

One of the first impressions I got of the Naga when I saw it on Razer's website when it was launched was that it looked bulky. I mean, after all, it had a full 12-button keypad on its side. After seeing it a BlizzCon and playing with it now, I found that it isn't actually the case. Compared to other gaming mice (I'd been using Razer's DeathAdder and Lachesis prior to the Naga), it's actually rather small. Pictures, as they say, add ten pounds, and this is certainly true of the Razer Naga, which is actually slimmer and more compact than the gallery suggests.

This compact form factor should appeal to female gamers, who generally have smaller hands than most males. Considering that over 400,000 women play World of Warcraft in the US alone, this should be a good thing. The keypad is also the same size as that found on most mobile phones, so its size shouldn't be a problem for men, either. The Razer Naga sports 17 buttons, which is a whole freaking lot, even for a gaming mouse. These buttons are the most significant hardware feature of the Razer Naga, which we'll explore in-depth later.

It is an ergonomic mouse -- which means that lefties are out of luck -- with the keypad accessible by the thumb, three buttons for the index finger, a scroll wheel button, and the right mouse button for the middle finger. Opposite the keypad is a small curve where the ring finger can rest while the pinky can grip the side. It has a 7-foot lightweight, braided cable that terminates in a gold-plated USB connector. The braided fiber cable seems to be the new trend for Razer mice, lending itself to fewer tangles.

One other feature that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere is a small toggle found underneath the Naga that allows the 12-button keypad to register as the normal number keys (including - and =) or as the numeric keypad on a full size keyboard or Advanced [NUM] mode. Combined with the regular number keys, the Naga toggled to the Advanced [NUM] mode provides more buttons than players will have use for. Combine that with the ALT, SHIFT, CTRL and combinations thereof, then there are roughly a gajillion-zillion keybindings at players' disposal. One caveat: toggling the Caps Lock will affect the Naga when in [NUM] mode.

Starting Out

One of the biggest hurdles in making the jump to the Razer Naga is adapting one's playing style to take advantage of the mouse. Most players are used to accessing spells through their keyboard, with the default action bars bound to the number keys. Many players use basic, two-button mice, and use the keyboard W, A, S, D keys to move. The Razer Naga "tips the balance, so to speak, between the keyboard and mouse,"according to Steve Chevrie, aka Razer|Fakesteve. It frees up the keyboard hand to focus solely on modifier keys or even movement such as strafing to complement forward movement with the mouse.

The most basic way to use the Razer Naga after installing it is to have it toggled as the normal keypad and use the keys as you would the 12 buttons on the default action bar. The Naga's default keypad values out of the box correspond with the keys bound to the default UI from 1 to =. New players or those who like to use the default UI can use the Razer Naga to shift all spell commands to the mouse, freeing the keyboard hand for modifiers, movement, or even munching on Cheetos.

In its default settings, the action bars can be toggled using the SHIFT+X command, where X is the page of the action bar. There are a total of six action bars in the default UI, so players starting completely fresh can hit the ground running with the Razer Naga without having to configure anything and still effectively having easy access to up to 72 buttons. On Windows, the two buttons beside the left mouse button allow forward and backward movement. On Macs, these buttons are ignored but can be configured for forward and backward movement (or anything else) through the Key Bindings interface.

Right out of the box, without any configuration, the Razer Naga immediately changes one's game and can eliminate 'clicking'. But why stick with the default interface? Razer|Fakesteve says that "in order to efficiently display the many commands (World of Warcraft players) can bind to the Razer Naga," the developers had to "kick the default interface out the door." This is where the power of the Naga is truly unleashed. In the next part of our review, we'll take a look at how the Naga performs with custom UI and settings.