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Image source: WOWWiki
It’s probably one of the most famous video games in the world. It’s got a huge fan following, a film in the works, and that South Park episode made using actual game footage. But perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the game- if not MMORPGs in general- so allow us to enlighten you on the cultural phenomenon that is World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft is what’s known as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, a video game played over the internet (often on PC) which allows people to take part in an evolving world with other players. The word “massive” refers not only to the size of the world but also the number of players: thousands of people from all over the world can be playing this at any one time.
MMORPGs often have a strong medieval fantasy bent, allowing the player to learn skills, go on quests, and find treasure. There’s also a strong customisation element at work in them: in World of Warcraft, it’s possible to play as one of thirteen races (like Human, Goblin and Dwarf) and eleven classes (such as Warrior, Mage and Hunter) one of each picked when your character is created. The race and class you choose determine what skills and abilities your character can learn: for example, Dwarves are resistant to certain types of magic, and proficient in fighting with guns and maces. Mages can summon fire, turn their enemies into helpless animals and teleport themselves and allies over great distances. As a rule, however, the latter impacts gameplay far more than the latter does.
So now you’ve created your character, what do you do with them? Principally, you kill monsters and go on quests, in the tradition of high fantasy everywhere. The quest could be something as simple as delivering a letter or something as complex as raiding a dungeon (and receiving loot) with 24 other players. As you play the game and gain experience, your character will “level up”, which improves attributes like strength and opens up new skills that they can learn. It’s also possible to engage in battle with other people playing the game, in what’s known as PVP (player vs player) battles: these can be one-on-one battles or even epic arena fights. The choice is yours! Games like World of Warcraft are prized for the level of freedom they player has over their gameplay experience.
After all this, you’re probably wondering how much it costs to play. World of Warcraft is played on a subscription basis, though initially it’s free to play. The Starter Edition offers a truncated experience, with a level cap of 20 and no access to some of the game’s features, like voice chat. Upgrading to the full experience is pretty reasonably priced: you can purchase the full game unlock and the first two expansion packs, (which offer things like new areas to explore) as well as a month of gameplay, for £10 direct from the Blizzard store. Following this, you can purchase additional expansions starting from £4, and additional gameplay time for £8.99 per 30 days. If you’re thinking of playing for an extended period of time, you can buy longer timespans at a discount.
The level of investment in a game like World of Warcraft makes it both a time sink and a money sink. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this: many free-to-play games adopt practices that revile the hardcore fan base, and you can use your leisure time how you see fit. However, it’s worth thinking about the commitment you want to make to a game as expansive (and expensive?) as this one.
It’s also worth highlighting a couple of news stories relating to World of Warcraft from the last few months. The first is that subscriptions to World of Warcraft have fallen dramatically over the last few years, from a high point of 12 million subscribers in 2010 to 7.7 million in July this year. The game is hardly dying, but in terms of sheer user numbers it’s not at the high point it used to be at. The second is that Blizzard, the game’s developers, recently added in-game microtransactions to certain regions that play the game. Some of these buy items that are purely cosmetic, but others can be used to level up a little faster. It’s not clear if these microtransactions are available in the UK, but as a means of convenience they might be an attractive option to a new user.
In any case, World of Warcraft is still a popular cultural juggernaut with a respectable fan following. If you’re interested in playing the game, check out the website to read more about it. It’s available for both Mac and PC: some downloading and installing of software is involved.