Stuff's guide to World of Warcraft

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According to most dictionaries, wow is defined as an expression of surprise. However, if you asked around 10 million obsessed teens and young people to define the word, they would come up with something completely different.

They would tell you that "wow" meant World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft, commonly known as WoW, is an award-winning video game from a company called Blizzard. Blizzard has managed to convince the equivalent population of Belgium (around 10 million) into paying them around US$15 (NZ$20) per month to play this game.

The game was released back in 2004, and with the second expansion soon to be upon us, I will try to give those of you who haven't already played a rundown of what the game is all about, why it is so successful and what you need to get started.

WoW is what is termed an “MMORPG” (massive multiplayer online role-playing game). It's essentially Dungeons and Dragons on steroids in an online virtual world, where you play as a wizard or fighter or other character to slay monsters and complete quests. And there's a whole lot of real people thrown into the mix.

You create your character/alter-ego from the startup screen. There is a whole raft of different choices for what abilities your character will have and how they'll look, and you'll also have to pick between the “good” alliance or the “evil” horde.

Once this is dispensed with, you can charge out among the denizens of Blizzard's online fantasy world "Azeroth", and quest/explore/battle other people or computer-controlled monsters to your heart's content.

Ok. Sounds reasonably simple, right? Don't know what all the fuss is about? Well, neither did I until I played the game. Consider this fair warning - once you play this game you will be totally sucked in. A common online nickname for WoW is "World of War-crack", as the game is said to be more addictive than the drug.

The world that Blizzard has created for the game is truly enormous, majestic, exotic and it does not skimp on the detail. It also stays reasonably true to the fantasy lore of previous Warcraft games and books. Blizzard keeps their online world up to date via regular patches and maintenance, sometimes adding new content.

The loading times are remarkably quick for such a huge game and the simplistic interface and smooth controls mask the huge complexity of the game.

World of Warcraft is so successful because it constantly keeps rewarding players for time spent in the world. Obviously the more time spent, the greater the rewards will be.

For those just starting out in the game, the goal is to increase the level of your character, which lets you explore more lands and harder dungeons. Ultimately you will hit level 70 and will be able to do experience most of the content.

As many experienced players of the game would tell you; in World of Warcraft life begins at level 70. It is here that you can experience the toughest content, explore the deepest and darkest dungeons. Generally this requires a heck of a lot of work, and you will need the support and help of a whole bunch of players to do the more advanced quests.

This is where your Guild will come in. Somewhere along the way you should have joined a guild. My flatmate used to spend around 6 hours per night, four nights a week with his guild in the harder dungeons. These areas give you access to all the best weapons and items, which in turn allow you to dominate other players in combat, or explore still tougher areas with your guild.

But the ability to constantly improve my character and to attempt increasingly harder challenges or events was only part of the reason I kept paying my subscription fees.

The main part was the social interaction with people that I had spent time with over a period of months. I posted to online forums daily, watched videos (some funny, some tactical) about WoW in general or my characters' role in the game, and chatted on voice programs with my guild-mates.

This combination of addictive game play, the multiple facets of the game, the thrill of consistently attaining goals and the social side to the game all combine to make WoW one heck of a video game.

To some people it has far more influence than any video game should, with husband-wife teams common in game, and events like IRL (in real life) guild BBQs taking place every weekend around the world.

So, you think all the good points outweigh the addiction and your probable lack of social life for the next 2-3 years and you want to start to play World of Warcraft? You can do so on most reasonable computers these days.

As long as your PC or Mac does not belong in a museum, you should be able to run WoW easily enough, provided your broadband connection is fast enough (be careful of your data cap too). You will also need to purchase both the original World of Warcraft game, and the expansion "The Burning Crusade" (about $80 for both in NZ stores, with a free online trail at www.worldofwarcraft.com).

An average player will need to spend anywhere from 1-5 months leveling up your character in order to play some of the more challenging and rewarding areas of the game. The other option is to purchase an account from somewhere like TradeMe and take advantage of someone else's hard work (this is definitely outside of the terms and conditions, but it does happen).

Realistically at this late stage in the game it would take a huge amount of effort to get a brand new character ready in time for the upcoming expansion: Wrath of The Litch King.

Either way, you are in for probably the fullest and most immersive video gaming experience on any system. During the time in which I played WoW, I truly enjoyed the game and felt that it was well worth my US$15 per month. However, if you have a lack of time or a busy family/social life then stick to a more casual game.

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