Friday, February 10, 2006

Byte: Bowing to the inevitable

Yes, you guessed it, I re-subbed to WoW last night. I was quite surprised that it only took about an hour and a half to patch to get it up to date (though that represents a good 350MB of download), and I managed to get in a couple of hours last night to get reacquianted with the game.

As I expected when I logged in with my main character, Shareth, my guild tabard was a plain grey, showing that the character was no longer a member of a guild. To my surprise, it appeared that the guild had actually been disbanded, rather than me just being kicked out of it, as the I still had the Guild Leader and co-Leader on my Friends list, and when I checked, I saw that they were no longer members of The Rebels of Azeroth (the name of the guild, obviously).

Pleasingly, within about a minute of me logging on, my old playing partner and fellow Night Elf Druid, Zinar, whispered me and said "My god... is that really you? Do you even remember me?" He still had me on his Friends list, even though I'd not played for something like four months. It's nice to be remembered - and missed. We had a good catch up, and he talked me through the character class revamp that had happened to Druids since I last played. Blizzard had made major tweaks to the Druid class, so I had to reassign all my talent points. I had previously been specialised in Balance (damage spellcasting, as opposed to Restoration, which is healing/buffing spellcasting), but Zinar advised me to specialise in the third and final Druid class type, Feral Combat, as it was now far better than it was before.

You'll have difficulty getting me out of Cat Form now, as it's stupendously good at damage dealing. I put in a critical hit on a Level 34 mob (that's MMORPG slang for "mobile NPC" - an AI controlled enemy) last night for 499 damage, using a Ravage attack. He didn't last very long after that... The Cat Form can also track humanoids, which helps prevent you from being snuck up on in Contested Areas, and is a real boon in PvP; It's saved my pelt on a few occasions already. So you'll find me in the middle of Ironforge on Zenedar, outside the Auction House, meowing at passing players for the next couple of months, at least.

What struck me last night was how the ambience of the game comprehensively outstrips what you'll find in Auto Assault and RF Online. The game world just has so much more character, and feels lived in. The game's just so much better aesthetically, too. Not in terms of polycount - RF Online beats WoW for that - but RF Online feels quite bland and empty. The environmental textures in particular are so much weaker than those in WoW and the settlements just seem lifeless by comparison: no NPCs wandering about at all - just a few static vendors lurking in corners (and the same is true for Auto Assault). Auto Assault soundly trumps RF Online in terms of combat, and for that reason alone, may earn itself a subscription for a few months when it hits retail, but it wasn't until last night that I realised just how much I missed playing World of Warcraft.

I don't know why, but Azeroth... it just feels like *home*. Strange how you can feel that for somewhere that exists only on a computer sitting in a cold, dark server room somewhere just outside Paris, but it doesn't stop it from being true.
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