PC Article

Playing World of Warcraft casually

An occasional player looks back, then ahead to the Lich King

With Wrath of the Lich King just around the corner, World of Warcraft will surely once again be at the top of the MMORPG pile. Warhammer Online and Age of Conan may have taken some of the limelight recently, but the simple fact is that WoW has roughly ten times the subscriber number of these rivals. Of course, popular opinion can't always be trusted, but Blizzard do have a good opportunity to extend their lead this winter.

So, perhaps you are thinking that it might be the time to jump on the bandwagon and enter Azeroth, but are worried that you won't be able to compete against the 14-year-old boys who play all day, every day. Well, I've got news for you - you won't.

However, once you've made your peace with that idea you'll discover that WoW is still lots of fun for the casual gamer with less time on their hands.

I've been playing World of Warcraft for around two years now, and have three characters at level 12, level 38 and level 70. My Human Priest is my main character, and hit the current level cap about a month ago - I had resolved to reach it before the release of the new content.

Playing an average of a few hours a week slowly levelled my character up over a year or so, through mostly solo play. It's been said that the only problem with multiplayer gaming is that you have to play with other people, but this is luckily not the case in WoW. Most quests are easily doable on your own, if you want to go it alone.

This may disappoint some of you who wanted to take part in group adventures, but the fact of the matter is that as soon as you have completed a few quests with someone and resolved to join them again, you will log on next time and they will be five levels ahead of you. Unfortunately that's part and parcel with the nature of the game, unless you can find some real-life friends to join you.

An alternative to this is joining a casual guild - however, these are extremely difficult to find. Most guilds are one of two extremes: the too-casual guild who never do anything and sit around "lol"ing in their chat channel, or the super-serious guild who demand that their members are online for events and soon kick anyone who doesn't conform. Obviously these each have their place, but simply won't do for the casual gamer who needs to accomplish what they want in a short space of time. The first is pointless and the second is completely unworkable, for obvious reasons.

My priest had a number of guild invitations, as Healers are in fairly short supply, but I never got much out of any of the ones I joined (mostly the too-casual types, but one super-serious RP guild I joined out of curiosity - never again, logging on to angry mails in Ye Olde Englishe in your mailbox gets old quick). Anyway, guilds are certainly not the be-all and end-all of the game but in not being in one you are arguably missing out on the main social aspect of the experience.

Of course, in a world with as many subscribers as WoW has, there will always be other adventurers looking to do the same quests as you, so if you really need to complete a particular quest you should be able to get a quick group together. But the disadvantage of this is the half an hour to an hour of waiting around for the gang to get together at the entrance to the dungeon - again, not ideal if you are trying to stick to a timeframe.

So, the casual WoWer's path to the top turns out to be largely a solo grind - not really a problem as Blizzard have put a great amount of lore and atmosphere into the game. Sure, the quests can be repetitive (go here, kill 20 wolves, go to the next town, kill 20 bears, et al) but each town and area has a lot of character, and some of the quests have very involved storylines. But once you hit the level cap, suddenly there are a lot more adventurers on the same level as you ready to adventure with.

That said, the endgame content of WoW Classic and Burning Crusade is, however, inaccessible to say the least. The highest dungeons are only doable in 40-man groups, and players usually insist on you having only the best gear. Unfortunately, getting the gear means running the previous dungeons multiple times over and over, in the hope of getting your item to drop.

Luckily Blizzard have pledged to change this in Wrath of the Lich King - all dungeons are purported to have 5 or 10-man versions as well as the 40-man raids. The rewards will be better for the more challenging dungeons but the occasional player will be able to appreciate the full scope of the story - something that wasn't really possible, particularly in Burning Crusade's endgame.

Also at the top level you are able to actively take part in the Battlegrounds and earn Honor points to spend on the good items. It's generally accepted that this is the best way for infrequent players to get their hands on some "epic" gear, and the good thing is that if you don't spend the points you are earning now you can save them until you are level 80 and purchase some of the new stuff that is bound to come out then.

In all, WoW has been a lot more accessible to the casual gamer than other similar games up to now, but Wrath of the Lich King seems set to make that even more so. So with one week to go, download the trial version if you are still unsure, and I'll see you in Northrend.