HolidayBuyer's Guide

New scoring, evil Elves in 'WoW' expansion pack

SAN FRANCISCO--Blizzard Entertainment visited CNET's offices here to reveal new features of "The Burning Crusade," the upcoming expansion pack for the wildly popular online game "World of Warcraft."

The product will make fundamental changes to a game heavily populated by seasoned veteran players, many of whom have been logging in to the game day and night for almost two years. "WoW," which lets players create characters from fantasy races such as Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Trolls, has offered an addictive experience for its millions of users.

Burning Crusade

Among other changes, such as adding two new playable races to each side, flying animal mounts, and magical items that can be "socketed" with enchanted gemstones, the expansion pack will modify high-level player-versus-player battles by fundamentally changing the "honor" system.

The game takes place in a fantasy realm where two major factions are at war, and it awards "honor" points for defeating players of the enemy faction. The points can be spent on rewards like shiny new magic swords or spiffy suits of armor.

The current system uses a stiffly competitive "ladder" ranking in which you're either the top dog by constantly fighting battles to gain more honor than the next guy, or you're an also-ran who doesn't have enough honor to afford purchasing the top-of-the-line weapons. The new changes will turn the honor system from a ladder to a noncompetitive pool of points that players will be able to build up on their own time, and spend when they please.

The Burning Crusade will also offer a new style of player-versus-player battles in the form of arena combat--team-based battles that take place in designated arena sites between small teams of two to five players. These arena matches will let players form ongoing teams that can compete for "arena points," which, like honor, can be used to purchase reward items.

New dungeon areas
In addition, The Burning Crusade will offer plenty of new dungeon areas to explore. Like with many online games, the dungeon areas in "World of Warcraft" are "instanced"--that is, they exist only for the players who enter that particular region, in a separate part of the game from the public, online areas.

In the original game, the instanced dungeons offered some of the toughest challenges to be had (from lumbering titans to fire-breathing dragons), as well as some of the richest rewards. Unfortunately, these battles were chaotic and difficult to manage, since they allowed parties of up to 40 players at once. Burning Crusade's dungeons will instead offer a more intimate experience for parties of up to 25 players, to better allow players to manage a tighter, more-organized adventuring party.

Finally, The Burning Crusade will offer plenty of huge new areas to explore, both in dungeons and in overland areas. These new areas include home cities for each of the two new playable races, the evil Blood Elves and the noble Draenei, as well as otherworldly castle keeps where ghostly spectators in a dilapidated opera house lie in wait for hapless adventurers.

Perhaps the most surprising development of all was official confirmation of a release window for its upcoming product--especially coming from Blizzard, a studio known for refusing to commit to solid release dates for its game products. According to a company representative, the highly anticipated expansion pack is scheduled for release before the end of 2006. For more information on "World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade," consult GameSpot.