So lately I have been playing World of Warcraft again (mostly as research for my paper, of course!), as the long-awaited Cataclysm expansion was just released last week.
In the new expansion Blizzard has completely graphically rendered the world in the game to look s though a nearly-apocolyptic disaster has taken place: parts of the earth are split wide open to its core, forests are decimated, and molten lava spews over the land. They give the following description on their website:
"Return to Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms to find them scarred by Deathwing’s rage. From the devastated Badlands to the broken Barrens, the transformed lands of Azeroth host new quest lines, new enemies, and new rewards"
Also included in Cataclysm is the introduction of two new races: Worgens and Goblins. Worgens are basically werewolves--they can shift between human and wolf-beast forms--whereas goblins are, well, small and green. Besides the aesthetic factor they introduce, what I truly appreciate about these new races is how beginning game play for each of them is introduced.
When WoW was first released, each race had a brief back-story to give a general idea or context for the character. What was lacking however, was the use of game play as a means of developing a sense of richness to each race's story, as the player progressed the avatar through the game. Upon entering the world for the first time, the player was thrown into a giant open space, where, without any sort of indication or guiding narrative, they would then have to discover that in order to progress through the game, they would have to complete a series of quests that were disconnected, tedious, and didn't bare much relation to the overarching narrative.
However, Blizzard has finally managed to get it right this time around, as the first few moments of game play are informative, narratively rich, and provide a new sense of depth to the character and to the game. For example, I began my adventure as a Worgen, and rather than simply reading a side paragraph about the initial invasion of the Worgen on human society, and the war that ensued, you actually get to participate in this part of the prologue as an introductory tutorial. You play through first few levels of your new character as a human, fighting off the Worgen with cannons, Molotov cocktails, and riding on horses through the town to get everyone to evacuate.
I will leave save everyone for spoilers, but lets just say that then you then proceed through a series of events until you wake up to find yourself shackled as a Worgen yourself!
To be quite honest, after the engaging experience of the prologue--which get you through the first 10-or-so levels--it's almost anticlimactic to be once again set completely free-roam into the open world of Azeroth, where that kind of interactive narrative is hardly replicated. Still, kudos to Blizzard for raising the bar with the new gentle, yet very fun learning curve.