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What in the world is the World of Warcraft? stars

A guide to help you choose whether to be, or not to be in World of Warcraft

While not the only title in it's category, and certainly not being the first of it's kind; World of Warcraft has managed to cement it's status as one of, if not the most well-known MMO to ever be released. Combining a simple, yet easily recognizable aesthetic, the game has spawned countless references within TV shows, Movies, and even other Video Games, and to this day still manages to strongly clasp to a subscription model, in what is vastly becoming a "free-to-play" genre. 

You've heard of the game, but you've never found an excuse or the time to try it, so we can only assume that you don't know your Murky from your Hogger, and terms such as "LFM EN HC 5/7 Down, Link Curve" mean approximately the square root of nothing to you. If so, then worry not! We've put together this small guide to help you figure out whether or not this world is for you, and, if you're willing to try it, what to expect as you carve your character's legacy into the ever growing World of Warcraft.

Sorry, wait, what? What is an MMO?

If we're going to start with the basics, then there's really no point in skipping over this fundamental - An MMO is an abbreviation for 'Massively Multiplayer Online', and refers to a game that is solely playable online within a persistent world alongside a multitude of other players, often spanning countries from across the globe. While there are some varying genres that fall into this category, the most popular and well known of these are MMORPG's (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), which allows players to create a character, and 'level' their online persona through a multitude of quests and group experiences. While there are multiple sub-genres that can be named within this category, the mostly popular type that tends to grab the attention of large crowds is fantasy, which has given rise to other popular games such as Guild Wars, Runescape, Everquest and most recently, The Elder Scrolls Online. This particular setting of game offers the vast opportunity for developers to be as outrageous and creative as possible when it comes to creating a home for their titles, and allows for a vast multitude of varying landscapes, Tolkienesque level of story telling and different playable races to choose from.

This brings us full circle to World of Warcraft; a game which found it's humble roots in the well known (and arguably genre defining) real-time strategy series, Warcraft. Combining role-playing and leveling elements from the last game in the series, Warcraft 3, a massive online world seemed like the natural progression for the developers, Blizzard, and is currently enjoying it's thirteenth year in existence.  

I've never played an MMO before, is World of Warcraft a good place to start?

That vastly depends on what you're looking for, the game has evolved heavily over the years, and is currently a very different beast from the one that launched in 2004. In order to keep as high a subscription base as possible, Blizzard have attempted to branch out to as many different types of players as they can think of, ranging from those that like to log in for a couple of hours a week right over to the other end of the spectrum, that sees more dedicated players spending dozens of hours a week inside the digital world. Most of the content within the game is accessible with little commitment, and does little to punish those who are looking for a casual experience in game. 

World of Warcraft does offer a basic and newbie-friendly experience, which has become increasingly better over the years. The game slowly introduces the fundamentals of questing and learning your character specific class over the course of a dozen or so levels, which helps to get to grips with the basic mechanics of the game. The game features an 'Adventure Guide', which constantly updates itself based on your level, offering tips on what to do next, which quick-launch buttons that will point you in the right direction should you get lost. However, once you reach the maximum character level within the game (currently 110), the experience then branches off into different directions, offering a different level of commitment based content, dependent on what kind of player you end up growing to be. The gameplay is also supplemented with 'Dungeon' experiences, which will team you up with 4 other players, and sees you all undertake a group experience where numerous enemies need to be killed, and tactic-based but often easy boss encounters will need to be overcome. Dungeons are an optional experience, however, they do offer one of the quickest ways to level through the game, as well as offering plenty of opportunities to acquire new gear and equipment for your character.

What are Realms? How do I choose one?

Realms are the servers for World of Warcraft, and offer different types to cater for a range of players. Some realms offer a PvE (Player Vs Environment) experience, where PvP (Player Vs Player) will be disabled by default. This means that while travelling around the world of Azeroth, players from the opposing faction won't be able to fight and kill you, unless you both decide to enable your PvP flag. Other server varieties include: PvP, which offers players no ability to disable their PvP flag, meaning they are a vulnerable target throughout most of the world and RP (role-playing servers) which offer an incredibly unique and albeit different experience altogether; these realms are normally bound by a universally accepted ethic, that sees other players interact with one-another in-character, often leading to interesting encounters in what would normally be ordinary situations on other Realms.

Make sure that you invest time in choosing a Realm that is right for you. While it is possible to complete content with friends and players on other Realms, your overall experience can be defined by the players that naturally populate yours. Don't enjoy your questing experience interrupted by higher level players killing you? Then perhaps a PvP server isn't for you. Do you prefer immersion over fighting, and enjoy creating your own stories? Then an RP Realm might be the way forward. For some players, moving Realms is the only way to continue enjoying their character, and while this is a possible feature in-game, it does have a real world price tag attached to the service of doing so.

If World of Warcraft has been around for years, will I be left behind compared to older players?

Yes and no. This is probably the most difficult question to ask, as the answer is relative to what you want to get out of the game. While the process of leveling your character to the maximum limit of 110 is a fairly simple and often methodical one, the question of catching up becomes slightly ambiguous once you reach this limit. At 110, new ventures and gameplay content open up to you, most commonly in the form of 'Raids', which are encounters not too dissimilar in practice to 'Dungeons', but can range from 10 to 30 players collectively working together to complete a series of obstacles and boss fights. This is quite possibly where the majority of player divide occurs, and can cause huge levels of frustration for new players seeking to enter a higher tier of raiding.

More veteran players will have an obvious advantage when it comes to experience, and while the mechanics differ from raid to raid, the fundamentals of learning tactics and overcoming challenges remain more or less unchanged. By itself, this doesn't pose any obvious difficulties, but when coupled with in game raiding Guilds, it becomes a whole new issue altogether. Guilds are player created groups, that can end up becoming a hub of social and gaming activity, and allows Guild leaders to organise a host of events for their members, including raiding. It's worth mentioning at this point, that the newer raids in the game come in a variety of difficulties, with the tactical and entry requirements differing from each. The easiest of which to enter is the LFR tier (Looking-For-Raid), which allows players to join an automated queue, that will match them up with other players in order to complete the instance. As with being the easiest of Raid tiers, the in-game 'loot' and rewards are variably set to match this. While this experience is satisfactory to most players, a large portion will begin to find the LFR tier too easy, and will quickly find that their gear begins to outrank the quality of any possible loot drop from within that instance. Now, this is where the major disparity happens - The other Raid tiers are split into 3 types: Normal, Heroic and Mythic, with the latter being the hardest of the 3, and therefore offering the best rewards. Unlike LFR, these tiers require players to manually form a group with one another, and enter the instance by foot in order to attempt the encounter. Because of the difficulties of these Raids, and the time investment that goes with it in order to beat them, Guilds are the natural and obvious way to form a group to do so. Guilds will often only seek players of a certain skill, and will usually ask potential new recruits to provide examples of their previous raiding feats, often by linking achievements obtained from them, or even viewing a players 'Armory' profile on the WoW site. For newer players that have the determination, but lack the experience, this can often lead into a frustrating cycle of needing to complete raids in order to gain experience, but only being offered the opportunity to gain that experience, if they have only completed the raid first. While there are groups that offer up the chance for new players to Raid with them, they are few and far between, and this can often lead newer players feeling alienated from the higher tiers available.

If you wish to stay away from the 'hardcore' experience, then the game offers many catch-up mechanics, that can bring you up to speed with the majority of the player-base. The first of which is a maximum level character boost, which is offered as a free benefit when purchasing the latest expansion, Legion, for the first time. This allows players to create a 110 character from a class of their choice, so you can begin playing the latest content straight away, however, it's much more advisable for newer players to try and level a character first, as this method offers the best newbie experience. Additional boosts can be obtained, but a cost of real currency. Other mechanics in-game include a system only recently added (as of Patch 7.1.5), which allows players to increase the power obtaining mechanics on their 'Artifact Weapon', which decreases the time taken increase the damage output of your gear. 

Raiding doesn't really appeal to me, what else can I do?

While raiding is one of the more popular activities to do at maximum level, there are still vast amounts of content and game-types for you to work around, should you prefer to try something else. Currently, the game offers a series of 'World Quests', which change on a regular basis and offer players an ongoing, large amount of quests to complete, and rewards that go with them. There is also pet leveling and capturing, a system that was introduced with the expansion, Mists of Pandaria, and offers an experience very similar to that of Pokèmon; players are able to capture and train hundreds of different critters, in what has arguably become a separate game within itself. If you consider yourself a collector, then there is a vast range of legacy content that you can work through - Instead of being retired to the archives, all previous content, including raids and dungeons are kept from all of the expansions, and players are able to complete most of them with ease, normally by themselves. While this doesn't pose any real challenge, it affords players the chance to try their hand at obtaining rare gear, pets or mounts (ride-able creatures that you can use as transport in the game). Previous content aside, the game currently offers a a whole range of story driven questing content, in a leveling zone that is only available to max level players. The story is expanded upon with each new content patch, and offers various tasks and challenges for players who are determined to reap the rewards at the end of them.

You mentioned PvP before, is there any more to it?

There is, and it comes in different flavors! Similar to PvE Guilds, there are PvP Guilds dotted throughout most common servers, and often recruit in new members to join in their activities. Unfortunately, these Guilds can fall victim to the similar shortcoming of PvE Raiding Guilds, although there are plenty of ways to enjoy PvP if you're interested. You can queue either by yourself or with a group in order to take part in a Battleground, which pits the Horde and Alliance against one another in a variety of maps and game modes, ranging from Capture the Flag to a battle of attrition. There are also the smaller and more personal Arena Skirmishes, which will face off teams of 2 or 3 against one another, in a gladiatorial type setting. This game type tends to be much shorter than Battlegrounds, but the skill level involved in them can be a lot higher, which may leave newer players frustrated as they try to adjust to the learning curve. It's worth noting, that the in-game rewards for PvP are incredibly limited when compared to that of PvE Raiding, as previous PvP specific gear sets were removed by Blizzard in order to shorten the advantage between PvP heavy players, and those that dabbled. While the move seems to have worked slightly, it has left little to no sense of reward for PvP focused players, beyond the sense of achievement when winning matches.

Sounds okay and all, but I'm still not so sure...

Choosing how to invest your time is important, and MMORPG's such as World of Warcraft can become a huge time investment if you let it, so it's vital that you're as informed as possible for deciding whether or not to part with your hard earned cash and time. Luckily, the game is available to try for free up until level 20, so you can get a small taste for whether or not the game is for you. 

On a final note

If you decide to take the plunge into World of Warcraft, then it's important to keep a few things in mind

1) There is no race to maximum level - Enjoy the quests and the leveling experience. The world won't leave you behind if you take your time, and it's common for most seasoned players to often relish for the opportunity to experience the game for the first time again.

2) No matter how good someone claims to be, everyone was new to the game once - In the later stages of the game, some players can become frustrated with the learning appetites of newer players, and can unfortunately become venomous while doing so. Don't let it put you off, everyone started off as a level one character, and took their time to learn the game. I myself as a player spent a very long time wearing Intellect gear on my Death Knight character; if you ever get the chance to play through the game, you'll understand what an atrocious idea that was.

3) Never be afraid to ask for help - While some pleas for help may be met with some sarcasm, there are plenty of players who are more than happy to help you. New to a dungeon? Just let people know, it instantly negates the opportunity for people to be aggressive towards you, and if they do, you'll find the others will quickly come to your defence.

4) Read up on fan sites for tips on how to play - Sites such as Noxxic, Icy-Veins and WoWpedia are excellent resources when it comes to learning your class. As well as offering ideas and guides on how to complete some of the world's content.

5) Have fun! While getting tips from sites and other players can be helpful, make sure to play the game in whatever way you find to be the most fulfilling. While it's tempting to pick a class based on it's damage output, it may not end up being one you enjoy. Each class is unique, and has it's own strengths and weaknesses, but regardless, you should always play the one that gives you the most amount of enjoyment.

If you made it this far, then thanks a lot for reading our short guide! We'd love to write more things like this, so if you've an interest in reading further about this game (or any other MMO!) then let us know in the comments below.

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