During my initial tour of World of Warcraft, it was the game’s Associate Designer, Jeff Kaplan, who had control of the keyboard and mouse. He was using his own characters to take me around the different lands of Azeroth as he explained the ins and outs of the game’s content, item, and quest systems. Thank goodness I had my trusty digital voice recorder with me, because I’d never have been able to remember any of it. Put simply, even while Kaplan was regaling me with the wonders to come, all I wanted to do was get my hands on the game and actually play.
Finally, an hour into our discussion, Kaplan moved out of the way and said those magic words, “Are you ready to play?” I believe I broke a land speed record getting my butt into the chair, as did our own Managing Editor, John Keefer – better known as Warrior. Kaplan restarted the game with a new account and walked me through the character set up process. At this writing, the team is currently stress testing the undead, loading the servers with up to 400 players using undead content at the same time. So far, according to Kaplan, the test has gone remarkably well from both a stability and gameplay point of view.
That, however, meant that I would only be able to create an undead character. That was no problem for me, as it was what I would have picked regardless. I clicked my way through the character selection screen, eventually settling on an undead mage named (what else?) “Delsyn.” The game’s character selection screen allows some level of customization. Players can choose hair and skin colors, hair (or horn) styles, and can select from a large number of different faces. This was actually rather disappointing. I told Kaplan that I felt like there just weren’t enough character customization options; at the least, I should be able to tweak the design of my face. Kaplan said that that was the most common complaint about the game so far and the team was looking into adding new features.
Still, I wasn’t going to dwell on it. According to Kaplan, once you get in the game, World of Warcraft does have a number of cosmetic items that players can use to distinguish themselves. They range from guild tabards to armor, weapons and clothing that are functionally identical but visually different. I eventually settled on an appearance, as did the esteemed Warrior, playing a female undead priest named …”Puspuss” (aargh!). I apologized to Blizzard for my colleague and started up the game.
All undead characters begin in a tomb in the small town of Tirisifal Glades. The town, like many of the above-ground undead cities, is actually a ruin, a relic of the now-destroyed human nation of Lordaeron. When my companion and I ran out of the tomb, we were confronted by another walking corpse named Mordo who informed us that we were now members of the Forsaken — self-willed undead who are struggling for their freedom against the Lich King. He also offered me my first mission: explore the town a bit and find the Shadow Priest Sarvis, who would explain to me what was going on.
Sarvis wasn’t that hard to find — the town’s not that big. Besides, where else would you expect to find a zombie priest but in the ruins of a temple? When I reached him, Sarvis explained that Tirisifal Glade was under a constant state of low-level siege by Mindless Ones — basically some of the Lich King’s cannon fodder. He offered me a new mission: kill 10 of the Mindless Ones for a fee of 10 copper pieces. I accepted.
While I moved toward the crude fortifications I spoke with a few other NPCs in the town. It wasn’t hard to figure out which ones had missions — they were the ones with a gold exclamation point over their heads. Characters with a gold question mark were those who had business with me (usually to complete a quest), and a silver exclamation point meant that they would have a mission for me when I had gained some experience. On my way I acquired two more missions, a mage asked me to get her three bat wings and four scavenger paws for a spell she was working on, and the local garrison commander asked me to help clear a local gold mine of night spiders so the Forsaken could get it working again.