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World of Warcraft: The War Within

World of Warcraft: The War Within Preview - A promising start to The Worldsoul Saga

We played a whole bunch of the upcoming expansion and have been left wanting to see much more.

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At BlizzCon last year it was announced that World of Warcraft is getting three new expansions, in what Blizzard calls 'The Worldsoul Saga'. By now, work on the first expansion called 'The War Within' has progressed far enough for me to attend a hands-on preview in London earlier this week. Besides talking to some of the senior developers on World of Warcraft, I was able to try out a delve, which are new dungeon-type encounters included in The War Within for the first time.

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At the event, I was first treated to a video detailing all of the upcoming features for The War Within. Much of this was already revealed at BlizzCon. In short, The War Within will be the first of a trilogy that will complete World of Warcraft's storyline. It will set the stage for a conflict that threatens the entire world of Azeroth, with returning character Xal'atath as the storyline's main villain. Central to The War Within are different layers of underground worlds beneath Azeroth, home of the Dwarf-like Earthen and the arachnid race called the Nerubians.

When I sat down to play the preview, I immediately saw one of the new additions coming with The War Within: Warbands. The Warband system allows you to share progress across different characters you've created. It's basically a bunch of characters gathered around a fire, like an actual warband, that allows you to pick a different one whenever you want. Blizzard staff at the event explained that it ties in to a goal of making the game more playable for people with less time. An addition I think everyone will appreciate.

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I decided to create a Shaman, because I like playing this class in Hearthstone, where it can summon totems just as in WoW. I was then dropped onto the Isle of Dorn, the starting area for The War Within. The Isle of Dorn itself is a forested green island with some cities dotted around, featuring a nice Dwarven-like architecture. The island wasn't finished yet, so much of it was still empty. However, based on the videos shown early during the event, the Isle of Dorn is probably going to be the least interesting part of the new expansion. Instead, the best looking environments I saw were the ones underground, which I sadly couldn't see yet.

World of Warcraft: The War Within

In any case, as I started an attack by Nerubians was taking place. I spent quite some time fighting the Nerubians on the beach. They're going to be featured a lot in The War Within. They're big, spider-like creatures with slashing attacks up close and ranged attacks with webs and venom, depending on which type of Nerubian you're up against. Brilliantly, there's also an arachnophobia mode for people who are afraid of spiders, which turns them into much less scary crabs. It's actually one of the favourite additions of Maria Hamilton, Associate Design Director for WoW, she told my during our interview: "When they become crabs, it's just so funny", which I can only agree with based on what I saw, though I forgot to try it out in my own preview session.

Time passed quickly during the preview, as I enjoyed completing some of the quests, which ranged from defeating 10 Nerubians, to freeing trapped Earthen and riding a powerful Gryphon and shooting at an attacking force of Nerubians. The quests tie into the main storyline, and featured many in-game cutscenes that weren't ready yet for the preview. Apparently there is also a rework of hero talents, but it didn't seem massively impactful to my eyes.

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Eventually, I reached the delve that we could play during the preview. Delves are a new way to play solo or with up to five friends, and still experience most of the storyline. According to Holly Longdale, Executive Producer on WoW, delves "allow you to experience it all" when it comes to storylines, even if you don't play dungeons. They allow you to continue the storyline playing solo or with less people. It's actually Longdale's favourite addition in The War Within, she explained: "It's an experience I can play with my stepson and my husband. And because it's snackable, which is important. And I like to just walk around on my own or with family, without getting yelled at for sucking as a Warlock." Lastly, she really likes "the idea of using them for stories too, that are easily consumable."

This use for storytelling was echoed by Hamilton. Delves are a way to have players who prefer solo play experience more of the story. "We can send you into a delve that's part of our story. We send you to experience that and to do some objectives inside the delve. So for us that's our newest biggest thing for storytelling specifically. We build these amazing spaces and it's a shame if players who don't want to do dungeons can't see those spaces."

World of Warcraft: The War WithinWorld of Warcraft: The War Within
World of Warcraft: The War WithinWorld of Warcraft: The War Within

The delve I played had such as short story as well. Some Earthen miners had been trapped by the Nerubians, and it was my job to set them free. Initially, I fought a lot of small spiders, while setting free the Earthen so they could jump into a big miner's wagon. Even when playing a delve solo, you're not alone. "In a delve you'll have a buddy, it's just not always a real one", Longdale remarked. In my case, this was Brann Bronzebeard, who I could set to either support me as a healer or do most of the damage with his blunderbuss, allowing me to take on a supportive role.

All went well up to the point where my Shaman ran into the delve boss, a big Nerubian called Web General Ab'enar. Besides powerful attacks, the boss would push mining carts at me at regular intervals, giving the combat a sort of rhythm of attacking and looking for cover. Unfortunately, I spent a lot of my preview time trying to defeat this boss unsuccessfully. Even some of the more experienced people around me couldn't crack the encounter using a Shaman.

Apparently, there were supposed to be pets that would serve as tanks for supportive classes, and these were missing. When I asked Longdale about it later, she replied while laughing that in the current build "there's a pet problem, as always".

In the final stages of my preview session, I fought some funny-looking walking mushrooms, and fought another army of Nerubians, where I threw exploding kegs into their burrows. I also took the time every now and then to fly around on my Gryphon, which now has a dynamic flying ability allowing you to do a number of aerial manoeuvres. It's a great way to get around the map. At some point I dove down into a big hole in the ground, which looked like an Earthen mine.

World of Warcraft: The War WithinWorld of Warcraft: The War Within
World of Warcraft: The War Within

In all, the new environments seem like interesting new additions to WoW. While the natural parts of the unfinished Isle of Dorn looked fine, it was the Dwarven-style cities and underground delve that looked the most promising. And most of all, I regret not being able to visit the underground parts of the new expansion, such as the Nerubian city of Azj-kahet. The preview video of the underground area centred around a big crystal, called Hallowfall, and a huge underground dome that even features flying machines to get around.

Concluding, my preview of The War Within has left me with an appetite to find out more about what's coming. The Warcraft universe is simply very easy to get enthusiastic about, even if you don't know much of the story behind it. I enjoyed playing the delve, which I think will be both an enjoyable but also very practical addition for players who are looking for more bite-sized content. However, the Isle of Dorn seemed like the least spectacular of the upcoming new areas, even though most of the map wasn't finished yet for the preview. While I can't comment much on some of the more technical gameplay reworks, it's my impression that players will have plenty of interesting new areas to explore either solo or with friends when The War Within comes out later this year.

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