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Gaming: World of Warcraft: 5) Death Knight

The Scarlet Enclave

This isn't how the area looks when you first start playing. Phasing in action!

The death knight isn’t a unique race, they’re a class, but with several key differences. They start at level 55 and can only be created if you already have a high-level character, and they have their own starting area and opening questline which means they qualify for this series (though I played through the whole opening, level thirteen not being a valid milestone here). Freshly created and sworn into the service of the Lich King – this is the one opening that can’t take into account the changes of Cataclysm – new death knights are tasked with mopping up the last remnants of the Scarlet Crusade. They were introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and were therefore Blizzard’s first chance to show off their phasing technology.

The opening begins the right way, introducing you to Arthas himself, the centrepiece character of Warcraft 3, its The Frozen Throne expansion and the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for World of Warcraft, floating above the Eastern Plaguelands in a necropolis and ready to assault the Scarlet Crusade below. It feels like you’re in the middle of a big conflict and that you’re considered an important part of it. The whole place oozes with character. Some of the quests are fairly unique as well, one having you guiding a giant orb into occupied territory to spy on key Scarlet Crusade locations, spawning a mob of ghouls to defend you.

The phasing technology is used here to show your progress against the Scarlet Crusade, the territory lines constantly shifting. Instead of simply advancing from new location to new location you’re moving into areas that were previously occupied by the enemy, quest hubs forming in the course of the Scourge’s campaign. It’s a simple thing by RPG standards but for a static MMO like World of Warcraft it feels fresh and new. Of course, Arthas and the Scourge aren’t a playable faction in the game, they’re the enemy, so eventually there has to be a way for the death knights to leave the Lich King’s service and return to their home faction.

That takes the form of a massive assault into the Eastern Plaguelands, you riding alongside the Scourge army to face the remnants of the Scarlet Crusade, a massive assault. Obviously I can’t say for sure but I imagine this whole sequence is phased (taking place on a timer so that any active death knight could be involved), because otherwise the regular quests in the region would be routinely disrupted by these major events. It’s impressive, and certainly by the standards of World of Warcraft there was nothing like it up to that point. The climax of the battle takes place between Arthas and Tirion, relegating you to a spectator rather than a participant, but it’s still great to be a part of such big events.

I was playing as an orc, so once you’ve severed ties with the Scourge you’re sent to report to the Warchief in Orgrimmar, and as you enter the city guards are spitting at you, NPCs cursing you and clearly hating your presence. It’s a great moment, and all in all the death knight’s opening is really a lot of fun. It serves as a great demonstration of the potential of the phasing technology. Quest-givers change location, battlelines shift, and entire areas can be transformed according to your actions. It makes the world feel dynamic and much less static, which is exactly what an MMO needs.

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