Sharpen your swords and buy those healing potions because the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion pack has entered closed beta testing. A lucky few are currently downloading and playing The Burning Crusade which is WoW's first expansion pack. In addition to a brand new world, the expansion adds two new races and of course shiny and more powerful gear.
Update 1 (12:00PM PST): Dranei Starting Area
Since we are waiting for our level 60 characters to transfer over, we created a new Dranei paladin to get a quick look at their starting area which is tucked in the northwest corner of the World of Warcraft map. The Dranei starting area is actually a space ship crash site, which means you can probably call them "Space Marines".
The Dranei belong to the Alliance, which are considered the "good" guys in World of Warcraft. Their ship crash landed after the evil Blood Elves sabotaged their navigation and engine systems. Dozens of other beta testers were already wandering around the neighborhood on the first day of beta testing. Some have quickly reached level 5 and higher.
The Burning Crusade will have a new looking for group feature that will automate how you look for and join groups. Previously players had to manually find others for quests, dungeons and battlegrounds - something which could take upwards on an hour or more. Now, players can automatically join other groups when it matches what they are looking for.
Update 2 (2:00 PM PST): Blood Elves starting area
Of course the Dranei are just one of the two new races. The evil Blood Elves are the first "pretty" race for the Horde and start off in the northern end of the Eastern Kingdoms continent. We created a new level 1 Blood Elf paladin and wandered around majestic starting area filled with floating crystals and huge towers.
Several dozen other players had beaten us to the starting area and were busy fighting monsters and leveling up their characters. As with other starting areas, players can accept many quests that involve the killing of low level monsters like floating wisps and walking trees.
The blood elves are addicted to magic and their two racial abilities, mana tap and arcane torrent demonstrate that fact. With mana tap, players can drain mana from their enemies. The drained mana can then be unleashed back with arcane torrent.
After several minutes of play, you can easily see that the blood elves are a bunch of metrosexual and vain beings built in the Ryan Seacreat mold. Their jumps dramatically twist to the right and the dance resembles the famous Napoleon Dynamite stage dance.
We are still waiting for our level 60s to transfer over and will bring you more details and screenshots later.
Update 3: Getting to Outlands
Our level 60 warrior, Ganden from the Medivh realm, transferred over and we can now test out some of the new high level content. Most veteran players already have a level 60 character and are probably more interested in the new areas and gear, rather than leveling up a character from scratch. But we were forced to change our name before starting out.
You'll see in the picture gallery that Blizzard requires transferred players to change their names, so we took the easy route and just added an 'a' to Ganden, turning him into Gandena. Blizzard says the name change requirement will help developers remain anonymous while playing.
Since the Burning Crusade expansion pack has a revamped talent tree for every class, talent points have been reset for free. Veterans should like this because it normally costs a lot of gold to redo talent points. Another welcome change will be the extra bag slot available in your character holding bank.
There are now two experience and faction reputation bars along the bottom of the screen. The top one shows your faction reputation, while the lower one shows your experience needed until the next level. Previously, there was only one bar that could display either experience or reputation.
We wandered around Ironforge and found it quite empty, probably because most testers were busy playing the new Dranei or Blood Elf races. So we flew down to the newly opened Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands zone. The ominous swirling black and green portal was lightly guard and we stepped through after killing a few monsters.
Errors and unfinished graphics constantly reminded us that this was a beta test and not a finished game. We tried to duel a level 67 mage, but our user interface crashed after the duel flag came down. In addition, XML error messages flashed on the screen every few minutes in the Outland. In Ironforge, we even saw some characters walking around with white and blue checkered cubes on their heads. We hope those cubes are just placeholder graphics and will not be an actual item in the game.
Thoughts about the revamped warrior
Level 60 warriors can immediately purchase updated battle shout and heroic strike "spells" from their warrior trainers which makes killing things slightly easier. The tactical mastery talent has been moved over to the protection tree which makes "stance dancing" among arms and fury warriors almost impossible. As a consolation prize, fury warriors will really like the new rampage talent because it adds a lot of attack power and lasts 30 seconds.
We tested out the new talents in the Burning Steppes and were able to kill things about 20% faster. Level 67 players told us that they were able to kill most monsters in the original continents in mere seconds. Incidentally, characters in the beta test cannot progress beyond level 67.
Update 4 - High resolution gallery of Silvermoon
We've invested some extra time in our Blood Elf Paladin and she's now level 10. The Blood Elf main city of Silvermoon is southeast of the starting area and is as vast and elegant as any other World of Warcraft city. The western half of the city lies in ruins and is inhabited by hostile creatures, while the eastern half is full of shops and familiar auction houses, banks and inns. You can see the city in our high-resolution gallery below.
We are now seeing many more beta testers running around and even some higher level Horde hunters with newer salamander looking mounts and some very interesting pets. So far the quests have a familiar feeling to the traditional gathering or killing quests. You will be asked to kill ten of this or that monster and gather pieces of cursed dirt.
Alliance players have always had fast transportation with a tram between Ironforge and Stormwind, but the Horde has now evened things up. An 'Orb of Translocation' has been placed in Sunfury Spire in Silvermoon and also in Undercity. Touching the orb for a few seconds instantly transports you to the other city.
It's clear that Blizzard has put a lot of work into making Silvermoon. The architecture and atmosphere is that of a majestic, magic filled city. There are even little touches like magical brooms that sweep the streets and hulking guardians that patrol the alleyways. The music is also a great treat and is, in our opinion, better than any of the other main city themes.
Beta test starts
Starting last night, Blizzard sent out email invitations to those who attended the Blizzcon convention last year. Testers must download a massive 1.95 GB beta client which contains the new maps, monsters and of course gear of the new world. After download, the package uncompresses to 5.2 GB.
Beta testers are allowed to transfer up to four characters higher than level 55 to the test realms. Every transferred character must be renamed because Blizzard doesn't want testers to recognize the developers' characters.
Since the launch of World of Warcraft, dozens of small patches have changed rules and added gear, but this is the first official expansion pack. Blizzard representatives have said in the official WoW forums that the company plans on releasing one expansion pack a year.
TG Daily is lucky enough to have a beta invitation and we will bring more details and screenshots as they become available. The World of Warcraft Burning Crusade Expansion pack is scheduled to ship in mid-November for around $40.