Exploring Virtual Worlds (Lich King Chronicles III): Death Knightocalypse


After noting the arduous preparations (I blame myself) required to enter World of Warcraft’s new continent of Northrend, and , like a clueless offspring of Lewis and/or Clark,  chronicling my adventures in the Howling Fjord , I decided to take a peek at the exclusive questline for the newest class, the Death Knight.

I began my adventure filled with optimism. Various previews, reviews, and anecdotes from other players indicated Blizzard achieved something remarkably unique in the massively multiplayer space. By the end I felt like the butt of a bad joke. The gameplay follows along a heavily architected path, allowing players little opportunity to customize experience beyond assigning points to a rudimentary skill tree. Dynamic or emergent gameplay? Not here. The worst part? The entire (roughly) five- hour endeavor offers a solo play option. In a way, the new Death Knight-exclusive content in World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King embraces its massively multiplayer existence with as much enthusiasm as Ralphie in a bunny suit.


To those whose monthly gaming budget consists solely of the $15 a month sacrifice to calm the withdrawal demons (if you’re not sure what that means, check out the video below for a brief explanation), the lore-infused quests in the Death Knight’s starting area represent a real evolution in MMO design , but the near-absence of community-focused gameplay and character individuality in both narrative and physical representation, suggests the opposite.

Fox in disguise? Probably not. Every country carries the burden of crazy fear-mongering lunatics.

Following Wrath of the Lich King’s release, many of World of Warcraft’s 11.5 million (and growing) subscribers hailed this single-player focused gameplay as the greatest experience one could have in the now four-year-old massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG).
Using a time machine (a modified DeLoreon, naturally) and my camera phone, I managed to snap a photo of consumers addicts disciples waiting outside of GameStop for the impending release of WoW’s third expansion. Not seen here: the note on the banner indicating “only three months left!”

Because the Mayan calendar ends in the year 2012, paranoid answer-seekers think the world will end with it. But nobody knows whether the apocalypse will unfold via a reality-shattering battle between Xenu, Jesus, and the Spaghetti Monster, or if we’ll be the ones pulling the extinction trigger. As much as Michael Bay desires the former, the latter is a bit more probable. But how will it happen? Conventional thought suggests nuclear warfare or even the grey goo scenario, but I prefer a more dramatic and consumerism-focused finale.


Extraterrestrial life will one day call it “the retail cataclysm,” the black Friday when our penny-pinching, socially inept kin emerge from their world government-designated file-cabinet housing to compete for the best deals on microwavable food, discounted game cards, and in-game currency. Hundreds of years of social development will be lost as millions of hunchbacked, 100-lb men and women rapidly devolve into ferocious semi-bipedal bullies. Frozen breakfast burritos will be their weapons and, when near-thawed, their principal means of sustenance.


Some will observe the chaos and feel compelled to restore order, but by then interpersonal skills have already been tossed to the back seat, kicked out the door, and dragged under the car by society’s reliance on text-based communication. The life of one of these good-natured citizens will end when his or her actions are misinterpreted by a cadre of emotionless, pajama-wearin’, self-described “hardcore” gamers as a threat to their procurement of afforable five-minute meatballs.

The result of one too many meatball dinners.

In this future, I’m a gray-haired Denis Leary in Demolition Man-type character living in the sewers, eating rat burgers, and colorfully ranting about the lack of freedom; occasionally surfacing to see if the newest crop of 47 year-old virgins are still sitting around in their respective multiboxing pods singing “I’m an Oscar Meyer wiener” between Death Knight sessions.

All cynicism aside, I don’t have a problem with the actual single player content offered in the Death Knight questline. As pre-apocalyptic as the lack of human-to-human interaction seems  to anybody with sufficient insight to see WoW as, first and foremost, a social networking tool, MMOs absolutely should offer some sort of single-player content.

Gathering a group of players to quest or pillage dungeons for their precious purple items isn’t always easy, regardless of the time of day, and, I’ll be honest, sometimes I just want to roam the land doing goodie-two-shoes deeds for the Alliance.
Humble servant of the light, current wielder of the Ashbringer, and supreme commander of the Argent Crusade, few characters in all of WoW demonstrate a greater commitment to do “good” than Tirion Fordring.

As long as Blizzard keep expanding endgame content concerning raiding and PVP, it’s only natural the single player would change as well. And as I’m paying $15.00 a month to log in and play, I better have a lot of options at my fingertips.

But the biggest potential problem with the Death Knight questline actually lies in WoW’s 11.5 million userbase. With so much money coming from this title alone, the still-newish Activision Blizzard will do whatever it can to continually drive expansion sales and increase the number of subscribers, especially with Bobby Kotick at the helm. Now, with so many people championing this mostly isolated experience as the best the title has to offer, the company will undoubtedly emphasize similar content in the near future.
You can singlehandedly help the Death Knight Thassarian defeat the Lich King’s minions, but it’s not something we’d recommend.

If the actual Death Knight questline carried with it the meticulously crafted audio and visual terror of Dead Space, the emergent gameplay found in Fable and the Sims, and/or Braid’s brilliant merging of game mechanics and narrative, the accolades it’s accumulated would be well-deserved. Instead, the title’s aging presentation and game mechanics destroy the tiny shred of emotional weight offered in the cliché storytelling devices. At this point, having to kill an “old friend” to prove how evil you are may be more prevalent in the industry than having to find and lead a rag tag group of adventurers on a quest to save the world.

On its own, the entire experience is contrived, simple, and brief. Combined with the rest of WoW, the content is, of course, another “piece of the pie,” but this piece is shredded, mangled even, and blatantly distinguishable from the whole. Those turned-off by human interaction may enjoy it most, but, uh, why are they even playing an MMO?


Goodbye, Deathbrew (my Death Knight). Welcome back, Coyotegrey (my Shaman). As you can see, we’re delighted to return.

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