[the blue giants]I’m going to feign surprise at Blizzard’s recent announcement of the Draenei as the Alliance race for The Burning Crusade expansion due later this year. Details of the expansion – unofficial, of course – were available almost immediately after the initial announcement last October. I can’t say I’ve gained any more appreciation for the idea.

Let’s get the cosmetic stuff out of the way: the new races are boring. The Blood Elves simply look like re-skinned Night Elves. Though I find it interesting that a “pretty” race was added to the ranks of the generally nasty-looking Horde. I’m sure this will cause an influx of new Horde players to try the new Spellbreaker class, which up to this point seems to be only available to the Blood Elves. The Draenei look like a cross between Hellboy and the Twi’leks from the Star Wars universe, sharing their overall soft appearance with the Night Elves. They certainly look friendly enough to be an Alliance race. But no new class for them. Judging from the race’s ability to wield Holy Magic I can see Paladin, Preist, Warrior and Mage being available.

A new profession will be offered: Jewelcrafting. It follows, then, that socketed weapons and armour will now be part of loot drops and Blacksmith recipes. I get the feeling that Diablo II really was their model for the simplistic, action-oriented gameplay. This is a good addition for those that want to customize their gear without having to level up any crafting skills to the point where they actually produce useful items. I’m assuming of course that socketed items and gems will be readily available to all players of the expansion. It will be interesting to see how this feature is handled for people without the expansion, because there is no doubt there will be a high demand for these materials at the Auction House.

The expansion also adds a new area: Outland. Formerly the Orcish homeworld of Draenor, it has since been ravaged by the Burning Legion. Being able to explore the floating remains of this planet seems like a cool concept, but it sounds way too much like Everquest II’s Kingdom of Sky. Flying mounts are also made available in Outland, but I question the decision to limit them to Outland despite their immediate practicality in this new wasteland. It seems kind of pointless when more content is being added to the core game; why not allow players to explore it on their flying mounts? It’s probably just another case of keeping the expansion pack owners separate from the rest of the players, a tactic used in Star Wars Galaxies for their own flying expansion. But at least SWG had an excuse: you can only fly in space. I could buy a ship and go anywhere in the galaxy without having to buy transport tickets. Blizzard is basically telling me that I still have to pay for griffin rides when I own a flying mount.

The Burning Crusade certainly expands the content of the existing game by adding new areas to explore, quests and instances to raid. However, I don’t see it addressing the fundamental problem with the endgame that requires so much time and effort to gain any measurable benefit from. The additional 10 levels seem arbitrary when you consider what’s involved in getting through them. It essentially propagates the idea that high level players not involved with raids or guilds must start yet another alt or gain the next 10 levels through grinding instances in pick up groups. I know there will be many people that buy this expansion the day it comes out, but are they really that desperate for more of the same? I had hopes that this expansion would be alluring enough to make me want to play the game again, but it seems like Blizzard is continuing its construction of another Everquest.