I have a confession to make. I am a World of Warcraft addict.

Ever since I was convinced to buy the game by a close friend of mine (that'd be me... sorry! -Ed), I've been hooked. I am, however, in excellent company. Since its initial release in 2004, World of Warcraft has grown to become a gaming phenomenon with legions of fanatical players - fanatical in the kind of way that puts your average religious zealot to shame.

In the past year Blizzard has celebrated a swelling monthly subscription base, too. Staggeringly, there are now more than 10 million accounts worldwide.

Soon, this army of gamers will have a vast new continent to explore and challenges to overcome with the impending release of Wrath of the Lich King, currently in beta. Wrath of the Lich King is the second expansion in the World of Warcraft series following The Burning Crusade from nearly two years ago.

Wrath of the Lich King will feature an increase in the level cap to 80, the spectacular continent of Northrend and the introduction of a new class - the Deathknight. Picture a demonic blending of a Ret Pally and a Rogue and you're on the right track to a Death Knight, although that is oversimplifying it somewhat. It is a melee class that has a very good personal DPS ability and utility. Playing one is a juggling act between managing your Runic Rower (think Rage or Energy), your Runes (these refresh on a short cooldown and can be spent to use many different abilities) and loads of skill and talent cooldowns.

Death Knights have good tanking and off-tanking potential also, magical damage encounters especially. In PvP they are also looking imposing and will give the caster classes a real headache in particular. Overall, an entertaining new class and worth trying out as a new main or alt.

The outdoor environments of Lich King are visually impressive, despite the limitations of the Warcraft game engine which is not as advanced as some of its competitors. The Blizzard designers haven't squandered the opportunity to create some spectacular landscapes in the wintry continent of Northrend.

Sweeping tundras and frozen ice shelves; the detail that has gone into the creation of the zones of Northrend is clear. I found myself occasionally taking moments simply to absorb surroundings, something that has raised the bar from previous content. Blizzard has also recently hinted at progressive graphical updates rather than an entirely new engine, so it'll be interesting to see how this is implemented in the future.

Another highlight will be the much anticipated return of Naxxaramas. At first glance this might seem like a low-blow from the developers simply reusing old content, but Naxx is generally agreed to be the best and most intriguing instance in the game to date. The zone itself was originally added late in June '06, only five short months before The Burning Crusade expansion, and far too small a fraction of players were able to experience it in its original state. The Naxx veterans are likely to enjoy the stroll down memory lane and those unfortunates who have never been aren't going to miss out on some classic Warcraft content.

Unfortunately not much seems to have been done to make Naxx look much more impressive than it was a few years ago. Hopefully it'll see some treatment before release.

Lake Wintergrasp is a new mandatory PvP zone that includes destructible buildings and siege engines. Battlefield 1942 meets Warcraft. It's a little gimmicky but it's a great idea, an outdoor PvP zone that has the potential to generate the huge battles that just don't happen any more in Alterac - provided players can be encouraged to participate.

A real challenge ahead for the developers will be the unenviable task of trying to find more PvP balance than was achieved in The Burning Crusade. Warcraft PvP is dynamic and vibrant; the introduction of the arena system took the PvP environment in an exciting new direction but exposed some of the glaring imbalances throughout the classes. PvP makes up a huge part of the game and early indications are that it's not looking positive for a better quality of balancing. Sure, it's beta, and there's a great deal of work to be done (and many talents and skills are not working quite as intended as yet) however the feeling is that the same old classes will be devastating in the same old ways - disappointing.

The Burning Crusade saw Blizzard introduce features that made the game more accessible for casual players. Downsizing endgame raids to 25 rather than 40 was popular, as were 10-man instances. In Wrath of the Lich King, all major endgame 25-man raids will have 10-man versions, making the content more accessible to all. "Badge" and PvP earned loot also returns.

So will Wrath of the Lich King satisfy the teeming masses? Pretty much. Even the hard to impress fans should be looking forward to this new expansion release with anticipation. It's chock full of exciting new content and won't disappoint.


If you haven't already, check out the latest HD trailer for Wrath of the Lich King at GP Downloads (49MB).