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Last Friday, we finally got beta invites to test out Wrath of the Lich King first-hand. David "Xerin" Piner and myself went ahead and sampled the Death Knight and its starter area, to see the new changes and of course be one of the first to see the new Hero Class in action.
In this Preview, I will relay my first experiences with the new class, and my general observations early on in this beta phase.
You start out at the top of Acherus, the Ebon Hold. It is a necropolis-like building. The first thing you see in the center of the platform is the Lich King himself, with your first Quest ready to be accepted. Alongside him there are two Valkyrie-like monsters that look really impressive, I assume will be monsters in Northrend you will have to fight as they were part of the Val'kyr.
The Lich King and his Valkyries
The Lich King welcomes you and asks you to go report in to one of his subordinates in the floors below, who will teach you to forge your own Runeblade. With this Quest, you will be able to craft your first weapon and learn Runeforging, an ability that will let you enhance your own items later.
The first thing I noticed was the fact you are given a full set of green gear that's very decent for a level 55 character, and will only be upgraded as you continue completing Quests for the Lich King and his commanders.
Upon crafting your sword, you are sent out to battle with the Scarlet Crusade's forces through another series of Quests.
Now begins the fun part. The combat system reminds me a lot of how Warrior plays, with a little bit of a Rogue for finishers. Let me explain. You have 6 runes at your disposal, 2 of each kind (at least at the start), and a bar that's empty before you begin fighting. As you use your spells and special moves, your Runic Power bar goes up (like rage) and you exhaust runes (which have a ~10 second recharge timer). As you keep fighting, you may choose to unleash your more potent move (in the case of the Starting Area, Death Coil), which will consume your Runic Power.
There are many ways of using this system, and there are many different abilities with different rune requirements for you to use and optimize your battle rotations. This is a great thing for people who like variety, since if you want to tank or DPS, you can switch abilities accordingly.
One more notable part of this whole experience is the fact the game seems a lot more fluid, spells have a lot of new special effects and there are a lot of new animations your character makes as he fights against his enemies.
Another thing that caught my attention was the fact Blizzard is implementing some new features into WoW such as the ability to quickly hop onto a horse (for a Quest), but it could be used elsewhere with good results. No longer was the little "casting" bar needed for it, click&go, a nice surprise for those of us used to a channeling bar for opening even small chests.
As far as initial impressions go, one can tell extremely quickly that the Death Knight has been worked on for a very long time and refined enough so that it's different and fun to play, a good break from the other classes. Whether it's overpowered or not in the grand scheme of things remains to be seen, but it certainly has a few mechanics that will separate those who are just 'testing' the new class from those who really want to make it their new main characters.
Juggling all those runic abilities and knowing the best timing to use each skill will definitely be a challenge, and those who do it well will be a great addition to any group, but those who just mash buttons may end up hampering the party more than helping it.
All in all, the Death Knight is a great new class and a welcome change of pace if you're wanting to try something new, but if you're planning on being serious with this class, I suggest putting enough time aside to learn and master abilities and talents, which may take more than the average class.