World of Warcraft and the potential for a real zombie MMO

A zombie outbreak on World Of Warcraft? Ron couldn't get there fast enough...

Zombies in WoW? Can it be so?

I’ve had my issues with certain MMORPG games, and despite everyone’s claims that I am a Blizzard fan boy, I recently bought and enjoy the new Warhammer Online. I’ll write about that particular torrid affair at a later date, but suffice it to say I was off being a Dwarf in a never-ending war when I saw a little note from a friend. Here’s what it said:

“You need to get back on WoW, there’s a zombie outbreak.”

I goggled at the email a bit, and wrote back with questions. I couldn’t wait for that answer, though. I ran off to the Internet and discovered that yes, Virginia, there were zombies and that those zombies were World of Warcraft players who were getting infected, turning, and infecting/attacking other players. This wasn’t some limited event where only players in a certain zone could become zombies, or you could only be a zombie once or for a limited amount of time.

No, this was Romero-level, 1970’s Italian, Army of Darkness medieval fantasy zombie carnage designed to promote the upcoming Wrath of the Lich King expansion.

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Players from the two factions that put the “war” in “Warcraft,” the Horde and the Alliance, cannot communicate with one another. They don’t share the same cities (Shattrath aside) and only meet on the field of combat or in passing. If I have an issue with someone, or need to speak with someone playing on the other side, I have to log out of my current character (or toon in the parlance of the game) and log in to a character in the other side of the war.

These rules don’t matter when you’re a zombie. Players from the Horde and Alliance dropped their rivalries and came together for one purpose while under the sway of the Lich King: destruction. Major cities became ghost towns as zombies rampaged through the streets, killing everything and everyone in their way. Players banded together to fight off the zombie menage, dropping longstanding class warfare issues for survival. It was complete and utter madness.

I loved every single minute of it. When I was a zombie, my goal was to infect as many people as possible. When I was my normal character (a paladin—holy warriors that use the power of the Light to combat the forces of evil and who have multiple skills useful only against the undead), my goal was to get out there and slaughter as many zombies as I could before the disease took me. I have never had as much fun playing WoW as I did in the week-long event in which zombies ran rampant throughout Azeroth. In the week after the zombie plague was cured, certain zones still come under attack from non-player zombies, though players can’t become zombies anymore.

I’ve played WoW for two years and the zombie outbreak is the first time I’ve ever really felt immersed in the world. You never knew what was going to happen when you logged in. Would things be fine, and you could quest and do Hallows’ End events like normal, or would you log in to find the capital cities of the world overrun by brain-hungry corpses? For the first time in a genre that depends solely on scripted events, where characters pace the same paths and spout the same meaningless dialog, there was some legitimate excitement and, dare I say it, danger!

Certainly the unpredictable nature of the event coupled with WoW‘s massive player base created a lot of the fun of the zombies for me (as did the fact that Blizzard has completely changed how my favorite class operates while finally giving me a reason to use all those cool anti-zombie powers paladins have). It begs the question, given the amount of zombie fans out there and the dearth of good non-fantasy MMORPGs, could a zombie-world online game work?

Maybe it’s the zombie fanatic in me, but I think it totally could work.

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I don’t think Romero’s name has the cachet it once did to sell this sort of thing, but the Resident Evil series does. Make it console and computer compatible, so players on the PS3 and Xbox 360 work alongside the serious MMO gamer and get the biggest install base possible. For instances and raids, change the settings to familiar tropes, like a housing project full of zombies or a shopping mall. For raid bosses, perhaps have some more powerful zombies or larger groups of zombies. As characters level up and progress, the leveling zones can go from a deserted farmland environment to a densely-packed city (or cities) where players have a modicum of protection from the outside world, but have to travel through subterranean tunnels to enter and exit.

I think the mechanics of a MMORPG, like solo players versus groups, player versus player settings where guilds or gangs compete for the same resources (or giving people the option to play zombies in PVP like Lord of the Rings Online does), and all the rest of the things we deal with in our games can work in any setting with a little adaptation, but I think the unique world of the zombie apocalypse is one of the best suited for the MMORPG play style. There are enough elements at play in that game world to provide a rich, full experience of point and click killing, mindlessly grinding reputation with various factions, and praying for cool loot drops.

Make this happen, game design geniuses. I want guns and bats and bullets in the brain. I want to mow down corpses with machine guns. I want to raid decaying cities and team up with ten of my closest friends for some undead-smashing action! I think I’m not alone in this, either.

US correspondent Ron Hogan has abandoned Warhammer Online for his first love, World of Warcraft. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi .