Power Up | A 'Burning' expansion of World of Warcraft

If you planned to go cold turkey with your World of Warcraft habit anytime soon, forget about it.

In fact, prepare to become addicted all over again. On Tuesday, a long-awaited expansion, The Burning Crusade, will launch. WoW players are already frothing over this $39.99 release, which is the first official add-on to the immensely popular online role-playing game.

WoW, which burst onto the gaming scene in November 2004, now has seven million subscribers around the world. For the uninitiated, the game allows players to assume the roles of fantasy characters such as warlocks, paladins and rogues while fighting for one of two factions, the evil Horde or the good-guy Alliance.

What makes WoW so compelling? An amazing game design, for one thing. World of Warcraft drops players into adventuring on an epic scale in a world that spans two virtual continents. And, as one who has played the game from the beginning, I can tell you that publisher Blizzard is continually tweaking the WoW experience for the better. So what will The Burning Crusade add to World of Warcraft?

For starters, the limit on how far characters can advance will jump 10 levels to 70. The current level cap of 60 has been a staple of the WoW system since its launch, so this change is an especially big deal to WoW veterans who find themselves maxed out in a Level-60 holding pattern. Of course, these powerful new characters deserve an appropriately challenging playground, and The Burning Crusade will not disappoint. Level 60s, who are gunning to make 70, will have an entirely new continent, the Outland, on which to pursue their goal.

Players are also champing at the bit to try the game's two new playable races. Horde faithful will be able to create Blood Elf characters while the new race attached to the Alliance is known as the Dranei.

New, flying mounts will be available to characters once they make Level 70. The flying mounts, said to be even faster than the game's current epic variety, will allow players to access content unreachable by ground travelers. A new profession, jewel crafting, will also become available. Jewel crafters will be able to create in-game items such as crowns, rings and pendants. Perhaps more important, they will also be able to cut gems that can be added to weapon sockets for performance bonuses. Weapons containing such sockets will be available only in the expansion.

In addition, The Burning Crusade will feature plenty of new dungeons and quests to tackle, new monsters to battle, and new items to be gathered. So should you rush out and buy the expansion? That depends. You may want to delay until you hit Level 60 and can take full advantage of The Burning Crusade's new features. On the other hand, if you want to start leveling a Blood Elf or Dranei character, or are interested in taking up jewel crafting, you'll definitely need the expansion.

Power Up |

World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

Blizzard. PC. $39.99.

Rating: T (13 and older)

On the Web: www.worldofwarcraft.com

I should point out that not everyone loves World of Warcraft. In fact, WoW Widows is a Yahoo discussion group for those who feel their significant other's devotion to the game is damaging their relationship. If that describes your situation, commiserate with those in the same boat at http://games.groups.yahoo.com/

group/WOW_widow/. Contact Dennis McCauley at dmccauley@phillynews.com.