Developed by Blizzard. Published by Activision Blizzard. Released November 27, 2014. Available only on PC. Review copy purchased by the reviewer.
World of Warcraft celebrated its 10th anniversary on Sunday. The subscriber numbers for Blizzard’s behemoth MMO have been slipping, and the previous Mists of Pandaria expansion hadn’t managed to keep people from leaving. There was a quest in the Krasarang Wilds of Pandaria where Wise Ana Wu asked you to kill an aging crocolisk patriarch. She implores you that “Even the great beasts of this world have a right to die in dignity.” After Pandaria, it wouldn’t have been a shock if Blizzard had started to slow work on its venerable cash cow to focus on its other properties.
But then we wouldn’t have gotten the Warlords of Draenor expansion, a rather refreshing update of the game that had visually been getting a bit long in the tooth. Before we get into the review, though, let me be clear up front: I’ve been playing and raiding since vanilla, except for a break of about a year around Cataclysm. I have 11 90s (all DPS, but different classes), and I play whenever I can. I was also in the beta for a few months. I have never been a min-maxer, but try to play for fun.
That said, while I liked Pandaria, I wasn’t overwhelmed. It wasn’t until the 5.4 patch and the chance to kill Garrosh Hellscream that I really wanted to play again regularly. His defeat, and subsequent incarceration, set the stage for Warlords of Draenor when a renegade member of the Bronze Dragonflight helps him escape back in time to the world of Draenor … yeah, Outland before it imploded.
Blizzard promised and showed off plenty for this expansion, including updated character models, your own private garrison with followers that could be sent on missions, and a whole new world to explore that made you reminisce a bit about Outland. It even gave casual or new players the chance to boost a character to level 90 immediately so they could enjoy the fun without the leveling grind. The response to it all was generally positive, even if the 6.0.2 patch pre-WoD forced everyone to rethink talents, gear and the whole concept of best-in-slot. (It also redid some professions like enchanting, and squished stats to more manageable numbers). Having to go back and examine 11 characters under the revised and simplified system — necessary even if you don’t get the expansion –was a chore, but one that shouldn’t be a hassle for players focused on only two or three characters.
That general enthusiasm led to an incredibly rocky launch, with massive queue times, broken instances, characters locked out — my main character was stuck in a crashed garrison instance for more than 8 hours, forcing me to jump to an alt for leveling — and a general cry from the player base that Blizzard should have known this would happen with the inevitable crush of new players, given previous poor launches. A mea culpa from the game’s executive producer gave everyone five extra days of game time, and the game experience has been rather stable after the initial disappointment of the first 48 hours.
And now that things have settled, I can say Warlords of Draenor is probably the best expansion since Wrath of the Lich King. Draenor has a lot of area to explore, and for the most part, the quest chains are interesting and involved. Blizzard is still at the top of its game with the in-game cutscenes, and the story hook of going back in time gives lore junkies like me a chance to meet some of the most prominent characters of Warcraft past. There are more cutscenes in this expansion than in any previous one, and there is a lot of phasing, which allows a more personal experience for players as they work their way through the overarching story.
If you were a raider and finished the Siege of Orgrimmar in Pandaria, raided Ordos and the Celestials on the Timeless Isle, and completed Wrathion’s legendary cloak quest chain, then the early zones will provide little combat challenge for you. Useful gear won’t be dropping much until late zones or level 100 normal dungeons. Even my legendary cloak was still relevant at level 100. But new and casual players should get a decent workout in learning their class again and reap the rewards of some decent gear.
And exploration and discovery continues to be a mainstay of the game in the early going. There are plenty of treasures, hidden gear and characters to find throughout your journey to 100. Every zone also has an abundance of rare elites that will drop a decent piece of gear, although I miss gear drops being tailored to your class and spec. And where Pandaria offered the chance to upgrade gear with valor points, Blizzard has replaced that with a random number generator upgrade system that could allow a piece of quest gear to upgrade with a lucky “roll”. An uncommon green can drop as an rare blue or epic purple, allowing for a bit of randomness when going through a zone multiple times with different characters.
Even a couple instances have had some extra thought put into them. One in particular, Grimrail Depot, has you fighting your way through enemies and bosses while on a moving train. I had to run several normal 100 instances to get my gear up to required 615 gear level to run heroics, and it rarely felt like a grind.
But perhaps the most interesting and fun part of the game for me was my garrison. You get it as soon as you get into the starting of Shadowmoon Valley (Frostfire Ridge for Horde). This really is a mini-game all to itself and expands greatly on the Sunsong Ranch farm mechanic from Pandaria. In the garrison, you can build a variety of buildings that will aid your character’s professions, or produce resources for further expansion. By mid-level 91, you will be able to expand that garrison to Tier 2, offering you plots to build other buildings. By level 100, you can have a Tier 3 garrison with the capability of 3 small buildings, two medium building and two large, allowing you to mix and match buildings that will aid your professions and character progression. The garrison also eliminates the need for gathering professions, as every character will have access to a mine for ore, and an herb garden for herbs. A fishing shack and menagerie for pet battles rounds out the garrison structures. I have yet to use the menagerie, as I never got into the pet battle system, but I’m sure others will feel the same about the fishing shack.
Another aspect of garrisons that is incredibly time consuming (in a fun way) is the gathering of followers. As you quest, you will come across NPCs that want to join your cause. These followers can then be sent on missions — in real time — that will garner gear or experience for your character, experience for them, or resources for your garrison. If you are logged out, the missions are still going, and you can log back in to a roster of followers bearing lots of gifts.
I have thoroughly enjoyed Warlords of Draenor so far, already having a level 100, two 96s, and two 93s (purely for garrison gear and follower quest purposes). It will be interesting to see the raids that open up in a couple weeks, but given my initial foray into this expansion, I suspect they will be just as entertaining.
Recommendation: Warlords of Draenor provides a new look and feel to an old franchise. It may disappoint some of the hardcore in its apparent simplicity, but for the regular and new players, this expansion shows a lot of what made the game so appealing when it launched 10 years ago.
Bottom Line: Warlords of Draenor is a great addition to the World of Warcraft franchise.[rating=4.5]
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