Let me start by saying that there has yet to be a WoW expansion that I haven’t enjoyed to some extent. Yes, some have had more issues than others, but each one has brought something unique to the table, from Cataclysm’s revamp of the Old World to Mists of Pandaria’s inclusion of a bi-faction race and the easing of access to content for more casual players. In a way then it is strange that Warlords of Draenor, an expansion that hasn’t actually added a whole lot of new features, will possibly go down as one of Blizzard’s best and might even dethrone Wrath of the Lich King as my favorite expansion.
First, I’ll cover what is actually new. The main addition to the usual formula is your Garrison, which serve as kind of home base for your adventures throughout Draenor. Through your various deeds you’ll unlock new buildings and followers that can be put to work in your Garrison, nabbing you various resources, crafting materials, and sometimes loot to strengthen your character. This is all done through an interface that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has taken a shot at just about any mobile game out there. Construction jobs and missions take varying degrees of time to complete, but thankfully the scourge of “You can hurry this task for money!” prompts is absent. Different buildings offer different perks, like the Inn that will have varying daily dungeon quests or the Stable which allows you to tame unique mounts. Followers are bit more engaging, as they gain levels from their quests just as you do and have different abilities to aid them in certain missions. For example, a mission might require someone who can dispel negative status effects. Followers can also be put to work inside crafting buildings and will offer their own daily crafting quests.
Overall, I enjoy the garrisons, but I feel like they could do more. Follower mission rewards early on only reward extra XP for the followers themselves and resources for your garrison in small amounts, with rare missions every once in awhile that give you blue gear for your specialization, but that gear is often a worse than what I was getting from quests. Also, I would have liked a bit more customization, even if it was just something like the banners from Diablo 3. Still, there’s no denying the excitement of seeing a new follower or building blueprint as a quest reward, and it also provided further incentive to log-on each day even if it is only to venture into your mine and herb garden. They may be a bit bare right now, but I’m sure Blizzard will tweak Garrisons as time goes on.
Most of the other features of this expansion are standard fare, and reading a simple bullet-point list of what was added makes the expansion actually seem rather dull. New levels, new zones, new dungeons, new gear, etc. However, a list can’t tell you how well-done these things are.
Let’s begin with the story. After the Siege of Orgimmar, Garrosh Hellscream was to stand trial in Pandaria. However, through some time-shenanigans, he escapes and flees to Draenor at the time when the Horde was about to be corrupted by Gul’dan and Mannoroth’s blood. Convincing his father Grommash to refuse the corruption, Garrosh helps to unify the orc clans of Draenor under a new Iron Horde, which then invades Azeroth through the Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands. The Horde and Alliance, led by the archmage Khadgar, must now travel through the portal to aid the Frostwolf Clan and the Draenei in resisting the Iron Horde war machine.
Using time travel is always a risky venture for any work of fiction, but it certainly helps that Warcraft has extensive lore to draw from. Many characters from way back in the days of Warcraft 2 make a return, thereby giving Blizzard a chance to breathe new life into them while also saving themselves the time it would take to make all-new heroes and villains. As much as this is a strength for the plot, it is also a weakness. Blizzard seems to assume that its player-base has experienced the previous games and even read the books (Garrosh’s trial and escape is shown in Christie Golden’s “War Crimes” novel rather than in the game), so very little time is spent explaining to players who’s who. Immediately upon journeying to the Blasted Lands I have Khadgar telling me to go through the portal, a guy who as far as I knew was only been the namesake of an herb. Khadgar proves early on that he’s worth following, but I still don’t recall his relevance to the previous games. After all, Warcraft 2 was a long time ago. Regardless of this drawback, the plot is still rather enjoyable with some truly epic set-pieces, thanks in part to Blizzard’s best musical score to date and superb in-game cinematics. I suspect it will be quite awhile before Blizzard manages to top the Battle of Karabor in Shadowmoon Valley, and I can’t wait to experience what the Horde has to offer.
The new zones are beautiful and I’ve never been more thankful to not have my flying mounts. Blizzard has said that they are considering adding flying in a later patch but I honestly hope they decide not to. The level of detail in the new zones is incredible and an increase in the number of rare monsters and even minor world events increase the reward for random exploration. I was honestly impressed with how much I liked the new zones since this is technically the same geography that we explored in The Burning Crusade. Blizzard, however, manages to make the zones feel completely new while still dropping hints that we’ve been here before (or will be here, depending on how you view time-travel). In Gorgrond and Talador, you can see the beginnings of what would eventually become Zangarmarsh. The city of Karabor sits right where Illidan’s Black Temple stands in Outland. These subtle familiarities and others lend weight to the notion of just how much damage the Burning Legion caused in Draenor.
Lastly, we have the dungeons and raids, though I can’t speak on the latter yet. While I would have liked a few more dungeons at launch, most of what we have available now is fairly high quality, which I’m thankful for after finding most of Mists’ dungeons to be a bit lackluster. The main draw to the new dungeons is that they are challenging without being simple gear checks; gone are the days of simply dps-rushing your way through everything without a care in the world. Pick-up groups are kind of dangerous these days as the new bosses are unforgiving to those who do not know their mechanics. Even the dungeons themselves have some nice tricks up their sleeves to keep things interesting. In the Iron Docks, for example, there’s a whole segment where the party has to use crates and other obstacles to hide from a barrage of cannon-fire while engaging enemies. There are a couple of exceptions such as Auchindoun being fairly boring, but overall Blizzard has found a sweet spot with these dungeons where groups actually feel threatened without having to place the blame for failure solely on someone’s Item Level.
With how long World of Warcraft has been around, it would be easy to assume that they hit their peak much earlier. People often claim The Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King to be the game’s pinnacle, with everything after serving as flotation devices. Warlords of Draenor stands in complete opposition to that viewpoint, proving that Blizzard still has a lot left to do with World of Warcraft. While it could use some small improvements with the in-game storytelling and Garrisons still need to go through the typical new-feature tweaking process, there’s no denying the quality of the total package. Most people that have any interest in MMORPGs at all have likely tried Warcraft already, but Warlords is an excellent reason to give it another shot.