The overlord of the MMORPG genre have been at it for almost 10 years now, and Blizzard doesn’t look like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon. But the question on all our minds is if the latest expansion Warlords of Draenor, set to release on November 13, is really going to be able to revive the game’s declining popularity.
I took a long first look on the beta for Warlords of Draenor, and I can say that though part of me is excited for November to arrive, the other part of me worries if this expansion will really be ready, and able to satisfy the expectations of the playerbase. Blizzard has set a very high bar for itself over the years, and knowing to deliver what is expected could make or break the already faltering subscription rates.
At first, I didn’t really notice it, but once I started moving around and actually fighting mobs, I came to see something that just made me stop for a moment. Where was my 1 million health pool!? I was suddenly sitting somewhere between 30-35K, a massive reduction.
Confused, I spoke to some of the other beta testers and came to learn that the rumors we’d been hearing were true. We have been squished. Everything in the game has received a severe drop in numbers, even the mobs. Now, unless you’re a junkie like me and you like to know your numbers, then you might not even notice this aspect of Warlords of Draenor, because it doesn’t really affect a lot. Killing mobs in the beginning of beta still felt crazy and there was still the same amount of difficulty as there was when we first booted up Mists of Pandaria.
To be fair, the squish has been done so well that I can’t really complain. This was something that fans and Blizzard alike were wanting, and they’ve managed to downscale it in an almost unnoticeable way.
Notable are also the classes and races. In this expansion, we weren’t given a new class, or even a new race. In fact, Blizzard wasn’t focused at all in bringing us new toys. Though we like when we get new classes, and even though I’m still waiting for my playable Murloc, Blizzard has brought us something even better than some rambling frog-looking creatures on crack.
Blizzard has been spending the better part of the last year fixing all of the character models in the game. For the past ten years we’ve been staring at the outdated asses of toons and…well, they’re getting pretty pixelated. With so many new MMOs coming out using more robust engines and better graphics, Blizzard knew it was time to make those humans look, well, human.
I won’t lie: I’ve never played on Alliance side, ever. But it’s not because I don’t like the Alliance. It’s because I can’t stand to look at the hag-like faces of the human character models. But with the changes that’ve been made to the new character models, I might finally give Alliance a chance. These models are looking pretty sharp, and while they’re still not going to rival the best in the genre – WoW is still running on an engine over a decade old, after all – they are a great improvement over what we’ve had to deal with until now, while maintaining the cartoon-like look that the game has become known for. Though a lot of the models have already been upgraded, there are still a few we haven’t seen yet, and there’s been rumors that a some won’t be released until after the expansion has launched, such as the Blood Elves.
Previous expansions have had huge amounts of content to entice players, causing more than a few players to relapse into addiction. We see new quests, new zones, and even new boss encounters. Warlords of Draenor isn’t going to be any different. There’s an entirely new continent being introduced into Azeroth: Draenor, the former homeworld of the Orcs and the last bastion of the Draenei. I know what you’re going to ask. Wasn’t that where we went in Burning Crusade? This is true. The zone is mostly getting a facelift in this expansion, with some pretty familiar places still intact – Nagrand, Shadowmoon Valley, and the Black Temple. But unlike the Cataclysm expansion’s world-changing effects on Azeroth, which kept major landmarks in roughly the same place while making adjustments to the wider landscape, Draenor‘s landscape has been built from the ground up. It’s still a little difficult to get past the “been there, done that” feeling, but what else could we really expect? Azeroth doesn’t exactly have a lot of other areas where new lands can form.
But how does Warlords of Draenor play? Well I loaded up my pretty little Blood Elf rogue and set out to give it a try. As far as playability went, I was hacking and slashing away much like I had been doing all through Mists of Pandaria. However, the quest lines I took part in felt like the same old song and dance that I’d been through roughly a million times before, and it’s slightly regrettable that a decade on, I was still being asked to kill X number of monster, or collect X number of items. Blizard has shown in the past that it can shake up the traditional MMO questing formula in the past, so it’s a little disappointing that this time around it all feels so very traditional.
Starting out everything feels very linear. It’s your typical go here, get this, talk to this person, go kill ten of these things, then come back and talk to this guy again. There are some familiar faces roaming around, but for the most part, so far, Warlords of Draenor doesn’t really feel like a standalone expansion, so much as it does a content update – though, admittedly, a very large content update. There is really nothing new that we haven’t seen before. There’s Thrall, doing his Shaman thing alongside Durotan, and a whole ton of orcs everywhere. It seems like Blizzard is trying to go back to its roots, but there’s no really going back from where World of Warcraft has gone over the past ten years – and over the course of the last ten years, they’ve gradually killed off most of the major characters in the franchise.
At least it all flows together in a logical fashion, pushing you deeper and deeper into the storyline. The main questlines pop up bonus objectives at a few points, but if you don’t take out the time to go explore the areas, you might miss them, and consequentially miss out on extra lore that adds a bit more flesh to the goings-on.
Perhaps the biggest addition to Warlords of Draenor are the Garrisons. This is Blizzard’s take on player housing, which subscribers have begged for for years. I’m actually torn on whether I like the new feature or not. As an MMO player who has always typcially played on roleplaying servers – I even run a roleplaying guild – the initial announcement of Garrisons made me giggle with delight. But then players started to complain that they don’t want to play The Sims in World of Warcraft, so Blizzard started to trim down the features. Houses became limited to either Human or Orc styles, and then the ability to choose where your Garrison would be was removed. This alone made me wary of the idea, but I still gave it a chance.
As soon as you finish your initial quests in Warlords of Draenor, Alliance and Horde go their separate ways and you get to build your Garrison. As soon as it’s built there are NPCs everywhere inside, which all happen to be character you’ve met over the years. You have two main ways to interact with your Garrison: the architect table and the mission book. The table is your way to build, create, upgrade, and decorate your Garrison. There are several plots spread throughout the Garrison consisting of varying sizes, and once you unlock the blueprint for a given building, you can build it on a plot of the corresponding size. Plots can also be upgraded for the price of more Garrison resources. Right off the bat, you get access to the Barracks, but other features have to be unlocked over time.
The mission book gives you – you guessed it – missions. These feel a lot like a Facebook game where you pick your mission, pick your troops, and drop them off to do said mission at the price of resources. Success at the end of a mission levels up your troops and rewards you with things like gear. Players can recruit members for their Garrison just by questing and doing side objectives, enlisting NPCs around the world by pleasing them enough that they sign up. Unfortunately though once they do sign up, that’s pretty much it. It’s more or less like catching Pokémon and just knowing you have them instead of being able to do much with them. But what’s really disappointed me so far is that no matter how hard I looked, I can’t figure out how to summon other people to my Garrison. I don’t know if this just hasn’t been implemented yet or if the option will even be there, but I’m highly disappointed. I was hoping for something more than this, and honestly I don’t know if when it goes live if I’ll even use the Garrisons. It seems more like a mini-game to me than anything worth my time, an additional time-sink in a game already full to the brim with them.
In my time with Warlords of Draenor so far, I had the luxury of trying out the Bloodmaul Slag Mines dungeon, one of the many new dungeons to be added with the expansion . It was in here that I started to notice that the new character models weren’t just for players, but the NPCs and enemies as well, giving them all a fresh, crisp, and clean look. The dungeon layout itself was a little confusing at first, what with the step away from linear paths that Blizzard has explained they’re taking to combat complaints that their instance designs have become little more than linear corridors over the years.
Though it’s a fantastic change and I’m highly anticipating the more open layouts, the sudden shift made this first dungeon just a little confusing. My group and I finally picked a direction and started moving, hacking and slashing through mob after mob, learning quickly that the AOEs of the mage orcs were more annoying than anything. We found a boss and downed him pretty easily, and then continued on our ways. We found tons of rares throughout the dungeon though, which I’m willing to bet will be good for additional loot and experience once the expansion goes live, but I just shuffled past them with my group, wanting to explore some more. In the end, Bloodmaul Slag Mines reminded me a lot of Stratholme, where after clearing one area another opened up. It felt straightforward, despite the initial confusion about where to go, and after I became accustomed to the new way of doing things I started to enjoy myself a lot more; it’s just a shame that Blizzard didn’t make the transition to the new-style design approach a little smoother.
World of Warcraft never truly stops bringing us new content, even though the expansions tend only to hit every couple of years. Warlords of Draenor may not be what players are used to when it comes to previous expansions, but that doesn’t make Warlords any less appealing. Blizzard has opted to skip giving players redundant classes and unappealing races, and instead has focused on freshening up and optimized existing content and systems to feed the hunger of even the most hardcore of players.
In the end, the choice is simple: If you currently play World of Warcraft, and you enjoy it as it is, then you’ll buy Warlords of Draenor to stay with current content. I mean, who wants to be the only person still sitting at level 90? If you’ve quit World of Warcraft for good or you’re tired of the content, then you might feel like skipping this expansion. It’s perfectly enjoyable, but so far it doesn’t look to be game-changing. Ten years on and with a declining player base, Warlords of Draenor feels more like it’s been built for existing players, rather an attempt to entice lapsed subscribers back into the fold. It’s still as enjoyable as it ever was, and there’s still the familiar level of polish that we’ve all come to expect from Blizzard over the years, but there’s no mistaking that it now feels as though World of Warcraft is now trailing behind the competition trying to catch up, rather than setting the bar for others to follow.