Over the past several years, I’ve had a bit of a hit-and-miss relationship with massively multiplayer RPGs. WildStar impressed me with its combat and art style but it felt like it was missing some unique hooks to truly keep me addicted (which is why I’m all the more excited to try out the free to play version since it fixes a bunch of things). Guild Wars 2 looked like it would be a fantastical experience, especially with the recently released expansion Heart of Thorns, and it seemed to offer a ton of freedom to boot. For me, Bungie’s Destiny has been “MMO” of my choosing and its attempts to meld first person shooting with MMO-lite content always kept me coming back. But there was one release that I had never tried and, as a casual player of most MMOs, wasn’t sure I’d ever get into: World of Warcraft.
"In MMOs, quests tend to be your bread and butter when it comes to leveling up. If you’ve even heard a single joke about WoW’s quests, you’ll know what to expect – go here, kill these things, help this random NPC with their problems, etc."
The MMO has been chugging along for more than 10 years now and while it might not be at its absolute zenith in terms of popularity, Warlords of Draenor does try to introduce some sweeping new changes to the systems. Yes, I know Legion is the next big thing but given Draenor’s age and the updates it’s received, I thought it’d be worth a look at this point. It would also help answer an important question – just how easy is it for your average player to hop into WoW at this stage?
As you might guess, the lore was a lot to take in at first. Warlords of Draenor immediately follows the conclusion of Mists of Pandaria and sees you battling with Garrosh Hellscream who goes back in time Draenor to unite the Orc clans into the Iron Horde to invade Azeroth. As part of the Alliance or Horde, you’ll be manipulating the Dark Portal to travel back in time to Draenor in order to stop Hellscream. Even without all the time paradoxes, Warlords of Draenor isn’t an easy story to pick up. However, I could appreciate the weight of the lore and the immediacy of the situation.
In MMOs, quests tend to be your bread and butter when it comes to leveling up. If you’ve even heard a single joke about WoW’s quests, you’ll know what to expect – go here, kill these things, help this random NPC with their problems, etc. The good news is that Blizzard has been doing this for a long time and knows how to get you involved in the world. Questing as a whole feels very straightforward and while there are interesting little diversions to explore, you’ll be pushing through the content and story quite easily. I also found it cool how some quests would be assigned as you entered new areas, making the game more about logical progression and adventuring than random back and forth
"Whether you’re traveling through the Shadowmoon Valley or admiring the lush jungles of Tanaan Jungle, there’s always something eye catching to see in Draenor."
Those keen on exploring won’t want for lack of stuff to see – Draenor has a ton of interesting zones with elite monsters, secrets, additional objectives and interesting sites to see. Though I personally am not the biggest fan of WoW’s aesthetic, some of the areas in Warlords of Draenor look fantastic. Whether you’re traveling through the Shadowmoon Valley or admiring the lush jungles of Tanaan Jungle, there’s always something eye catching to see in Draenor. The developer also went about revamping the character models and faces to look better, which is a welcome change and helps keep WoW relevant (and if you’re not a fan of the same, you can switch them off).
To further streamline things for news players, Blizzard Entertainment introduces a new class (the Death Knight) to play around and also allows you to start at level 90 with new characters. The Auction House has been consolidated into a single unit, thus allowing you to find what you want more easily. The user interface has been streamlined significantly and even the spells have been tweaked, changed around or removed, depending on the class. Some stats have been removed and both heroes and enemies have had their health and damage tweaked to avoid the numbers getting out of hand. Though things have become more simplified in terms of buttons to manage and menus to navigate, it actually makes it easier to focus on the gameplay.
I can understand some players being upset with the spell changes and for all of its interesting options, I didn’t find WoW’s combat to be anything revolutionary. Point, click, cast spells and learning the right rotation for your skills is the key to success. While discovering the nuances of one’s character takes time, I preferred the dynamism and slight twitch-based nature of WildStar’s combat. That’s just a personal preference though.
"If you allow yourself the time to drink in the lore, quests and beautiful environments, you’ll find an addictive MMO that has reeled itself back in many ways to be more accessible."
Along with new dungeons (which are a blast and the Dungeon Finder helped throw me into some fun, easy encounters in the beginning) and raids (which I’ve yet to properly run through, despite their immense scale and rewards), Warlords of Draenor also adds a new Garrison system. This essentially lets you to manage a small town of your own soldiers and citizens for various ends. You’ll have some a limited set of plots to plan your town but each denizen will bring their own items, professions and other skills to play. When you level up the Garrison enough, you can send your soldiers out on quests and pick up resources, loot and gold throughout the game. It’s kind of cool to recruit followers, which are divided into their tiers based on their quality, by simply roaming the landscape and it was a nice little thing to manage on the side. Unfortunately, by end-game, there isn’t really much your Garrison can offer and you can’t lead venture out to challenge other players’ Garrisons in open combat. Fending off invasions to your own Garrison does add some intrigue but for the most part, the system feels like a nifty, time-wasting diversion that could have been expanded upon further.
There’s also the PvP zone Ashran and no amount of Crucible play in Destiny could prepare me for this. Ashran isn’t like past WoW PvP zones – it’s very linear and has a few side-quests you can do during combat for the odd benefit here and there. For the most part, it’s one big cluster-frak of a war as factions literally swarm upon each other. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good gang war as much as anybody but Ashran’s combat doesn’t really lend much by way of depth to the combat. Rush forward, annihilate foes and then make the long trek back to the battlefield once you’re dead. It’s good for a few rounds of quick action but I preferred questing and exploring Draenor in PvE more.
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor may not be the pinnacle of revolution that it was hyped to be, even a year after launch with so much more content having been added (flying mounts, anyone?). However, if you allow yourself the time to drink in the lore, quests and beautiful environments, you’ll find an addictive MMO that has reeled itself back in many ways to be more accessible. Veterans may scoff at some of the major changes but there’s still plenty of challenging content to complete. While some new features like the Garrison and new PvP zone could have been done better, Warlords of Draenor is an excellent expansion on its own and a great starting point for anyone even remotely interested in World of Warcraft.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Gorgeous environments to explore. A compelling storyline and strong lore backed by quests and multiple objectives. Dungeons are tons of fun and exploring the world makes for tons of fun moments. Streamlined quest system, stats and systems make it easier than ever for new players to join.
Ashran as a PvP zone felt like a hot mess more often than not. Garrison system feels like it could've been so much more and doesn't offer a lot in the end-game phase. Veterans may not like the changes to spells and combat.