Warlords of Draenor is the fifth expansion to the series and with the many hours I have spent enjoying the insurmountable wealth of content, I can call this the best expansion to date without any hesitation. The expansion gets so much right and moves everything from story to game systems in a very fun and exciting direction.
When players enter the portal to Draenor they find themselves in an introductory zone that has a fairly straight forward questline that introduces all of the Warlords. This area also serves as a way for newly boosted level 90 characters to learn their new abilities as they unlock as progress is made as to not overwhelm players. When each of the Warlords is introduced, the camera breaks away from the player and pushes in on the villain as a cool nameplate animation tells us who we’re looking at.
This new way of introducing a character really sets the stage to how important the story telling is this time around. As you quest through zones your quest log keeps track of all the major story quests so you can be sure to see all of the major beats. This expansion also has many more in-game cinematics than any previous expansion but they are used conservatively and at key moments in the story - when one starts you know you should pay attention. These cinematics are so well produced and really show off the animation fidelity of the new character models. This time around there is also much more voice over work where NPC’s talk to each other or even to the player without even having to click on them. There were moments when an NPC following me would stop to chat with another NPC we were walking by.
The best part about the storytelling this time around is that your character is a big deal from the very start and will play a pivotal role in how events transpire. You’ll be with key characters from the universe almost the entire time with some great surprises along the way. You will not only feel this way during quests but also with the new garrison and follower systems.
Once you’ve played through the introductory zone, you immediately start construction on your garrison - your characters base of operation during the Warlords campaign. Players will be able to choose from a variety of buildings to construct inside their garrisons that will offer all kinds of gameplay perks and options. To cover briefly, garrisons are made up of several plots of land in three different sizes. Buildings require one of these plot sizes to be built on which means you can only build a few of the many to choose from. Because of this there are always interesting choices to be made and discovering which buildings facilitate your play style is a lot of fun. Each time your garrison levels up (level 3 is the current max) you unlock more plots for more buildings.
In addition to buildings, your garrison will be populated with followers you meet along the way who you have recruited to join your cause. NPC’s often refer to you as “commander” and you will act as such as you send your followers on missions to earn XP gains, gold, garrison resources (used to construct buildings among other things) and more. These missions require a certain amount of time to complete ranging from 10 minutes to many hours which creates a time management mini-game of sorts.
Each follower has special abilities that allows them to be more successful on certain missions than others. Missions have enemies with varying abilities and if you send followers who can counter those abilities, the greater the chance for success. This chance is displayed as a percentage which allows you to play with odds - should I send a follower on a one hour mission with a success rate of 80% or on a 5 hour mission with a 56% success rate that could yield larger rewards?
Once your garrison is initially set up you’ll head out into the wild world of Draenor and begin dealing with the Iron Horde forces. Here’s where things really get fun. The story quest lines that guide you through zones keep you moving at a quick pace. There are no massive quest hubs where you’ll spend hours of your time. Instead the main quests keep you (and the story) moving forward. But as these quests bring you through the zones, you’ll discover a whole lot more if you’re feeling adventurous. If you’re familiar with the Timeless Isle zone that was introduced in Mists of Pandaria you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Only here it’s dialed up across all of the zones. There are tons of hidden treasures laid throughout the land often with great items inside. For instance, I was in a cave that had a large pool of water and after spending about 40 seconds diving to the bottom I was rewarded with a hidden chest of loot. Many of these treasures also require varying degrees of platforming - some easy and some more difficult. Another example is in an area where I came across the rib cage of a large dead beast and I was able to take one of its rib bones as a weapon - the bone wasn’t highlighted or marked in anyway, I just randomly clicked it and was surprised with a new item!
There’s more than just hidden treasures - bonus objectives, side quests and unique enemies with powerful loot are scattered about just waiting for players to stray from the path. Blizzard has really found what I consider to be a wonderful balance between questing and unguided adventuring. I’ve already enjoyed exploring the new lands just to see everything and now that I can be rewarded for this makes it even better.
There’s so much more to talk about and I plan on touching on end game content in another article. For now, I can’t recommend this expansion enough. It takes everything that makes World of Warcraft so great and cranks it up while introducing new systems that are sure to make things fun and exciting for a long time to come. After speaking to many players who have played Draenor, both existing and returning players from before Wrath of the Lich King, all are impressed and sticking around. Blizzard announced recently that active subscriptions have increased to 10 million, 3.3 million more than what was reported at the Q3 2014 earnings call. It seems that Draenor is appealing to a ton of people and I suspect many will be very impressed with what this expansion has to offer.
The first raid players will be able to take on in Warlords of Draenor is Highmaul. This Ogre filled raid zone will contain seven bosses with three of them being optional for completion. Blizzard has released the schedule for the various difficulties and when they will unlock. Note that the easiest version (LFR) will require a minimum item level of 615 to enter the queue.
December 2, 2014
- Highmaul opens with Normal and Heroic difficulties accessible.
December 9, 2014
- Mythic difficulty and the first wing of Raid Finder (Kargath, Butcher, Brackenspore) unlock.
December 16, 2014
- Raid Finder Wing 2 (Tectus, Twin Ogron, Ko’ragh) unlocks.
January 6, 2015
- Raid Finder Wing 3 (Imperator Mar’gok) unlocks.
In addition to announcing the opening dates we were also treated to a preview of the new Tier 17 gear that awaits us. Here are a few of those previews (you can find all of them here):
New Blood Elf Models
In a recent Artcraft post on the official site, the art department provided a progress report on the new Blood Elf models and gave us our first look at the updates. Here they are:
As you can see the model updates are on par with the other player model enhancements we saw with the pre-expansion patch. As stated in the Artcraft post, the art department is now focusing on model and texture variations as well as animation. The post provides no ETA on the model update going live but hopefully it won’t be too much longer.
Have you played Warlords of Draenor? What are your thoughts on the expansion so far? Let us know in the comments below!