World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor has been in commercial release for about a month now. After a rocky start, server woes seem to be fading and players are experiencing the first raid content, one of several that will be added over the coming months. After a long two years of Pandaria, players have been longing for content, new experiences, enhanced features and more. Warlords has delivered.
The journey to this full review began with my review in progress that can be seen here, here and here. The articles give a good idea of what I experienced in Warlords in my journey from level 90 to 100 and all the things in between. For the purpose of disclosure, I played with a Digital Deluxe edition of Warlords of Draenor that I purchased myself.
Right from the get-go, it needs to be said that Warlords of Draenor is a fantastic expansion. It has hit many of the right notes in all the right ways beginning with the stat and skill pruning that has been much discussed over the last year or so. Players have fewer skills, but better ones overall. Traveling through the world on the way to 100, fighting in both normal and heroic dungeons, in fact, anywhere in Draenor requires thought. That’s right, it’s not just a face roll on the keyboard. Even mundane monsters move and have special attacks that give players pause to consider, at least the first time or two through an area.
The world in Draenor is absolutely gorgeous. It’s amazing what Blizzard has done with a ten year old game. From lava filled volcanic wastes to snow-covered plains to tree filled valleys, to seaside locations, Draenor has something to appeal to everyone. Adding even more to the variety in the terrain is the good-sized bestiary and the wonderful soundtrack that adds the right ambiance to each location. While the monsters can be somewhat the same from zone to zone, there is enough other variety to keep things interesting.
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Dungeons, both normal and heroic, have bosses and mechanics that keep players on their toes. Pandaria’s dungeons were roundly castigated for being far too easy and Blizzard took that criticism to heart. Some of the dungeon trash mobs have more hard-hitting mechanics than Pandaria heroic dungeon bosses. And these mechanics are interesting as well. It takes time and thought for each player type to know and understand what their specific role is while moving through the content. In short, players asked for more of a challenge and they got it.
As of this writing, the first wing in the Highmaul raid has just opened and by all reports it, too, is a challenge. One boss when taken down splits in two, then splits into more and more as the fight goes on. Again, this is Blizzard giving players what they want: Content that requires planning and thought as the fight progresses. This was also plainly evident in the 10th anniversary Molten Core raid, nicknamed Molten Wipe by the group I traveled with!
As can be seen, the gameplay is a lot of fun.
For those who love story, Blizzard has expanded the game world by taking players back in time to the era before the Horde invaded Azeroth. Players become privy to the events that led to that momentous occasion and to the near destruction of the Draenei. The main story quests are interesting and help fill in some of the gaps in the overall Warcraft story.
Of course, no MMO would be complete without “kill 10 rats” quests and there are plenty of those. It’s not a bad thing, simply a thing that is. Those quest are, however, needed to progress from 90 to the new level cap of 100 which doesn’t take all that long. I admit that Blizzard has made a huge improvement in the leveling curve because, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, the five levels that players were given in Mists of Pandaria seemed to take forever to get through. In fact, some could plausibly argue that leveling is too fast and that players, scarcely a month after launch, are left with the post-quest blues and are left wondering what’s next.
What’s next is standard fare for MMOs: The Grind. Yes, they all have it. Yes, it’s totally expected. Yes, it’s part of the game. At the same time, while there is grind, each repetitive task is somehow mitigated by all the others. No one thing seems so overwhelming as to become too heavy a chore. Grind, in this case, is not truly a complaint or a totally bad thing, at least in these early stages of the expansion’s life.
Crafting has been streamlined and a single piece of decent starter raid gear can be made in about a week. In fact, with upgrades, gear crafted via the Garrison System (more on that below) competes quite nicely with mid-tier raid gear. The big issue? Players can only wear three crafted items. No one I have spoken to is quite sure why this is and most are hopeful that it will be lifted as raid groups get geared to top end items.
Left with another seven or so slots to fill, players can search for equivalent or better gear in heroic dungeons, via world rares, find items in salvage crates if the right building is on the garrison, and even send out companions on raids to bring home raid-level items.