World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Review

For as much that’s touted to be new and exciting in Warlords of Draenor, the newest addition to World of Warcraft, we’re again dealt the token Blizzard expansion experience. That’s not to say Draenor is a boring content pack — in fact, it isn’t, for the leveling content, at least.

Evil things are going on at the other side of the Dark Portal thanks to that rascal of an orc Garrosh Hellscream, and what once used to carry players to the now deserted and forgotten world of Outland now magically takes us to Draenor. It’s what Outland used to be before whatever tragic and convoluted lore destroyed it — the land of orcs, ogres, and new old villains to deal with on our way to level 100. And boy, that leveling experience is good.

Granted, people jumping back to World of Warcraft just for this new expansion might find themselves disappointed by how little the quest design in the game has evolved over its ten-year lifespan. We’re still treated to the same variety of gathering and killing missions, as well as little variations on the formula that were implemented in previous expansions, like the driving of vehicles and even *gasp* a few group quests along the way. It’s an okay journey getting from level 90 to 100, as we’re taken across the new continent’s zones, each with its own identity and unique charm that once again establishes Blizzard’s pioneering talent for coming up with incredibly beautiful, lived in worlds.

warlords-of-draenor-ss0184-fullDraenor adds a ton of flair on top of these colorful backdrops by making the entire leveling experience feel cinematic, adding some great bits of voice acting during quests, as well as dramatic shifts in camera angles every time something cool is about to happen, like the introduction of a lore character or for events that take place in the instanced situations you’re thrust into on your way. This new expansion in many ways feels like a single-player game that just happens to feature an online component, which is weird to commend because it’s supposed to be a MMO.

Much of that feeling also comes through the new feature added in this expansion, your garrison. Meant to be your faction’s vanguard in the new war campaign, the garrison is by and large the expansion’s most unique addition. By collecting followers during quests and by exploring, you can power up your stronghold, taking it through the paces of invasions and mostly wait a bunch of time outside of the game once you reach level 100.

Sadly, that’s the situation you find yourself in once you’re done with story content in this expansion. While the garrison proves to be an exciting distraction during your leveling experience, especially due to how quick the early missions you can send your minions in, the further you get into its development, the quicker it sinks into being yet another fruitless grind in WoW. Added to that the overall lack of activities to partake at max level, other than the occasional quest to defend your castle against orcs and going around collecting resources, there’s little to come back to for longer stretches of time, as you wait for these automated missions to be done.

What’s worse, after you’re through playing the excellent leveling content, you’re pushed back to the old hamster wheel of attempting to acquire new gear in order to dive into endgame content, which so far is summed up in a new raid that’s cut into separate wings that unlock in a set period of time. Partaking in these is certainly much easier than it’s ever been in years thanks to the inclusion of automated matchmaking if you don’t step into the ranks of a progression guild. To do that, though, you need to have a certain item level, and thus, pushing you to chase that ever closer but oh-so far dangling carrot.

World_Of_Warcraft__Warlords_Of_Draenor__World_Of_Warcraft_13931736189853It bears mention that as a fan of the very first expansion’s world of Outland, it’s extra fun to go around and discover corners of that old content revived in Draenor in some way — like islands attached to the ground that were once floating wreckage, or the bits of the mushroom-infested marshland that turned into Zargarmarsh during The Burning Crusade. Nagrand, of course, is still Nagrand, and it’s as crazy as it’s ever been.

As mentioned before, though, if you’re a casual player in search of quality content to make your way through in what’s currently the most popular massively multiplayer online game around, Warlords of Draenor will see you through around the few days it takes to level up. And thanks to the bonus bump up to level 90, even if you don’t have a high level character, you can jump through the portal. That bonus is probably the most interesting inclusion in the expansion, given how well it’s implemented. For experimenting purposes, I rolled a shaman in an alternative realm and bumped her up to 90, only to discover a fairly debilitated character skill-wise that was slowly introduced to the suite of powers and abilities as I quested during the introduction of Warlords of Draenor. And quickly enough — but not too quickly — I was simultaneously zapping, freezing, melting, shaking, and hitting stuff as well as I would if I was playing a shaman from the very beginning.

A few tweaks to player live quality also help newcomers to settle into the game and shift them into gear. Interface niceties quickly introduce you to all the elements in the game, like journals that teach you dungeon mechanics for whatever of the trinity of roles you happen to want to play as, down to explaining what the little icons in your map screen mean. For folks with banks full of junk collected over WoW‘s many expansions, you’ll find that now it’s much easier to manage everything thanks to the inclusion of new bank tabs that split your crap into a variety of bags and lets you hold bigger stacks of reagents, as well as stuffing all your vanity items under one convenient menu button.

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The core World of Warcraft presentation has also gotten a nice face lift, one that took place a few weeks before the release of Warlords, which added new character models for some of Azeroth’s oldest races. Most of the updates look and animate incredibly well, while others might take returning veterans some time getting used to, like the ever grimacing male night elves.

That ease of play is what makes World of Warcraft such a success. For as much as we could complain about the repeated annoyances with extended excuses to keep playing the game past max level, there’s absolutely no denying that when it nails it, it does so in an absurd level. For new players, there’s no better time to give the game a try, and for returning warriors, mages, or whatever they happen to be, the new content is extremely well done, making it worth tackling even if you have zero disposition to stick around afterwards. If you are in the team that wants to see what’s past the drapes of level 100, it might be worth giving Blizzard time to introduce new incentives via content patches — as it stands, there’s an end to World of Warcraft you might be surprised to find.

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