What’s most amazing about World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor is how consistently it manages to breathe new life into a game that is now a decade old. Since it’s debut in 2004 Blizzards MMO has dominated the genre. Tens of WoW ‘killers’ have come and gone in the decade yet somehow the revolutionary game is still going strong. Throughout it’s long life WoW may not have always been technically the best MMO on the scene even if it has been one of the most successful; the last three expansions have in particular been lackluster frequently retreading old ground. Warlords of Draenor is different though. It embraces evolution bravely modernizing both WoW’s archaic look and feel, the result is the best version of World of Warcraft to date. Blizzard proves just why after so long they’re still masters of the MMO.
Warlords of Draenor approach to modernization is ruthless. Bravely Blizzard has ditched what no longer works and brought in plenty of fresh ideas. Wisely Warlords of Draenor pilfers successful ideas from competitors whilst managing to bake in plenty of new innovations cooked up Blizzard themselves. The dedication poured into Warlords of Draenor has created a World of Warcraft that not only feels vastly superior and more contemporary than ever, but one that looks better too. In a bid to wash away the aging aesthetic Blizzard has completely overhauled every playable race’s character model.
Player heroes are no longer slack jawed monstrosities with vague transfixed glares nailed to their polygonal heads. They’re cleaner, more smoothly animated and utterly charming than ever. Blizzard has done their best to stay true to their original designs and, have succeeded. Very few characters look vastly different to how they used to, and more importantly every race/gender combination retains it’s unique soul. Admittedly some have come out better then other, Night Elf Male in particular is lacking, but all look better than they used to. So full of character is each new model that I found myself creating characters just to test out newly animated emotes. The new visuals are impressive in relation to WoW’s previous quality but they still fall short of it’s more modern competitors. Guild Wars 2 it ain’t, but Blizzards unique art style really makes the most out of what they have. Sadly some monster models have not been subject to update which occasionally takes the sheen off the experience, but never enough to be a huge issue.
As per WoW expansion tradition Warlords of Draenor brings a vast new continent’s worth of zones for players explore. Having ran out of lore baddies to kill in the present day Blizzard has opted to send players to an alternate reality to dismantle a newly reformed Orcish enemy on their home world of Draenor – the Iron Horde. Headed up famous Warcraft baddie Grom Hellscream in this reality the Orcs rejected the blood of the demon lord Mannaroth, thus were never inflicted with the blood curse. Inspired by Hellscreams bravery the Orcs band together under their new expansionist leaders ideals, and thus industrialize to conquer their world and then ours.
The “time travel” tale at first looks to be a cop out of epic proportions but actually forms the basis of WoW’s most compelling expansion to date. Carefully revisiting locations seen in The Burnign Crusade’s Outland before they were transformed. The locale on offer is diverse and beautiful, throughout the whole game there’s no zone that feels lackluster. Shadowmoon Valley is filled with a otherworldly serenity, Nagrand’s rolling plains are wide open and peaceful – except for the patrolling Iron Horde of course and, Gorgorond is half wasteland half winding jungle as the Iron Horde tear up the place for resources. Fans of Warcraft will be love re-meeting popular heroes long left out of the limelight: Durotan, Blackhand, Khadgar are all here. Draenor is bursting at the seams with fan service. Newer players to should enjoy the trip too, as Warlords serves as an interesting history lesson about some of Warcraft’s earliest lore.
Players are introduced to this new, unspoiled-ish Draenor via the Tanaan Jungle starting experience. Running at roughly twenty minutes the quest chain has players break through the dark portal into the villainous Iron Horde’s front lines with major lore figures from WoW’s past and present. Battling through the zone players meet all of the titular Warlords of Draenor; Blizzard teases each Orc clan players will skirmish against through the expansion long story. As the zone progressed I got my first look at the new in-engine cut scenes. Far from Blizzards usual half-baked attempt to tell story in WoW these scenes were short but exciting, I really enjoyed them and loved seeing the handful they’d sprinkled throughout the expansion, if anything I’d wished they were more. With the portal destroyed players are shipped off to their respective starting zones Frostfire Ridge for the Horde and Shadowmoon Valley for the Alliance.
Once they reaching their new homes players are prompted to set up camp, literally. Through a brief series of quests players are guided through the construction of their very own Garrison. Unique individual personal spaces garrisons represent perhaps the largest change to WoW’s traditional set up. From their garrison players strike out at the various quests across the huge, varied and beautiful world of Draenor. Garrisons introduce a welcome focal point, somewhere for your hero to return after long days questing, or PvP killing the opposite faction. Heavily customisable and filled with unique benefits garrisons are an addictive addition to WoW’s formula, I would find myself forever wandering around the small camp finding things to upgrade. As Draenor is explored players recruit new loyal followers who they can send out on missions to gather resources and other interesting items.
Equiped with a hearthstone with a mere twenty minute cooldown and a constant reminder system telling me what was going on back at the Garrison meant even whilst questing I could track what was happening at home. It doesn’t feel distracting though, but rather welcome. Instead of burning out doing WoW’s normal quests, which are incidentally far less arduous and much more enjoyable than usual, I found myself wanting to return to the garrison. It really helps to break up the experience. In addition to Garrisons every zone is also home to smaller outposts. Each outpost poses a choice: players can only place one of two structures in each. Both buildings bring their own perk to help players in the zone, but more importantly each influences the quest progression in their zone. The choice encourages players to level through Draenor twice to see absolutely everything.
Each of Draenors zones has it’s own story to tell. Each is fairly basic but still far more detailed than any WoW story-line to date. Multiple camps are spread through each zone, each with their own set of quests. For the most part I could choose which order I’d like to the quests in a zone but ultimately every character will do the same quests, with the exception of outpost variances. Questing as a whole then straddles the line of linearity and open world, you will ending up doing the same quests, but in an order that suits you – a wise compromise. To liven things up a bit Blizzard has placed world events, unique explorable areas, plenty of rare spawns and hidden treasures that really encourage exploration and try to make sure you not just walking from quest to quest. It works too and leveling is far less monotonous in Draenor than in many MMO.
Once I was done leveling up World of Warcraft fell back in to it’s usual routine. Players who want to specialize in PvE are encouraged to run dungeons. Warlords of Draenor has the strongest range of 5-man dungeons in WoW since the early days, and they far outclass Mist of Pandaria’s paltry offerings. Each is a short roller-coaster ride with exciting bosses and less trash packs that ever before. Blizzards has really trimmed out the fat of dungeons and now only the juicy bit’s remain – it feels really good. each dungeon has a more difficulty heroic mode too that introduces new mechanics and sometimes new bosses to keep them fresh. Once your done with that you’ll move into raids which thanks to the continued good use of the Raid finder are more accessible than ever before. IF you want to explore the hardest bits of WoW though you’ll still need to find a group of like minded folk.
Outside of that there’s PvP arenas and battlegrounds. They remain the same as ever with the open world PvP zone of Ashran being the only notable exception. It’s an exciting new idea which is still finding it’s feet. It’s an enjoyable distraction but players are likely to find one faction holds a significant advantage over the other depending on their server. An expanded group finding tool now allows players to search for more specific groups too. You’ll find loads of people running old content, raids, open world bosses, PvP and much more. The group finder tool makes finding something exciting to do in WoW much easier than ever and it perhaps the games best addition.
Warlords of Draenor’s plentiful new and interesting additions make for the best WoW to date. Period. Accessible enough for new players, yet hard enough for super hardcore fans. There’s something in here for everyone, and it’s easier than ever to actually do what you want. Much needed modernization puts WoW in a much better position to survive another decade and wise additions prove that Blizzard really are masters of the genre. If there was ever a time to play WoW now is it. Warlords of Draenor makes it look like WoW has just been coasting for the last five years. If your after an MMO – this is the one to play.