World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, Blizzard’s latest addition to the globally successful Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game, released to rave reviews and much anticipation, so much so that the game received an unprecedented amount of subscribers since the Burning Crusade. Gone was the negativity and the pessimism that follow the lacklustre efforts of Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. On its 20th anniversary, Warcraft was back, and in a very big way. This writer believes now is as great a time as any to discuss the five things this expansion did well.
5. The nostalgia
With 20 years under its belt and a movie in the works, the Warcraft universe is one of the richest fantasy universes in gaming, if not in media altogether. The only fantasy universe this writer can think of that outstrips Warcraft’s is J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, and Tolkein was no slouch in linguistic and world-building department, to say the least. This writer might even be so bold to say that Warcraft is the Star Wars to Lord of the Rings’ Star Trek.
The game takes players back in time to Draenor, the home world of the Orcs and the setting for Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal. The game also includes allusions to the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, as this was the Orcs’ staging ground for their invasion of Azeroth.
Players get to see iconic characters such as Rend Blackhand, Ogrim Doomhammer, and Grom Hellscream, characters players (who did not play the RTS games) have only heard of, in the pixelated flesh. Ner’zhul, before he becomes the Lich King, makes an appearance, too. There is so much for players, new and old, to immerse themselves in.
While this writer was extremely sceptical of the setting’s rerun of old storylines, he was incredibly impressed how well it was executed, along with a couple of new twists (such as Hellscream rejecting Gul’dan’s offer of demonic blood) to keep things fresh, speaking of which…
- The Levelling Experience in Draenor
…The new (old?) setting was gorgeous. In comparison to the monotone sea of green (with a tiny dash of black) that was Pandaria, Draenor, despite being a familiar setting to players of the original RTS games, offered an extremely diverse range of environments, from the lush plains of Shadowmoon Valley to the barren Gorgrond to the claustrophobic Spires of Arak, there was something for everyone.
Players levelling up never wanted for naught in terms of shaking things up. When they were done with one zone, they were introduced to a whole new zone with new enemies, new environs, and new characters, all the while continuing the story from the last zone.
The design team could have easily just rehashed the same Draenor from the Warcraft II expansion, but instead took into account that this was the Draenor while the Draenei were not only alive and well, but had a flourishing civilisation, well before the Alliance launched their expeditionary force, and thus created new zones and new pieces of lore to tie in with this fact.
Most of the time in World of Warcraft, the player often did a couple quests in a zone, and once he graduated to a level where he could no longer get experience from that zone, would drop all the quests, completely forget about the storyline between the quests, and move on to the next zone with little regard as to what happened in the last zone.
Blizzard did something new this time. They created a linear progression whereby the player would do storylines that would advance the story in that zone, sometimes leading to pivotal scenarios such as saving Karabor from an Iron Horde attack or joining Yrel, Khadgar, and Durotan in the fight against Blackhand in Talador.
For the first time ever, this writer felt like he was part of something important, more than just a faceless adventurer among millions doing the exact same thing. Not only that, he also felt that it was vital to get every storyline in every zone to see the characters and their storylines develop. MMOs are often known for having very little storyline and even less incentive to involve the player, but Warlords of Draenor defied this trend with gusto.
One major feature of the new expansion was the addition of player housing, something players have been requesting for years. They finally got it in the form of a garrison based in the Alliance and Horde starting zones, complete with progression, customisation options, and a host of followers to send on sorties across Draenor.
Players could customise their garrisons to tailor to their playstyle. If they were into raids, they could create a Dwarven Bunker or a War Mill that give extra seals that allow them to roll for bonus loot. If player vs player was more their thing, they could construct a Gladiator’s Sanctum that could generate currency and send players on quests that involved fighting members of the opposite faction. Garrisons practically did away with farming in this expansion, as players simply had to walk a few steps to the mines or the herb garden to harvest materials.
This player can only speak for the Alliance side, but when he first heard the music for the Alliance garrison, he was completely blown away. Not since hearing the Grizzly Hills theme was he so moved by the epic, compelling nature of the World of Warcraft soundtrack.
Some might say that garrisons were ultimately a bad idea, as players spent most of their time in them, and that it discouraged players from interacting with each other. However, it does have to be said that garrisons have completely changed the way people have played the game. Besides, if players had to get social, all they had to do was literally step outside their garrison, as this was where this writer found a great deal of other players. Either that, or take the portal to Stormshield/Warspear.
The shining parts of this expansion were the Highmaul, Blackrock Foundry, and Hellfire Citadel raids. There was not that much content, and most players would consider that an understatement. However, the raids and the encounters within were nothing short of spectacular. Not only were each of the raids beautifully designed, but each of the boss fights had unique mechanics and engaging strategies to defeat them. There was also the fact that the barrier to entry was essentially removed altogether. Players of all different ability levels could enjoy the content split across difficulty levels, from the easy-going Raid Finder difficulty (known to many as ‘LFR’) to the unforgiving Mythic difficulty.
Of course, the difficulties are not new, as they were introduced in Mists of Pandaria, but people complained that while LFR players got less powerful loot than their Normal, Heroic, and Mythic counterparts, they were still within a similar tier and had a similar look. Blizzard addressed this by having LFR loot be a little more generic, but still epic quality. This would encourage players trying out raids in LFR difficulty to attempt Normal, Heroic, and if they were so bold, even Mythic difficulty, as the boss fights, and the loot that followed, were far more rewarding.
This writer would say that players in this expansion who did not at least try out the raid content missed this entire expansion altogether.
- The Story
As mentioned before with the level progression, the expansion tried to make the player the cornerstone of the story, as opposed to a cog in a machine. In the storyline, the player, in light of his many adventures in Azeroth, Outland, Northrend, and Pandaria, was made Commander of the Alliance or Horde forces on Draenor.
This was driven home by cinematics, and with every NPC addressing the player by his new title. The fact that the player was no longer ‘Cookiemonster’ but ‘Commander Cookiemonster of the Alliance’ made it more compelling to pay attention to the story and the characters in it.
Once again, as an Alliance player, this player cannot speak for the Horde experience, but he witnessed something incredibly special while levelling to 100 on the Alliance side. He bumped into a scared priestess called Yrel, who was just a civilian trying to survive the onslaught of the Iron Horde.
Later on, as she found herself helpless, this writer, and plenty of other Alliance players encouraged her and helped her find the willpower to press onwards and triumph against the enemy. By the time of the 6.2 patch and the end of the garrison campaign, Yrel had grown from a helpless priestess to a paladin to an influential Exarch in the Draenei hierarchy.
This writer, who is a fan of the old school Warcraft lore, did not expect himself to count Yrel among one of his most favourite characters in the Warcraft universe, among Turalyon, Arthas, and Ner’zhul. Yet, in spite of Blizzard’s hiccups with stories, such as their inability to keep their villains dead, they are still perfectly capable of writing a character and developing them to the point where the player begins to care for him or her.
Yrel will be sorely missed in Legion, and it is this writer’s express wish that she will make a return in the next expansion, or at the very least, make an appearance as a hero in Heroes of the Storm. She is just too well-developed as a character to leave behind.