I must admit, the idea of heading back into World of Warcraft after a few years of other MMOs presenting new ideas was an unnerving one. Between Guild Wars 2’s dynamic events, The Secret World’s investigation missions (and sublime storytelling), and WildStar’s slick and exciting combat, it really hit home how aged WoW’s mechanics are. Here’s the thing, though – regardless of the doomsayers predicting its imminent death, there’s something reliable about WoW that ensures it retains its audience. Hell, I’ll go as far as saying that its story has always been enjoyable, its world colourful and filled with variety, and when it wants to go big it does it almost effortlessly. Of course, there’s always the grind to face and an endless loot-hunting spiral, but at least it’s up front about it.
Having sampled the big changes to the game a month ago when patch 6.0.2 was released, I was familiar with the stat squish and reduced class abilities – click here to read all about that - so this article will focus on the new content Warlords of Draenor brings to the table, and my first steps into Draenor to take on the Iron Horde. Before that, here’s a summary on the set-up for the latest expansion. Having been defeated at the end of Mists of Pandaria, the former Warchief of the real Horde, Garrosh Hellscream, has escaped captivity. With some help, he goes to an alternate-past version of Draenor, before it became Outland. Here he meets up with his father, Grommash, stopping his fall to demonic corruption, and unites most of the Orcs under the banner of the Iron Horde. Garrosh's goal? To take this new force to “modern day” Azeroth and crush all those who opposed him, so it’s up to the players to put a stop to his madness once and for all.
And so, as the admins flicked the switch on the servers, I took my Warrior to the Dark Portal and began my journey to Draenor… well, I tried to, anyway.
Despite 10 years of experience, the EU servers fell over the moment Warlords of Draenor was activated, crashing the majority of players out of the game. After over half an hour, I managed to get back in and make my way to the new zone, only to contend with some of the worst latency I’ve ever experienced in my WoW playing days and witnessed as players were unable to get past the second quest. It was clear I wasn’t going to be having much luck, and so I cut my losses, went the bed, and got up early this morning to try again. I’m glad to say that was the right call, because now that everything is working it allowed me to enjoy one of the better quest chains the MMO has produced.
Fighting alongside iconic characters like Archmage Khadgar and Thrall has the lore-nut within me delighted, and the scripted sequences and cutscenes help to make the first hour of gameplay suitably epic and downright urgent. Of course, the quests themselves are the same bog-standard affair we’ve had for years – go to A, kill / collect X of B, and then hand in at A again or possibly C – but at least it was mixed up with firing a giant cannon at an endless charge of Iron Horde forces. What the opening section of WoD proved is that when given the chance, Blizzard are still capable of delivering a well-paced narrative that, despite the aging combat mechanics it is paired with, comes across as action packed.
Once I had managed gotten past the initial quest chain and was sent to Shadowmoon Valley (yes, for this expansion I’ve gone Alliance to start with… oh, STOP BOOING) I was immediately thrown into the Garrison mechanic, one of WoD’s new additions. Coming across as an interesting mix of two of my favourite parts of the Assassin’s Creed series. First, the town-building part, which allows players to place down buildings that do different tasks. While the grind for resources to upgrade them will take some serious investment, the level of choice available is truly impressive. For example, it allows players to gain access to other crafting professions beyond the two they have already chosen, although if an Alchemist selects an Alchemy Lab they gain bonuses they wouldn’t normally have.
And those are just the “small buildings.” The larger ones eventually give rewards like spawnable siege tanks or the ability to capture rare mounts, but I’ll address properly once I’ve progressed that far.
Then there are the Garrison Missions, which allows players to recruit followers and assign them missions to carry out. With rewards ranging from bonus XP to rare loot, followers also gain XP of their own, providing a new form of progression outside of the players’s character. To me, being able to choose who is on my team, not to mention being able to recruit existing characters such as Nat Pagle, Millhouse Manastorm, and Leeroy Jenkins(!), gives this optional portion of the game a sense of personality and comradeship. In short, the Garrisons appear to have built upon the Halfhill Farm mechanic from MoP, and at this early stage I have to say I’m impressed by what I’ve seen. I just hope the progression continues to feel rewarding as I progress to level 100.
Speaking of which, the road to the new max level is, for the most part, a similar song and dance we’ve seen previously in WoW. Quest hubs are linked together, with players running back and forth completing objectives. It’s here that some of the archaic aspects of WoW are once again realised. Enemy tagging makes peak-time quest completion a slower process than it needs to be, and item pick-ups being first come, first served. At least rare mobs and named objective kills can be shared without needing to group up, but my complaint from MoP still persists in that grouping up still feels like a hindrance in the long run. With Garrisons already being a solo experience, the fact Blizzard still haven’t mastered balancing the game to reward cooperation in the open world is disappointing.
It’s a good job, then, that while not as epic in terms of big moments, the questing is generally as enjoyable as the opening section of WoD, although those uninterested in the narrative can click through at rapid pace and follow the clearly marked-out objectives. The newly-implemented outlines of interactive items and NPCs ensure there’s no confusion over what needs picking up or talking to, allowing players to just get on with it instead of fumbling around. That said, if the quest setup of WoW has never inspired or impressed you, WoD will do nothing to change that opinion. While I recognise that it’s a dated system, I also happen to be perfectly fine with how it works. If it ain’t broke, and all that.
So, Warlords of Draenor is off to a good start overall, despite the initial launch server hiccups. Ultimately though, time will tell if the latest expansion can truly breathe new life into World of Warcraft and, more importantly, justify that subscription fee (which has just increased in price to £9.99.) I remain optimistic for now, and if the narrative continues to build upon the opening sequence I will be very happy indeed, but you can be sure that I will keep you posted on my adventures over the next few weeks.
Oh, and one last thing – I’m still baffled beyond all recognition as to why Blizzard have not implemented a playable version of Hearthstone within WoW. Seriously, the animations are freakin’ there, teasing us, and it would turn the game (or more importantly, taverns) into a virtual card-battling social hub. In the words of Gob Bluth, ‘COME ON.’