Blizzard recently released an extremely popular expansion to the most-popular-ever MMO game World of Warcraft recently with Warlords of Draenor. So popular it brought the flagship back up to 10 million players from a dip of 7 million just to experience the changes that happened under the hood and in the world of Azeroth.
Over the years, Warcraft has only become more friendly to casual players and worked to deliver a richer, more fulfilling play experience for people with less time to raid every night. Blizzard has managed to this not by building the end-all-be-all MMO to dominate the marketplace, but by borrowing the best practices of other MMOs (and player modders) and implementing them in the game to make the game more accessible and ready to please.
I have been playing in Warlords of Draenor now since the launch and, as an MMO journalist, I am a very casual player. I have a multitude of alts (across more servers that I can count) and this means that I tend to experience content slower than the most aggressive players.
Warlords of Draenor is a storied expansion
Before getting into the nitty-gritty about the expansion it’s worth explaining that Blizzard spent a great deal of time building the world and the story of Draenor. Before the expansion dropped, Blizzard released an amazing series of videos that told the story of each of the Warlords—each video explained in exquisite detail what makes each warlord such a badass, and why they should be respected. This is a savage land, with savage peoples, it’s also an alternate timeline of this shattered-world’s past.
Entering into Draenor itself is a cut scene that reimagines numerous villains of previous expansions and leads the player through a story line that takes them into the brutality of the political and tribal landscape of this land before our time.
This story leads to the milestone of setting up the players Garrison (see below) which is a beach head on the edge of the sea of war crashing against the Dark Portal threatening Azeroth. The quests leading up to the construction of the Garrison feel like a cinematic experience that gets played through, with major actors such as Thrall—and his mighty green thews—speaking about his experience and fears or Khadgar the great mage wielding arcane forces to burn a path.
As Draenor opens up, so does exploration, as with every expansion to WoW Warlords adds a nice chunk of zones to move through. Each one delivers real attention to story, new characters to enjoy, and a great deal of phasing. You’ll find yourself fighting amidst the bones of a titanic cyclops and meeting half-crazed orcs who wear the skulls of their victims like masks.
This is a hero’s journey, but at the same time it’s Thrall’s journey into the past of his people and an exploration of a place he’s never known. I’ve been enjoying Durotan (the land of Durotar is named after him) and his take on the untamed land and its people.
Possibly one of the most interesting ways that Warlords of Draenor changes WoW it is the Garrison.
Garrisons are not-quite-player-housing while at the same time providing a home base and a resource for players to move into Draenor. It seems to combine both house-building elements and a duty-officer system similar to what we’ve seen in Star Trek Online. Players can now collect Followers, NPCs who will do missions for players to gather supplies, XP, gold, and sometimes extremely useful items.
It’s also possible to expand crafting and make it easier to conquer Draenor with a well-equipped and stocked Garrison.
As part of the story, the player’s Garrison provides a central location to return to, a place to recuperate, and it can also provide many of the amenities of a capital city (bank, repairs, etc.) It will also be the place where some new storyline missions come from as it guides the player to do what needs to be done next.
In many ways, the Garrison is better than player housing in WoW because it doesn’t take away from the massively multiplayer aspect of the game while at the same time having a sensible purpose. A land filled with marching armies and terrible enemies? A home base with all the comforts of home and enough cannon and standing warriors to repel them is exactly what I ordered.
Warlords of Draenor is just as accessible and adds new horizons
For the casual player, WoD gives an experience of following the story and becoming part of the war, but it also adds a lot of quality-of-life improvements and even more bars to fill up (thought that pet collection exploded with Battle Pets? Well, now collect Followers.)
The addition of a Reagent tab to the Bank has been an amazing boon. A single click and I got most of my bag space back. It costs a few gold to unlock, but the amount is a pittance compared to how useful a 98-slot Bank tab that will take my reagents out of my inventory happens to be.
Trash items in the inventory are now marked with a little gold coin (making them easy to find and dispose of.)
All those odd toys that we’ve been picking up from all across Pandaria also have a new place now: a Toy bag in the UI. Once learned, you can get rid of them, freeing up bag space, and should you want it back you can pop it back out.
This will most certainly only add to the whole pet-mania. Now players can collect: mounts, pets, toys, and followers.
Talk about a whole new horizon for achievements.
Onwards into Draenor
I have three characters in Draenor, with Garrisons, and one that I’m slowly taking through storied content. It may take me a while, but I’ll get through and so far it’s been a journey filled with all the usual obstacles of a Fantasy world with welcome and interesting companions. With Thrall, Durotan, and others to keep me company I expect that there’s a lot more to offer.
As with all things, I suggest bringing a friend, the quests go faster and the story is just as good.