Warlords of Draenor is the newest expansion for long running MMO World of Warcraft. It promises to provide a bit of something new in terms of how content is handled but also something old by returning to its roots from a lore perspective. After a very rocky launch and some very long queue times I've reached 100 and played around a bit, so today I want to give you some of my first impressions on this expansion.
Before we get into let me tell you very briefly about my past with WoW, so that you know where I stand with the game. I've played WoW in an on again, off again manner for many years now. I started back in early Burning Crusade originally. Over time I've done everything from PvP to raiding and leveled more characters to max level than any one person should ever do. I was fighting heroic Lich King in content and attempting to go through heroic Bastion of Twilight and Blackwing Descent before Firelands ever came out.
I wasn't entirely sure that I was even going to pick up Warlords of Draenor to begin with. I loved the idea of the new character models that were getting introduced but as time passed after it's reveal and more and more things began changing I started to waver. Learning about how you wouldn't be able to put your garrison where ever you wanted and that entire zones wouldn't be in the game at launch made me question whether I should grab it. In the end, as per usual, the sound of friends having a good time playing around in the pre-xpac patch lured me back in.
The setup for WoD is that after the end of the Siege of Orgrimmar raid in Mists of Pandaria, Garrosh Hellscream, former Horde Warchief, escapes captivity and, with the help of some chronomancy, escapes into the past to the home of his birth; Draenor. Rather than changing the future this creates an alternative timeline and he convinces the old leaders of the orcish horde on Draenor, led by his father Grommash, that he is a prophet of sorts and convinces them not to drink the blood of Mannoroth and instead to create weapons of gunpowder and iron to become powerful and to take over the world on the other side of the Dark Portal.
Rather than go into detail about all the horrendous problems with the launch of the xpac we'll just skip straight to the content. Right off the bat when you start up the new expansion material you're thrust through the dark portal with Khadgar, Thrall, and others to take the fight to the Iron Horde on their doorstep rather than yours. You get to experience a very cool and fun instanced scenario where you'll meet each of the warlords of the Iron Horde and try to take out the Dark Portal. The scenario serves two purposes: to introduce you to Draenor and the enemies you'll be hunting down, and to help those who've used the recently implemented instant 90 boost to get a feel for their class. The presentation for this scenario is fantastic and it's just an incredibly fun way to start off the expansion.
Once you've finished there you'll begin the real leveling experience, getting dropped off in either Frostfire Ridge if you're Horde or Shadowmoon Valley if you're Alliance. I play Horde so I'm afraid that's the only perspective I can give you for the leveling experience. Right away in the new zone you'll be tasked with setting up your garrison, this expansions newest and possibly most interesting feature. The Garrison is WoW's answer to the player housing question that's been getting asked for years now. This is a personally instanced zone where you can place buildings, send followers out on missions, and just hang out if you want.
The buildings you can set up have a range of uses and are categorized by different sized plots. You can set up a blacksmith to either help you get the most out of your blacksmithing profession if you have it or just to help you get access to the blacksmith's daily cooldown of creating True Steel Ingots. You can set up a trading post to one day have access to an auctioneer in your garrison or even set up a stable that will allow you to capture wild animals and train them to be mounts. The garrison and each of its buildings have 3 ranks. You'll get your rank 1 garrison for free right away and you'll have it to rank 2 by the time you finish the first zone. By performing tasks in the new world and killing powerful enemies you'll acquire garrison resources, which can be spent to upgrade various buildings as you progress.
As you continue through the game you'll meet npc's who, after witnessing your skill, will choose to join you as a follower. These followers will hang out around your garrison and can be sent out on missions (think Assassin's Creed style stuff, like the ship managing minigame in 4) which can level them up or give you yourself rewards. It adds a fun little element of micro management to do when you want to take a break from the leveling.
Scattered around each of the zones are various "rare" creatures that have been designed in an interesting new way. Every rare has a specific drop and anyone who participates in killing it is guaranteed that drop, but once you've received it's drop it will no longer be considered a rare to you. These will mostly be blue gear drops useful for leveling, though on occasion you can receive companion pets and toys as well as garrison resources from them. It's a really cool way to get you to explore and anyone who so much as touches the rare before it dies gets the loot so there's no fighting for tags or groups.
There are also really cool treasure spawns in the world that work in a similar manner. While exploring a frost cave I found the body of an orc frozen in ice, only it's hand sticking out of the block of ice. In its hand was an axe that I could click on, and doing so gave me a cool little blue quality one handed axe. Each zone also has "bonus objectives" which will appear on your map. Moving into proximity of one will open up what is essentially just a side quest that offers a substantial amount of bonus experience for completing it.
Another very cool system added in is that every time you receive gear from anything while leveling, be it quest rewards or rare drops, there is a chance that that item will upgrade to a higher item level. You can do a quest that promises to reward you with a green ring with 70 strength and then upon completing the quest it suddenly upgrades to a purple with 85 strength, and upgrades are just frequent enough to feel fair without either flooding you with better gear than promised or being so rare that you feel left out for not getting them.
The leveling experience on the whole was far more enjoyable than I expected it to be, and I've heard similar praise from my guildmates. Having played in BC, getting to return to what you once new as Outland in its original true glory is very cool. Getting to see all the zones as they were meant to be seen and meeting fantastic characters when they were relevant is awesome. As someone who plays an orc I was more than happy to run around with Durotan, chieftain of the Frostwolf clan and father to Thrall, to help fight off the Iron Horde. Out of the 5 zones I went through on my way to 100 the only zone I was really disappointed with was Spires of Arak, which hopes to tell you the backstory of the Arakkoa (the bird people from BC) but there is a lot of stuff there that has nothing to do with them that feels like filler and the bonus objectives there feel like they're more trouble than they're worth.
While you only get the one actual garrison, each zone afterward will have a spot for an outpost that you can set up. Each outpost will have two possible setups that give you something special for that zone. For instance, in Nagrand (the final leveling zone) one of your two options is a corral, which gives you a frost war wolf mount that can be used only in that zone but allows you to fight while still mounted. In Talador (the original form of BC's Terokkar Forest) you can gain access to a very cool artillery strike.
For as much as I enjoyed the leveling experience in Warlords of Draenor, I was equally as lost when I finally hit 100. There is simply nothing laid before you when you hit max level and that is where I truly began to think "Oh dear, this is where it slows down." In other expansions you would be given dailies to gain rep with various factions to get gear from them, but that simply does not exist this expansion. I've encountered 2 dailies at level 100: one you receive from your garrison and one to go do a challenge mode dungeon. The one from your garrison gives you a choice to either do a solo mission which usually requires you to grind your way through a bunch of mobs until you fill up a progress bar, and the second may be a group version of the first or a mission to go win in Ashran, the PvP island and offers more Apexis Crystals (this expansion's "justice points").
This lack of dailies was an especially big bummer for me as I had long had my sights on getting to exalted with the Frostwolf Orcs so that I could purchase the fantastic looking mount from them, but doing all of the quests had only left me a bit into revered. I went searching online for how you gain the rest of the rep with them, and do you know what advice I found? Farm mobs. You go to a part of Frostfire Ridge where there are level 100 mobs and you just kill them. Over and over until you finally get the last, oh I don't know, 19000 rep needed to hit exalted at about 5-10 per kill.
Now, that's with me already being at revered (if you're unaware of how reputations work in WoW you start at Neutral and move to Friendly, then Honored, then Revered, then Exalted), having a read through various guides on Wowhead you can see that there is also a reputation called the Laughing Skull clan, which you only have access if you get a certain building placed in your garrison. When you have access to this faction you will not be at revered, but there will still be no quests or dailies for you to do. You will simply have to grind the entirety of the rep out through kills.
This is not good. This is in fact very poor design. Now obviously grinding is at the core of MMO's, but that's why you hide the grinding behind illusions of fun and moderation. Instead of telling someone to kill 5000 mobs in their own time you give them dailies to kill them off in groups over the course of a few days, that way they don't feel like they're having to actually do such a large amount of work.
If you're not one for day to day tasks then you'll likely be focusing on one of two things: PvE or PvP. I haven't gotten to mess around with PvP much yet but I'll tell you what I can. If you're into PvP then you'll likely be doing the same stuff you've always done for the most part. I don't believe there are any new battlegrounds so that will be the same old same old. There is a new PvP zone and I've been there and honestly I can't tell you for the life of me how it works. Looking around online it seems others are equally confused. Also I play on an INCREDIBLY Horde heavy server so I literally leveled the entire way from 90 to 100 and even ventured to the PvP island and I have not seen 1 single Alliance player in the entirety of my time on Draenor. Not one.
If you're more of a PvE focused player, like myself, you'll be grinding through the new dungeons. Upon hitting 100 a number of non heroic level 100 dungeons will open up that require an item level of 600 to enter, which you should be right at or very near after doing your quests in Nagrand. These dungeons are...actually pretty cool. I've done four or five different ones in both normal and heroic and they seem to take themselves seriously.
Bosses have mechanics that matter. In Skyreach there is a boss who will target a player with a giant laser that leaves a trail on the ground, which the player must kite around the room. In Everbloom there is a spider boss who will teach you to kill adds that spawn during the fight or else it will eat them and recover health. The mechanics are meaningful, relatively easy to learn, and do a good job of teaching players basic systems that may come in handy when they venture into more difficult content later.
I am personally playing the new dps setup for protection warriors called gladiator, which is actually a lot of fun and so far seems very viable, but my healer guildmate seems pleased with where healing stands currently. Tanks have enough health to take hits without immediately falling to 5%. You're given time to recognize that a problem is arising and deal with it, without the MoP method of everyone's health bars flying back and forth from empty to full. Looting bosses also has a new mechanic. Rather than one piece of gear dropping and everyone rolling for it, each individual person has a chance for a piece of gear relevant to their spec to drop. So far this seems to work relatively well, and it will obviously cut down on "ninja-ing".
Overall I'd say my experience with Warlords of Draenor has been positive so far. The leveling is very well designed and the dungeons seem like they'll be pretty fun to gear up in unless you get stuck in a group that just can't deal with mechanics. If you're a day to day kind of max level player you may find yourself disappointed with the lack of non dungeon content at 100 like myself, and I REALLY hope this is addressed in future content patches. I've gone on WAY longer than I probably should have, so I'll cut it here. If you have any questions feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer. Thanks for reading!
*I play Horde on the Mal'Ganis server. You can most likely find me as Gavlan the orc warrior of the guild Kalidon Industries.*