We’re about a month in to Warlords of Draenor, and with two level 100’s under my belt (and a 97 Mage), I wanted to give my initial impressions of the expansion as a whole, as well as life at 100. Before doing so, I feel I should give you a brief history of my WoW tenure so you know exactly where these opinions are coming from.
I’ve been avidly playing World of Warcraft since 2004, taking a few breaks here and there as fatigue or boredom set in. I’ve been everything from a clueless beginner to an end-game raid leader toward the end of Wrath of the Lich King, and I’ve also dabbled in competitive arena PVP, while maxing out every profession numerous times. You could also say I’m a bit of a leveling addict, as by the end of Mists of Pandaria I was sitting at 16 max level characters with at least one of each of the 11 different playable classes at my disposal. I mainly play ranged damage dealers, with my main class being a Warlock, but I’ve filled every role the game has to offer. With that being said, I’m confident in saying that I have a pretty extensive background in WoW and all of its many changes leading up to Warlords of Draenor.
As an MMO that’s been around for 10 years, World of Warcraft has seen plenty of changes–both good and bad, and depending on who you talk to–but Blizzard has generally evolved the game as a whole with each of their expansions. The Burning Crusade left behind 40-man raiding in favor of groups of 10 or 25, and introduced the hugely successful arena mode to PVP’ers. Blizzard also used the expansion to introduce flying as a new method of traveling Outlands, added two new playable races in the Blood Elves and Draenei, and allowed Horde and Alliance players to experience the Paladin and Shaman classes for the first time; as Paladin was previously only available to the Alliance, and Shaman to Horde. The Burning Crusade was also the birthplace of repeatable daily quests, unlockable player titles like “Hand of A’dal”, challenging heroic mode dungeons, and awarding players spendable tokens for running those dungeons, which could then be used to purchase epic quality gear.
Each of the expansions since then have all brought something new to the table, such as Wrath’s Death Knight hero class, Cataclysm’s overhaul of the original leveling zones, the addition of Worgen and Goblin as playable races, new race/class combinations, and the introduction of a raid matchmaking system, and Mists‘ neutral Pandaren race, but none ever matched the sheer amount of improvements seen in The Burning Crusade.
With Warlords of Draenor, Blizzard has come full circle. Former Warchief of the Horde, Garrosh Hellscream, was tried for his crimes but managed to escape with a little help from a time traveling friend; ending up in the past where his father Grommash was about to unknowingly enslave the Orc race to the Burning Legion. Using his knowledge of the future, Garrosh aids his father and forms a new Iron Horde to not only avoid becoming slaves, but to enter the Dark Portal and conquer present-day Azeroth. Warlords of Draenor takes place in Draenor, which would eventually become The Burning Crusade’s Outlands, and like the expansion we experienced many, many years ago, it brings with it a whole lot of game changers.
Warlords of Draenor starts off at level 90, with the Iron Horde pouring out of the Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands. With the help of important figures in both the Horde and Alliance, as well as yourself, Khadgar and company rush through the Portal to fend off the opposition. You’ll spend the better part of an hour battling and outrunning the Iron Horde, and being introduced to new villains (new to WoW, not Warcraft) like Kargath Bladefist, Kilrogg, and Blackhand. These quests are all standard fetch and kill fare, but feature fantastic storytelling and narrative thanks to strong voice acting, a top notch cast of supporting heroes and villains–Ga’nar, Maraad, Cho’gall, and Yrel are so, so good–and scripted cut-scenes. Khadgar is also a complete badass, and his use of all three Mage elements at once often made my newly 90 Mage feel super underpowered and brought shame to his family.
During the opening stages it’s revealed that the only way to prevent the Iron Horde from pouring out on to the sands of Azeroth is to destroy the Dark Portal itself. Of course this means there’s no going back for you.. at least not right away. It’s at this point that you play your retreat card and make for Frostfire Ridge as Horde, or Shadowmoon Valley as Alliance, and begin building your garrison.
Garrisons are a huge, huge part of World of Warcraft in this expansion. It’s basically Blizzard’s answer to player housing, where you collect resources and construct buildings of varying purposes on your plot of land. You’ll also recruit a large variety of followers that you can send out on missions, or even request their company while you quest out the new content. Trust me, playing a squishy cloth-wearing Mage greatly benefited from tagging along with my Protection Warrior follower, Tormmok.
Your garrison can be upgraded twice, with each upgrade offering additional plots of land to erect new buildings. These range from profession-based buildings that assist you in crafting additional materials that would otherwise be limited to daily cooldowns, an inn that welcomes familiar faces from WoW history–like Karazhan‘s Moroes or Millhouse Manastorm–offering you daily dungeon quests, a salvage yard to collect random items from your follower’s outings, and even your own personal mine, fishing shack, and herb garden.
What you choose to build is completely up to you, but you can’t have one of everything. The first character I leveled to 100 was my Shadow Priest, who is an Engineer and a Jewelcrafter, so I made sure to build those two first. I also built a Lumber Mill, which allowed me to harvest timber out in the wild and bring it back in exchange for additional garrison resources, and a War Mill that doubled my chance of loot upgrades from quest rewards.
As one of the new features in Warlords of Draenor, loot received from rare spawns, dungeons, and quests have a chance to upgrade themselves to rare or epic quality, so having double the chance for that to occur was pretty hard to pass up. My other character, a Retribution Paladin, didn’t have any crafting professions, so I skipped out on the profession buildings in favor of things like a Goblin Workshop. This allowed me to use one crazy-yet-extremely-useful item each day, like a glider that would launch me in the air and allow me to float around. I also built a Trading Post that offered the exchange of garrison resources for crafting materials that I could send back to my Shadow Priest for his Engineering, and a Stable that offers 6 exclusive mounts to tame and ride around Draenor, as well as removing the chance to become dazed while mounted.
Each building can also be upgraded twice, adding additional perks along the way; like opening up a new reputation faction, increasing the number of available followers, or offering new sets of transmog gear. Once a building is upgraded to level 2, you can assign any follower with that building’s “trait” to work there for even more benefits, such as daily quests or vendor items. For instance, my Engineering worker sold repair bots that I could place out for my dungeon groups to use if we found ourselves getting creamed once too often. The follower I assigned to the mine opened up additional mine carts, increasing the amount of ore I obtained each day, and another assigned to my Jewelcrafting building offered daily quests that rewarded me with substantial amounts of gold.
Followers are obtained in any number of ways, from completing quests, heroic dungeons, or just finding them out in the open. They all have their own specific class and abilities, and are assigned a quality just like you’d find on your loot–uncommon, rare, and epic. In similar fashion to the loot system, obtaining a follower has a random chance at upgrading their quality, as many of them start off as uncommon; and doing so increases the amount of available abilities and traits. You can then send 20 of them (25 with garrison upgrades) on random missions offered inside of your garrison, although you never control them yourself. Each mission has a list of “threats”, like Powerful Spell, that can be countered by a follower’s ability (countering Powerful Spell with Kick, for instance). Being able to counter these threats increases the likelihood of success, but your followers are always rewarded with a base amount of XP, even if they fail. Success rewards the player with additional garrison resources, gold, or even loot, so it’s extremely beneficial to send your followers out as often as possible.
I really enjoy the garrisons in Warlords of Draenor, as being able to have a one stop shop for each of my characters limits the amount of time spent aimlessly wandering around farming crafting materials. The downfall to spending so much time at my garrison however is the lack of player interaction. Your garrison is your garrison, and no one can enter it without joining your party. As someone who tends to log in and take care of my daily duties of cleaning the mines of their ore and using my crafting cooldowns, the only person I ever come across is myself. Sure, there’s guild chat, and I have to group with others to run dungeons for loot, but WoW is an MMO. It’s weird to lose the social interaction I got when I was forced to explore the vast world in search of materials, but the part of me that’s short on time (and hates competing with thousands of players) definitely appreciates it.
Being extremely familiar with the lay of the land in The Burning Crusade, it’s amazing to see what Draenor looked like before it all went to hell in a hand basket. Each of the zones are completely unique and chock full of lore, quest hubs, rare spawns to tackle for additional loot, and followers to recruit. These are some of the best zones the artists at Blizzard have crafted in the 10 year existence of World of Warcraft. From the snowy banks and Ogre-infested camps in Frostfire Ridge, to the dreary atmosphere of the Arakkoan Spires of Arak, there’s plenty to see and even more to do to keep yourself occupied. It actually wasn’t until I hit Nagrand at level 98 where I started to grow tired of the same ol’ same, and that’s only because it was the least changed of all the zones.
It’s extremely difficult for an MMO to keep quests interesting, as most of them are kill and fetch quests still, but the addition of optional objectives keeps your quest log from becoming clogged up. Optional objectives appear in each of the new zones, and pop up on your screen once you’re in proximity. You can then choose to take part in the objective–generally killing things or collecting stuff again–and, in turn, being rewarded with a huge chunk of XP, gold, and garrison resources. The XP rewards are significantly higher than that of a standard quest turn-in, and I always found the optional objectives to be straight forward enough to avoid becoming more trouble than they were worth. I would never go out of my way to reach them, but it was always nice to see one unexpectedly pop up on my screen while I was already questing in the same area.
There’s also an unparalleled level of storytelling in Warlords of Draenor, and I always wanted to see what happened next. I felt for these characters, their clans, and their families. I watched each gut-wrenching cinematic with a dropped jaw and a pounding heart as I witnessed dear friends pass on, rivalries settle, and remembering just why in the hell I love this game so much. I haven’t felt this passionate about World of Warcraft since The Burning Crusade, and even though WoW has been around for 10 years, Warlords of Draenor shows why Blizzard does it better than anyone else.
That’s not to say that the expansion is all candy and nuts. Its launch was plagued by DDoS attacks and server instabilities that still haunt it today from time to time. The expansion is also the first to launch without additional content outside of increasing the maximum level cap, so there’s little to do aside from reach 100 and take part in the usual end-game fare of heroic dungeons, reputation grinds, PVP, and the newly introduced garrison system. With no new race or class to check out, there’s little incentive for new players to purchase the expansion immediately, aside from the free character boost to level 90. Not everyone wants to jump in to the meat of the game though, as it’s pretty overwhelming to someone who’s never played it before; so that’s not exactly the best selling point.
Professions are also hit or miss with me. Prior to Warlords, you collected your required materials and crafted items or armor to become more proficient. That’s still the case here, but Blizzard has removed all combat benefits from professions to prevent them from feeling mandatory. Players can only equip up to three crafted items at once as well, leaving those of us with multiple crafting professions little reason to save up our materials aside from selling wares on the auction house. For instance, my Mage is a Tailor and Inscriber. Should I decide to craft myself a new weapon via Inscription, I can then only craft 2 additional items using Tailoring; even though tailoring offers tons of craftable recipes. I’ve always enjoyed leveling professions for the sole purpose of crafting my own gear. It assisted me in meeting the minimum requirements for entering raid dungeons, and really helped out during those weeks where I wouldn’t obtain any new loot from said raids in Mists of Pandaria. Now I’m stuck using my daily cooldowns just to sell stuff on the auction house when I don’t even really need more gold than what I have stocked away.
I understand what Blizzard is doing, and I appreciate the accessibility when I don’t have a lot of time to commit to the MMO, but not having to leave my garrison to farm materials and not having much incentive to craft my own gear makes the game feel like it’s missing something. Maybe after 10 years I’ve just grown accustom to how things have always been and it’s just a change I’ll get used to over time?
But that’s not all that’s missing. Blizzard wanted to address some major player concerns with Mists of Pandaria, like having way too many reputations to grind out and being completely overwhelmed with repeatable daily quests. In Warlords of Draenor, you’re only dealing with 3 factions (increased to 4 with a specific garrison upgrade), none of which offer daily quests to assist with increasing your standing with them. Once you’ve finished out their chain of quests, your only option is grinding out kills the old fashioned way. At 5-10 reputation per kill, you’re looking at a lot of time spent mindlessly slaughtering specific enemies just to earn a new mount or a potential follower. This isn’t fun.
There’s still plenty to do in Warlords once you reach 100, especially if you’re in to pet battles, fishing, cooking, archaeology, or PVP (although some may argue that the new PVP zone is pretty weak, especially on imbalanced servers). The expansion launched without any immediate raid content, but as of December 3rd there’s now two new world raid bosses and the first official raid dungeon, High Maul. With raiding as my primary focus, I was left with little to do in Warlords aside from dungeon farm once I reached 100. Heroics and Challenge Modes are there, and required if you’re interested in meeting the minimum gear requirements for raiding, but when you add in the crafting profession gear nerf and the complete lack of gear available by way of reputation gains, it’s a long, boring grind for gear right now.
We’re still very early on in the life of Warlords of Draenor, and I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve spent over the last few weeks playing through the content. I love the lore and the characters, I really dig the new zones and dungeons, and I’m thoroughly impressed with how garrisons turned out. I also enjoy the mini-game of sending followers out on their own missions and get excited when I see them succeed, especially when they’ve brought back loot. However, it’s weird to feel that an expansion that’s brought so much to the table is missing something. Blizzard finally rolled out updated character models, sure, but the lack of a new race or a new playable class means that everyone who buys Warlords is only going to have a 10 level grind ahead of them. Nothing more. At least not right now.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling news, reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and an on again/off again WoW player that blasphemously favors consoles over PC. As a Marylander, he naturally puts Old Bay on everything, loves the Orioles, drives aggressively, and says “son” too much. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.