By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Back To The Past And Back Again
The fifth expansion of the World of Warcraft franchise is a truly interesting experience so far. There have been many ups and downs in the series, and the fans as always are divided. There are some that feel that this game feels more like “Vanilla” (the original game before expansions.). There are some who say the game is getting easier yet again, and “made for casuals.” Ultimately, the game is made first and foremost for the fans. Everyone will be able to get something out of Warlords of Draenor, much like all the other expansions before it. Currently, WoD is in closed beta. What I experienced in this build was an early portion of the game, offering content through Frostfire Ridge for the Horde and Shadowmoon Valley for the Alliance, as well as the dungeon in both zones.
There are many changes coming in the WoD expansion, and perhaps they are a long time in coming. I have to say, I’m terribly excited. I spent most of my time in Mists of Pandaria idle. It felt too much like I was playing Harvest Moon, doing chores and nothing but daily quests. Will daily quests be a part of Warlords of Draenor? Absolutely. Of this I am one hundred percent certain. But now a lot of them will no doubt revolve around my Garrison; a zone that I control and develop over the course of the expansion, where I can send minions out to farm and try to get loot for me. This is probably one of the coolest things I’ve seen in an MMO, and while it sort of reminds me of the minions in Star Wars: The Old Republic, it gives me a base of operations. There are dissenters that think this is going to make the game easy-mode, but I do not think such will be the case. There are going to be insane challenges and new PVP excitement going on, in a sandbox with vehicles, bases, and chaos! From the Toy Box (trinkets and fun items available globally), to the Heirloom Collection, the folks at Blizzard are making items you have scattered across all of your characters easy to grab, so no more mailing over and over, or being annoyed that one tabard is on a character you never play. Making items easy to access does not make the game “Carebear” or super easy.
Technical Like The Sharpshooter
There is so much going on in this expansion that without some prior knowledge it could be overwhelming. To the casual player, it won’t be quite such a big deal. The casual player will jump into Draenor head-first, excited to see everything the game has to offer. One of the largest changes, and one that is getting a great deal of attention, is the stat squish. At the end of Mists of Pandaria, it was not uncommon to see 15,000 strength, agility, et cetera. In fact, that’s probably on the low end of the spectrum. Gone are the days of Warlocks having one million health, and dealing 500,000 dps (damage per second). The damage squish is a necessity, to bring some manner of excitement back to the game. The stats were simply getting too high, and it was less about being careful in raids, and more about dealing insane amounts of burst damage to end boss fights faster and faster.
Stats are getting a huge change as well. There are stats that are going away forever (much to my joy and elation) such as Hit. Hit, Expertise, Dodge, and Parry are gone. There are other stats that are coming in, to add “fun” to the game, something to add variety to the game in general. The new stats can seem a little bulky, with how many there are, but they can all be useful in the right situations. The following is an example of some of these “secondary stats.” Without bombarding you with statistics, some of the things you can look forward to are “Chance Multistrike” (A chance to add two extra attacks or heals with your abilities), “Readiness” (Reduces certain cooldowns; this will be fairly rare), and Versatility (increases damage and healing by x% and reduces incoming damage by x%). I like all of these new stats a great deal. I desperately hated having to stack certain stats that weren’t str, int, etc and these new upcoming stats will add some variety to builds to be sure.
Speaking of stats and itemization, equipment is changing in a new and exciting way. One of the problems with questing in earlier expansions was that many items would not always have major stats that benefitted your character on any of the rewards. If you were a Holy Paladin and post level 40, the odds of you finding plate with stats relevant to you were rare at best. In WoD equipment drops such as quest rewards will have stats that fit your character specifically. Gone are the days of desperately hunting through quests just to find one piece of gear that “might” fit your character. However, this will only affect new pieces of equipment; while it would be nice to see this at lower levels of the game, for now it is only found on Draenor. This will make it much easier for players to level and find items that suit their needs, instead of hoping and praying a random blue or green will benefit them at all.
One of the biggest selling points to Warlords of Draenor so far is the Garrison. Garrisons are a place your character can call home, somewhere unique to them; it is a part of the world and grows as you invest time in it. This is Blizzard’s answer to other MMOs that have player housing. There is a spot for a Garrison in each of the new zones, and you can choose which zone you want yours to be in. The only exceptions would be in the Alliance/Horde controlled territory, one would assume you could not build a Horde Garrison in Shadowmoon Valley and vice-versa. Garrisons have followers that are essentially minions to do your bidding, which I could go on all day about how much I love that. They build structures and seek epic gear for your character which has seen a little heat. There have been players that have complained that it will make the game a little too easy, but I disagree. It will be nice to have another option to maybe pick up an upgrade that will let you enter raids/heroics faster.
UI? Don’t Mind If I Do!
Tons of things going on in the UI Department! One of the biggest changes comes from a need for visibility. When there are tons of players around, it can be very hard to see what you are hovering over, or what NPC you need to click on/interact with. In fact, there are players that will stand in NPCs just to make life difficult, or force PVP interaction. Now important objects are highlighted, such as buildings you are going to interact with (Garrison Forge) or Quest NPCs. Highlighted objects will have a particular glow, depending on what they are in relation to you. Another function that needs brief mentioning is the Auction House. It is getting an overhaul and will now be universal, so Alliance and Horde will share auctions. This is something that makes sense; the Auction House is run by goblins, who are neutral and only speak the language of money. So it is only natural that Auction Houses can be accessed by both sides, since goblins hold all of the items and the money.
Do you find yourself leveling alts often and hate juggling all of your heirlooms? I know I do! Sure you can mail them across servers and faction to your characters, but that can be very hard to keep track of. With WoD, there is now the heirloom collection. In Warlords of Draenor you will be able to keep all of your Heirloom items in one collection tab that is accessible on all of your characters, so you do not have to worry about all of the juggling, and mailing, and all of that tedious crap that made leveling multiple alts nothing but an exercise in frustration and futility. This is not in-game as of the current build, but it is something to look forward to in a content patch. There are a lot of collection tabs we should be able to look forward to, reducing the amount of stuff in our bags. Void Storage will get more item slots, and that will be nice. I hope that they will remove the gold fee to insert and remove, but I fear that is just wishful thinking. Banks will have a sorting system, which I am truly excited for. I am incredibly anal in how I sort my inventory, and this will make things a lot easier on me, again, without installing a mod for it. The ability to craft from the bank is another Godsend that I am excited for; no longer do I need to run to the bank, drag out all of the items, and return them. This is probably the biggest change to the item UI.
The Quest UI is going to get a bit of an overhaul as well to make certain things on your quest list stand out a little more. The goal is to clearly separate which quests are a part of the major storyline for the zone or the overall game and keep them apart from the optional side quests. This can help acquire achievements for a zone, and know what to shoot for if you are seeking the main story. The Adventure Guide is another in-game feature along the line of questing to help players. It will show players potential paths to new gear upgrades, quests that suit the playstyle that they are utilizing, et cetera. This is an exciting new upgrade to the game, which will benefit new players and veterans alike. It can possibly reduce the amount of alt-tabbing and searching websites for new targets and I really dig that.
You Are Not Prepared
With Warlords of Draenor, we are heading to an all-new world - Draenor, birthplace of the Orcs, and the last bastion of the Draenei, formerly of the planet Argus. For a fantasy game, there sure is a lot of space travel going on from the Burning Crusade expansion onward. Some of Draenor is going to feel familiar as the desolate wastes of Outland. The flora and fauna are beautiful, and one of the examples of sights to see is an untouched, uncorrupted Shadowmoon Valley (the first zone the alliance members experience after starting quests.) There are two new major cities: Karabor for the Alliance, and Bladespire Fortress for the Horde, but these are not the major capitals. Those will be located on the island of Ashran, which is near the Dark Portal.
The cities on Ashran will also be cross-realm, and are not a part of World PVP from what I have read. The new capitals as of this writing are not accessible and have no names. There has been a great deal of backlash in this decision, as originally Karabor and Bladespire Fortress were the capitals for their factions. I really liked the idea of the untarnished Black Temple (re: Karabor) being a major hub for players. This was a fantastic idea, and it is my sincere hope that Blizzard changes their mind again, instead of keeping it as-is. Some of these zones will visually feel familiar since this is unbroken-Outland, and the nomenclature won’t be too far off to boot.
Another visual update is the player races. The races that were released with Mists and Cataclysm (Panderen, Goblins, Worgen) will not be changing as they have current models that look just fine. Everything else however are in desperate need of an overhaul and are getting just that. All of the character models are not in the present build of the game, but rest assured they will be available by the time the game drops later this year. The characters have more physical expressions, and a great deal of time has been taken to make the players feel and look more like heroes than ever before. Up until now, I have felt that my characters blend into the background unless I have truly end-game gear. I looked much the same as the enemy and neutral NPCs, without anything to make me stand out. Unless I were hanging out with enemy Blood Elves, who for some reason are nine feet tall. I’m very excited to see more of this to be sure.
The world itself looks beautiful to boot as an aside. There is less clutter on the ground and at the same time, more detail is given to the world, and it is surprising to be able to call the barren wasteland of Frostfire Ridge beautiful, but it is. Shadowmoon Valley looks very reminiscent of Warcraft 3 in its violet hues and thick forest. The game has honestly never looked better. The starting zone of Tanaan Jungle is interesting and starts the story off right, with action and excitement. Both factions start here, but they do not interact with one another, as it is sort of an instanced zone where only your faction can go and complete quest objectives. After the story progresses to the point where you leave, players wind up in their respective zones, and it’s time to get to work!
I will avoid spoilers for the story, but it starts strong, though I feel like the starter quests on both sides are strikingly similar; this is not a bad thing, since if they are not, the community, being what it is will no doubt complain about bias or unfairness since one faction “might” have an easier quest. I also got to experience the dungeon in Frostfire, and in Shadowmoon Valley. The difficulties between the two were very noticeable. The mechanics required in the Shadowmoon dungeon stood out as much more precise and challenging, and it really felt like a level 100 dungeon. The Frostfire dungeon however was set for lower levels and it showed. I felt like we mowed through the instance with a vigorous speed, whereas the Alliance dungeon found many wipes from missing one or two little things on a boss fight. Though the Horde dungeon was done with an incredibly geared Retribution Paladin so I do admit there was that to my credit.
Speak, Friend: Excitement abound!
Current State of the Expansion - Excellent
I feel like this expansion will not feel like a flash in the pan such as the two before it. I did not feel much excitement toward, nor did I feel drawn into the story of, Mists of Pandaria. It was a beautiful island but the story was frankly kind of boring. I didn’t really feel emotionally vested. But Warlords of Draenor, despite being a time-travel wacky adventure, feels like a call back to the old days of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, and the early days of the MMO. There are so many positive things coming to this expansion that I could not possibly cover it all. But there are a few negatives to speak of. The Toy Collection seems to be very “pick and choose” by the devs to what is a “toy” and what is not. The other thing that really stands out to me is that the Horde and the Alliance start very segregated. Even the starting zone, Tanaan Island is a separate zone for the Horde and for the Alliance, and then they go to their separate zones across the map. I will grant, starting on a PVP server at the beginning of the expansion can be infuriating with the constant ganking, but this feels a little too easy, like I’m getting off lucky. And anyone who knows my career in Warcraft, “luck” isn’t a word I equate to it. Perhaps this will change in a later build or perhaps not. I’m still very positive about this expansion, and I look forward to seeing how things progress.