WoW Factor: In praise of Warlords of Draenor

    
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We're actual size, but it seems much bigger to see.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I consider Warlords of Draenor to be a sub-par expansion. My opinion on that has not changed; I spent the last installment of this column noting the ways in which the expansion has cycled multiple game mechanics back around, and the first installment of this column discussed expansion issues. Yet today I come here not to bury Warlords of Draenor but to praise it.

For all that World of Warcraft has removed or made worse many gameplay elements over the years, there’s a part of my heart that will always be invested in the game, and for all the missteps that can be made, there are still things of shocking beauty. So let’s talk about things that are completely praiseworthy in WoD, starting with something that I’m happy to say my opinion has changed on in the time between the beta and launch.

Draenor

Familiar, but it's similar to where I've been.Draenor, as a setting, is the best thing that WoW has. It’s so good that I’m pretty sure the writing staff does not and never has known what to do with it. In a world filled to the brim with fantasy settings that feel like thin do-overs of Tolkien, Draenor is a rush of fresh air, a setting without the old fallbacks of elves and humans. It’s a wholly separate setting, a place with cultures and values that are entirely alien to the players and many of the races from Azeroth.

As unnecessarily messy as this expansion’s storyline is in the larger scheme of things (with its mixture of people who completely don’t get the “not actually time travel but sort of like it” premise and those who get it and think it’s pretty dumb), the vision of Draenor that we get is entirely in keeping with the alien promise of the world. We’ve never been able to explore this world, only pick at the edges of its wreckage. Genuinely exploring it reveals that it wasn’t just the conversion to Outland that made this world so alien to the largely Earth-like Azeroth. Draenor is alien, teeming with unfettered life, a world where almost everything seems to want to eat your head. It becomes clearer why the races that hail from this world act the way they do.

Even more fascinating, to me, is the opportunity to look back at the history of events that would otherwise be lost altogether. A clearer picture of the arakkoa emerges, for example, and it becomes clear that our allies in The Burning Crusade started out as the villains. The places that seemed so comprehensible and straightforward now have layers of subtlety. It’s a charming and unique setting, much more so than the bland vagaries of Cataclysm. Parts of it clearly owe a great debt to the idea of frontier fiction and exploring the great untamed wastes, but many other parts have no direct reference point beyond what little bits that we saw in The Burning Crusade and what we knew from lore.

I also really like mixing with what everyone expects to have happen with the orcs this time around. Sure, I’m tired as hell of orc-centric stories, which we’ve arguably had in every single expansion to date, but at least this one is a foregone conclusion that’s still packing some twists in.

Off-the-wall abilities

Lone Wolf is literally what I’ve been waiting for from Hunters for years.

I’ve said before and will say again that I’m not a huge fan of pet classes. Hunters have always had two specs that aren’t really centrally focused around those pets, but they’re still there. And now we finally have a talent that allows us to just say “no, I don’t want a pet at all” and focus entirely upon being the pure engineering gunners that we always wanted to be but that the game won’t let us be.

It’s what I wanted, anyhow.

The level 100 talents aren’t all solid gold, but there are some magnificently bonkers tricks in there that make me grin no matter what. I love the fact that Warlocks can actually have Infernals and Doomguards as permanent pets andthat Warriors can deal serious damage with a sword and shield and that Death Knights can really bring back some of that plague-carrier feel from the early days of the class. It feels big and showy in the ways that spec-defining talents used to feel, and while not everything has that same sort of visceral bite, it’s still welcome.

I’ve criticized Blizzard before for balancing the game around what’s easy to balance. I’d rather see stuff that’s harder to balance around and results in one class or another having an edge for a while but feels more fun. Some of these abilities seem to be thrown out with little to no regard for overall balance, and in my book, that’s a good thing. We could use more unbalanced.

Also, I really like a lot of the Iron Horde aesthetic, even if they've proven pretty ineffectual from a narrative standpoint.A little more alt friendliness

Part of what I enjoyed about Star Wars: The Old Republic was the fact that it had a whole system dedicated to giving players the tools to facilitate making alts better. As someone who roleplays extensively and just plain likes trying out different things, I know that a good part of my enjoyment of any given game is how much I can mix things up with alts and how many different characters I can have running on a single server.

WoW has always encouraged alts to a point, but this expansion seems to be aiming specifically at letting people produce armies of characters. The heirloom collection might have been delayed, but it’s in now, and it makes leveling your alts that much easier. Toys are shared; mounts and pets have already been shared. Several pieces of cosmetic gear can be traded along your account if you have multiple garrisons performing different functions. Heck, the new character models alone are like an inspiration to make a new character from a race you haven’t tried before.

You can also just boost a character up to 90 and bypass everything up to that point, which reinforces the idea that the developers want to leave the past completely in the dust, but still, it’s useful if you just really want to speed up leveling. Or if you could never make it all the way through leveling another Shaman despite wanting to have one on a second server. Theoretically.

It’s not quite like having a full Legacy-style system, but it’s all good incentive to make additional characters and make leveling them as straightforward as possible. And that’s fun all by itself, even if you’re not trying to make an entire WoW stable that mirrors the crew of the Lost Light as closely as you possibly can.

I make no apologies for my nonsensical goals.

None of this is necessarily glowing praise, admittedly, but as I’ve said, I think this is a pretty weak expansion. But it still has plenty that’s worth seeing, and while I’m not happy with large portions of the game’s trajectory, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the solid decisions that have been made.

Feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com, as is the case every time around. Next installment, I want to talk about flying mounts, how they’re a terrible idea, and why not having them in Warlords of Draenor was still a terrible decision.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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cromahr
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cromahr

amagurikun A bit of a late reply, sorry… I revisited this post and the comments and saw this.
I actually, for about a day, thought that WoD was one of the better xpacs, or thought it was almost as good as the first few xpacs. I even said so in game, because the first time I leveled from 90-100 was fun. Maybe it was because I didn’t enjoy MoP at all, or whatever. WoD felt quite new, and the first time around, quests and stories and new mechanics were fun.
It was only when I got to 100 when I noticed how muich this xpac lacks. Nothing much to do at 100 unless you only care about raiding or PvP (ymmv, just my opinion here), which even in MoP or Cata, never happened. Crafting broken. The garrisons turning from “Oh, this is new and interesting” to “omg, this feels like Farmville and eats a significant amount of time…and not in a fun way”. The feeling that this xpac was rushed and glued together in a hurry, with more and more stuff missing, kinda like “where’s the beef?!”

I liked questing my way to 100, I did like some of the atmosphere of the zones, some of the stories, and after MoP, which was an xpac I didn’t like at all, this felt almost like the old days a tiny bit. A feeling that quickly ended at level 100 and after taking a look at my alts =/

Soliptic
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Soliptic

Kaloth Soliptic It’s WoW.  It’s been out for 10 years.  What exactly were you expecting in those 2 hours of WoW that you didn’t see?

Clearly it takes more then 2 hours of playing to see what was put into the expansion, the rest of it is still just going to be World of Warcraft.

If you are tired of that then you shouldn’t have re-subbed.

borghive
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borghive

Bolaum brix50 I don’t understand why they keep deviating away from what made Wrath so popular? It is like they are trying to kill their game with a slow painful death by trying to reinvent the game each expansion.

mmoplayer
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mmoplayer

Eliot_Lefebvre That’s a pretty tepid set of grabs at significance when viewed in the entirety of the Expansion, the Raids, the Dungeons, the Quests etc. I first started playing WoW shortly after WOTLK, I played Horde only at least all through that expansion, and never once felt that Orc flavoring you claim.  I for one, am not buying your contrivances.

Figures that one who writes articles as poorly as you do would get all rude and defensive at a simple question that challenges your weird ramblings.

NO.

Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

SwobyJ I think that was more a case of the creative writing teams being better focused during those expansions.  All the centrality of orcs didn’t take away from what other races were doing.  Ideally, every expansion would have major stuff for every race to do, but ideally Pandaria wouldn’t have bent over backwards to make new, interesting story elements come to the forefront just to make the whole thing circle back to Garrosh Hellscream.

Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

mmoplayer Eliot_Lefebvre You mean other than the fact that the Lich King was partially Ner’zhul? Or the huge amount of to-do about Garrosh Hellscream being in charge of Horde forces in Northrend? Or the entirety of the Wrathgate event? Or the huge number of orcish bastions throughout Northrend, far exceeding the bases established by any other Horde race?

Yeah.

mmoplayer
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mmoplayer

Eliot_Lefebvre In what significant way was WOTLK expansion centered around Orcs?

Lctwo
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Lctwo

I’m gonna have to say Wrath too.

SwobyJ
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SwobyJ

Eliot_Lefebvre SwobyJ DPandaren I never considered Wrath and BC to be CENTERED around orcs. Highly involved, sure. But their plots had the other races highly involved as well.

Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

SwobyJ DPandaren The crazy thing is that when you look at the history of World of Warcraft, every single expansion has been centered around the orcs in one way or another.  Meanwhile, if you’re lucky, the other races will have some connection to the ongoing storyline, but many will just be along for the ride.