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, 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.