WoW Factor: The World of Warcraft expansion tour – Warlords of Draenor

Do you really want to hurt me?

Oh barf.

Yes, folks, it… it had to happen. We had to get to this expansion. I know, none of us really want to. World of Warcraft fans don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to think about the fact that the bad expansions keep getting worse and this is sort of like the epicenter. People who aren’t fans are perfectly happy just forgetting about this garbage altogether. Even people with a rampaging hate-on for WoW probably don’t want to think about yesterday’s bad news.

Alas, here we are, as this is how a linear series works and we had to get to this one. Take a deep breath. Get some water. Recite the fear mantra from Dune if it will make you feel better. We’re going to get through this, all right? We’re going to make this work. We’re going to get through this. But still, like… barf.

Barf barf barf.

Premise & setting

Ah, right, this one is confusing even here. Ha ha ha ha I want to die.

All right, so Garrosh gets his head handed to him and gets put on trial for war crimes, but he convinces a bronze dragon to help him travel back through time to when the Horde first accepted the blood of the Burning Legion to make sure that Garrosh Hellscream doesn’t drink it. Except he also traveled to a parallel universe instead of just back through time, because he then helps the Horde form into the Iron Horde and start attacking Azeroth again, and there are details making it clear that the alternate version of Draenor is already different from our past. Except it’s also the past and… ugh.

Look, it’s very clear that even Blizzard wasn’t really clear on whether we were traveling to an alternate history or just back in time, since the answer boomeranged back and forth a lot. What it actually allowed the team to do is bring back all of the iconic Horde leaders as villains and provide a non-Outland version of Draenor, finally giving us something resembling a Draenei expansion as we have yet another expansion dealing with the fallout of orcs just being, like… the worst.

It really does not work out well in terms of storytelling.

El barfo.

Major changes

For the most part, the new stuff in this expansion comes down to nothing. For example: one of the big back-of-the-box features listed was that there would be a big item level squish! That’s a feature now! Also, it was done so badly that it had to be done again two expansions later, and it’s not even going to matter in the next expansion because there’s a whole level squish incoming! I want to die.

This is the first expansion to feature no new classes or races of any sort, although it did bring in the revamped character models for most of the existing player races. (This is another bit of controversy for some players.) It also introduced no new actual abilities gained via leveling, with players instead getting a minor trait for an existing ability every two levels. Players would always wind up with the same overall list of traits, but the order in which you got them was random.

The expansion also introduced Garrisons, originally touted as the game’s version of housing before the game backpedaled so hard that the metaphorical chains came off the bicycle. What Garrisons actually wound up being was a place to get various crafting buildings even if you didn’t craft, along with lots of free resources for gathering professions you didn’t have, and ultimately a whole lot of stuff that turned things into an endless work order waiting game.

It also dealt with the abundance of dailies in Mists of Pandaria by just removing all of them. Want to gain reputation? Go smash things out in the open world! No, really, that’s about it. That was about all that you had to do. This content that we had all gotten bored of back in the base game was the new endgame. You also had to beat a certain challenge to queue up for heroics, but that barely mattered because badges were gone and LFR didn’t even offer tier sets any longer.

Oh, and it very nearly never included flying. Yeah. Can’t see why people weren’t happy with these changes, really. Oh, and a bunch of abilities got cut from every spec, to boot!

Barfalo Wild Wings.

Playerbase consensus

I try to avoid doing this, but in this case, the best way to summarize player reaction is with a moment from Herschel Krustofsky:

There was a lot to dislike here, and players decided to focus on… all of it. No one was less than outraged that flying was constantly being teased and then not delivered. Garrisons were seen as uninteresting to play and also vital for basically everyone, with the only possible exception being cutting-edge raiders. If you weren’t a cutting-edge raider, of course, you basically didn’t exist as far as this expansion cared; most of the content was locked away behind having a static raid group, and while making flexible group sizes the default helped it didn’t really ameliorate the people who just didn’t want to raid.

Crafting? Largely pointless, people would just use the Garrison. Heroics and LFR? Pointless. Dailies? Nonexistent. Class mechanics? Barely cobbled together after even more got cut from Mists of Pandaria. Storytelling? Unclear on the basic dang premise, remember?

The folks working in the Fanboy Mines tried really hard to salvage this one, pointing out that at least it had a good leveling experience, that you got to see some interesting story tidbits here and there if you could manage it, and so forth. It did not really work. The expansion as a whole doubled down on the worse things that Mists had done and removed a lot of the things that made that expansion work, and no one was buying it this time. It was an active debate about whether or not the expansion was actually worse than Cataclysm.

You’d have to do a little digging to find my own impressions from the beta (it was on the old Massively site), but they were intensely negative, which should come as no huge surprise. I’ve subsequently said that I tend to rank this expansion as lower than Cataclysm on a whole – while they’re both bad, Cataclysm aimed high and missed substantially. Warlords of Draenor aimed low and couldn’t even manage to hit that target.


A wanted Classic experience?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha &c.

Even in the exceedingly unlikely chance that anyone would look back to this expansion as a better time – which would be really weird when people at the time said it was garbage – there’s the simple reality that there’s nothing there. The expansion had exactly two major patches, and only one of them was actually a content patch. The expansion was so badly received that the developers basically went into crisis maintenance mode immediately, promising that it wouldn’t be like this again.

You can look up your own Spongebob-esque “Four Years Later” joke, if you’d like. Heaven knows I support you doing so.

If we ignore the matter of how much content is even there to adapt, of course, we run smack into the problem that the content that is there just isn’t beloved and doesn’t have memorable elements. About the nicest thing you can say about the expansion is that it’s nice to be able to now fly on alts when you go through this, and how many people are really that eager to go back through these zones even within that context?

And to take a break from the very slightly hyperbolic hate machine here, that’s a bit of a shame, because every so often bits of interesting content crept in around the edges of this expansion. The entire plot with the aarakoa had some potential, for example. The chance to see Draenei society before they became repeated refugees (although that was undercut by moving the factional city away from the Temple of Karabor, good work). The implication that the orcs would have signed on with the Legion eventually even if they knew what it would cost. You get the idea.

But this expansion is just bad. It was bad at the time and it hasn’t gotten less bad. And, unfortunately, it’s now very debatable if it was actually a low point in the first place.

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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