World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Beta Preview
Since Blizzard has recently announced that it will be showing off the opening cinematic and finally providing a release date for Warlord’s of Draenor at Gamescom this year that means the beta testing will be wrapping up shortly. Beta testing while an important feature for MMO’s and other games is something that a lot of players tend to not get involved in. Whether that reason simply is because they didn’t receive an invite or they don’t want to spoil some story elements for themselves I know of a large player base that refuses to take part in it. That’s where people like me come in. I’ve gotten a chance to play in every major beta for a World of Warcraft game since release and finally I have an opportunity to share my thoughts on one before the actual game comes out.
Upon first entering the beta realm I noticed a couple of things right away. The first major thing was that my warlock didn't have nearly as many spells as she used to have. Blizzard has been removing spells that have become useless to players in almost every beta update now. It’s a really nice change as I didn't feel like I was constantly worrying about what spell was key bound where and the clutter on my screen was greatly reduced. Secondly, the character model updates look absolutely amazing. From the facial expression to the body builds you can notice every ounce of detail and work that went into re-doing these models. I still think some races (sorry dwarf players) will just never look good, but the models needed the visual update so bad that people won’t be disappointed.
The questing experience in the beta starts off by taking you to Draenor and having you do a series of quests involving the Dark Portal in Tannan Jungle. I’m going to keep this article very spoiler free in terms of the story that’s being told but the questing in this introduction zone is fantastic and probably some of the best Blizzard has ever done. The whole opener took me around 45 minutes to complete and was extremely well paced. The zone is designed to be not only an opener to the story you will encounter throughout the expansion but as an introduction to character abilities for those who have boosted to level 90.
Quest rewards can vary from gear in the item level 505 range to actually earning your abilities and talents if you are one of the freshly boosted characters. I really like what Blizzard has done by allowing players to learn the basics of a class by introducing abilities slowly over this zone with enemies that aren’t the most challenging thing the game has to offer. Even for a player like myself, who is only really there for the leveling experience, I found the entire introduction to provide some fun and interesting quest mechanics that ultimately culminate in a fantastic end to the zone. After this series of quests the game will put you right into your first zone in Draenor-- Frostfire Ridge for Horde or Shadowmoon Valley for Alliance.
This brings me to my first large problem I actually have with the expansion so far. Once entering one of these zones you will immediately begin the quest to build your Garrison. Garrisons are basically evolving player housing where you slowly learn and find plans to build new buildings inside your garrison. Once you build these new buildings you can do things like work on professions, recruit and send followers to do missions for you, show off achievements or mounts that you have earned over your Warcraft career, and invite other players to come check out your garrison. There is a lot you can do in your garrison and I can’t emphasize a lot enough. The problem is that even though there is so much for you to do the rewards seem very lackluster for the amount of effort that is put into it. The garrison itself will have three stages it can evolve into with each stage increasing the garrison in size, unlocking new buildings to build, and updating the visual look of the buildings inside. As you level your garrison up the place does feel more alive.
I feel like garrisons will suffer from the same problem that your personal farm did in Mists of Pandaria. It’s a fun feature to start out with but the actual feature starts to feel more and more like a chore each time you do it. The feature of bringing other players into your garrison is nice but why would someone want to come into my garrison and leave their own just to see my mounts and achievements (which I can do just as easily outside of my garrison). I feel the game might suffer from what I like to call the “Cataclysm syndrome," where players are just sitting in one location all the time and not exploring this beautiful world Blizzard has created. Hopefully my doubts will be put to rest once the expansion drops, but at this point the garrison feature just hasn’t grown on me yet.
Speaking of the actual world Draenor itself is just as gorgeous as you could have imagined. Whether it’s the frozen mountain look of Frostfire Ridge to the beautiful autumn themed Talador at the center of Draenor, Blizzard has certainly done a good job making these new zones look good. If you go back and play some Burning Crusade content and explore Outland you can’t help but think these are exactly the way these zones should have looked had Draenor not been destroyed. That’s what they were aiming for with this new world and it’s exactly what they have accomplished. I’m very excited to see what is in store of us once Tannan Jungle is fully opened in a future content patch. However, I feel Blizzard did drop the ball with one thing.
The original capital cities for each faction (Bladespire Citadel in Frostifire Ridge for the Horde and the Temple of Karabor in Shadowmoon Valley for the Alliance) were supposed to be unlocked while questing in the respective faction’s starting zones. The name Temple of Karabor may sound familiar to some of you and that’s because it’s the Black Temple before Gul’dan went crazy and took it over only for Illidan to eventually also go crazy and take it over. It’s one of the most iconic buildings and raids in Warcraft lore. Blizzard, however, decided to go back on this amazing idea that was announced at Blizzcon and move the faction capitals to Ashran which is the new level 100 PvP zone in Draenor. I feel like this was such a wasted opportunity on Blizzard’s end to have some extremely memorable faction cities, something the game has been missing since Dalaran in Wrath of the Lich King. Maybe the areas will be updated in a future content patch but this is a feature that players really got excited about, and it was very disappointing to not see in the beta.
One of the things that I didn’t like about Mists of Pandaria was the overall absence of new five-man dungeon content throughout the expansion. Besides the dungeons that were released at the launch of the expansion Mists of Pandaria saw no new five-man content for the rest of the expansion. Five-man dungeons are somewhat of a staple in World of Wacraft and this came as a big disappointment to a lot of fans. Instead we got more and more scenarios which only require three players to complete and shy away from the “holy trinity” of MMO’s (healer, tank, DPS). Luckily, Blizzard listened to the community and has improved this content quite a bit.
The content is some of the most refreshing to hit the game in a long time from not only a visual perspective (the dungeons arebeautiful) but also from a mechanical one. The bosses have some of the most unique abilities to date in the game and are extremely difficult to conquer. Using the dungeon finder I have only been able to complete a small percentage of the dungeons I have run while in a more organized group with some friends the dungeons, still very challenging, were easier to complete. For example in the dungeon Grimrail Depot you are riding on a train with the outside environment flying by you as you kill various trash packs and bosses. The second boss in particular is quite memorable, as once you engage him in combat, he jumps onto a stationary turret and blows out the side walls of the train opening up the outside world as you fly by it. The boss will continue to shoot at you while you have to run against the wind that is constantly blowing you back. It’s a very memorable encounter that not only adds some interesting boss mechanics but takes full use of the environment around you. I really hope Blizzard continues to add more dungeons in future content updates while continuing to be innovative in their design.
While I wasn’t able to get any good time into raid testing or the PvP zone Ashran, which still to this day crashes my client when loading in, the content I did experience during my time on the beta has me very excited for the release of the game. I think Blizzard is taking a step in the right direction by improving the game and making it easier for new players to become involved. If you haven’t started playing by now it is going to be a great time to pick it up. They have also done a very good job of staying true to their core group of players by listening to what the community has asked for. I’m still holding my final judgment until the actual game is released, but I feel free to say I am very excited about what lies ahead.
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor will be available on PC and Mac this year.