World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Review (PC)
Ten years, twelve million subscribers, and now five expansions, World of Warcraft's domination of the MMO world is unparalleled. Just a scant handful of months ago it seemed like the titan's grip on online gaming might finally be loosened when reports came in that the WoW subscriber base had fallen to under seven million. But then, Warlords of Draenor came along, bringing with it millions of new players, a revitalization to the series gameplay, and a love letter to the history of the franchise. Suddenly, things are looking brighter and more loot-filled than ever.
Warlords of Draenor boasts a more impressive story than most of the previous WoW expansions. In this outing, your character fights alongside the greatest heroes in Warcraft's history, from Thrall to Archmage Khadgar, hopping through a portal into a parallel timeline. In this sideways, past-universe, Garrosh Hellscream has arrived from Azeroth, changing the course of history and uniting an Iron Horde with plans to invade your home world, burning the Alliance and the Vanilla Horde to the ground.
Epic is the name of the game with Warlords of Draenor; your first quest has you in the midst of a massive battle, fighting alongside the Avengers of Warcraft as you make your way into this strange new land, getting your bearings, meeting new villains, and gathering allies. These early quests are great, and introduce new characters with an extra bit of care, making you care about your new pals and itch to take down the new bad guys. Outside of the initial few hours of the experience, however, many of Warlords of Draenor's quests are of the same format we've come to expect from World of Warcraft, with plenty of kill/collect quests padding the time between more interesting quests, like one that has you in command of a missile-launching mecha-shredder, or another which has you taking to the turrets of a massive Iron Horde tank. However, thanks to the new quest reward system which randomly grants you exceptionally powerful loot, you'll feel more motivated to quest than ever before even when you feel like you're doing something you've done a thousand times prior.
Draenor's zones are colorful, gorgeous, and memorable. Flying mounts can’t currently be used to travel on Draenor, so you'll be hoofing it from point A to point B, which might sound tedious in theory, in reality it's time well spent. Blizzard has jam-packed these zones with secrets, like the frequent special mobs which will pop up on your mini-map as skulls denoting their status and loot, or the resource caches which grant extra resources for your garrison, or the many characters long-time fans will recognize from previous Warcraft games. These zones are big and beautiful, and you won't miss flying one bit once you've stepped foot in them.
When you're not traversing WoD's many new areas, you'll be in your garrison, the customizable town/fortress with buildings you'll use to level up your professions, unlock cool new quests, armor, and mounts, and more. You'll also gather a small army of followers to use on missions, timed affairs reminiscent of the sort of thing you'd see in a mobile game, only with a little more strategy (and a lot more reward) involved. Spending your time and resources ordering followers and artisans around a garrison is supremely satisfying. Logging in to see that your followers nabbed you a new piece of loot, or that the blacksmith has finished with the ingots you ordered her to make, gives players an extra bit of incentive to check in periodically and keep virtual minions working. The garrison's a real game-changer, and amassing weapons and allies makes World of Warcraft feel more war-like than ever before.
As always, instanced dungeons are a big part of WoW, but here they're a bit different. In Mists of Pandaria and other previous expansions, dungeons were fleeting affairs with a few monsters and quick treasure. In Draenor, they're a bit longer, feeling more like epic, multiplayer events than actual dungeons thanks to the numerous cutscenes and voiced interactions between NPCs. They're also a bit tougher than the instances typically are at the beginning of an expansion cycle, and there aren't enough of them, so while they're fun to do once or twice, by the time you're closing in on max level you'll be begging for some new dungeons to run.
WoD's soundtrack is, simply put, fantastic, and the many orchestral pieces which accompany your adventures are sure to please. World of Warcraft's recent graphical overhaul, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. The entire game's received a visual facelift, from the rocks and trees to the player characters themselves, and though these player characters are expressive and nicely animated, the lack of customization options really remind you that this game was originally released in 2004. Extras facial/body customization options have become standard in most RPGs, so while it's nice to see your character moving expressively, Blizzard still needs to step up its game and offer players more ways to customize their characters' appearances. Garrisons too, while Blizzard’s at it. As it is, you can customize the look of your garrison a bit, but far less than the options available in the player housing of other MMOs.
While this expansion may have the finest gameplay of any World of Warcraft expansion pack, whether or not you'll be able to play it is a matter of fate. Blizzard's servers have been pushed to the limit by the influx of new and returning players, and as a result the game has been unpredictable. Long queue times sometimes await people on crowded servers looking to log on, and the game sometimes forgets how to load your game, or garrison, or will simply boot every player in a zone back to the menu for a second. Glitches like these seem avoidable, and it seriously detracts from what is otherwise an excellent experience when players can't play the game they're subscribed to.
Serious server woes aside, whether you're returning to WoW for the first time in years or have never stepped foot in Stormwind, Warlords of Draenor makes for a great way to whittle away the hours. World of Warcraft’s new zones are huge and full of adventure, the story’s grand, and the new garrison feature is soul-suckingly addictive, all of which make for a triumphant return to form for this gaming giant.
This review was based on a copy World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor provided by the publisher for PC.