Warlords of Draenor, the newest expansion for World of Warcraft, has a lot to see and do. Therefore, a full review is going to take quite some time. We’ll keep you posted with our thoughts and impressions over the next month before summing them up in a formal review.
Blizzard has finally unleashed the fifth expansion for World of Warcraft. Warlords of Draenor brings us an onslaught of new content and nostalgia, fueled by travelling back in time to the land of Draenor in hopes of preventing the Iron Horde, led by Grom Hellscream, from conquering Azeroth. Despite the fact that the world has been in danger countless times, there’s a sense of urgency to be found here. That’s due in part to the expansion’s introduction sequence, taking place the second we cross through The Dark Portal and into an instanced version of the Tanaan Jungle zone. Players are immediately met by classic Warcraft characters Khadar and Thrall as we attempt to venture into Draenor and set up a base of operations.
Not everyone is to keen on this idea, though. The introduction does a nice job of letting us know that the Orc Warlords, each with their own separate introductory cutscene, want us dead. This creates a personal stake that arguably hasn’t existed in World of Warcraft since Wrath of the Lich King. While traversing through Northend, Arthas would make regular appearances. He was a definite part of both the storyline and the gameplay experience. The same can be said in Warlords of Draenor, though the presence of our enemies has died off over the course of the first few levels. Their impact has thus far still lingered. This is helped by the fact that Durotan, the father of Thrall and leader of the Frostwolf Clan (they’re not the biggest fans of the Iron Horde), accompanies Horde players on their journey. His constant yet non-overbearing presence helps to remind players that we’re in Draenor for a reason. So far, this has been done without trivializing the expansion’s major players.
While the foundation for an intriguing storyline has been placed, it would have been all for naught if the opening gameplay sequences weren’t enjoyable. Thankfully, the introduction sequence is beautifully constructed and an absolute joy to play through. Don’t believe me? I’d like to think that the following screenshot speaks for itself:
Sadly, I can’t say the same for the first proper Horde leveling zone: Frostfire Ridge. While it never approaches Vashj’ir levels of frustration, it’s a gigantic step back in terms of opening zone experiences for expansions. Consider the larger-than-life Hellfire Pennisula, the majestic Howling Fjord or Borean Tundra, the intrigue of Mount Hyjal, and the beauty of The Jade Forest. Each of these areas have one thing in common: their environments are part of the appeal. With Frostfire Ridge, the environment is a complete bore. The dark and overcast sky don’t exactly mesh well with the endless fields of snow. Which is a shame because a new part of the questing experience in Warlords of Draenor is exploration. The days of solely relying on jumping from quest hub to quest hub are over. Instead, players are encouraged to explore areas, find rare enemies that hold quality loot drops, and even complete bonus objectives that reward a decent amount of experience. Exploration, though, is something I’d find myself more happy to do when I’m enjoying the landscape. Instead, my time spent in Frostfire Ridge was driven by getting the heck out of there as soon as possible.
If you’re hoping for an enjoyable alternative experience in Warlords of Draenor‘s opening dungeon, then you’ll sadly be mistaken. Bloodmaul Slag Mines is an absolute joke of a 5-man instance, offering little to no challenge of any kind. As a healer, I was rarely stressed to react thanks to a distinct lack of dangerous situations. The only times I were forced to act quickly and decisively were when players failed to move out of the fire. Maybe they pitied my boredom. It does, however, remain to be seen what the experience will be like when players aren’t fully decked out in high-end raid gear from Mists of Pandaria. The second dungeon, The Iron Docks, thankfully offers a much better experience. While still relatively simple, there’s a definite challenge to be found through both boss and environmental mechanics. Blizzard found a way to balance difficulty with accessibility, a trait found in the normal versions of the game’s leveling dungeons. My experience in The Iron Docks left me looking forward to the dungeon’s heroic version. As for Bloodmaul Slag Mines, however, I’m left hoping that the heroic isn’t as much of a pushover as its normal counterpart.
Sadly, most of the day spent in Warlords of Draenor was highlighted by stability issues and server crashes. It’s 2014 and apparently video games can’t go through a smooth and stable launch. While Blizzard’s past World of Warcraft releases have been able to overcome the occasional hiccup (I’m not talking about Diablo III here), Warlords was completely troubled all day. With the exception of morning/early afternoon and late night, the game was borderline unplayable. I’m unable to complete a quest in Frostfire Ridge because the turn in bugged out when the world server crashed. Various servers were quickly capped and locked away to help create a stable playing experience. At the time of this writing, the game is undergoing unscheduled maintenance to help with server stability. Sufficed to say, the opening experience of this expansion has been less than ideal.
Yet I want to keep playing. The game has slowly gotten better as I dive deeper into Draenor. Building and managing my Garrison, which I’ll talk about more in the next update, has been an enjoyable experience. It’s just a shame that the first hour of Warlords of Draenor blow away much of anything experienced within the first handful of levels.
Gameplay notes: I’m playing a Blood Elf Paladin (Holy in dungeons, Retribution while leveling). Currently level 93.