World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor PC Review: Overly Overhauled

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor PC Review: Overly Overhauled

World of Warcraft's first expansion in over two years brings some fundamental changes to its gameplay. But is it the better for them?

Primary Reviewer Jaz Rignall

I've been playing WoW since its servers first went live on the morning of November 23, 2004. Since then, I've logged thousands upon thousands of hours of game time, playing pretty much daily except for a few months following the disappointing launch of Cataclysm. My main character alone has 5520 hours (230 days) of elapsed gaming time, and I've sampled pretty much everything the game has to offer in terms of raiding, questing, organized and unorganized PvP, and all the rest of it. So I'll say this up front: World of Warcraft is my all-time favorite game. I love it.

However, I'm not sure how much I'm in love with this latest expansion. I played it in Beta, and have also put many hours into the game following its pre-patch expansion, which brought with it a slew of structural changes to the way characters and stats work. Now the expansion is live, it's time to see how they work with the new content.

Or not, as was the case for me for several days.

Blizzard has since apologized for the shambolic launch of Warlords of Draenor, because to be blunt, it was a stinker. I've played through every expansion, and while most have had some issues, I think this one is up there amongst the worst. The first 24 hours saw continual server crashes due to the sheer weight of players in the game. Following a server cap implementation to improve performance, player queues skyrocketed into the thousands, and I ended up waiting eight or so hours on consecutive days to play, which is a new personal record for me. If I wasn't reviewing this game, I really wouldn't have bothered.

Sure, it's a new expansion, and yes, I should be all philosophical-like about this. But dammit! It's been ten years since WoW came out, and Warlords of Draenor is its fifth expansion. You'd think by now Blizzard would be a little better at managing the obvious huge influx of players that appear at the start of an expansion. This time out though, whatever plans they had didn't work out so well.

Fortunately within the first week, new hardware was brought online to help deal with the influx of existing and returning players, and things have since stabilized. Queues are minimal at worst, and mostly have disappeared. I'm obviously glad about this, since I can now move on and talk about what the latest expansion to the decade-old juggernaut that is World of Warcraft brings to the table.

Firstly, there's the usual new landmass in the form of Draenor, an earlier version of Outlands (the continent that was introduced in the Burning Crusade expansion). But perhaps bigger and more important are some of the biggest wholesale changes to the fundamental underpinnings of the game since – speak of the devil – Burning Crusade.

Before I get to that, though, let me quickly give you the lowdown on the story. It's basically all about an impending invasion of Azeroth by the Iron Horde, a clan of orcs from the past. They're using the Dark Portal to travel forward in time from Draenor, so they can wreak havoc in their future. The heroes of Azeroth have to save the day, of course, and that means entering the Dark Portal and heading back in time to take on the threat and neutralize it.

I'm slightly surprised that we're facing yet another Horde threat, particularly since the last expansion was all about Horde bad guys too. But hopefully we'll see some twists and turns in WoD's tale as the expansion unfolds. I'm betting that Illidan will turn up at some point in the latter stages of the expansion, as that would make a fairly convenient storyline connection between WoD and the Burning Crusade (he was the ultimate boss of that expansion). At least that'll feel a little less Horde-centric.

While Draenor represents an earlier form of Outlands, fortunately, Blizzard hasn't pulled a Cataclysm and delivered what feels like a bunch of cosmetically tweaked content with a few new zones. The new landmass, while having recognizable elements inspired by the future, ruined Outlands, and a map that's a similar shape to the latter-day continent, feels to all intents and purposes brand new.

The new landmass is filled with the usual fetch quests, unquestioning killing of innocent creatures, genocidal slaughtering of anyone considered the enemy, the helping of the common folk with minor problems, the inevitable rooting through dirt for something somebody needs, and other such activities that have mostly been seen and done before. This time around, however, the questing is even more streamlined and convenient. I have to give credit to Blizzard's quest designers here. While the bulk of their content does feel familiar and well worn, it is well crafted. The journey through Draenor is logical and organized, which helps to eliminate the aimless and often protracted wandering back and forth of yore. There's always an obvious new breadcrumb trail to follow, with some quests being dynamic in terms of automatically being picked up as you move through an area. The system helps keep the onus on questing and progressing, rather than trying to figure out what to do or where to go next.

However, while the questing feels, for the most part, direct and streamlined, the maps do not. This time out, it seems the designers have created a lot of barriers across the landscape to make point-to-point journeys longer and therefore give the impression that the maps are bigger than they actually are. Rather than going straight to the next quest location, you often have to navigate around natural land barriers like mountains and cliffs, and sometimes figuring out the right route can send you on wild goose chases. While this might be fun for some, I find it very frustrating. More than a few times I've been right next to a quest marker to realize that the thing I'm trying to get to is on a ledge high above me, and the route to it is convoluted and not well marked. While I've encountered that very occasionally in the past, this expansion seems to use this technique continually, and while it does essentially expand the size of the maps in terms of relative distance you have to travel, it does so in a way that's distinctly not fun.

Raids and dungeons are always a big thing for every expansion, and for WoD, they're more refined and flexible than ever. This part of the game has been under steady improvement for years, but seems to have finally hit some kind of definitive state, with tiers of raiding ranging from very casual to super-challenging. The numbers of participants is flexible too, with dungeons adjusting their difficulty automatically depending on the number of people actually involved in the raid (minimum 10). The Looking for Raid option enables a fairly zerg-like easy mode for random, uncoordinated groups of people, while Mythic is for coordinated expert groups only. A gear-level gating system ensures there's a rigid structure to this flexible system, so that players can't waltz into a higher-level dungeon or raid. Instead, progression is tiered quite tightly, so that players have to learn and earn their way up the ranks. Definitely a good idea.

Speaking of which, the loot system has similarly been overhauled. In WoD, raiders shouldn't expect to see items dropping that nobody can use, and instead there's a more personal loot system that ensures that whatever drops can be used by a raid member – even if not everyone is a winner every raid.

The biggest change that WoD brings is an overhaul of the way that classes actually work, and the underlying stats system that drives them. Basically, the devs have decided to undertake a massive cleanup exercise for every class, removing certain "redundant" or "not fun" spells, changing others from instant cast to timed (ie, from casting on the move to having to stand), and generally realigning some spells so they're now only available to certain specs.

While the aim of this massive change is noble, and the point being to essentially slow the game down somewhat for healers, and remove the way-too-many crowd control spells that were making the PvP environment feel somewhat toxic (though I didn't really have a problem with it), the result of this grand experiment is mixed at best. I understand that it's good to tidy up bloated spellbars and get rid of unwanted spells, but for many characters, it almost feels like the baby's been tossed out with the bathwater. In a way, it seems that the design directive for this spell overhaul was to reduce every character to four main spamming buttons and a bunch of support spells. The trouble is, in doing so, the game feels like it's lost a lot of situational choices in terms of what to cast and when.

We've always had rotations, but Warlords of Draenor really feels like it's put the "rote" into rotations. The other upshot of spell pruning is that many characters feel like they've lost some of their trickiness – the interesting situational things they could do when the crap hits the fan. The spell removal has also created moments of downtime when you're waiting for spells to finish their cooldown. Not all characters suffer from this, but many do, and it can create a feeling of a character being underpowered and slightly boring to play.

The end result of all this is a WoW that feels clunky and over-simplified. I don't really want to use "dumbed down," because that's not quite right, but it definitely feels like some kind of inverse exponential effect where removing just a few spells and turning instants into stand-and-cast spells has significantly reduced the perceived options available. Many characters feel like you're simply following a routine – and not a particularly compelling one either.

In the case of my hunter, it feels absolutely gutted. While pre-WoD, hunter specs felt much of a muchness, at least they were rich and interesting, even if they did all play similarly. Now the specs feel a little more distinct from one another, but they're not as much fun to play anymore. Spells that were available to all specs have now been assigned to specific specs, leaving others feeling empty without them. Frankly, I'd prefer to have characters that play similarly that are complex and fun, rather than simplified ones that feel a little more different from one another – or indeed, most preferably some kind of happy medium between the two, which I think was probably the aim, but it just doesn't feel like that target was hit.

Of course, your mileage may vary, but for me it just feels like the game has been reverted too far. It feels very simple and old school – almost like it did in the run-up to Lich King. But also without the quirky spells that added character. For a game that's in its 10th year, you'd think the developers would actually be making the game more complex and fun. After all, the vast, vast majority of players in the WoW universe have been playing for years – so I think they can probably handle the complexity.

But obviously, that's not what's happened. Instead, the developers have taken away spells that they consider "not fun" – ie, stuff that's "too situational, inconsistent fantasy, unreliable, complicated, and redundance." I get redundancy being an issue, but in a way, situational spells are what make key – and sometimes even epic – moments in the game. Such as when you get to use that special character-defining spell to save the day. In the case of a Priest, using Void Swap to heal a tank back to full health by swapping your health with theirs, and then healing yourself back up before you get one-shotted because you're basically at zero health. That sort of situation is exceptionally exciting – and was quite common in PvP. However, for some reason I can't quite understand, the designers decided that spell is "not fun" and have removed it. I can’t think of any scenario where a spell like that is "not fun." To me, situational spells make for moments of magic – where that one spell you've been waiting to use can finally be used skillfully, to save the day.

Another good example is that Mind Control has been a signature Priest spell for 10 years. It's a really specialized, quirky spell that has little use – but usually when you do use it, it's really fun and makes for some great moments. Now it's been removed from the standard spell set and given back as a spec choice with two other spells. The problem is, those two other spells are very powerful crowd control spells, and are basically a mandatory choice. That means Mind Control isn't a choice, because nobody in their right mind is going to take a narrow situational spell over one of two spells that are essential for enabling you to escape from being overrun - something that can happen fairly often.

I see this sort of thing in other classes too. The result feels like they're missing pieces, rather than being sleeker, and more efficient and fun to play. The focus seems to be on utility now, with many characters' narrow-use, quirky and sometimes silly spells being removed for no good reason other than to make spellbars nice and tidy. To me, this seems ass-backwards. If untidy spellbars were an issue, why not simply rework the UI, or give us more slots to put spells into? Or give players the choice of whether to use these narrow, quirky spells or not. Generally speaking, it's never good to take away things from players in MMOs – but this has been done wholesale in WoD.

The thing is, I've grown attached to my characters and what they do. Simplifying them just isn't a particularly interesting thing to do. I understand when it's being done so in the name of balance – as many crowd controls spells needed to be nerfed because they made PvP annoying. I also understand that characters have to be relatively equal to ensure they're all fun to play. But in this case it just hasn't always resulted in a positive step forward. It just feels like things are now a little too simple, and too uniform. It's not a step forward, it's a step back – almost making the game feel more like Diablo than WoW.

Some classes have fared better than others in this transition. As previously mentioned, the hunter feels really gutted. The mage is similarly dulled, feeling like there are far less tricks up their sleeve, and far less creativity in what they're able to do and when. Both those classes suffer from way too strict rotations, and a feeling of nothing to do at times. The warrior, while powerful, can sometimes feel similarly dull, while the death knight is a little more like its old, albeit simplified self.

Paladins are the same as DKs and warriors in terms of feeling way too locked into rotations – although I think they are the most interesting of the trio in melee spec. Pally healing spec feels similar to the priest in that they're relatively effective, but have had their engagement downgraded so they feel like a character you can play with one hand. Monks are probably the more interesting of the healers now, and are also quite fun as melee characters.

Rogues and druids seem to have come out the least affected – mostly because their range of support spells is still interesting and fun. Shaman also escaped relatively unscathed. Still perhaps too simple, but it does feel like there are more options and tricks available in combat and PvP than the other more limited-feeling classes. Warlocks, while not feeling as powerful as they used to be, still feel relatively sophisticated, even if their core spells have resulted in the same rote button pressing as other classes.

Along with significant class changes has come an overhaul of WoW's stats. As WoW has expanded, so have player stats, to the point where the developers felt they needed to "squish" the stats because numbers were getting to be too big. Again, it just seems heavy handed. Rather than, say, lop off a few decimal points if numbers were really that confusing and meaningless to players, they've instead completely changed the structure of health and mana pools relative to hits and heals.

Under the new system, DPS classes hit for less, healers heal for less, and MOBs hit for less. While this might help the gameplay by slowing it down, it does go against what developers have been continually saying for years that they want players to feel powerful. Now the opposite is true: fewer spells to cast, and less impact. This new environment definitely helps healing a bit – now the process of keeping people alive is more "triage" where you're constantly healing and topping up health bars, rather than waiting and waiting for the big hit so you can burst heal back up. However, it doesn't necessarily make the game any more fun. Now it's just a case of spamming and spamming your few buttons, while getting yelled at by people at half health who don’t really understand how the new healing mechanics work, and are panicking.

What I don't like is that when things get really bad – like in a dungeon or raid – it feels like there's little you can do about it. The "oh shit" buttons you had before for panic situations just don't work like they used to. Instead, you just keep on spamming your heals and hope that your ability to slowly increase health can heal through whatever's decreasing the health of your target. Before, healing was faster, more furious, and a lot more stressful – but it did often make you feel like a miracle worker when you saved the day. Now I just feel I'm trying to top off people most of the time. It's just not exciting – more like continual spamming against a continually draining target, and death comes as a whimper, rather than a bang.

Dealing damage largely feels the same as it did before, fewer spells and downtime notwithstanding. The rotations and the timing of hits are now critical, and it feels classes have been almost normalized to basically do about the same damage as everyone else. The differentiator is user timing – as it has always been – but the four-button system it just hammers home the simplicity of the game.

DPS has always been about rotations, but now there's no disguising it with other spells: you just follow the routine. I'm sure many players will enjoy that – I've raided with more than a few people who either didn't want to, or simply don't know how to use more than a couple of buttons – but I'm sure there'll be others who'll find it less engaging.

Tanks and healers are the ones most affected by the changes, because they're the classes who need tricks to survive, especially in dungeons, raids and PvP. In general PvE, players can survive without them thanks to the stat squish making monsters easier to beat, but still. I'd prefer richer and more complex gameplay that's more challenging, than less spells and simpler monsters. Especially after playing a game for more than a decade.

The general slowing down and simplification of the game will certainly make watching and following Arena games a little easier, but generally speaking the slowing down of characters has made the game feel less dynamic – and again, reduced the feeling of having options. Particularly in PvP, where most characters had a variety of instant cast spells they could pop on the move. Now there are moments where you need to stand still, which leaves you vulnerable from melee attack. And since melee characters seem to be overpowered in the current environment, that's not a good thing.

Post-MoP PvP works best in Ashran, WoD's new PvP zone. There you have large mobs of people, and you're able to sit back and do the triage thing, just like you do in raiding. It's fun, and it works well. However, as soon as a healer is engaged and/or focused by the enemy, it's pretty much the end of them. It's an almost all-or-nothing thing: you're near-invincible with just one or two enemies on you, but add a third and you're dead in a flash. It just doesn't really leave any room for excitement: you're either alive, or dead. The "survival window" where you're really fighting for your life doesn't really exist any more. Prior to WoD, things were a lot more bursty, but there was a feeling that you were fighting for your life a lot more. There was more time when you felt you were in extreme danger - will you live or will you die? Now you're either okay, or you're dead.

I'm not sure what can be done about this, but it really sucks the fun out of PvP. It's almost like the game has been balanced for raid-style healing, but for Battlegrounds and Arena, it's just not there yet. Hopefully it'll be fixed soon.

Another headline feature of this expansion are new faces. Literally. The devs thought that after 10 years, it would be a good idea to give each character a new, updated face. A good idea in principle, but unfortunately the results have been a mixed bag to say the least. Sure, there's no doubt that the new models look far superior than their old ones, but many don't remotely look like the original characters. To me, that's a very poor show. Particularly as Blizzard promised that users would be able to instantly recognize their new updated characters as their old. In the case of my main character, old and new look completely different. It seems the artists involved basically interpreted the original models, rather than slavishly copy them, and unfortunately like beauty, resemblance is in the eye of the beholder.

Fortunately, there's an option to turn off the new models, which sort of makes this moot. But really, it also begs the question – why change things after ten years, particularly as many players are extremely attached to their characters and the way they look? Couldn't the time have been used more effectively elsewhere in the game on something new and exciting – instead of changing something that seems to have worked fine for years?

The graphics overhaul also extends to Draenor, and I have few complaints here. The new Outlands looks stunning, with zones featuring some gorgeous landscaping. The skies look spectacular, the scenery is awesome, and the detailing is really quite exquisite. The lighting has been thoughtfully executed to help create different kinds of atmospheres, from bright and airy to dark and moody – and pretty much everything in between. The end result is a game that belies its age. Its low poly count is nicely disguised, and all that you really see are sumptuous landscapes that look as good as many contemporary games.

The garrison also looks pretty good. That's another one of the bigger features of the new expansion. This new personal fortified village basically takes the concept of the farm from Mists of Pandaria, and expands it into its very own Garrisonville game. Here, you build up a Garrison, which you can then kit out with buildings that are interesting and relevant to your character – focusing on crafting, PvP or pet battling, for example. Buildings can be leveled up, and each time one is, a useful, pertinent bonus is granted to your character.

Furthermore, as you build up your Garrison, NPCs can be added as followers, and they can be sent on missions to collect certain items or resources – and even basic loot. This feels very much like an iOS game, where you're constantly trying to keep your followers busy to help them level up and become useful – since the higher level they are, the richer the rewards of their completed quests.

So far, I'm not completely sold on the new Garrison. It sometimes feels too much of a time sink for the sake of it, rather than because it's something fun to do. I know that the whole point of an MMO is to be a time sink, but the Garrison feels more akin to the timed/clicky gameplay of Farmville than it does WoW. There's much administrating of things through endless clicks – especially professions, and it all feels a bit non-dynamic. You end up feeling more like a bookkeeper than the commander of a garrison in a warzone. The side quests involving the Garrison are more interesting, but they don't really feel connected to it. Instead, you end up associating all the administrative stuff with the Garrison, and it just comes across as feeling uninspired. Not the cool personal space and center of high adventure that it should be. My takeaway is that the Garrison is just another village that I had the chance to customize – but it's not really "mine." It's just another place in Draenor.

It makes me wonder, with all the follower quests you have to manage, whether there'll be an app for this eventually, so you can administrate your Garrison while mobile. That would definitely be an interesting twist – and probably a welcome one too. Even this early, I'm finding I'm constantly feeling like I need to head back to the Garrison to set more quests for my followers, which feels somewhat intrusive on the rest of the game. Being able to administrate this stuff remotely would be a real boon, and would let me focus on the stuff I like to do, rather than feel obligated to administrate stuff because my ability to create items for my character depends on it.

I spend an inordinate amount of time PvPing, so of course the most interesting part of WoD for me is the new PvP zone, Ashran. Here, the developers have tried to capture the back-and-forth pitched battles of the old, old school Alterac Valley, essentially building a zone that has an almost MOBA-like lane of battle, and sub-quests that you can do during a battle. There is some organizational structure to it, but it's not always obvious what you really need to do – creating confusion in many players. So in the end battles tend to degenerate into a rolling zerg that ebbs and flows up and down the lanes. It's not strategic or interesting – just a meeting of factions that never seems to end.

Previous attempts at zonal PvP have been somewhat mixed, with Lich King's Wintergrasp having a lot going for it, but Tol Barad being seemingly less popular with players. Ashran lacks the sophistication of both, and ultimately feels like a rolling zerg-fest. It's also prone to faction imbalance, with one dominating while the other barely gets the chance to leave their base. Why not avoid this by simply turning the "zone" into an instance and regulate player numbers easily. Plus – give the battleground a distinct end?

Side quests have been put into the zone, but they're fairly humdrum. And anyway, it simply feels incongruous to be doing PvE stuff in a PvP zone. We've seen it before in AV, and it wasn't popular at all – so why do it here? It makes no sense, and seems like an afterthought.

New PvP zone Ashran often degenerates into a messy, rolling zerg.

One thing I should mention is that to help precipitate the back and forth, there are just two single graveyards – one at each faction's base. While this does help regulate the ebb and flow of battle (though that depends on how balanced the game is), if you're in a winning position and die, you have too long of a trek to get back into battle again. Die again quickly – as can happen – and you're back to square one again, with another long ride back. It can get really tedious if it happens repeatedly.

Ultimately, I think a PvP zone was a nice idea, but it's inherently flawed. WoW revolves around putting groups together in Raids, Dungeons, Battlegrounds and Arenas, so why on earth pass over that very well designed side of the game completely and make a zone that can be constantly unbalanced? That seems like a mistake to me: Ashran should have been a straight-up 40-vs-40 instance like Alterac Valley, with the objective to take the enemy base flag.

WoW is crying out for more Battleground and Arena content – or another interesting new organized play opportunity – but that's been sacrificed in favor of a gimmicky PvP zone that's rife with issues and seems hard to balance. It feels like Ashran was a big give this expansion, but ultimately it's not. It's outside of the PvP structure Blizzard has spent years developing, and that's a mistake in my book.

Stepping back, and taking a snapshot of where Warlords of Draenor is right now – and that's what this review essentially is – this expansion seems to deliver in some areas, and takes steps back in others.

The Garrison is hit-and-miss. While it's inventive, it just doesn't quite feel like WoW, and has an almost OCD-like quality about it that will no doubt prove highly addictive to people who like mobile/timed/time sink games. But for those who like their action a little more visceral, it feels pedestrian and fiddly – especially when you factor in the professions side of things.

As I've just said, WoD PvP content feels like it's barking up the wrong tree. A large-scale battle is just what WoW needs, but it should have been another AV-type Battleground, not another Tol Barad or Wintergrasp. AV is still going strong after almost a decade: I can't see Ashran seeing out this expansion as a constantly used zone. It's just too flawed and it doesn't have a point: dip in, dip out, done. Indeed the Anniversary 40 vs. 40 Hillsbrad BG does what Ashran sets out to do much better in terms of a rolling zerg PvP game. WoD just feels like a missed opportunity for ardent PvP'ers – and it means we've essentially had one new battleground in two expansions. That just feels exceptionally meager.

In the end, WoD is a gorgeous-looking face on a new, simplified framework. The PvE content is as good as always, if rather predictable, but the means to enjoy that content – the classes and the way they work – has been overly simplified and feel less compelling than before. It's almost like the game has become too buttoned down, and balanced too much by math, and not enough by creativity. WoD's journey continues to be a good one – but the things that made the game quirky and gave it character are gone, and what's left feels too simplistic and rote. To me, that's a disappointment – and something I hope we'll see tweaked as this expansion unfolds over the next year or so.

Second Opinion Mike Williams
Standing alongside - or in front of - the best Warcraft has to offer.

I'd say this a question of Blizzard's aim with Warlords of Draenor.

This is why we have second opinions. Jaz has been playing World of Warcraft for as long as I have, but unlike me he didn't fall off the train. He doesn't shift over to other MMOs. He's far more PVP-focused than I am, whereas I'm all about the wandering the world, drinking deep the lore, and meeting Azeroth's movers and shakers. We want different things from World of Warcraft.

For me, Warlords of Draenor is a success. It's a giant on-ramp back into World of Warcraft.

I remember the growing complexity and cruft of World or Warcraft before real life took over. I remember the add-ons - Bartender, Bagnon, DeadlyBossMods, and more - that I had to keep track of and keep updating. The skills upon skills, the situational abilities, the Seals and Auras of my Paladin, the reagents I needed to keep in my bags, all of those small things that slowly made playing a hassle. I remember trying to find groups for daily 5-mans and getting nothing running certain dungeons or raids over and over again. (The Random Number God is angry and capricious.) I remember reading Icy Veins and Main Tankadin for the best raid spec, the correct gear for tanking or healing, because to have anything but the flavor of the month was asking to not raid at all. I remember constantly jumping over to Wowhead before an encounter to see what was on the horizon.

Blizzard takes time to let you know who the bad guys are...

Warlords of Draenor is Blizzard taking a look at World of Warcraft and asking, does it need to be this way? It's an expansion aimed at getting players to come back.

The loss Jaz laments is a bonus to me. There are still talents I need on my Protection Paladin, but I feel like there's more choice in certain tiers of the current talent system. I've been playing Warlords without hot bar addons and I don't even need the built-in side bars now. The new Quest Log keeps track of my story progress, the Dungeon Journal takes the place of Wowhead, Dungeon and Raid Finders are an easy entry into more-difficult content, and the new Premade Groups search let's you find others that are interested in the same content as you are.

Do I feel the pruning has gone hard in certain areas? Perhaps. I'm a big Auction House/Professions guy, but Warlords has heavily undercut the ability to make money through professions. Players are now mostly self-sufficient, causing the market to bottom-out in some areas. Even here, Blizzard has its reasons. For one, it's far easier to get into professions in Warlords of Draenor than any other WoW expansion. Early on, you can unlock profession books that'll let you level up any profession completely within Draenor. Have you been Jewelcrafting, but want to change over? That's a snap here. Again, it's a plus for neophytes and returning players.

... and even without raiding, you'll fight many of them.

I'm also enjoying how the world is laid out in Warlords. Old-style quests - the kind where you go to a quest giver - are still around, but the end of these quest lines are either story-related or they offer up followers and other items. In addition, you have bonus objectives in specific areas. No quest giver required, just enter the area and the objectives are added to your quest log. Finish them and you get XP and gold for your trouble. Simple, no mission text needed. Why has it taken so long for Blizzard to go this way?

Yes, the areas within each zone are more distinct, causing them to feel a bit more game-like than a natural set of regions and landmarks, but there's so much to find here. There's more elite monsters find and kill. There's hidden nooks and crannies including more lore and special gear if you're willing to go beyond the confines of normal quests. There's even more unexplained bits in the world; things that just exist to make you realize that that world lives on without you. I found a random site of five gravestones in Gorgrond and wondered, "what is the story here?" It wasn't quest-related. It's just a set of graves. Someone lived and died here. These small touches make exploring more worthwhile and make the world of Azeroth more alive. Warlords is missing the more fantastic zone designs of Burning Crusade or Cataclysm, but the level designs are still interesting.

It's still low-poly, but Blizzard does its best.

Blizzard has also expanded its commitment to bringing the expansion's primary story to all players. Thanks to the alternate-reality take on Warcraft lore, there are some amazing story moments in Warlords if you see the quests through. Those who went on to become major players in the normal timeline die, while those who were minor players move on to big things. In the midst of all these huge events, you're there, showered in accolades and thanks for being a big part of the plot. You're no longer just a highly-skilled person witnessing all these major events... you're now at the forefront. Those figures in the lore acknowledge and follow you. And why shouldn't they? You've killed countless threats to Azeroth.

Nowhere is this change more apparent than in the all-new Garrison feature. The garrison is the Alliance/Horde foothold into this alternate timeline and you're the leader. The NPCs follow your lead and orders. You decide which structures get built or upgraded. And as your Garrison grows, it begins to feel as grand as any of the hub cities in World of Warcraft. It's one feature I'm hoping Blizzard doesn't leave behind in later expansions.

As you quest in Warlords, you'll unlock new characters to follow your cause, who will reside at your garrison. You can send these characters out on missions, not unlike Assassin's Creed's Brotherhood or Navy systems, with successful missions netting you XP, gold, and equipment. Many of them are second- and third-tier characters from past expansions and other Warcraft lore. Ner'zhul's wife Rulkan, Admiral Taylor from Mists of Pandaria, Fiona from Cataclysm, and Lantresor of the Blade from Burning Crusade, will all join your cause on the Alliance side of things and it's fun to see some of these characters return. It felt like Blizzard acknowledged that they exist beyond sitting in a single zone.

Alliance players even get to chill with Rexxar!

Between the story moments and the followers, Warlords is probably only WoW expansion that I could see myself going back and playing through the opposite faction's story. I'd say that's high praise.

On the overhaul of the character models, I admit I'm a bit biased. I switched from Horde to Alliance when I started, so I'm not as attached to any particular character look. Since I started fresh, the new human models just look better. I did look at my Horde characters, but the Tauren and Orc models are a vast improvement, the Goblin model still holds up, and Blood Elves have yet to get a new model. Perhaps when the latter race gets updated, I may have the same feelings as Jaz, but right now I feel like Blizzard did a bang-up job.

As I said, I think how Warlords will hit you is completely dependent on what kind of player you are. If you're a long-standing hardcore PVP player like Jaz, I'm not seeing much here for you. Even raiders are currently using this time to gear up, seeing as Blizzard hasn't patched in Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry, the 10/25-man raids the company has already announced. If you're like me, the lapsed player, the wanderer, the lorehound; Warlords of Draenor is a solid expansion and one that feels meatier than Mists of Pandaria. It's not perfect, but I'm finding it very good.

Visuals
The developers have done a sterling job here. WoD doesn't look like a 10 year old game.

Sound
The usual, instantly-recognizable, high quality sound and effects.

Interface
The interface remains the same, with some tidying being done to streamline characters' rotations.

Lasting appeal
With its continual patches, WoD will deliver plenty of content during its lifespan.

By far the best-looking World of Warcraft expansion yet, and it's filled with quality content. However, the character and stat overhaul has left the gameplay feeling a little too simple and rote.

3/5

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