WoW: Warlords of Draenor Hands-On Preview – Old Tricks, Darker Tone

Much like 2010′s Cataclysm expansion, Warlords of Draenor seeks hope in the days of Warcraft past. Then as now, it’s a risky move. Even now, I recall how excited I grew at the thought of revisiting lands I loved when WoW was fresh, but Cataclysm had barely run half its course before Blizzard’s nostalgia started to seem like laziness. Yesterday afternoon, as I jumped into Blizzard’s new take on material originally featured in the Burning Crusade expansion, I worried that I’d find myself confronted with the same issues in different guise. By and large such worries seem unfounded, however, as the starter zones for level 90 players proved merely suggestive of their 2007 counterparts. Indeed, had I not been playing WoW for all that time, I’m not sure I would have recognized many similarities at all.

My forays into Draenor first took me to Karabor, a massive Draenei temple known in other times as the Black Temple. The Alliance takes its first steps into the new content here (although the whys and hows are still largely cloaked in mystery), assisting the Draenei in weathering a siege by the so-called Iron Legion. It’s intense. Enemy orcs run by so often that it’s all but impossible to jog 20 steps without fighting one, and fragments of the perimeter wall shatter from the force of mortars as you race to objectives. Cut the grappling hooks used by the orcs in one quest, and you’ll hear them screaming in their zug-zugging voices all the way to the ground.

Blizzard does a good job here of making the surrounding battle seem dynamic even in the absence of other players, and there’s a neat juggle of objectives as you attempt to convince Draenei leaders to regroup up the stairs. One officer merely asks a question, another asks you to tend to wounded soldiers, and still another asks you to repair a crystal that’s smack in the zone where Godzilla-sized Gronns are raining shells on the temple. It’s also in these moments when you learn that the orcs are a needlessly talkative bunch, as one quest involves listening to their boastful last words for clues as to the meaning for the assault. Apparently no one ever told these guys that silence is golden.

It was good to see the prophet Velen directing the defense, particularly since it’s one of the few times we’ve seen the Draenei faction leader doing something besides imitating furniture in the deserted Exodar. Not that I remember him doing much aside from issuing quests, but the design of the Karabor siege is such as that we get to see about as much of the personality of the space goat race in 20 minutes as we saw during the entirety of the Burning Crusade. Good thing, too, since so much of this expansion’s appeal depends on the strength of its convoluted time-traveling lore. It’s a credit to the strength of the sequence that it seemed to end too quickly, as I’d had little awareness that I was fighting the end boss until he leapt on a two-headed mount and flew away and dropped the siege.

The departure of this first orc among hundreds or thousands to follow allowed me to see the world beyond. Looking across the rolling hills of Shadowmoon Valley, I saw little to hint that this was the same wasteland of green lava and barren soil where I’d learned to fly my Netherwing Drake years ago. In the far distance, a peak reared up that could have been the old zone’s central volcano, but I could tell from the steps of Karabor that I’d find nothing but pleasure in riding through the perpetually moonlit landscape.

It’s as beautiful as the old zone was forbidding, especially on a ground mount, and it’s understandable that Blizzard wants to maintain that feeling for the duration of the expansion. I’d spoken with Ray Cobo, one of World of Warcraft’s senior game producers but an hour before, and he spoke about Blizzard’s desire to remove flying mounts even after reaching level 100. “We feel Draenor’s best experience in the sense that you interact with not only the beauty but also the danger of it.”

I won’t lie; I want this. I’ve long thought that winged mounts have robbed the aging MMO of the sense of exploration and immersion it possessed in its first two years, but I also know Blizzard has opened a Pandora’s box that can never again be shut. Players are too used to the convenience of flitting about the map as the proto-drake flies, and I suspect that stripping it entirely would trigger a blacklash, however unjust.

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2 Comments on WoW: Warlords of Draenor Hands-On Preview – Old Tricks, Darker Tone


On November 11, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Unless they bring back the challenge that was lost within a couple months of TBC shipping, no, this will do nothing to lure people back. What was needed was a full reboot, a retconning of massive proportions if necessary. Amazingly there are kids who have NOT played WoW at all, opting for newer MMOs as their first experience..typically FTP ones. Lure them in with very limited free options in a revamped WoW (or “WoW II” as the case may be). This time around do it right. There would be transitional zones – no more jumping straight from a marsh to a snowy tundra. No “good” worgen completely contradicting the lore. No April Fools jokes come to life. Horde goblins? Yeah, that’s fine – in fact the prevalence of neutral goblins always kind of bugged me, but I understood the need to save development resources by replicating quests between factions. A total do-over with less cartoony artwork would be a nice start. The giant human ancestors in WOTLK look like actual humans..why not go with that as a base? Why did we have to visit “Outland” first when the plague was already upon the land? The Lich King should’ve been the first major foe and everyone knows it. “WoW II” would have the Cataclysm arriving a few months after his defeat. We could witness the reclaiming of the altered Plaguelands, with an expanded Forsaken presence contesting the alliance’s efforts. Perhaps the night elf lands could be so devastated that their forced to seek refuge with the Draenei, whose new homelands seemingly escaped the cataclysm (making the the least populated alliance city somewhat active again). Dalaran returns from the north with all that might entail. During the cataclysm the Black Gate is buried – all contact with Outland is sundered save for one-way limited exchanges via teleportation. The post-Cata backstory has the gate being unearthed by a joint Alliance-Horde task force. On both sides of the gate are neutral outposts charged with defending and securing the gate at all costs (overseen by goblins, no doubt). It never made any sense that while Shat was neutral and both sides were fighting the Legion at the gate their camps were still hostile. TBC should have been the third expansion instead of the don’t play the “alternate world” card when your original one has barely been tapped. This time around it could have its proper place. Outland would be the only place flying mounts would work thanks to the remnants of Draenorian magic or whatever. And there would be a significant number of flying hostiles, insuring that air travel wasn’t as much of shortcut. If we got a re-imagined WoW that looked more like Guild Wars II and less like Loony Tunes, and that required partying more often than not, I’d be all over it.


On November 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm

With all the new updates like new models just by itself will bring back old players. The game really needed a visual overhaul. The game was rebooted in Cataclysm but lacked story for each race which is really needed. I noticed that alot of ideas were taken from other MMO’s like Star war Old Republic’s follower recruitment. They went with a new direction with this which is now you can send your followers to a 10 man raid to get gear for you. So now you don’t earn gear anymore: the game earns it for you and your followers. Everquest Next was another game which has a visual overhaul so blizzard had to counter this before that game is released. Plus the housing option which is like Wildstar. We can expect paying for carpets and couches soon.

Now to the content. My biggest problem with this expansion is the story. The races of Azeroth were never on Draenor befor the dark Portal. The Dark Portal was opened by Mediev which then the orcs came through. Lore wise it does not make sense. Another thing that does not make sense is putting present day outlands in the caverns of time instead of the expansion which is definitely a time travel expansion. I believe that they really wasted resources in this expansion and should have just have turned this idea into dungeons and raids like the rest of the time traveling ones. They should have focused on the emerald dream or the dark below. Well I wish it does not disappoint in the long run but I feel its going to be another boring orc story plot. We need more story and content with the rest of the other races who has of yet not have there chance.