WoW: Warlords of Draenor Hands-On Preview – Old Tricks, Darker Tone
The desire to explore led me to venture farther than Blizzard likely intended. Run too far beyond Karabor in its current state, and you’ll stumble across blocky mountains that look scarcely more realistic than those found in Minecraft, complete with rivers where the water has yet to be filled in. The usual trappings of a true beta, of course, but such emptiness suggests that Warlords of Draenor’s release date could be months upon months into the future. Shadowmoon Valley gives me hope for the final product, but I worry that too long a wait could chase off players in the event of a long content draught during Mists of Pandaria. Expansion ennui is already here, in fact; as you might recall, 600,000 subscribers have already left.
I’d hoped that the five-man dungeon available for play, the Bloodmaul Slag Mines, would fill me with the same sense of hope. It didn’t. I had the “pleasure” of running it with four random fools from the BlizzCon floor who’d jumped into a dungeon while playing classes they’d never leveled before, and I also ran it with four guildies who know their class abilities about as instinctively as they know breathing. Thus I probably saw the happy medium Blizzard’s likely aiming for first hand. The first group couldn’t get past the first boss; the second plowed through the content as though they’d be doing it for years.
In fact, it was that sense of familiarity that bothered me more than anything else. It’s a grim place, stuffed with orcish slaves and ogre overlords, but at times the familiar pattern of cavern and oafish ogres triggered the sensation that I was running outdated content from 2006 rather than making baby steps into a new adventure. Gone was the awe I felt when I first ran into the library of Mists of Pandaria’s Temple of the Jade Serpent, and I felt none of the wonder I’d known from trading blows with giant Vikings in Wrath of the Lich King’s Utgarde Pinnacle. Blizzard has spoken about how the instanced nature of dungeons lets them “go wild” with textures that might kill framerates in the crowded outer world, but for all that, this was just a cave with ogres. I’d seen enough of that while grinding Kurenai rep in Nagrand years before.
Mind you, at least the boss mechanics posed some threat. First there was Slave Watcher Crushto, who sent weak slaves after us while randomly focusing his blows on particular players. Forge Master Gog’duh was tougher, partly because victory hinged on downing him and his two powerful adds before unlocking the true boss, Magmolatus. Fire rains down at almost every moment during the latter stages, which could have been a worthy challenge if failed attempts didn’t leave the encounter at Magmolatus after a wipe. At that point, the encounter becomes little more than a tank-and-spank. As for the final boss, a brooding Bloodmaul named Guf’rokk? Scoring victory involves little more than staying out of the fire.
Considering that there are only four dungeons available on the long road to level 100, my disappointing experience in the Slag Mines doesn’t bode well for other dungeons to come. That’s a shame, especially since I’ve long believed that Blizzard does small five-man dungeons better than anyone else. As it is, my fondest memory of my time in there springs not from combat, but in the happy realization that Blizzard finally replaced the hunter’s gun sound with a far less annoying file.
Hope still lies in the world beyond, as I found myself drawn to the world outside one more time. That was even true when I sampled the Horde starting zone, which takes place a world away in Frostfire Ridge’s Bladespire Fortress. Not only was I drawn to the wintry aesthetic, but I even found myself surprised by some of the darkness of it.
Under the orders of Thrall (who’s still wearing the same hippie Shaman garb he picked up for Cataclysm), I passed an ogre whom the orcs had pinned to the wall with axes buried in all four limbs, rounded off with a Frostwolf banner shoved down his throat. Still another was impaled in the ceiling with an array of spears protruding graphically from its guts. I stop to gawk at the sight for mere seconds, but in retrospect, I realized that I may have caught a glimpse of what’s to come as Blizzard opens more of Draenor to exploration. Warlords of Draenor looks to live up to the implications of its name, such sights suggest, and the brutality almost seems aimed at countering criticisms that Blizzard had grown too soft with the Zen musings and beer-chugging pandas. Warcraft should be about war, the dead ogres seem to say, and it left part of me wondering if that philosophy might be just enough to bring some of the disenchanted faithful back into the fold.