World of Warcraft: Is Warlords of Draenor Enough To Bring Us Back?

World of Warcraft has seen a steady decline in subs of late. Can its new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, bring all those players back?

Editor’s Note: Originally written in August, before 6.02 and the rise of WoW subs. It’s still a could read for BlizzCon season, though! For more on BlizzCon 2014, visit our coverage hub. And don’t forget to check out our Warlords of Draenor review!

Warlords of Draenor, the new expansion for World of Warcraft, had its release date officially unveiled two months ago, and things have been looking up lately for the massively successful MMORPG. Ahead of the expansion’s launch, there has already been a rise in subscriptions.

Just in time, too, since Mists of Pandaria has come to an end and there has been a slow drop in subscribers since. Not that Blizzard needs the subscribers (currently, they have 6.8 million players), but their game has steadily lost more and more subs in the past few months.

We watched the trailer (which are always well done, what with Blizzard’s ginarmous budget and all), and we read the latest datamined info. We ponder what it’d be like to return to all the mounts and pets and gigantic now-transmoggable shoulderpads we left behind. We wonder if the raids are any better. We wonder if the community sucks (spoiler: it does). Is it worth going back to WoW?

World of Warcraft expansions have this magical way of creating a whole lot of buzz—both negative and positive. WoW is kind of like the pop music equivalent of the MMORPG world. The Kim Kardashian of celebrity news. The soap opera-y thriller of geekdom. Sure, you can say you love it and play it, but prepare for as many eye rolls and “That’s not hardcore” comments as enthusiastic replies.

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I remain apprehensive about Warlords of Draenor. Frankly, anyone who’s considering diving back into WoW only for the expansion and its swirling whirlwind of hype should be apprehensive. There are some great changes coming in the expansion, but there are also, well, a lot of holes.

Let’s look at the facts. WoD is rather content light in comparison to past expansions. This should come as no huge surprise given Blizzard’s much-expanded game arsenal currently. No new race, no new class. Some new zones, but others that are rehashed. The redone character models are a nice touch, to be sure, but they’re not new content.

The new garrison feature promises to be pretty cool and a smart nod to RTS Warcraft fans—but repeat this after me, housing fans—garrisons are not housing. The garrison is a playground of neat crafting and achievement-fetching options, but really, it’s not the customization playground that it sometimes gets advertised as. You can’t even choose to make your garrison look non-human or non-orc if you happen to be a gnome or tauren instead.

Lore-wise, WoD isn’t anything extraordinary. The Burning Crusade had some excellent lore so I can definitely see the allure of visiting some of the same areas and races (yay for more draenei lore figures!), but this repetition of all things evil orcs is getting a little odd. Except if you love dude orcs, I suppose.

As much as many folks weren’t happy with MoP, credit has to be divvied out for the fact that it was at least unique. You fly around Pandaria and you really feel as though you’re somewhere new. Newness is kind of important in an expansion.

Even with those holes, we’re definitely looking at some positives, too.

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There’s no denying the fact that Blizzard games are known to be polished. The new character models, the tightened class changes, and the always-fluctuating-yet-always-stable endgame model look to be extremely polished. For players wanting a polished game where combat is smooth and bugs are fairly well-stomped, WoW does fantastic here, especially compared to some younger MMORPGs.

Warlords of Draenor is adding in significant quality-of-life improvements that we’ve needed for years. Improved inventory shuffling, new features like the toy box for all those silly toy things we love to haul around, and improved access to crafting materials. Some of these features have been in other games for years now, but hey—this is progress, man. Ore stacks to 100! Epic.

The raid system is also being shuffled in an appealing way. WoW struck a home run with their Flex system in MoP, and players will see that same loot/group size flexibility in other raid difficulties. Group leaders will be able to create groups tailored to the needs of their group, and this is something that many veteran raid groups appreciate especially considering the fact that, well, people get older—even raiders—and want more stability and flexibility overall.

The group finder is taking the shape of a popular player-created add-on and will allow players to ideally find other like-minded players — whether that content happens to be a new raid, an old raid, or even just an old fashioned rep-farming party. No, this is nothing new and revolutionary (just ask FFXIV:ARR—Square Enix added a similar feature months ago), but it is a step in the right direction for the WoW community.

And community, really, is the core reason why Warlords of Draenor will Death Grip back a solid chunk of veteran WoW players no matter the type of content being added. WoW’s community, despite sometimes being fairly juvenile and idiotic in certain chat channels and uh, Stormwind-local inns, has one thing going for it that many newer games just don’t have yet. History.

After a year off from playing WoW, veterans know they can dive back anytime, install a few add-ons, and quickly feel at home. They can try out a few dungeons, re-familiarize themselves with their class, and search for a new guild where they can completely avoid those above-mentioned trolls. For just as many crappy-mouthed players as there are in WoW, there are an equal or larger number of players who are part of the game’s decent, core community. These players care about the same thing that every veteran gamer cares about—a solid gaming experience.

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There’s a familiarity in WoW that other games don’t have. All the history becomes like a security blanket, where players may get a little blindsided by rose-colored glasses, sure, but they also know what to expect of their game and know how to best achieve their goals within it. Thus the reason for all the hype. Raiders are already planning their raid groups for WoD. PvPers are planning their takeover plans. There’s comfort in solidarity.

For anyone considering going back to WoW, yes, wishing for the return of that solidarity is an excellent reason to dive back into an MMORPG. Will you be able to find that solidarity? That’s another question entirely. The answer largely depends on the community you associate yourself with upon returning. If you take the time to find a decent guild with like-minded folks, there’s no reason why even a jaded WoW veteran wouldn’t be able to find a good reason to play WoD. Without community, however, an MMORPG loses much of its appeal.

Without community and history, let’s face it—the expansion doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. For those invested in community or history or for those willing to take the time to invest in either, yes, there is most likely a reason to give World of Warcraft a try again. As with all things, the experience will depend on how much effort you put into it.

Having realistic expectations also helps. Has the game changed? Of course. Has the community, overall, worsened? You bet—otherwise there’d be no need for half of the changes Blizzard’s making. Will WoD be the end-all-do-all-the-things awesomest expansion ever? Bzzzzt. No. But can a recovered left-for-greener-pastures vet still find a home back in Draenor? Do orcs fly? Okay, yeah. Possibly. But not at first. ‘Cause, you know, flying mounts and all.

There are the 100% loyal fans, most of whom have never even seriously tried another MMORPG out there because, well, that may take away a few days from their achievement farming and alt Valor grinding. These are the folks who are happily gaming and not whining on the forums. Yes, panda dartboard owners, the rumors really are true—some people do still love WoW.

In Mists of Pandaria, I took the plunge and returned to the game well after the expansion’s launch. As a veteran and ex-semi-hardcore raider who was fairly disgruntled with Cataclysm, I was incredibly leery about returning. Still, I had to try a monk. They’re one of my top 2 favorite classes of all time in gaming.

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Mists has a lot going for it—a new class, new race, new content, the new pet battle feature. The expansion hasn’t been perfect and I’ve let my subscription drop more than once since the time of my return, but all in all, I’m extremely happy I went back. And yes, I do dive into other MMORPGs still (it’s all about moderation!).

All things considered, it’s only natural that you’ve got your eye rollers and anti-WoWers. These are the gamers who leave “WoW killed the MMORPG genre” and “WoW is dying” troll-flavored comments in gaming communities. They probably have a pandaren-shaped dartboard somewhere in their house.

And finally, there’s a third group of people. These are the war torn veterans of WoW. The ones who are often a little jaded yet sometimes a little nostalgic. The ones who had a great time in WoW but left for greener pastures that maybe aren’t quite-so-green anymore. I’ll totally admit something—this was my own boat roughly a year and a half ago. There’s just something about WoW that calls to us.

For all things World of Warcraft, visit our coverage hub.

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