World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Review

After countless hours of play and one raid later, we're finally ready to give a final verdict on World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor!

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor launched with high expectations. With the current MMORPG market at a bit of a standstill, WoW fans who were bored of raiding Siege of Orgrimmar for weeks on end picked up WoD for new raids. With the disappointment that Mists of Pandaria was for many veteran players, old school WoW’ers and Warcraft fans found themselves buying into the return-to-Outlands hype. One question remains—Does the expansion live up to that hype? Here are our thoughts thus far:

Launch Issues Ahoy

It’s hard to dive into a review without first talking about the giant elephant, er, Elekk in the room that was Warlords of Draenor’s significant—and fairly frustrating—amount of launch issues. No, the launch of WoD was not smooth. The midnight initial launch of the expansion wasn’t bad, but as the day went on players quickly found themselves being unable to play if they hadn’t just stayed in-game the entire time. Blizzard suffered DDoS attacks that forced the team to throttle server population caps. This led to queues on almost every server. The most popular servers saw queues of more than 6000-7000 players during peak hours which essentially meant that some sat in queues of 5 hours or more.

On top of all this, disconnects, lag, frustrating “character not found” errors and instance resets plagued most servers for the first two days of launch which caused even more headaches when paired with the queues. The issues have all calmed down significantly since those first two days thanks to Blizzard updating their server hardware, but it’s simple, really. Issues like this in a game that’s been around for 10 years shouldn’t have happened to begin with. The launch team should have been better prepared. No, Blizzard, sorry. Ask your buddy Illidan. You were not prepared.

To make matters worse, similar issues were also experienced on Dec. 2, when the first raid and PvP season of the expansion went live. After an extended maintenance period, a solid chunk of players couldn’t log on at all until late that night. Many raids weren’t even able to attempt the first bosses of Highmaul until the following day. Such issues are often expected at the start of a new expansion, but for Blizzard’s fifth time around after experiencing a launch week that was fairly brutal? The patch should have been handled better. 

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The Leveling Experience

That said, once players were finally able to log in and play, for the most part—that initial frustration tended to vanish. Warlords of Draenor does a lot of things right. 

The leveling experience is extremely well-paced with a solid story that evolves as you make your way through each of the zones. Questing is brought to the forefront of this expansion more than any other thanks to the story, and that story is both engaging and reminiscent of The Burning Crusade in all the right ways.

Despite the expansion’s heavy-handed advertising campaign of “all things orcs,” the story really shines when it focuses on both the Draenei and the Arakkoa races. Blizzard could have promoted WoD far better by spreading the love between all three expansion-prominent races. And the music and scenery? Gorgeous. Warlords has a beautiful soundtrack and some fantastic locales, especially if you happen to be a fan of TBC’s soundtrack and atmosphere.

The quests in Warlords of Draenor aren’t overly mind numbing or repetitive. They strike a nice balance of quick-to-complete with the help of bonus objectives yet unique and mostly interesting. Blizzard makes good use of the scenario system to blend together questing elements and story elements, wrapping up each with a cinematic that proves the company is becoming better at making in-game movies that help us actually care about the characters present. The scenarios are also a lot more group-friendly than MoP’s solo leveling scenario system.

The best elements of Timeless Isle are found in the leveling experience. There are tons of rare mobs, treasures, and random events and upgrades to find throughout the world. Players can either skip past all the optional stuff and chain quests to level 100 or take their sweet time and also engage in dungeons/PvP, profession stuff, archeology/pet battle stuff, bonus objective/chasing-down-the-shinies stuff, or some combination of everything. It doesn’t get boring even after doing it twice on beta and once on live. This is due to the fact that you can kind of pick and choose your desired pace. It works well.

There’s a lot of debate on the forums regarding the lack of flying in Draenor zones upon reaching level 100 currently, and in a recent AMA on Reddit, Blizzard developers announced that no, flying will not be returning in 6.01. It will likely return in a later patch. Some players are fine without the ability to soar through the skies of Draenor while others are adamantly against the no-fly policy. It makes sense why Blizzard went the route they did, especially given how many puzzle-type treasures are hidden throughout every zone, but I do miss the ability to quickly go from objective to objective without getting lost among cliffs and giant ogres. There’s also something very satisfying about enjoying the sights from above. As long as we get flight at some point before the last few patches in WoD, I’d be satisfied, however. Personally, I don’t see the addition being delayed much longer after 6.02.  

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The garrison system adds a new touch to the leveling experience and lets players have their own little hubs that they can customize, largely similar to a township in an RTS adventure. Garrisons are essentially a mix between a housing system, a crafting hub, and an RTS campaign. Players have a lot of options as to what to use the garrison system for, and that’s its strength as a major expansion feature. The garrison system is also deeply embedded in the questing experience which is both good and bad, but for the first couple times leveling? It’s a plus.

Raiders can use their garrison to gain free bonus roll currency or to try and grab a few upgrades before raid time. Crafters can use it to gain a ton of extra materials and time-savers. Explorers and PvPers can use it to gain a few open world bonuses. Collectors and pet enthusiasts can use it to gain more goodies and hunt down a whole lot of achievements. Garrisons have a little something for everyone.

Their only downfall is the fact that they’re not as customizable as they could be. I say garrisons are similar to a housing system, but the simple truth is that Blizzard scaled back a ton on the amount of customization that could have happened. Will it happen one day? Hopefully. I really, really want to see racial building options at the very least. In the meantime, garrisons are a solid feature that gives WoW fans even more ways to play how they want to play.

The Endgame Experience

The current endgame model in WoD also gives players a few options for progressing their characters. Daily quests are extremely few and far in between, but in their place are optional currency grinds, reputation grinds, a new PvP zone, and a smattering of dungeons to explore. Despite the lack of incentives to run dungeons while leveling (the EXP from dungeons has been significantly lowered in WoD), the road to raiding—as is standard with most WoW expansions—begins with running dungeons.

There are three endgame dungeon difficulties, and they’re nicely balanced this time around. Endgame normal/Heroic dungeons aren’t ridiculously easy like they were in MoP, but they can still be completed by random groups for the most part. In all likelihood, it won’t be too long before these dungeons become faceroll, but for now? They offer up a nice mix. WoD added some great changes to Challenge Mode rewards that let players run CMs with a pre-made group for a chance to grab pre-raid gear in addition to pure cosmetic rewards from the medals. This is how MoP CMs should have been to begin with.

One of WoW’s current strengths is the fact that it manages to be tailored toward both types of players—those who want difficult group challenges and those who want accessible group challenges. The current endgame dungeon system plays right to that strength. With any luck, scaling won’t go bananas like it did in MoP and both of those difficulties will still be present throughout most of WoD.

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That said, there are definitely a few holes in the endgame experience as it currently stands. There aren’t a ton of options for solo PvEers who aren’t super thrilled with the prospect of grinding out reputations or fiddling with garrisons. The Apexis Crystal gear provides solo players with a few options, but the system doesn’t offer the flexibility that the old Valor/Justice system offered. After early MoP’s “Hey, let’s bash you over the head with dailies!” approach, it’s nice to see a few grinding options for players who like that approach, but a couple of daily options would have also been nice to see. Too many options are always better than too few.

I’m also not a fan of how few options players have when choosing gear and ways to customize said gear currently. A lot of the crafting changes make sense—such as the way random greens have disappeared completely from the crafting leveling system—but other things like the complete gutting of enchanting and jewelcrafting seem a bit forced.

The reasoning for such changes is obvious. Blizzard wanted to make gearing up simple. But I can’t help but think it’s too simple this way. It’s just too wide of a swing in the opposite direction. When all it takes to be completely ready to raid Mythics is a couple lucky dungeon runs with zero foresight about what stats to stack, what enchants to grab, or what crafters to talk to, it just seems a little, well, too easy.

On the flip side, for players who do their homework and know how to best min/max their classes, it can become fairly frustrating to see gear that has the completely wrong secondary stats for their specs. Secondary stats on dungeon drops/crafted items/mission rewards are all random. In the case of crafted items, this works out rather well since players can craft items to reroll those secondary stats. With dropped gear, this isn’t the case. At least with the Valor system, players had a few guaranteed pieces to work toward while running dungeons.

The randomness of the gearing up system does feel pretty fun, however, especially when you have a chance of obtaining extra gem sockets and warforged pieces in raids. It would be nice to see a few ways to narrow down which secondary stats you prefer when it comes to dungeon/mission gear or perhaps a way to reroll those stats using a consumable that’s crafted or obtainable with Apexis Crystals. The other issue is that tertiary stats feel largely useless at the moment, but a couple tiers later this may be less of an issue.

That brings me to the last major point I need to hit on—raiding. The primary reason this full review was delayed was because I wanted a chance to delve into the new content that opened on December 2nd before finalizing my verdict. The intro raiding experience is a huge part of the allure of a new expansion, and I know I’m not the only player who feels that way.

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With the introduction of the first “intro” raid (Highmaul) and the first PvP season, endgame players now have a larger draw of content to take part in if they choose to. The difficulty and complexity of the fights I’ve personally experienced in Highmaul so far (the first 6 on Normal and the first 2 on Heroic as of 12/4) have been rewarding. The mechanics and environments are interesting, and just varied enough to keep folks on their toes.

The fights ramp up nicely in difficulty as you progress in either mode released thus far, and that’s extremely welcome to see, especially after some of the ways in which MoP raids handled progression-based difficulty. The enrage timer on Heroic Butcher, for example, felt just about perfect for groups who are hoping to take on Mythic. The latter fights blend together mobility, progressive, phase-based mechanics, and personal responsibility rather well. The amount of trash found within the instance is also perfect. All in all, Blizzard did well with Highmaul. If the rest of WoD’s raids follow Highmaul’s example, I think we’re in for some great raids this expansion.

Aside from the launch issues and a few minor quips, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor is an extremely solid expansion—one of WoW’s best in my opinion. I’d rank it somewhere between The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, pushing somewhat ahead of WotLK and significantly ahead of both Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, but just below TBC. As a veteran WoW player, it brings back a lot of great WoW feels. And that, frankly, is pretty damn impressive in a 10-year old game.

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4 out of 5