The rhythmic pounding of hooves met my ears, and I surveyed the icy terrain around me, It had been a while since I had been forced to traverse via mount on the ground, having become so accustomed to taking to the skies on a whim. This removal of the ability to fly is just one of the core changes Blizzard intends to introduce in its upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor.
The change was the first thing I noticed while playing the beta. Tied to the ground once again, I found an appreciation for the landscapes I explored in Draenor, the new setting featured in the expansion. Because my travel distance was limited, this change slowed down the pace at which I took on and completed quests in comparison to how I had previously played World of Warcraft.
My habit of flying directly from quest point A to quest point B was no longer feasible. The landscapes of Draenor needed to be considered--not just in the routes through hubs of monsters, but in the possible player-versus-player encounters with stray enemies.
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor is the fifth expansion to be released for Blizzard's landmark massively multiplayer online game. New features include a graphical overhaul to all characters, raising of the level cap from 90 to 100, player-managed garrisons, and a new overarching story that sends you back to the past to save Azeroth once again.
Finer details to changes include Blizzard's intention to scale down the numbers representing various statistics, which it has referred to as an "item squish," and the aforementioned omission of the ability to fly until a later patch.
For the most part, quests still follow a recognisable formula. Upon first arriving in Draenor, I was immediately assaulted with "kill X amount of Y" tasks intermixed with "gather X amount of items" quests. The tedium of these was broken up by some cinematic flair upon completion, as well as familiar interactive quests that played more like action minigames. First encountered in the World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade expansion, these interactive quests littered my screen with satisfying explosions and lots of numbers, which brings me to the next prominent change I noticed: the number crunch.
Having played the majority of my World of Warcraft life as a healer, a large portion of my game time was spent staring at numbers and different bars in a bid to heal my party correctly. These numbers grew exponentially in each subsequent expansion, with players able to easily hit six-digit figures in health and damage values.
Blizzard has announced its intention to conduct an "item squish" with the Warlords of Draenor patch, streamlining item statistics, player and monster health, and ability values. The effects of this were immediately felt upon selecting a character from the preassigned beta templates. As a level 90 paladin, I sported about 50K health and averaged a much lower amount of damage output than I was accustomed to. However, enemies had also been scaled down, so the average amount of time I spent in combat with each individual monster was relatively the same.
The streamlined figures felt easier to grasp because I no longer needed to calculate into half-million territory. Although somewhat trivial-sounding, the change helped to make figures in combat more understandable.
In a break from standard combat, Warlords of Draenor also introduces garrisons. To my delight, these player-built areas borrow elements from the Warcraft real-time strategy games. Assigned an area of my own, I could build structures and grow the size of my garrison. However, instead of having free rein over building placement, I was restricted to preassigned empty slots. Buildings cost resources, which exist separately to the gold players usually accumulate. I acquired these resources as quest rewards. Like in the Warcraft RTS games, structures take time to build, and I found myself quickly running out of the resources I had on hand.
More importantly, garrisons serve as a home to followers, whom I could manage and send out to complete missions independently. My first follower was a non-player character I rescued from a cave, who would go on to aid me at my garrison. Followers can be assigned missions to complete, with varying parameters determining their level of success and the rewards reaped.
To keep an eye on the progress of such missions, I could pull up the in-game mission tab at any time. Unable to participate directly in the assigned missions, I only had the ability to watch the mission timer tick down. Once a mission was completed, I was required to return to the garrison to look at the results and claim any rewards, creating a reason for me to regularly return to my established base. With a wealth of structures I have yet to build, the feature evidently requires a degree of time investment, but adds a layer of management into an otherwise combat-heavy beta experience.
Indeed, the content I've explored in the Warlords of Draenor beta strikes me as comfortably familiar, never veering too far from traditional World of Warcraft tropes. That's not to say my experience wasn't enjoyable; because of its questing system that results from many expansions' worth of tweaks, and its wealth of lore to draw upon, stepping into the past in Warlords of Draenor struck a balance between the old and the new. The introduction of garrisons and the appearance of key characters in the Warcraft universe were enough to reignite an interest that can be slaked only by taking up the MMORPG once again upon its release.