Monday, November 17, 2014

Warlords: Initial Impressions

So far I haven't been able to play Warlords of Draenor as much as I'd like. Server queues of up to seven hours have cut slightly into my time in Warcraft, as it has for so many others. Up to this point, I have managed to get my main character through the intro and the first real zone, and I'm just starting into Gorgrond.

My sense from general chat is that a lot of players are completely in love with the expansion, and that makes me happy. It's wonderful to see people happy and excited! My experience is a bit more mixed. I really like some things, really dislike others, and overall don't yet really know what I think. As an initial view, I will here inventory some positive and negative elements.


I love the aesthetic of the zones in Draenor, as well as the new character models. Things look fresh and cartoonish in a good way. I don't think this is a minor issue at all. An aging visual aesthetic can become a huge obstacle for players considering a game; this expansion does a lot to remove this obstacle for 90+ content at least.

The expansion also provides a variety of incentives to explore that I like a lot. It's fun to run around and kill the scads of rates around the new zones, although the rewards for killing these mobs seem almost nonexistent: a tiny smudge of xp and a bit of mostly useless blue gear. I also like rambling around and finding quest clusters that aren't part of the main on-rails story quest. Being able to make decisions about my own quest flow! Awesome.

My favorite part of the expansion is the healthy mix of traditional quests with NPCs and occasional cut scenes, on the one hand, and "bonus" quests where you are just asked by the UI to go into a particular space and kill stuff. This is a nice, liberating compromise between traditional WoW questing and Guild Wars 2's heart system in which all questing all the time follows the "bonus" model of just kill stuff with minimal explanation and get rewarded.


I get the sense that people generally love the garrisons. So far, though, I find myself being mostly irritated by the feature. There's minimal customization, so it's not going to be a gameplay mode in which we decorate and show off our fun designs (as in Rift, EQ2, and Wildstar, for example). Instead, it's just a utilitarian gameplay resource. Furthermore, I seriously dislike the main gameplay facilitated by the garrison: time-gated fiddling with NPCs. I just don't want to log in once an hour in order to middle-manage daemons.

The overall flow of zones and main story quests is another huge negative to me. Unlike any past expansion, it seems that there are simply no choices about paths through zones, and the main story quests follow the Cataclysm/Pandaria model of intense phasing, linearity, and unskippability. I feel pretty pushed around on my first character, and I imagine that this level tier will become a serious alt-killer.

Finally, I just hate the lore and story-telling here. This entire expansion seems to be happening because a couple of nimrods charged through a portal without an army or a plan. So we immediately smashed the portal that was threatening us. Now my character is roaming around and fiddling around with the local politics of another planet in a different dimension because... Why? We're stuck there and that's just what we do? It all just feels unmotivated and hollow to me. Of course, for a lot of people there is a huge burst of nostalgia in seeing big names and places from Warcraft's past framed in new ways. But I hate nostalgia. Let's move forward, see new places, explore a bigger world, and not just ponder what our navel looks like in a different time line.

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