Blizzard’s World of Warcraft released in 2004, making it one of the longest running games in history. To put this in perspective, the Xbox 360 launched the following year, Shrek 2 was the highest grossing movie and you could still buy French Toast Crunch; discontinued in the U.S. in 2006, unfortunately.
Of course, WoW thrived because of Blizzard’s commitment to increasing the game’s appeal, largely through feature-packed expansions that delivered a wealth of content. This will continue later this year with Warlords of Draenor, the fifth expansion that, similar to its predecessors, will give us all-new reasons to get lost in this 10-year-old MMO.
Turns out, Warlords of Draenor is set after the events in Mists of Pandaria, and takes place on the orc home world of, wait for it, Draenor. With the Iron Horde crushing its rivals, your mission is to mount a great charge against this orc menace before everything falls into darkness.
The first thing that jumps out is the ability to immediately upgrade one of your characters to level 90, with a new level cap of 100. Blizzard did this to give users instant access to the expansion’s new abilities without the usual level grind, while at the same time allowing you to charge headfirst into combat without getting trampled.
While on the subject of characters, Blizzard found news ways to enhance WoW’s visuals. Classic heroes and villains now sport higher levels of detail, particularly with bone structure, teeth and beards; you can also expect improved animation. We’ll stop short of calling it next-generation, but if you’ve played WoW for great lengths of time, the graphical boost should be noticeable.
In addition, one of the coolest sounding features lets you build and then customize a garrison, a stronghold populated by a handful of non-player characters that man different services around town, including farms, workshops and armories. You can also send these computer-controlled allies on quests that may take upwards of a week (you don’t have to be online), and here’s an interesting wrinkle: these virtual people can fall into enemy hands, forcing you to go on heroic rescue missions to save them. Under relatively normal circumstances, they’ll safely return with all sorts of loot and items that will help you become stronger. Over time, you’ll even gain access to pets and trade routes along the way.
Of course, if you prefer to dive headfirst into the action, take a crack at six new dungeons, with a list that includes Blackrock Depot, Arakkoa Spires, Iron Barracks and the Bloodmaul Slag Mines; classic dungeon Upper Blackrock Spire makes a welcome return. We’ll have more on dungeons later this month.
On top of that, Blizzard has a host of user interface (UI) improvements, beginning with the Quest Log. Now it will be easier to identify main story and side quests. Furthermore, the Inventory System has seen an overhaul. Quest Items now appear in Quest UI, and you have the option to create Sortable Bags to better classify items; armor and consumables bags, for instance. You can craft directly from the Bank instead of making material withdrawals, while Heirlooms and Toys will reside in those new areas.
As for PvP action, prepare to engage adversaries in a brand-new zone off the north east cost of the Tanaan Jungle. In it, you’ll discover a never-ending battle with multiple objectives that change over time. You may even get the chance to control some Iron Horde war machines; Blizzard suggests entering this zone at level 100, though you can do this much earlier.
Then we have Trial of the Gladiator, an Arena mode where you’ll earn ratings at specific times of the day designated by Blizzard. The goal with appointed times is to (hopefully) create better competition amongst players.
Keep in mind this scratches the proverbial surface of what World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor has to offer, whenever it officially debuts. With this in mind, we’ll go more in-depth with this expansion in the days and weeks ahead.