As has become my tradition, I will now offer my collected thoughts on the most recent World of Warcraft expansion as it winds to an end.
Out of left field:
I think it’s safe to say that the announcement of alternate universe Draenor as the setting for an expansion pack was a surprise to everyone, and probably not a pleasant surprise for most.
Warlords of Draenor has been, from beginning to end, a bizarre and borderline nonsensical tangent that has contributed little of value to the ongoing story of the Warcraft universe.
I’ve chosen to simply write it off as akin to, say, the Simpsons Halloween episodes — a what if scenario with no bearing on the “real” story. Of course, this also makes the expansion feel very pointless and severely hampered my motivation to keep playing… but it’s the only way to maintain my sanity as a lore fan.
It’s not even an interesting what if scenario, either. The Iron Horde are not at all compelling as villains. They have no depth or personality, and they are soundly defeated at every turn, so they never feel like a threat.
I’ve long railed against the idea that Blizzard favours the Horde, but I will grant WoD is a clear example of the Alliance getting the short end of the stick. It’s basically an Orc expansion, and what little Alliance storyline does exist is dominated by the Draenei, and Yrel.
It’s no secret I hold a very low opinion of the Draenei, but at first, WoD seemed to be turning that around. They were actually being treated as real people with flaws and internal conflicts, and I quite enjoyed the Rangaari, Maraad, and Maladaar. But then Yrel happened.
Yrel is a strong contender for worst character in the Warcraft universe, and the embodiment of everything wrong with the Draenei. She’s a shiny perfect hero archetype with no depth or personality whatsoever, and the game is constantly hailing her as a born hero and saviour despite the fact she never actually does anything.
The one and only time we see Yrel actually take command, she leads her people into a blindingly obvious trap. This might have been a good opportunity to add some nuance to her character, but neither the game nor Yrel itself acknowledges her failure, and the game just keeps on treating her as the most perfectest saviour of all Draenor.
And the entire story revolves around her. Other, far more interesting characters are pushed to the side or killed off outright just to make room for the rise of this Maryest of Sues.
That said, it’s not a great expansion to be a Horde lore fan, either. It mostly amounts to a giant character assassination of many iconic Horde characters, and the Orc race as a whole, and any non-Orc Horde races have been completely forgotten.
So Alliance got the worst of it, but this was not a good expansion for either faction’s story.
There are only a few highlights in this otherwise dull expansion.
One is Frostfire Ridge, which had an absolutely fantastic storyline. I loved how they fleshed out the Frostwolf culture, Durotan was excellent throughout, and while pretty much everyone is a bit burnt out on Orcs by now, this story was a great reminder of how awesome Orcs can be at their best.
I also had a lot of fun uncovering the history and mythology of the Arrakoa in Spires of Arak, and Reshad is a character I have a lot of love for. The story was over too quickly and inconclusively, though.
I’ll be blunt: Trying to remove flight was one of the stupidest things Blizzard has ever done.
I reject all of the arguments made against flying; I find them utterly spurious in the context of the game’s reality. I do not believe flight has any negative impact on WoW. However, even if I did accept the criticisms of flight to be accurate, trying to remove it would still be a terrible idea.
Flight has been a core feature of World of Warcraft for a large majority of its lifespan. Flying mounts have long served as the ultimate prestige reward in the game, requiring major grinds or even real money purchases in some cases. There was no way that trying to take away flying was not going to make everyone lose their minds, and rightfully so.
One must also make mention of how badly Blizzard mishandled their communications on the issue. We as fans spent months getting conflicting answers and waffling ambiguity, and it ended up coming across as severe incompetence at best and deliberate dishonesty at worst. It’s amazing a company as big and successful as Blizzard could mishandle its PR so badly.
Of course, Blizzard finally backed down and put flying back in, but of course, it had to come with another poison pill.
I do not agree with the idea that the Pathfinder achievement is a “good compromise.” We had a good compromise for years: you can’t fly while leveling, but it unlocks at max level. That was a good system that satisfies both sides of the argument.
The Pathfinder achievement is yet more grind for grind’s sake, and it comes across as spitefulness on behalf of the developers over the players not sharing their grand vision.
I, for one, will not buy the new expansion until flight is in the game. [Edit: I have ultimately reneged on this, but it is worth noting that the lack of flying has proven a huge damper on my experience of Legion.]
Garrisons have gotten a lot of hate, not entirely undeserved, but personally I enjoyed them. I enjoy having a little of the game world to call my own, and collecting and upgrading followers was an enjoyable — if somewhat grindy — minigame.
I think garrisons do deserve a lot of credit for solving the problem that plagues most player housing systems: a lack of tangible gameplay. I’ve never much cared about player housing because there’s nothing to do there once you’ve built a home to your liking. With crafting integration and follower missions, garrisons offered a reason to keep coming back even after construction was complete.
However, garrisons do suffer from two crippling problems.
One is that they lack almost all personalization. Even the ability to choose the location of your garrison was scrapped pre-launch, and now there’s almost nothing you can do to make a garrison feel yours. So while garrisons lack the fatal flaw of most player housing systems, they also lack the main virtue.
The other is that garrisons are completely unavoidable. It’s all but impossible to reach level cap without building one’s garrison as you go. In theory, you could mostly ignore it at level cap, but no one in their right mind would do so, as garrisons are one of the must ludicrously rewarding activities in the game’s history. You can make thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of gold per week just putting the bare minimum of effort into follower missions, and that’s just scratching the surface of what garrisons offer.
This is the same mistake Blizzard just keeps making over and over again: forcing everyone into a narrow band of content whether they like it or not. In Cataclysm, it was raids. In Pandaria, it was daily quests. In Draenor, it’s garrisons. I wonder what narrow niche of gameplay Legion will make us all hate?
Garrisons should have been designed as a deep but optional side activity, like pet battles. As that, they would have worked brilliantly.
One other major disappointment is that Blizzard is planning to abandon the garrison feature after WoD. It seems tragic to me that a feature with so much potential is simply being thrown in the trash can, rather than iterated on and improved. Garrisons aren’t an amazing feature now, but they easily could be if Blizzard was willing to put in the effort.
Oh, and let’s not even talk about how excruciatingly unfun the shipyard is.
An empty shell:
There simply wasn’t much to do. Scenarios were inexplicable abandoned, as were most daily quests. This left apexis grinding as the only significant content outside of raids and dungeons, and that was simply soul-crushing. I actually like the idea of filling a progress bar through a variety of activities, but they were tuned so badly. One percent completion per mob kill makes me die a little inside. And what do you get in the end? Merely a pittance of apexis crystals.
WoD also repeated one of the worst mistakes of Pandaria by not adding any new five man dungeons after launch. Timewalking and mythic dungeons are both welcome features, but they’re no substitute for new dungeons.
In fact, WoD added hardly anything at all after launch. We got only one content patch worthy of the name, and Tanaan had been intended as a launch zone before being delayed, so really the only new content we got all expansion was a single raid and the garrison shipyard.
But by far the worst mistake of WoD’s endgame was the removal of valor and justice points.
I have no interest in RNG gearing. I am not motivated by the slim chance of getting a drop that may or may not be useful. If I wanted to gamble, I’d go to a casino. Grinding out points has been my endgame since I started playing. Without it, my motivation to keep playing after leveling is pretty much nonexistent.
This is another one of those cases where Blizzard is telling us what we’re supposed to find fun. They said that going to a vendor to buy gear wasn’t exciting. I guess I imagined all those years of looking forward to rushing off to the vendors to buy a shiny new upgrade. Certainly that was more exciting than killing the same boss for months only to have your shoulders still not drop.
Now Blizzard is planning a patch to re-implement valor, if only for item upgrades. It would be very tempting — and probably accurate — to call this too little too late, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. I can only hope valor will be a launch feature for Legion, as a way to buy gear and not just upgrade it.
We could also talk about how the Raid Finder’s rewards were gutted as a further attempt to remind those outside of raiding guilds that we are second class citizens in Blizzard’s eyes, or how important story moments were locked behind mythic-only phases, or how the legendary quest repeated the endless grinding of Pandaria’s without its excellent storytelling and single-player challenges, or how the nerfs to casting while moving have sucked much of the fun out of ranged classes, but this post is already dragging on too long.
WoW’s development has always been a case of two steps forward and one step back. Every expansion has made big mistakes. But Warlords of Draenor is the first expansion to do more harm than good. For the first time, I wish I could turn back the clock to an earlier period of the game.
WoD didn’t expand or improve the game. It contracted it and made it less fun, in ways I’m not sure it will ever recover from. Not because the problems are unfixable, but because I don’t think Blizzard is even interested in trying.
Overall rating: 3.1/10