In a 2002 episode of the Justice League animated series, the supervillain Vandal Savage uses time travel to give the Nazis futuristic technology, changing the course of World War II. The superheroes have to travel back in time to stop his plans for world domination, providing a fun, if a bit goofy, tribute to their roots as the heroes of American war stories.
Substitute Garrosh Hellscream—leader of the Horde turned final villain of 2012’s World Of Warcraft: Mists Of Pandaria—for Savage and an army of orcs for the Nazis and you pretty much get the plot of World Of Warcraft: Warlords Of Draenor. The expansion serves the same purpose as that Justice League episode, bringing players back to where Blizzard Entertainment started 20 years ago when it released Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. There are some well armed, bloodthirsty orcs with a portal into that leads across time and space to modern-day Azeroth, and they need to die.
A horde of orcs—even one with really impressive tanks, like Hellscream’s new and improved Iron Horde—might not seem like much of a threat for a game that has pitted its players against legions of undead in Wrath Of The Lich King and a world-shattering dragon in Cataclysm, but Blizzard manages to make the stakes feel very high by building on its past expansions. Draenor is the same world as Outland, the extra-dimensional lands from 2007’s The Burning Crusade, but Hellscream has traveled back to a time before a demonic invasion fractured the Orc homeland. Along with fighting off the mighty Iron Horde, players are also trying to stop the machinations of the dark forces pushing Draenor toward its bleak future.
This is a single-player-driven story. Having already wandered through the broken, haunted ruins of Auchindoun in The Burning Crusade makes the beginnings of that holy sanctum’s downfall all the more chilling when you witness it during one of Warlords Of Draenor’s dungeon crawls. Getting to know the heroes and villains of Draenor through the new expansion’s many cut scenes brings the conflict to life in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible given how poorly the content of Burning Crusade, World Of Warcraft’s first and nearly eight-year-old expansion, has aged. Your character is not just some adventurer but a champion of Azeroth, rewarded for your deeds defending the world from previous threats. Your leaders are counting on you to establish a foothold in Draenor, with a garrison and various outposts across the world.
It’s also the first expansion that doesn’t introduce a new class or race. Instead, Blizzard has devoted time to crafting the garrison system, an expansion of the FarmVille-style garden-growing found in Mists Of Pandaria. Rather than being an endgame time sink, your garrison is integrated into everything you do. Players design their garrison to suit their goals, choosing from a variety of buildings that do things like increase the likelihood of getting gear upgrades or allow you to disenchant magic items.
The garrison also offers places for you to gather resources and houses a stable of followers to send on missions to gather gold, gear, and experience. They can also be called on to assist you in combat. Having a base to call your own makes Draenor feel more like home than most other worlds outside Azeroth. While each faction has its own city equipped with portals back to Azeroth’s key hubs, I haven’t felt a need to use them since Warlords Of Draenor launched.
Blizzard has also continued spicing up the quests by weaving in events similar to the Scenarios found in Mists Of Pandaria, where your character is guided through a series of objectives in order to complete a major goal, like defending a mountain pass from the Iron Horde. Quests now can reward not only the typical experience points and gear, but also resources for your garrison and new followers. Those prizes, along with a new system that can randomly upgrade any item you loot, means that Warlords Of Draenor offers more little rewards along the way than World Of Warcraft ever has before.
The new dungeons offer the same complex challenges players have come to expect. You might have to hunker down behind a wall to avoid a ship’s cannon fire or use a series of teleportation devices to defeat a host of invading warlocks. Blizzard has also cured one of the worst problems with dungeons: loot. A boss will never again drop items that no one in your party can use, and you won’t have to fight with other players over who really deserves a coveted piece of gear. Now, all players that help take down a boss have a random chance to receive an item suitable to their class. It’s a simple way to resolve a 10-year-old problem.
World Of Warcraft’s added campaigns have felt more linear than the base game’s grind from levels one to 60, directing heroes from quest-filled hub to quest-filled hub instead of encouraging exploration. That’s still true to some extent, but Draenor brings back the joy of exploration by filling landscapes with optional objectives and elite monsters to stumble upon while traveling. There are hidden treasures to collect and long quest chains that are determined by what you do with your garrisons, making the grind to level 100 a far more diverse one.
One big change is that you can’t do your exploring from the skies, even after reaching the new level cap of 100. Since Burning Crusade, Blizzard has often grounded players in a new setting in order to force them to explore the world, before rewarding them for reaching the maximum level with the chance to spend an exorbitant amount of gold to use their flying mounts again. But in Draenor, your griffins, wyverns, and whatever else you ride seem to have had their wings permanently clipped.
Even with an abundance of flight paths and the ability to teleport back to your garrison once every 20 minutes, being forced to walk everywhere gets frustrating when you can’t figure out how to reach your destination because a mountain seems to be in the way. The change does keep players from scattering across the sky or flying above waves of minions and just swooping in on a boss, making your journeys more crowded and interactive. In terms of convenience, however, it’s a setback and an odd one considering how many other player-friendly changes Warlords Of Draenor has introduced, like extra bank space for crafting items and equipment that adapts to your character’s build so you don’t need to own a second set of clothes to put on whenever you want to change your talents. Blizzard has said flying could reappear after the first major update for Draenor, though.
No matter how appealing an expansion might sound to new players, it’s a hard sell to convince someone to spend days grinding through old content to get to the new stuff. Blizzard has fixed the problem by letting Warlords Of Draenor players immediately pump up a character to level 90 and head into the fray. It’s a way to let more people in on an expansion that Blizzard should be proud of, a return to form after the tepid Mists Of Pandaria. Ten years after its launch, Blizzard wants to reassure potential adventurers that they don’t have to have been a part of World Of Warcraft’s past to join the fight to save its future.