Developed by Blizzard. Published by Activision Blizzard. Released November 27, 2014. Available only on PC. Review copy purchased by the reviewer.
World of Warcraft celebrated its 10th anniversary on Sunday. The subscriber numbers for Blizzard's behemoth MMO have been slipping, and the previous Mists of Pandaria expansion hadn't managed to keep people from leaving. There was a quest in the Krasarang Wilds of Pandaria where Wise Ana Wu asked you to kill an aging crocolisk patriarch. She implores you that "Even the great beasts of this world have a right to die in dignity." After Pandaria, it wouldn't have been a shock if Blizzard had started to slow work on its venerable cash cow to focus on its other properties.
But then we wouldn't have gotten the Warlords of Draenor expansion, a rather refreshing update of the game that had visually been getting a bit long in the tooth. Before we get into the review, though, let me be clear up front: I've been playing and raiding since vanilla, except for a break of about a year around Cataclysm. I have 11 90s (all DPS, but different classes), and I play whenever I can. I was also in the beta for a few months. I have never been a min-maxer, but try to play for fun.
That said, while I liked Pandaria, I wasn't overwhelmed. It wasn't until the 5.4 patch and the chance to kill Garrosh Hellscream that I really wanted to play again regularly. His defeat, and subsequent incarceration, set the stage for Warlords of Draenor when a renegade member of the Bronze Dragonflight helps him escape back in time to the world of Draenor ... yeah, Outland before it imploded.
Blizzard promised and showed off plenty for this expansion, including updated character models, your own private garrison with followers that could be sent on missions, and a whole new world to explore that made you reminisce a bit about Outland. It even gave casual or new players the chance to boost a character to level 90 immediately so they could enjoy the fun without the leveling grind. The response to it all was generally positive, even if the 6.0.2 patch pre-WoD forced everyone to rethink talents, gear and the whole concept of best-in-slot. (It also redid some professions like enchanting, and squished stats to more manageable numbers). Having to go back and examine 11 characters under the revised and simplified system -- necessary even if you don't get the expansion --was a chore, but one that shouldn't be a hassle for players focused on only two or three characters.
That general enthusiasm led to an incredibly rocky launch, with massive queue times, broken instances, characters locked out -- my main character was stuck in a crashed garrison instance for more than 8 hours, forcing me to jump to an alt for leveling -- and a general cry from the player base that Blizzard should have known this would happen with the inevitable crush of new players, given previous poor launches. A mea culpa from the game's executive producer gave everyone five extra days of game time, and the game experience has been rather stable after the initial disappointment of the first 48 hours.
And now that things have settled, I can say Warlords of Draenor is probably the best expansion since Wrath of the Lich King. Draenor has a lot of area to explore, and for the most part, the quest chains are interesting and involved. Blizzard is still at the top of its game with the in-game cutscenes, and the story hook of going back in time gives lore junkies like me a chance to meet some of the most prominent characters of Warcraft past. There are more cutscenes in this expansion than in any previous one, and there is a lot of phasing, which allows a more personal experience for players as they work their way through the overarching story.