Daily Archives: November 11, 2013

Warlords of Draenor – Post-BlizzCon Excitement

I am not ashamed to say that, right now, I am excited about the next World of Warcraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor.

Now, part of that is, of course, because I spent the weekend watching BlizzCon.  I bought the virtual ticket and went through and watched/listened to all the WoW panels at least twice.  It is a very different thing, listening to the people in charge of the expansion describe it, how they came to the idea, and why they think it is a winner than it is to read a dry listing of what the expansion will contain.  I have said in the past that Chris Metzen exudes an enthusiasm that I find particularly infectious.  He is seriously into the lore and has a particular affection for the orc clans.  He was rattling off the whos and hows of the various orc factions and responding to serious deep-dive nerd questions with gusto.  The orc chieftains, the warlords in the name Warlords of Draenor, will clearly figure heavily in this expansion.  We will end up knowing more about them than we ever expected to be sure.

Of course, my pointing at Chris Metzenhat isn’t to diminish the rest of the team presenting.  They were all clearly excited and into talking about their new thing, though Greg Street needs to stop slouching in his chair while he speaks.

In addition to the team’s enthusiasm, I was also interested in their honesty about some aspects of the expansion.  Here we go again with Garrosh Hellscream as the main bad guy for a second expansion in a row.  And orcs, orcs, orcs.  And yes, they are nostalgic for the good old days of Burning Crusade as well.

The Hellscream Dream

The Hellscream Dream

And they were up front that while they are using time travel to get us all to Draenor of 35 years prior, it is not going to be a time travel story.  No paradoxes or what not.  Time travel just seemed like the best way to get us to a venue they thought would make for a great expansion.  And “savage” seemed to be the prime adjective for how Draenor was going to feel, since that word kept popping up so much that they started to apologize for its overuse.

A Better Draenor vs. Outland map

A Better Draenor vs. Outland map

So BlizzCon got me rev’d up on the expansion.  Some of that will wear off.  In about two weeks they will turn off my ability to watch the panels and the memories will fade.

But there is more to my own enthusiasm than just a reflection of the presenters.

First, I am happy that the 10 level expansion is back.  End game has never really been my thing.  I have managed to pick up some level cap activities in the past, like the Argent Tournament.  But mostly getting to the end of levels tends to mean the end of fun, so if I can’t find something else interesting and I have made enough alts, I tend to walk away.

So 10 levels, versus 5 in the last two expansions, is kind of a big deal to me.  Especially since the five levels of Cataclysm went by pretty quickly for me once I did go in that direction.  And the fact that there are no new starter areas to work on and no current plans to alter the previous content means that all that energy is being focused on Draenor.

I am not saying that something as simple as 10 levels versus 5 is going to bring things back to what was the peak of the game for me, Wrath of the Lich King, but it seems like a step in the right direction.  And then there is the focus on the leveling aspect of the game.

Leveling

Leveling

They are not going to drop a bunch more abilities, so it sounds like there will be some sort of specialization for abilities to hone them.

Leveling Rewards

Leveling Rewards

So it sounds like they are trying to adapt to the realities of dropping another 10 levels on top of a game that will have nearly a decade’s worth of complexity already heaped on it.

Also, in a last bit on the 10 levels, it sounds like we will be back to the Alliance and the Horde having very different paths through Draenor.  They will have cities in different zones and different story lines when it comes to dealing with Garrosh Hellscream and his new vision of an Iron Horde.  So sounds like there will be some replayability in running through both sides of the expansion as well.

Second, I am interested in the whole Garrison thing.  I put out housing as one of the things that Blizzard could do for WoW, completely expecting that it would never come to pass.  And yet there it is on the list.  Granted, it seems to be slanted in a very Blizzard way.  They can’t just put something like that in the game and not make it a part of the game.  So part of it feels very much like base building from the old Warcraft RTS games (on which Blizzard is actually working), a comparison brought up by the team during one of the later panels.  And the whole followers and crafting and such, I am not sure how that will play, if that will end up being good or bad.

The Garrison Slide

The Garrison Slide

And the decorating aspect seems to be pretty minimal.  I don’t think Garrisons will be a draw for people who really like housing in EverQuest II or dimensions in Rift.  But there is a promise of being able to display trophies from your adventures, and you will have a spot in the game to call your own, so I am keen to see how this plays out.

And then there are the details, which I find surprisingly important.  There is the inventory management improvements and the removal of quest items and toys and heirlooms from my inventory.  Those are huge to me.  I have characters from 2005 onward with full bags and full banks and anything that frees up some bag space or makes it easier to find stuff is greatly appreciated.

And there are the planned gear changes.  They foretold the death of the +int plate armor drops.

In WoD, the primary stat for equipment will change based on who is wearing it and what spec they have chosen.  So if you have a retribution paladin the prime stat on that plate drop will be +str.  If you change spec to holy, the prime stat will CHANGE to +int.

I cannot tell you how huge this is.  As somebody who can barely keep one set of equipment up to date and yet wants to play multiple specs (I adventure as a retribution pally or a feral druid, but want to heal in random instances with both) this is a big fat hair deal.

There will also be some simplification of things like enchants.  There will be fewer things enchantable, but the enchants will be higher quality.  Gems will not be so common.  Reforging, something that I have only read about at this point, but which sounded annoyingly complex, will be out for good.  And itemization sounds like it is getting a good hard look.  I get the sense that the blow-back from Diablo III itemization issues has made Blizzard as a whole stop and think about this.  Here are some screen shots of slides from the presentation.

Rohan has a closer (and more informed) look at the changes to itemization here.

So those are things that I think the expansion really has going for it.

Then there are the other items on the list.

One of them is the flip side of what I wrote above, in that there will be no new race or class introduced.  This will be the first WoW expansion that will not come with a built-in reason to start a fresh alt from scratch.  Other games have done that and lived.  EverQuest has 20 expansions, and only some of them have one or the other.  EverQuest II has only introduced one new class since launch and a smattering of races.  Lord of the Rings Online has had no new races and only two classes added.

But other games are not WoW.  Leveling up an alt because it wasn’t as onerous as in other games has been part of the WoW tradition for ages.  And Blizzard has seeded us with new reasons to do this with every expansion up until now.  So I wonder what the impact of that will be.  Will people be relieved at not having to grind up through the mid-game yet again?  Will there be enough end-game activities to make up for that absence?

There is the instant level 90 option that will come with WoD.  A number of people I know are really excited about this one, and they are often people who already have a couple of level 90 characters.  They want another level cap alt.  In fact, some are already wondering when Blizz will sell them additional boosts to 90.

However, I am as unimpressed by this showing up in WoW as I was having it show up in EQII.  I do not feel as strongly as some about being allowed to skip “the game so far,” though I think people are missing out if they do.  It is more a matter of how do you deal with a character brought into the world fully formed at level 90 if you haven’t learned how to play it up to that point?  I will be interested to see how Blizzard handles this, as you clearly cannot just throw a new player in a level 90 and say, “Have fun!”  I will also want to see how such a character gets equipped.  And I will likely do this by creating a fresh level 90 when the expansion comes out in a class I never play.  Probably a warlock.  If they can teach me to play it, it will be a success.

That said, I do think the “insta 90” feature was something that Blizzard had to do.  It wasn’t so much that getting from level 1-90 is hard or even because they feel that playing with friends is important.  No, I think this became a must have feature the moment that Garrisons entered the picture.

Blizzard is putting in a brand new feature, their own vision of housing, and I am sure they fully expect that alone to bring back old players as well as draw in a few new ones.  However, they are only working on Draenor for the expansion, so housing is going in there.  And thus, to use this shiny new feature, you HAVE to be level 90.  So you tell a new player, or even a returning player, “See you once you hit level 90!” then the draw falls flat pretty quickly.

So, while it isn’t a feature for me necessarily, I can see why they put it in.  Mentoring or buddying up wasn’t going to cut it if housing was going to be a draw.  They had to get people to 90 right away.  And, following on that, I bet that you will get to make a garrison not very far into the expansion.  You’ll get through some establishing quests and be offered up a garrison.  Or such is my theory.

And then there are the new character models.  I am not sold on this, if only because I don’t mind the original character models the way they are now.  I am sure there is somebody out there who won’t play WoW because the cartoon dwarves were rendered with 2004 video cards in mind, but I am not on that list.  And in my industry segment, people spending time to rework code that is serviceable and doing its job are generally wasting their time.  Netscape taking a year off to rewrite Navigator in Java killed the company.

And there is risk involved.  Screwing up somebody’s character model can break their relationship with the game.  Because of that Blizzard seems to be going very conservative on the model updates.  They emphasized multiple times that your character will still look like your character, just “better.”  Still, some people are freaking out and asking for free barber shop tokens or class changes or whatever just in case they don’t like what they see.

But even with that, I seem to be in the minority on this one.  Even SynCaine says this update should have happened years ago.  So there we go.

And then there is the rest.  Dungeons interest me, raids and PvP not so much.  We shall see if Blizzard can make open world PvP work this time.

In the end though, I am looking forward to this expansion.  I don’t think it can heal all of the wounds of Cataclysm, but it feels like it could breath some new life into the game for me.  See answer #10 on today’s XKCD comic.

Meanwhile, reactions to Warlords of Draenor are mixed in posts and comments around the blogesphere.  People who have never liked WoW continue to dislike it.  But there was the odd unexpected response.

I will plug more into that list as I spot them.  I like to compare initial reactions to how things play out, especially my own.

Now I have to go back and watch the panel on the Warcraft movie.