Blizzard not only announced its next World of WarCraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor, during the first day of BlizzCon, but also made it available to play for anyone on the show floor. We took that as an opportunity to spend over an hour with the latest alpha build to see what the fifth WoW expansion is all about.
While every class was available for play in the demo, only three of the eight aging races had model overhauls: Dwarf, Gnome, and Orc (more will come later). The updated models bring the beloved Vanilla cast to the same level as expansion races such as Pandaren and Worgen with higher fidelity and added details. Their original design hasn't been tampered with much, which means that although your original character's design will be maintained, the new models aren't as surprising as you might hope.
After choosing an Orc Death Knight (one of my mains) I was immediately plopped into Draenor as a level 90 character. Speaking of which, Warlords of Draenor will allow you to insta-level any single character on your account, or a new one, to level 90 at the press of a button. Blizzard has emphasized during BlizzCon that they understand that the social experience is integral to WoW, so allowing players to have any of their friends join in the new expansion without any prior investment needed is a way to bring friends together, in contrast to the division usually seen with every new expansion.
Starting in Frostfire Ridge, a snowy zone in northwest Draenor, I could instantly feel the cold, desolate style that Blizzard is going for. The zone reminded me of my days spent leveling in Northrend's Dragonblight, but with fewer gorges and much different enemies. It's infested with Ogres, but not the ones you're accustomed to. These guys are much taller and even more brutal. There are also tons of Orcs that would like nothing better than to kill you on the spot.
As usual, it took me a while to respec my character and setup my keybinds, and while doing so I had a chance to look at the new talent tree. Playing as a DK, what I saw was precisely the same as what is currently employed in Mists of Pandaria. However, there's a new tier of skills available for level 100, the game's new level cap. Since I wasn't able to play at level 100 I couldn't test out the new skills, but what I saw looked just as enticing, if not more so, than the final tier of abilities we've been using since MoP released. That also means more skill bloat, and I'm curious to see how Blizzard handles that leading up to the expansion's release.
After completing a few quests, I put together a group to take on the expansion's first available dungeon: Bloodmaul Slag Mines. Myself, a Resto Shaman, a Retribution Paladin, and Shadow Priest (yes, only four people) quickly went to work on the dungeon's packs of ogres. For the most part they were bundled in threes with some dangerous, albeit predictable abilities. While the Warrior enemies would wind up a huge frontal attack that required myself, even as an epic-geared Blood DK, to move out of the way, the casters would utilize an interruptible horror AoE that demanded our attention. Due to us not having adequate time to prepare our macros (interrupts, cooldowns, etc.), and not noticing a dangerous patrol that courses the dungeon's corridors, we embarrassingly wiped a couple times.
We had more luck on the first boss who was primarily about picking up adds. Unfortunately, upon downing him we learned that loot drops haven't been implemented yet, and were instead treated to some cool fireworks to use.
One thing that became very clear during play is that Blizzard is doing a major item squish. Numbers have become hyper-inflated after the release of four expansions. Presumably once the expansion's pre-patch rolls around you'll find level-capped tanks with around 45k HP, and quadruple digit damage will once again be impressive. I suspect that at level 100 the numbers will be very similar to how they were in Cataclysm. How this will affect lower levels remains to be seen.
While my gametime ended there, I have come to the conclusion that I like the direction World of WarCraft is taking with Warlords of Draenor. Okay, so it doesn't include a new class or any new races, but at this point both have enough options. This expansion is all about experiencing the early years of WarCraft, and while only a small percentage of the game's massive playerbase is familiar with what that means, its fascinating cast of characters and gorgeous world of Draenor make it the perfect vacation spot for another couple years of WoW addiction. Best of all, with a free character upgrade to level 90 it'll be easy to converge with friends, new and old, to see what Garrisons and Draenor have to offer.