World of Warcraft gets a facelift

Warlords of Draenor’s launch has pushed World of Warcraft subscriptions in excess of ten million, meaning that the new expansion has given WoW more subscribers than it has seen in over two years.

Though these numbers are right on par with the launch of the previous expansion, Mists of Pandaria, the 2.6 million player leap that the game’s playerbase has seen since October 2014 dwarfs the China-inspired continent’s measly boost of a million subscribers.

Why is Warlords drawing players back to WoW like never before? If you ask me, it’s because Blizzard just shipped its best entry since 2009 into its flagship fantasy franchise.

What makes Warlords so great is hard to boil down to one or two things, but I feel like a lot of its success is due to the fact that the expansion brings Warcraft back to its roots.

What put WoW on the map back when it was released in 2004 was the fact that it gave players a chance to explore the world of the extremely popular RTS games that gave birth to the Warcraft Universe.

In Warlords, you get a chance to cross blades with huge figures like Gul’dan, one of the most powerful Orcish warlocks of all time, and Grommash Hellscream, who played a huge role in redeeming the orcs in Warcraft III.

Unlike Mists of Pandaria, the concept of which came from a very minor character in Warcraft III, Warlords brings WoW back to its roots and at the same time gives players a chance to explore the never-before-seen world of Draenor, as it was before being reduced to the shattered realm of Outland.

And boy, is it beautiful. The lush jungles of the new zone of Gorgrond, for instance, make vanilla WoW‘s Stranglethorn Vale look like it came out of a completely different game. The more temperate region of Talador is dotted with crystal-sculpted Draenei fortresses that leave you awestruck by their alien majesty.

The expansion—from its newly-renovated character models to its geography—does a great job of bringing WoW‘s graphics up to date.

On that note, even leveling to 100 (the new cap) felt markedly different from all of the expansions before Warlords. Gone are the undifferentiated strings of fetch quests that you slog through on your way from level one to 90.

While Warlords still has its fair share of quests, leveling is tremendously spiced up by the inclusion of dozens of quickly-respawning rare enemy encounters and treasures that give you powerful gear, toys and experience.

Additionally, bonus objectives, which appear even as you wander through a zone without a single quest in your loggive heaps of gold and experience, reward players for taking the time to explore a zone in its entirety.

Each zone also lets the player choose an outpost to build, which confers region-specific benefits (like a choice between bringing mounted combat or a personal tank to the table) and also provide boons for another new feature: the garrison.

While I was originally skeptical of being in charge of my fort’s logistics, the garrison allows players to define the way that they want to play the game. Profession-minded players can make small buildings that help craft items for their trade. Players looking for an edge in combat can build an engineering facility that provides weaponized gadgets in spades.

Some of the garrison’s buildings help you gear up and improve followers, characters under your command who you can send on missions to get gold, resources or even equipment. These missions even progress while you’re offline.

The follower system will especially appeal to gamers who can’t commit a lot of time to WoW, as you can send your minions to do lengthy, eight-hour missions for an entire day in the frame of about 10 minutes.

While I can’t comment on raid dungeons or arenas, which haven’t been released yet, heroic five-player dungeons feature some of the toughest non-raid bosses the game has ever seen. A trio of bosses in the Everbloom, for instance, gave even my raiding guild trouble.

While the tougher dungeons might appeal to more seasoned players looking for a challenge (they certainly impressed me), newer or more casual players might be a bit intimidated by them. On the other hand, newbie gamers will be happy to hear that with Warlords‘s release player stats have been greatly simplified.

Reforging (reallocating your armor’s stats) has been removed from the game and even a few class spells have been pruned out. Learning your character’s spell rotation and figuring out what equipment is optimal is the easiest that it has been in a long time.

In all likelihood, you will spend a lot less time googling how to play your class and more time in dungeons fighting bad guys, even if they might kill you a bit more.

Warlords of Draenor is easily the best expansion that Blizzard has released since at least Wrath of the Lich King, so anyone looking for a quality MMORPG to play should definitely check it out.

Without a doubt, it’s the most fun I have had playing Warcraft in years.