A remarkable thing happened last night while I was getting ready for bed.
I felt excited for what was to come in the day to follow – and excited to play Warlords of Draenor. I can’t exactly say why, and I still have some critiques, but the storyline has so far been engaging.
In an expansion where I’ve struggled more than any other to build up excitement, to the point of not caring when I actually installed it, I think this is a good thing, and it says a lot about just how well-crafted lots of the story in Draenor is.
My opinion changed, I’d say substantially, when I finally got to Draenor. I’d like to list my thoughts on the introduction zones, where they rise high and fall flat, and hopefully there are some lessons within.
Assault on the Dark Portal
My initial impressions of this section were that the jungle was very beautiful. Though Khadgar is prominent, he’s not overly-talky and I feel like a lot of the issues of Thrall’s Mary-Sue-ism are avoided. He stays back, only attacks when necessary, and generally lets you steer the ship. Also, he sasses Thrall, which I like a lot. I loved the way that you go through the portal and immediately are thrown into things. You hit the ground running, which is something that always works well for the start of an expansion. It’s engaging and you get a rough idea of who is involved – I’m not convinced that the giant bold text is completely necessary, though.
Shadowmoon Valley is a world and then some away from its BC counterpart. It is completely different and yet still recognisable in some aspects. It is beautiful, eerie, dark and mysterious, and one of the centres of draenei culture.
I found it absolutely fantastic. The questing flow was smooth, the zone was incredibly immersive, the lore of the place was fantastic. I loved the ties to BC with the exarchs, as well as new lore such as the expansion of the draenei defence crystals. Questing was very engaging – I found any ‘kill x’ to be smoothly integrated, and there were plenty enough quests not of that variant to make up for any I encountered. Ashran, while it very much captures the ‘Alliance’ feel like the Garrison does, is no Karabor. Karabor is unquestionably draenei; beautiful, whole, magical on another level.
I also loved the feel of exploration. Quests were a surprising encounter and reward, and bonus objectives were interesting distractions, though I’d perhaps like some exposition to go with them (they seem very much to fit a ‘kill x’ format, and I’m not really sure why I’m doing them).
A negative of the zone to me, especially when levelling herbalism and archaeology, was that a lot of the zone often had small ledges that you had to run round when objectives were extremely close. I would much rather see an expansion of our ability to scale such things – jump boosts, wall-climbing, even jumping puzzles – rather than them just be an arbitrary obstacle due to our lack of flying.
All-in-all, the story was put together very well – though I could perhaps see the ending coming, Yrel was built up very well, Maraad didn’t feature too heavily, the scenery and music was fantastic – especially the occasional riffs of BC music. I loved the way the Shadowmoon exiles fit into the storyline, as well as Rulkan’s appearance as a follower – the blurring of faction lines in Draenor is a positive for me. Shadowmoon Valley was a strong starter zone and a good base from which to continue.
Frostfire, while very good.. felt lacklustre in some places. Particularly in the start, I felt like it was substantially less coherent. Whereas in Shadowmoon, we set up our garrison and then go to the native villages to set up trade and good relations, in Frostfire you set up your garrison and then go invade a citadel.
Part of this disappointment comes down to the fact that the quests were buggier than in SMV – I encountered several where objectives would complete at random, and where enemies would change phases without reason.
However, I felt like the zone hit its stride after Bladespire Citadel was taken. There was a real sense of desperate survival, both for the Frostwolves and the Thunderlords, though I was a little off-put by how there seemed to be less flow than in Shadowmoon. I would have liked more direction, but both quests and characters were engaging. While I wasn’t crying my eyes out like at the end of Shadowmoon, I got clear senses of character from the major players – Draka, Durotan, Ga’nar, Lokra, etc.
I think that the real let-down of Frostfire was the scenery, because while it was intended as a barren place where survival was hard – nothing stood out to me. Bladespire was a large rock. Everything else was snowy crags with hints of lava. The best scenery appears to have been reserved for the mountainous level 100 areas, which I have yet to access, and I found that disappointing. Nothing is noteworthy about Frostfire’s scenery, and I felt that it didn’t fully stretch the fantasy that the rest of Draenor appears to do. If anything, I feel like the Horde’s Ashran base more accurately captures the Horde + Draenor feel.
Oh, and there was Thrall. He appeared, was emotional about his parents, displayed a complete lack of understanding of his culture and shamanism, and had three random aunts and uncles introduced.
Plot-wise, I think the major disappointment was the end. We didn’t see much of an Iron Horde threat at all, compared to the assault on Karabor – you defeat a Son of Gruul and Drek’thar throws some rocks at a few siege engines. The lacklustre reveal that the Thunderlord leader had been Durotan’s older brother all along was not only inexplicable and unexplained, it was poor storytelling. I feel like the Frostwolves were let down and that the potential of the zone was not fulfilled by the focus on the Thunderlord story.
None of this, IMO, makes Frostfire a bad zone – it is a good starter zone. But comparatively, Shadowmoon is exceptional, and I hope there’s improvement as the Horde storyline progresses into Gorgrond.