Blizzard, long the undisputed king of MMO gaming, has released a new expansion as of November 2014 entitled Warlords of Draenor. This expansion is the fifth in the series but is it the best? How does it live up to the previous expansions in terms of mechanics, balance and just downright fun?
Anyone who has spent time in Azeroth has doubtless encountered people claiming the game was "better when..." Whether they claim the original incarnation of the game was the best or perhaps one of the expansions varies. A good portion of players, however, seem to agree that little compares to the immersive feel of the Burning Crusade expansion. From going through the Dark Portal for the first time and emerging to the war torn landscape of Hellfire Peninsula to the level 70 raids that culminated with the Black Temple and Sunwell, there is no arguing that the Burning Crusade expansion had an epic scope in terms of story line, lore and raiding.
The new expansion gives the player a chance to go back through the Dark Portal and visit the unshattered world of Draenor - Outlands as it has never been seen before. Before you jump on the grief wagon, however, note that this foray into the world of Outlands before it was shattered takes place on an alternate timeline thanks to the former Warchief Garrosh's meddling. This means that nothing that happens on Draenor should effect the current timeline in Azeroth.
But how does it compare to our original trip through the Dark Portal? In the Burning Crusade, you come out and catch a flight to your first quest hub and jump right into questing for your faction's base camp. Mostly, this involves a lot of the running around for your respective commanders and only later does it involve the pitched battle against the Burning Legion that you witness as you come through. This time, you're immediately thrown into the battle. Khadagar is right there with you as are many familiar heroes on both sides. You find yourself in the Tanaan Jungle, later a level 100 zone, fighting for your lives as you attempt to destroy the new Dark Portal built by the Iron Horde.
From there, it only gets better. Once you've won free of the Iron Horde, you'll head into the official starting zone. Horde side, this is Frostfire Ridge. For the Alliance, a return to Shadowmoon Valley without the creepy fel green light that marked the Outlands version. Here, you will proceed through the quest line and be put in charge of your very own garrison of troops. Player housing? No, Blizzard gives you an entire town to customize complete with a miniature standing army that you can send out on missions to gather experience, gold, resources for your garrison and even items for your character.
Familiar sites like Shattrath City and Auchindoun, Throne of Elements and the Ring of Blood abound. Lest you fear it would be boring to see the same old sights you've seen for years every time you level an alt, let me assure you: nothing is the same. The names haven't changed but Shattrath City, while under assault, stands in it's full glory and the Temple of Karabor, better known as Black Temple, is a shining example of Draenei architecture rather than the blackened mess it was in Outlands.
Mechanics have changed as well. Gone are many of what were dubbed useless talents. Made into passives or done away with altogether, this makes for a much more streamlined version of the game and while many will complain that things have gone too casual there is a new level of raiding available to those who prefer a hardcore version of the game. Mythic adds a difficulty above heroic and promises even more challenges for the hardcore raider to progress through.
Now that the first tier of raiding is available on all difficulties from LFR to Mythic, the newest expansion will truly be put to the test. With any MMO, the options are stagnate or die off and become a F2P game and Blizzard has thus far done a good job of constantly changing the game though those changes have not always been welcomed with open arms by the community. So far, they seem to be doing well. Quickly addressing balance issues and bugs as well as server crashes and other problems that crop up from time to time. How does Warlords of Draenor compare to the previous World of Warcraft expansions, then? I would say it's doing rather well and may just come close to the now legendary Burning Crusade - only time will tell.