As expansions go, World of Warcraft has done a pretty exceptional job of keeping things interesting. Releasing a string of expansions is standard practice for any MMO; players want dumps of new content, and publishers want to keep the profits flowing in. There seems to be an unspoken agreement between WoW's current playerbase and Blizzard: as long as you keep things fresh, we'll continue to fork over a monthly subscription and buy all your expansions. But despite WoW's track record, Warlords of Draenor--formally announced today at Blizzcon 2013's opening ceremony--seems to be the most boring expansion yet. And you know what? That's just fine by us.
Previous expansions have all had core chunks of content to entice players, causing many to relapse into their dormant WoW addiction. New zones, quests, and boss encounters are a given; no self-respecting company would release an MMO add-on without them. But we've been conditioned to expect new and exciting features, particularly when it comes to additional races and classes. Burning Crusade added Blood Elves and Draenei; Wrath of the Lich King introduced Death Knights; Cataclysm threw in Worgen and Goblins; Mists of Pandaria delivered the one-two punch of the Pandaren race and Monk class. Warlords of Draenor offers, uh…no new class or race. Huh. There will be player housing, in the form of Garrisons--a feature that Blizzard has been stringing us along with ever since Vanilla WoW hit it big.
There is an expansive zone being jammed into the WoW landscape: Draenor, the former homeworld of the Orcs and the last bastion for the Draenei. But wait--isn't that where we went in Burning Crusade? Indeed, Draenor the zone is mostly a facelift to the existing Outland, with some pretty familiar areas--Nagrand, Shadowmoon Valley, the Black Temple--still intact. Blizzard states that unlike Cataclysm's world-changing effects, Draenor's landscape will be built from the ground up, rather than a modified Outland. Still, we can't shake the feeling of "been there, done that."
Then again, what should we expect from an expansion? The focal point isn't to bring in droves of new players, as with a sequel--it's to retain the community that's become so heavily invested in the game. Blizzard knows that it shouldn't chase after additional subscribers; if someone's never played WoW before today, it's unlikely they'll ever see a reason to start. Once upon a time--October 2010, to be exact--WoW had accrued a staggering playerbase totaling 12 million. Since then, that number has slowly but steadily declined; the most recent reports put WoW at 7.6 million players. Why not try to make those 7.6 million as happy as they can be?
In that regard, Warlords of Draenor seems like it'll be a hit. The now-ancient-looking character models are getting a facelift, akin to what Riot Games does with visual updates to champions in League of Legends. Bags will now do all the work for you, organizing items automatically. Garrisons seem like they'll be an enticing time sink, letting you rule over your own personal domain and collect NPC followers. People who are utterly sick of leveling up alts can rest easy, since WoD gives you the ability to instantly boost a new character to level 90, gear included. And as always, the level cap will increase once again--this time venturing into triple-digit-city, also known as 100.
WoW never stops updating, even between expansions--and a retired Azeroth veteran probably wouldn't recognize the game in its current state. Quality of life changes have been implemented everywhere, from flight paths to bag space, talent trees to class mechanics. Blizzard is doing everything in its power to make WoW as player-friendly as possible, aiming to please the existing fans while new subscribers slowly trickle in and players with other commitments drop out. When you're already in first place (at the very least revenue-wise), all you can do is try and better yourself. There's no one left to beat in the MMO market.
So even if it seems like Warlords of Draenor pales in comparison to the pivotal features of past expansions, don't feel discouraged. Rather than dilute WoW with redundant classes and unappealing races, Blizzard has opted to polish existing content to a mirror finish and satisfy the hardcore players who ravenously consume new challenges. There's really no decision to make here: if you're still playing WoW, and you continue to enjoy it, you'll buy Warlords of Draenor. If you've quit WoW for good, or you're feeling fatigue, simply skip Warlords of Draenor and move on with your life. Exciting or no, it's probably the best Blizzard can offer.