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BlizzCon 2013: First look at Warlords of Draenor, Alliance-side

With the hotly-anticipated announcement of World of Warcraft's next expansion, Warlords of Draenor, comes the almost-as-equally hotly anticipated opportunity to get a glimpse of what's in store for us at the BlizzCon WoW demo station. I had a chance to run the first part of a new dungeon -- Bloodmaul Slag Mines -- with Matticus and a crew of other con-goers, but after that, I took the opportunity to play with some character creation and explore a little bit.

Three of the playable races have new models available on the BlizzCon demo: orcs, dwarves, and gnomes. I picked a female dwarf mage, and spent a bit of time customizing her. While there don't seem to be any new hair style or color options (at least not yet), the new models blow me away. I really cannot overemphasize how impressive they are. I'm most struck by how true they feel. I have worried that with the character model upgrade, the toons that I've played for years and come to know and love would suddenly feel like different characters entirely. As it turned out, there was no need to fret. The models are exactly what I'd hoped they'd be: upgrades. They feel just like the characters we've grown to love, only with more polygons, more nuance, and more expression. Bravo, Blizzard, truly.

Upon zoning into the Alliance quest area, you find yourself in a place both familiar and altogether different: the ground of the Temple of Karabor. You might be more familiar with its Burning Crusade-era name: The Black Temple. Only now, no armies of demons train upon scorched black earth. Here we see the great bastion of the draenei as the height of its glory. Weeping willows dot the banks of tranquil pools and streams, while manicured hedgerows line the walkways. Unfortunately, there's not much time to appreciate the splendor of the place, because the Iron Horde is laying siege to the temple and attempting to breach its defenses. In this set of quests, you are tasked with thwarting their efforts.

The quests begin with some familiar sounding orders from Prohpet Velen and Vindicator Maraad: kill orcs and dislodge the grappling instruments they are using to breach the walls of Karabor. That quest in particular is quite entertaining, as the orcs scream in a very satisfactory manner when you successfully loosen a grappling hook and they fall to their deaths. For the Alliance! Oh, wait, I'm getting carried away here.

Once you complete those two quests, Velen gives you a series of "rally" quests, wherein you are tasked with rallying the (draenei) Rangers, the Anchorites, the Artificers (engineer magi, it seems like), and the Vindicators. The Vindicators, as it turns out, are led by someone who is once again quite familiar and yet breathtakingly different -- a young, passionate, and very much not Broken Akama. I will admit I squealed a tiny bit in delight when I saw Akama's name pop up on the screen.
Shadowmoon Valley
In each of the four quests, you travel around the temple to the leaders of the four forces, and tell them that Velen has requested their presence. The Artificers and the Anchorites give you sub-quests to finish before they'll return to Velen, but the Rangers and Anchorites only express puzzlement at being asked to withdraw in the heat of battle. In both cases you have two dialogue response options, and in the case of the Vindicators, one of them is quite snarky. Akama is not all that happy about having to leave his post, so you can either explain to him politely that Velen has found a way to break the siege engines, but needs his Vindicators to do so, or you can testily remind him, "He's a PROPHET, I'm sure he knows something about what's coming." So if you've ever wanted to sass Akama, you'll soon have the chance.

Once you've rallied everyone and completed the subquests, you return to Velen to witness him giving an impassioned rallying speech, and he personally requests that you, the player, accompany him to destroy the leader of the Iron Horde's siege forces: Commander Vorka. Vorka is no cakewalk at level 90, and he's tough to solo. There are plenty of ground effects (including fire and cone-haped AoE attacks) to avoid, and he summons adds. Once you get him down low enough, he declares that you and the draenei can keep their temple, summons his mount (a very bizzare-looking type of proto drake, it seemed), flies off, and orders his forces to retreat. A small cutscene gives you a birds' eye view as the draenei forces swarm out of the Temple of Karabor and drive out the Iron Horde. But they know that today's victory is only temporary.

This series of quests is a wonderful choice for the available demos -- they give a real feel of urgency along with the sense that you're actually accomplishing something significant in the storyline of this particular expansion. I'm quite impressed with how complete this experience feels. The environment effects contribute to this quite a bit. I assume this area of the game is heavily phased, and while I was running around trying to complete the quests, several sections of the wall were blown up in the siege. They crumbled to the ground and stayed broken -- the explosions aren't there just for flavor. It really adds to the immersion of the gaming experience in a way that WoW has lacked before.

The last thing I noticed before I had to leave the demo, and this is a wonderful touch, was the music. It's the same music that you'll recognize from the Black Temple raid, only less eerie, more reflective of the fact that this is the Temple of Karabor before its fall. It's personally some of my favorite music in the whole game, and it was the icing on the cupcake of this wonderful demo. I am very much looking forward to the Warlords of Draenor expansion, and I can't wait to see more of it!

Filed under: News items, BlizzCon

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