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Warlords of Draenor gameplay impressions

Warlords of Draenor gameplay impressions
Of course, one of the best bits of attending BlizzCon in person, apart from getting to hang out with so many awesome people, is that you get to play the games on the floor. And, of course, I had to maximize that resource to bring you all some information on the new expansion, and how it was from a player perspective. As luck would have it, I was sitting with someone to my left who played a tank, so the first thing I did was to grab 3 DPS and forge ahead into Bloodmaul Slag Mines.

Squished

At first, setting up bars, gear and abilities in a hurry, I didn't actually notice the item squish. As we were pulling mobs, health bars were moving just as I'd expect them to, everything was taking damage and everyone was being healed in the manner to which I was accustomed. It was only when I glanced at my character sheet after noticing that my mana regen was good that I noticed: I'd been squished.
In fact, we all had. It wasn't just me. Health numbers were sitting around 30-35k, with healing, damage, mob and boss health numbers correspondingly squished. And guess what. Nobody else had noticed either. Yes, perhaps with addons like Mik's Scrolling Battle Text in place you might see it all more clearly, but if you aren't paying close attention to the numbers then the squish feels, well, not that squishy at all. Everything feels proportionate, like it's all been pulled down at the same rate, which, of course, is exactly what the developers were looking for. Killing lower level mobs feels exactly as crazy as it does on live servers. Killing dungeon trash and bosses feels much the same.

Basically, I guess what I'm saying, is don't be afraid of the squish somehow changing the game forever. When Ghostcrawler announced that it was taking place, there was a huge cheer in the conference hall, and the area was abuzz with players who hadn't even noticed. If that's the case, then it's really been done well, and this has.

There are other class changes that have been discussed a lot, too, but from the perspective of a healing shaman, nothing seemed too different. I'm not entirely sure what was in and what was not, so don't feel like I can really offer useful comment!

New Zone

We were dropped into one of the new zones, with fresh level 90s, and given free rein to explore. The maps weren't working for me, but it appeared from the literature to be Frostfire Ridge. I must admit that I wasn't blown away by the design of the area, as somewhere to be dropped into. It was pretty, for sure, but was also rather similar in overall feel to the Isle of Thunder, and as a result didn't feel that new or shiny.

Nonetheless, once you'd got over the dark blue feel of the area, it is undeniably well-done. The few quests that I had time to undertake were, well, they were quests, but the new systems that have been put in place to clarify the story over the incidental will be a huge help. It was a little clunky, sure, but you have to remember that this is an early version put together specifically for BlizzCon. We're not even in beta yet.

The brutal nature of the zone, which Ray Cobo compared to Australia, where everything will kill you given half a chance, certainly seemed accurate, and you can see the harsh nature of it from the image above, houses made of bones, spikes on everything -- orcs certainly have a very particular decorating style. But there's a sparse beauty to it, too.


Bloodmaul Slag Mines

This was the first and only dungeon available to us testers in the press room, and as previously mentioned, I grabbed a rag-tag gang, helped enormously by the blood DK sitting next to me looking for a healer, and off we went into the dungeon. The graphical work Blizzard has been undertaking on their player character models has obviously been mirrored by that on the NPC models. These ogres looked great, lumbering around, and I'll get to the player models too.

The dungeon itself was a bit confusing at first, as the panel explained, they're going away from linear progression, which is a fantastic change, but makes running dungeons a little confusing the first time through. We progressed off in a given direction, and took on some mobs. The trash was nothing special, an annoying AoE silence effect was dropped by the mage ogres, and when players had to drop group, bringing us down to three players, we definitely had to CC, but it wasn't really needed with a full group of five. These are leveling dungeons, of course, so bear that in mind.
We pulled a boss, downed him pretty easily with four players in our team, and carried on. Alas, there was no loot for us but fireworks! Moving through the dungeon,there were several optional rares, boars and the like, that could either be killed or shuffled past. It seems likely that, on live servers, these rares will drop loot, and award additional XP for those who wish to spend the extra time to take them on.

Rather like Stratholme, clearing one area opened up the next, and so on. Overall, the dungeon felt straightforward, with some minor navigational issues, and there was a real sensation of being transported back to your leveling days when you went in there, thanks to the ogres and the feel of the place. It was fun!

Character Models

As far as playable character models went, we had only a few available to us: dwarves, orcs and gnomes. All of them male, so as someone who staunchly plays female characters, I had to swallow my pride and make an orc shaman. Right after I'd made a dwarf shaman. The new models are stunning, they really are, the movement on them looks so good after years upon years of their admittedly blocky predecessors. The panelists and Ray Cobo all mentioned the integration of new technology for things like beards, hair and cloaks, and that was really obvious in the dwarf males particularly.

A lot of the animations I love to use for pandaren screenshots weren't in the game just yet, but those that were looked fantastic. It's really obvious just how much work has gone into them, from removing armor clipping to the sheer quality of the textures. World of Warcraft still categorically is not a hyper-realist game, and long may that remain the case, but this is a massive step in the right direction.

What's really remarkable about these new models is just how successful the art team have been in their quest to ensure that the soul of the characters remains. They really are just updated, improved models of the exact same thing, there's no huge, scary changes. Personally, though, I can't wait to see some new hairstyles and beards added, to make use of this awesome new technology!

All in all, I had a great time in the small amount of the new expansion that was playable. I'm looking forward to beta!

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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