If you're a Blizzard fan then the last week or so has been a time to wind down and reflect on some of the reveals from Blizzcon, and though there were plenty of announcements across their repertoire of games it's World of Warcraft that tends to break some of the biggest news each year. A combination of a tremendous fanbase and a reputation for having irrevocably altered the landscape of MMO's tends to put a lot of pressure a developer, and this year Blizzard's announcement to return WoW players to the root of orcish lore has been met with some pretty mixed responses. It's particularly unusual because in a way this is what players have been begging to get for years now.
Well, maybe not in the way it's happening. I don't think anyone really wants to see more of Garrosh, nor does time travel have any real appeal to players beyond the old school RTS crowd, but the call to elaborate the snippet of world development and history laid down by the Burning Crusade expansion six years ago has been loud and constant. Though no one enjoys revisiting that small portion of outdated content the aesthetic design of its weapons and armor remain to be a popular choice for many players, and much of the content mechanics engaged during the BC era still reign onward in Warcraft today.
But instead of the revisiting of a zone we already know (perhaps phased for expansion players) Blizzard has chosen Draenor, the pre-ruined version of Outland; and in doing so has removed almost every single aesthetic that made Outland such a recognizable expansion in the first place. It's like being told by your parents you're going to Disney, only to find out what they meant was the Disney store.
In most games this wouldn't really be a concern, since the backdrop of the title generally holds very little weight against the core mechanics of what the developers have in mind; but for Blizzard aesthetics and storyline heavily shape the way the game is played, not only in leveling but in dungeon and raid design as well. If players are not excited to approach the content, or if the enemies featured in a particular zone are boring, then the game has failed from a development perspective. A fantastic example of this would be Cataclysm, which most players found to be a frustrating and disappointing expansion when it came to endgame raiding. The encounters ranged from illogically difficult to bland, and the final boss of the expansion offered almost no satisfaction.
What players want to know now is where the hook is to featuring these Warlords, and how how that will bring forth the necessary progression in design that will justify this bizarre re-imagining of Outland. In-game housing alone isn't enough, and many of the features that players will use to build up their garrison have already been established in Pandaria's farm dailies or quest phasing introduced in Wrath of the Lich King. Those who have stuck with the franchise can tell you from personal experience that Death Knights not only brought forth a new style of play but their questing zone shaped the way that Blizzard would weave players through the world's evolving story for years to come. Not knowing where Warlords fits in, aside from the plot, is pretty confusing.
My concern for Warlords of Draenor isn't in the lack of content. It's been made clear that between the planned PvE and the garrison system there should be lots for players to keep busy with, and hopefully a lack of dailies means more meaningful questing. I'm more worried in what that content will focus players on, and when you consider that Mists of Pandaria has had almost half of its gameplay exclusively focused on orcs as either a storytelling force via the progression of events with Garrosh as Warchief or as an enemy via the Siege of Orgrimmar; won't most players be pretty tired of fighting orcs?
Although WoD focuses heavily on events from the RTS it feels that the risk of players becoming burnt out on dangerously similar content is high. All of course, in the effort to make newer players grow in touch with the older lore of the franchise. If all Blizzard is trying to do is help older players immerse themselves in the lore why not toss in a few Cavern of Time dungeons, or re-release the RTS with a graphical overhaul and a few bonus missions? Better yet, why not just release a series of those CGI or animated stories to help catch fans up?
I'm asking a lot of questions here, which I realize is a bit unfair for an expansion that hasn't even reached a month since its official announcement, but something about Warlords of Draenor echoes faintly of Cataclysm. A world reimagined, heroes brought over from the RTS, and a focus on drawing players back into the central lore of the WoW universe. We've been down this road before, and the first time it wasn't a particularly thrilling experience, and with so many elements echoing from the past one can't help but imagine that history may be repeating itself.