Is Warlords of Draenor going to revive World of Warcraft?

That’s possibly a misleading headline, World of Warcraft doesn’t need reviving – it’s still making insane amounts of money than no other MMO has been able to approach, let alone overtake. That being said, the numbers are dwindling. In July IGN reported that subscriber numbers were down to 7.7 Million – an impressive number but a far cry from the peak of 12 Million in 2010. Within a quarter, WoW had lost 660,000 subscribers, and it’s not too hard to understand why.

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World of Warcraft has been running for nine years. Many of its ‘core’ have been playing since that time, and over the last decade they’ve seen the game grow, expand and refine into what it is now, but the core experience hasn’t really changed. You still target enemies and press sequences of buttons until they fall over. Of course now trading is a much more complex and rewarding beast, there are pet battles, achievements, all manner of PvP competitions, raiding is easier than ever and the game looks better than ever, but at it’s heart it’s still the same gameplay experience. Thinking about other games released in 2004 -Ninja Gaiden, Far Cry, Doom 3, Halo 2, Fable – all excellent games but how many are you still playing today? For a game to capture the imagination and attention of gamers for nearly a decade is a gargantuan feat.

Over that time the cracks in World of Warcraft have shown through and despite the best efforts of Blizzard, not all of them could be repaired. As the game expands, the levelling gets worse. To make a new character in the next expansion, you’ve got 100 levels to go through before you can join the cutting edge of new content. In those 100 levels you’ve got 60 (sped up) levels of excellent content that was reworked with Cataclysm, 10 levels of awful levelling in the now-oldest part of the game with Outland, then 10 levels in Northrend which is still fairly impressive, ten levels in the Cataclysm content that divided opinion and then ten levels in Pandaria. That’s a lot of content, all of which is accomplished in some way but incredibly incongruous as each section was created at a different time with different design philosophies. You’ve also got the problem that as each zone reaches its climax in terms of plot – you know you won’t be seeing the end of those stories as it’ll be near-impossible to find people to complete the raids with you that finish off each expansion.  Some of the raids don’t even exist anymore! Coupled with a low population in many of the levelling zones, getting to 100 could be a lonely and arduous task, so why would you want to?

First of all, with Warlords of Draenor, you can skip 90 levels of it with one character. Blizzard are very aware that newcomers to the game and some who are returning will be reluctant to play through all of that so one existing or new character can be boosted up to level 90 with no problems. There’s even a little quest chain once you get to 90 that unlocks all your abilities in order so you don’t get too overwhelmed.

Secondly, character models are finally getting an overhaul. While World of warcraft has held up surprisingly well, it’s hard to compare it favourably to games like Rift, Aion, FFXIV and the upcoming Everquest Next. With the new expansion new models will be released for at least the Orc and Human races, with more following over the course of the expansion. There’s been no word on any updates to the graphical engine, but you only need to compare Outland with Pandaria to see how much better Blizzard’s artists are with the tools available to them nowadays. Pandaria looked gorgeous and there’s no reason to think Draenor will be any different.

Thirdly, add-ons are becoming less and less necessary. With Draenor, Blizzard are building quality of life improvements like bag-sorting right into the UI. They’ve been doing this for years, pinching the best ideas from mods and incorporating them, and this is a huge boon to any newcomers who don’t want to have to install Curse and then spend hours fiddling with obscure settings on a plethora of add-ons so they can play with their friends. Hopefully Blizz will have more to announce over the next few months and we might start seeing things like Auctioneer and Bossmods becoming part of the general user interface.

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Finally, Blizzard are doing what they call the ‘squish’. Over the years, with every expansion, Blizzard have added more and more numbers to the items so you feel like you’re upgrading. Of course it’s an illusion, you might get that +10,560 strength axe of whacking, but if the local wildlife has the same hp as you it’s all going to seem relatively similar. This time Blizzard have decided to cut some zeroes off the end and finally get rid of some useless and confusing stats. Things like Hit and Haste are going, as they don’t really make a weapon feel any different, they’re invisible boosts only noticeable to those who pour over damage counters and charts. They’re replacing them with more fun stats like lifesteal and sturdiness that will be obvious to anyone who uses the weapon. They’re also getting rid of ‘int’ mail and such like, instead letting the armour change depending on who wears it. Want to switch between dps and healing on your Shaman? Fine, you don’t even need to change gear, it will change for you. The only thing you need to do is change your weapon. Blizzard are also toning down the need for enchantments, gems and other similar modifiers, preferring instead to focus on a few big modifiers rather than lots of tiny ones. They’re even removing reforging all together as it simply added an un-fun layer of complexity to what is already quite a complex game.

Will these changes be enough to bring people back? Well personally, I’ve already considered starting a new character to start levelling up in anticipation. My subscription lapsed back just after the Pandaria expansion launched, due to fatigue with the game and friends moving on. It might finally be time to start that druid I’ve always wanted, anyone up for some levelling?

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