What it's like to play through Frostfire Ridge in the Warlords of Draenor alpha.
It's been three weeks since the Warlords of Draenor Alpha went live, and for three weeks I've been exploring every nook and cranny of Frostfire Ridge, the Horde starting zone in World of Warcraft's next expansion. Now, as we wait impatiently for Blizzard to release the next zone for testing, the time has come for me to share my findings.
Allow me to sum up my experience right now, in a single word. Breathtaking. Allow me now to explain why.
For me, the environment is everything. As a long-term player that doesn't particularly enjoy questing – or hasn't for the past two WoW expansions, at least – I found myself lapping up every quest and savouring every completion. I asked myself why, and realized that the zone itself was not only well designed in terms of quest progression, with a core, linear questline complimented by quest hubs and bonus objectives found through exploring, but also that the more traditional, 'mature' theme of the zone appealed to me on a scale I had not felt for some time.
I have never hidden the fact that I disliked Mist of Pandaria's younger theme. I'd started playing WoW during The Burning Crusade, an expansion filled with demons, dark magic and devastation. Wrath of the Lich King introduced armies of undead and an antagonist that I couldn't help but feel sorry for. Prince Arthas, corrupted by his lust for revenge and wayward protection of his people, made for a great story, while his home in Northrend, Icecrown Citadel, WotLK's final raid tier, remains one of my favorite raids of all time.
Cataclysm was a different beast, where developers focused on improving the old world of Azeroth. Rather than implementing another new continent, they added zones directly to the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. For many, it didn't feel like a full expansion, and so it was that I watched my friends depart the game with a view to returning for the next installment. Only the next installment was a continent filled with Pandaren (pandas), Hozen (monkeys) and Virmen (rats). Needless to say, I watched as more of my friends retired their characters, no longer feeling like they were part of the game's target audience.
Then, Siege of Orgrimmar happened. Patch 5.4 was a welcome relief and suddenly formed a connection between player and story. Garrosh Hellscream, the Horde Warchief, was corrupted by Sha and needed to be taken down. Players got to raid the Horde capital, killing orcs once more in what was a deadly, incredible raid tier. I saw friends return to the game. People cheered; serious, adult content once more! The only downside now is the length at which this content has been current.
Let's go back to Warlords of Draenor. We've seen one zone so far and I can honestly say that if the entire continent is as well designed as Frostfire Ridge, then the next expansion holds huge promise. Orcs, ogres, gronn, elementals, chimera and more fill the zone with hostility. Level 100 elite Giants wander the 90-92 zone like the Fel Reavers of Hellfire Peninsula. Lava pools and erupting volcanoes meet frozen glaciers under constant, starry night. And what's this? Gul'dan tainting a corner of the map with fel magic? Yes!
With zones like Frostfire Ridge, players aren't going to miss flying, believe me. There are many rares to be found, quest lines to enjoy (yes, enjoy!) and secrets to uncover; it's been an absolute joy to explore and play through. The zone's dungeon, Bloodmaul Slag Mines, is an instance filled with ogres, gronnlings and fire elementals. While numbers are still being tuned, it's a delightful introduction to 5-man content on Draenor.
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