So, I gave a brief overview last week and now it’s time for my in depth analysis of Blizzard’s latest World of Warcraft expansion. I have to start by saying that I came into this expansion at quite a low point in terms of my opinion of this franchise. My interest in this game has been steadily declining since the end of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. As I mentioned in my previous article, the last expansion, Warlords of Draenor, hit a particular low for me, to the point that while I had pre-ordered the last expansion before its release date had even been announced, I was still pondering whether or not to invest in this one as late as lunchtime on the day of release. I’m glad I chose to take the plunge and invest in this expansion, however, as, despite my low expectations, it’s succeeded in restoring some of my interest and affection for this game.

For the first time since Wrath of the Lich King, I’ve actually found myself enjoying the levelling process, rather than seeing it as another boring grind just to unlock endgame content, which it’s been feeling like over the last few expansions. It’s hard to pinpoint one single reason for this. The fact you can choose which order to play the first four zones in, or even just alternate between questing in all four is certainly refreshing. There’s also more storyline and cut scenes, with each zone having its own story linked to long standing World of Warcraft lore, from the Emerald Dream to Ancient Elven civilisation. This expansion seems to reconnect with the aspects that made it so appealing to me back its early days, and many other veteran players seem to feel same judging from other reviews and forum posts.

Like most of the previous expansions, the quest chain starts off in Stormwind (Alliance) or Orgrimmar (Horde) where you’ll be asked to embark on an excursion to the broken shore to battle the forces of the legion. This is essentially just a long cut scene introducing you to the storyline that will run through the expansion and differs a little depending on your faction. However, the final result is the same for both factions. What’s a nice touch, is that after you’ve completed this section with one character, it’s possible to skip it with subsequent ones. So if you feel that experiencing it once is enough then you won’t be forced to replay it for every alt you level.

Early on in the expansion, you’ll arrive on the relocated Dalaran, now in the skies above the Broken Isles, which acts as the main city for the expansion with portals to just about anywhere you might want to go. I have to confess that Dalaran has long been my favourite city and I found it exciting to be back. The city has had a bit of a makeover with improved models and textures but the layout is much the same and its character remains intact. In fact, if you don’t walk through both cities one after the other then you might not notice the changes, at all. The new one is higher resolution but still looks like Dalaran.

The classes have undergone another major overhaul in terms of talents and abilities. The specialisations for each class have been honed to really focus on the individual mechanics and characteristics giving each one a unique style of play. For example, a beast master hunter now actually relies on their pets to deal most of the damage for them. As such, a lot of their abilities and talents involve powering up the beasts they command or summoning more until their enemy is crushed mercilessly in a throng of savage beasts. Fury warrior on the other hand builds in strength throughout the fight. The first third of an enemies health bar will seem to be chipped away at but then usually finished off in seconds in flurry of furious strikes as all the powerful abilities all seem to activate at once, which for a fury warrior does feel quite apt.

There’s been a lot of complaints on the forums about shadow priests with people complaining about holy having better damage after this expansion’s revamp. On hearing this, I obviously took it on myself to investigate the claims, and I can categorically state that shadow definitely has better damage than holy, as it should seeing that holy is a healing specialisation. I think the issue people might be having is that this specialisation has a more complex array of abilities and combat strategy. The sole aim of the core abilities is to gain insanity and kick off Voidform, and so, it has a similar mechanic to fury warrior in that the damage dealt is low to begin with but then surges the moment Voidform is triggered which then finishes the foe of relatively quickly. I quite like this mechanic as shadow priests are all about absorbing energy from their foes and effectively firing it back as powered up moves, therefore, I think that like fury warriors a slow build up fits, characteristically. Saying that, shadow is geared more towards single target damage, meaning area of effect damage is limited. As a result, they will likely struggle to perform as well in dungeon or raids, where multi hit abilities are favoured. If you’re after a top performing raid DPS character then this class and specialisation might not be your best choice.

Each class now has their own class hall which functions like a watered down version of the garrisons from last expansion. The class halls have been made far more relevant in this expansion, having been worked into the storyline with the inclusion of the new artefact weapons. As such, they seem have a greater feeling of being a quest and resource hub than the garrisons did in the last expansion, which just functioned, for me, as a convenient log off point. Each class hall has a completely different look and layout but does encompass the same functions. They can be used to trigger the main story quest chains which will start you off in each of the first four zones. You can use them to commence the artefact weapons quests, which are unique to each class and specialisation, and there is also a dedicated class campaign quest chain. They also function as places where you power up your new artefact weapons. All in all, I find the inclusion of these class halls to be much less intrusive and time wasting than the garrisons in Warlords of Draenor and they do seem to enhance rather than detract from the overall character and direction of the expansion. They also work to give some much needed variety when levelling alternate characters which was missing from the last expansion.

Instead of picking up weapons as you go, at the start of the expansion you’ll be given a quest to get an artefact weapon that can be powered up so it levels with you. There will be one available for each specilisation your class has which is anywhere from two, for Demon Hunters, to four, for druids. You’ll be asked to choose just one to pursue to begin with but will later be able to also take the quests for the others, so don’t panic if you choose one then decide you don’t like the spec it’s for. Once you have the weapon for a class, it will automatically be equipped when you change spec, as they can’t be used unless the correct spec is active. Each weapon has a unique appearance which can be customised in the class hall, changing it’s look and colour. They can also be transmorgrified to look like other weapons but you can’t make other weapons look like them, even other artefact weapons, which was a bit disapointing for me as I wanted to make my hunter’s beast master weapon look like the marksmanship weapon instead, as I’ve always prefered bows but no can do.

The questing in this expansion is done across five new zones. The first four scale in difficulty to adapt to players of levels between 100 and 110, allowing you to complete them in any order you want. The final zone Suramar is for level 110 players only, being the new end game zone. As mentioned before, all the zones have their own main quest chain each of which involves hunting down powerful object called pillars, which are needed to confront the legion. The way you go about this in each zone varies with each quest tied to the individual zones inhabitants. My personal favourite and the one I always start out with is Val’Sharah a zone based around druid lore and the emerald dream. In Highmountain you’ll find yourself helping the native Tauren population to unite their clans to battle a common enemy. Azsuna is a haunted landscape filed with Elven ghosts and mana addicted survivors where you’ll find yourself battling in defence of the blue dragonflight. Finally, Stormheim is the home to the giant Vrykul so be ready to have your strength and bravery tested. There isn’t really a right or wrong choice in which to do first, and if you don’t like your choice, you can just return to your class hall and choose another instead.

Last but not least, the new expansion has added a new hero class, Demon Hunter. To create one you’ll need a level 70 or higher character already on the server. The character will start at level 98 and after a Demon Hunter specific introduction will launch straight into the new content. Demon Hunters have only two specs to choose from, DPS and Tank. The last hero class, Death Knights, ended up being extremely overpowered when first introduced, but Demon Hunters feel a lot more balanced in terms of power and survivability with other classes. So if you were planning on choosing the class in the hope you’d be able to fly through the expansion, mowing down all who oppose you, then you may want to think again. However, the class is fun to play. Their charge move allows you to cover ground quickly between mobs and they have decent area effect damage potential making them good in groups. In tank spec, they also make for a pretty solid defence and are considered among the toughest tanks in the game, as it currently is.

In terms of dungeons, this expansion remains much the same. Four of the dungeons will scale depending on level, just like the zones. Violet hold becomes available at level 105 and then there are further dungeons unlocked at 110 along with Heroic and Mythical difficulty levels. There were a few initial complaints with regards to dungeons as the main quest chain for each zone can only be completed by running certain dungeons, but these are easy enough on normal difficulty and are quickly complete able in around 20 – 30 minutes even with a random group. Raiding has not yet been added to this expansion, as there is always a gap prior to the raids being added in order to allow players to gear up and grow accustom to the spec changes.

All in all, this is a great expansion and a much needed improvement on the previous one. Levelling characters is fun once more, and the only barrier I seem to have to enjoying it, is the fact that so many of my characters are stuck at level 90. After the last couple of expansions, I’d begun to feel that my World of Warcraft playing days were over, but this expansion has given me hope that there may be some life left in it yet.