With World of Warcraft's Legion expansion launching next week, we finish off our tour of the MMO's previous expansions by saying farewell to the amazing strongholds we spent the past year and change building up.
Returning to the ten level jump of The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King following a couple of five level jaunts through Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor was exactly the epic chunk of new hotness players like me needed to draw us back in.
That's right, Draenor part two, electric boogaloo.
On paper it didn't sound very exciting. We were going through the Dark Portal to Draenor, just like we did in The Burning Crusade, but this was old-timey, alternate universe Draenor, back when more exciting things happened there than standing up to your waist in Zangamarsh.
Treading old ground? Yawn. Building fortresses and gathering followers? Whatever. You go ahead and release the most exciting expansion pack in the game's then ten-year history. See if we care.
We cared. A lot.
Moments later I was killed by random orcs.
Warlords of Draenor launches with the best marriage of story and gameplay Blizzard's yet managed. The player walks side-by-side with Azeroth's greatest heroes, charging into battle against the most dangerous assemblage of orcs in the history of history.
Gul'dan, because two captions wasn't enough.
Gul'dan, in case you couldn't read!
Again with the double captions!
Ner'zhul, the Nerziest of all Zhuls!
Blackhand, whose hand is black. Orcs aren't very creative.
We run roughshod over the greatest names in orc, decimating their forces with tanks and explosives and sheer force of will (more so the first two) in an extended sequence that culminates in blowing the f***ing Dark Portal to pieces.
Warlords of Draenor is WoW storytelling at its finest, a ten-level slice of fantasy alt-history that had me riveted from the get go, and the best part is the player is at the center of it. They're one of the Warlords of Draenor, establishing a garrison, building forts in all of the major world zones, calling in support, deploying tanks.
The new/old Nagrand. Could use more floating islands, but otherwise quite pretty.
At every turn Blizzard worked to make the levelling experience something more than a series of basic quests. Flying dragons against orcish forces in grand scenario missions, rappelling from cliffs to infiltrate bases, going toe-to-toe with enemies that would have been raid bosses in earlier expansions.
For ten levels and then onward, my garrison in Shadowmoon Valley was my virtual home. What started as little more than a wooden fort in the woods soon grew to a bustling town, then a castle, stocked with quests and NPCs and resources — everything a growing warlord needs to get ahead in life.
My Gnome Hunter got her castle much faster than my Draenei Shaman did the first time around. She knew which quests to do when, where to find the hidden treasures that would give her the resources she needed to grow her fortress. She didn't bother camping two hours for a rare spawn that drops a mount. But she appreciated that all of that stuff was there for her, should she need it.
I didn't bother much with the ship building feature or the Tanaan Jungle zone, post-cap content in a game where the cap was about to be raised.
In many ways Warlords of Draenor was The Burning Crusade's Cataclysm, a chance to revisit and revitalize familiar areas. A chance to atone for what was a very pretty but rather empty first visit to the orc home planet. Not only did Warlords accomplish that mission, it raised the bar for World of Warcraft expansions altogether.
That's why players who've stuck it through this long are so excited for Legion next week. Either Blizzard tops themselves, which would be amazing, or they give us another ten levels just as rich and varied as the last.
I've gotten several characters to level 100 over the past few weeks, and each time I paused my demon invasion power levelling to play through those initial Warlords of Draenor moments. Each character leaves behind a garrison in various states of completion. With Legion's release, those beautiful bases we all built will be pretty much useless, packed with resources we don't need and quests that won't help us. But they will also be loaded with memories, and I won't be deleting my garrison hearthstone any time soon.