So first up, let me tell you the gist of what's happening. So far, the only thing being tested is Frostfire Ridge. That means Horde, so you end up seeing a lot of Horde screenshots and hearing about Horde questing, Horde garrisons and Horde in general. Just a whole lotta Horde. The music? Amazing. I guess that's to be expected, but still.
Also, I deliberately went with orc and tauren characters because of their new models. Cause we all want to see the new models. So I'll start my impressions with those.
I really enjoyed running on the tauren male. There's a sense of actual mass there now that wasn't there before - it moves and bends in a way that suggests this is an enormous being, a big heavy bovinoid. The orc female (you can see Draka above, the wife of Durotan, she's using a model pretty close to the one I'm using) has a sense of power in her stance. I briefly played an orc male as well, but you see so many of them around in the start of Frostfire Ridge that it just didn't seem necessary to play one.
The zone itself has an interesting variation in terms of how you play through it. You start off effectively 'shipwrecked.' That's not the variation. In fact, if you played through the original Jade Forest storyline, it's remarkably similar to the stuff that ended up taken out of that zone, at least to start off.
Honestly, I'm not sure where this boat even comes from. Is it an Iron Horde ship? Is it yet another crashed Horde airship? Lady Liadrin's there, but she doesn't say much - she certainly doesn't bother to explain why Khadgar is running around helping Thrall and Drek'Thar. I'm going to assume at some point Khadgar gets replaced by a Horde mage. Like, literally any Horde mage would be less disconcerting. Still, you start into the zone and meet up with Durotan and immediately start working on your Garrison. I won't lie, it starts off kind of slow - kill some baby gronn, then go cut down some trees, then go kill a bigger gronn. After that, though, the place shapes up fast. Considering I'm only level 92 and I haven't gotten to see how it'll play as I level and go to other zones (and frankly, two levels feels crazy fast considering how much of Frostfire Ridge I didn't even get to) it was decent, but it lacked the fun factor I think it will have once it's fully expanded out. I did build my barracks and get to hang out with Saurfang, who is definitely the Murtaugh of this expansion.
Once you rescue a follower and start sending him on missions, you get the next set of quests, which basically amounts to going off and helping Durotan assault the Bladespire ogres and their ogron buddies. Think of the ogron as half-way between ogres and gronn - big, ugly, mean and one-eyed, but they wear clothes. Well, some of them do. Going through the quest chains I noticed a fair density of side-objectives -- rare spawns to be fought, timed events to be completed, random weirdness to be confused by. If you're anything like me you'll spend some time just riding around exploring the place and drag your feet on the zone's main storyline. Frankly, I think this is a plus. It's not that the story is bad - it's got fun moments, like the assault into Bladespire Fortress - but the exploration is at your own pace, and it really conveys the feeling of being stranded in a new world better than the Garrison does at present, what with its big portal back to Orgrimmar. If I were going to change anything about the Garrison, it would be that portal -- I'd like to see it gone until you complete the zone. The idea that you can always head back to Org if things get dicey really kills the 'stranger in a strange land' vibe the rest of the zone presents.
Now, I play primarily warriors, although I did roll a DK and an paladin. The following are quick and dirty observations about how these various classes played:
- I had no idea what I was doing with my unholy death knight, and things still died. I deleted him, rolled blood, things died faster and easier. Keep in mind I have zero idea what I'm doing with death knights right now, and a skilled DK player might see different results.
- My ret paladin I had a little more of an idea what I was doing. Things died about the same.
- I played a prot warrior and an arms warrior. Because you don't start with dual spec here (you start a new character, it's given a set of starter gear) I had to create two separate warriors for this purpose, hence orc lady and tauren dude.
- Orc lady was arms. It's a bit squishier than on live. Not too terrible. Slam feels a touch weak for the rage dump attack, Execute costs a ton of rage if you use it before 20% so only use it when you have a decent amount of rage. In general it works fine, it's easy to get into the flow once you understand what you're doing. After I unlearned the current arms rotation, things were dying fine. I'd say arms is about 80% of the way to being a really tight, fun DPS spec, once Slam gets beefed up a bit.
- Tauren dude went protection. I heavily recommend prot for soloing in Frostfire Ridge right now. Thinks die nearly as fast as arms and you take zero damage. Six baby gronn punching you in the face? No problem. As things stand right now, tank specs feel like the best way for any tank capable class to go.
- It really must be said, I'm not even noticing the item squish. It simply doesn't matter. My tauren is at 68k health (he's level 91) and his health and damage is tuned so that everything else takes some focus and concentration to kill, but nothing overwhelms him. It's the same for my other characters.
- Draenor Perks so far are just sort of there. Maybe they'll grow on me.