Warlords, models, and performance

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We all know that Warlords of Draenor is bringing a much-desired and long-awaited feature in new character models, and understandably, there's concern about the impact on PC performance. WoW Insider reported on EU Community Manager Taepsilum's post on the forums, which has since been updated to indicate that there is no requirement to run the game on Low settings to use the old models. Instead, the toggle which has been seen in the Alpha is set to remain.

Taepsilum's assertions that you won't need a new computer are, perhaps, bold. Gamespot has picked up on them for an article, and asserts that you "probably" won't need a new machine. This is accurate, with the key word being "probably". If you're currently only able to run the game at 8FPS on Low settings, it's pretty likely that Warlords of Draenor will push your system over the edge.

Let's be realistic here. World of Warcraft has pretty amazing performance on older machines. A little while ago I asked on Twitter about players running it on low-spec systems, and it will let you run the game on some pretty archaic specs. Performance is about what you can do with the game, and is subjective. I'm happy with the graphical quality I get out of WoW on my machine, but to friends with higher level systems, it looks awful.

I don't have a lot of spare cash to throw at gaming systems, so I'm used to lower FPS, and lower quality. And the older a system gets, the worse WoW's performance gets. There are graphical upgrades taking place all the time, and my laptop that ran Cataclysm at 30FPS ran Mists at 15. It's a small price to pay for the ten-year-old game we love to not look so much like a ten-year-old game. Back in January, Bashiok commented on how the devs just don't know the impact on system requirements from the new models, and this seems perfectly fair.

On the one hand, there's new models, not just for characters, but NPCs too. There's new mob models, as well as the typical bosses and prominent lore figures. There's also bound to be environmental improvements, new textures, and everything that goes with a new expansion.

On the other hand, as has been mentioned several times, there's the efforts to reduce visual clutter, and to make your own spell effects more prominent while others' show up less. What's more, while we don't know too much about the full impact yet, the CASC file system may well have a positive impact on performance.

It's still likely that the performance losses will outweigh the gains, but to what magnitude? A 10FPS drop is fine if you're at 100FPS, less fine if you're at 20FPS. And if you're more into questing and solo content, you need less processing power than if you're into 25-man heroic raiding. If you're into PvP, you probably want to have projected textures enabled rather than disabled, and you don't want terrible FPS as speed and reaction is of the essence. It's all very related to your gameplay, and your preferences.

But will you need a new computer to play Warlords? That depends on your current machine, the content you want to do, and your personal tolerance for lower framerates and graphical quality. The full impact of the upgrades on system requirements won't result in a big drop in performance, we're told, but what counts as a big drop is as much up to you as anything. Importantly, Blizzard cares about not alienating their playerbase by ramping up system requirements. But they shouldn't, and likely won't, let that stand in the way of improving the game for those who have newer machines.
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