Boosting into Warlords
The free boost to 90 is live and available, but the experience for a boosted 90 will be vastly different after Warlords of Draenor launches. Blizzard is concerned -- and rightly so -- that returning to WoW after a span of years has become too daunting and too much of a hassle. They want to solve this "returning player problem." The boosted 90 experience has been designed to reintroduce you with minimal busy work and maximum fun.
Everything in a character's inventory will be deleted -- and mailed to you to figure out later. That way, characters can begin their journey right away, inventory open and waiting for minty fresh loot, instead of wasting time sorting through old junk from old content.
Most class abilities will be stripped away, leaving just three or four buttons on a character's action bars. Then you'll be shoved through the Dark Portal, into the maw of a frisky and agitated Iron Horde invasion force.
Taming the Portal
In terms of content, the first hour of the expansion will be the same for all players, regardless of whether they have been boosted or not. This means that veterans can tackle WoD with their newly boosted friends from the very beginning of the expansion.
The first hour is a guided, "on rails" experience that introduces you to the warlords in person while you push the battlefront away from the portal and establish a foothold on this alternate Draenor. Boosted characters can't tackle the entire Iron Horde with just four abilities, however. They will unlock groups of spells via questing, similar to starting death knights.
According to Zierhut, the enemies in this first hour have been designed to match a boosted players' spellbook. For example, once an interrupt ability is unlocked, defeating the next enemies you face will require you to interrupt their casts.
Nothing in this first hour will be instanced. I asked if it will make use of solo scenarios the way the Isle of Thunder quest line did, and it will not. Time will tell if this decision will result in the laggy disaster we had in Hellfire Peninsula during The Burning Crusade's launch. Server technology has improved a great deal since then, so fingers crossed. It's also reassuring that, beyond the first hour, players will split into separate faction starting zones.
At the end of this starting experience, one of the titular warlords (Durotan for Horde players) will reward you for your bravery with your own plot of land. That's where you will build your garrison.
Your own Warcraft III base
Several sites have datamined lots of garrison info, so we know more about what's available. But now we have the inside scoop on how some of these systems will function. For one thing, the resources that specific buildings generate will build up even if you don't log in. You'll have to retrieve them every so often if you want them to produce more, but they'll always be there. You won't have to be online to take advantage of a daily cooldown like you do for many professions now.
Some buildings, like the Engineering Works or Tailoring Emporium, can give you limited access to professions that your character doesn't have. You may not always want buildings that don't match, however. If you choose a building that matches your maxed-out professions, you will gain access to crafting materials and additional recipes that you can't acquire any other way.
The layout of your garrison can be customized to suit your whims. You can walk through it like any other town, except in this case the NPCs know you and react to you as you pass them. These are your followers, and you can acquire them in several different ways. One such is by finding them out in the world and rescuing them or completing quests for them. Because you share that history, the NPC will not only remember you, but become a volunteer in your own personal army. Blizzard wants you to feel like you're "the guy in charge of a Warcraft III base."
Followers are a big part of the garrison experience and provide several new features to WoW. You can send your followers on missions -- and even have them fight bosses for you. These bosses won't be the same ones players encounter in dungeons and raids. They will be unique to the follower missions because, Burke said, "they don't want to nerf dungeon bosses for players because followers can't beat them."
For a successful mission, you'll need to hand-pick the followers whose abilities match up best against a specific boss. Followers can be equipped with follower-only gear that enhances their combat abilities. Morale also plays a role. If your followers fail a mission, their morale suffers. This lowers their effectiveness until they manage to pull off a victory. The failures will only cost you time, not gold or progress.
If your team triumphs, they will return to you with loot, which can be either for them or for you. You'll even be able to watch an animated scene of your followers' battle.
The battles will be scored like challenge modes, with bronze, silver, or gold grades depending on how your followers performed. When you send them out, you can choose the loot you want them to find. A better grade gives them a higher percentage to retrieve the item(s) you wanted.
Followers will acquire experience on missions and level up. Leveling them can turn some followers into quest givers.
Defending your stake
Much like the Lich King and the Argent Tournament, the Iron Horde isn't about to let you set up shop in their backyard without a fight. Periodically, Iron Horde forces will show up at your garrison and try to crush your hopes, dreams, and fishing shack. It will be the job of your followers to defend their turf. Fellow players can also bring their own sets of followers to help you rebuff the attack.
The enemies will scale with your garrison's and followers' levels, and Burke says the highest levels will present "very challenging" encounters. If the Iron Horde wins, your followers' morale will plummet (but your garrison will survive to fight another day).
The future of transmog
We all saw the excellent Diablo 3 transmog system and everyone instantly wanted that same system for WoW. When I asked about this possibility, Zierhut told me that Blizzard isn't planning on implementing that same system, despite earlier indications to the contrary.
Diablo is mainly limited to a small set of legendary transmogs. WoW has many, many more items that can be transmogged, so Blizzard doesn't believe that copying the Diablo system is the way to go. They have "long-term plans" to improve the system -- which they wouldn't elaborate on.
At least we're getting an extra void storage vault in the meantime.
The limits of flex raiding
Flexible raids will cap at 30 players, not 25. I asked if they would ever scale to 40 and return us to the "glory days" of classic WoW raiding, but Zierhut said that wasn't going to happen.
The game sometimes has trouble with the spell effects in 25 player raids, he said, so 40 players would almost certainly create a bad experience. They are working on solving the spell effect issue, though, to ensure that the game can handle 30.
Finally, normal and heroic raids will be cross realm and won't share a lockout.
That's everything I managed to squeeze out of Blizzard during the session! Stay tuned for much more info as the Warlords of Draenor beta progresses.