I returned to World of Warcraft earlier this year on the encouragement of a few online friends. I hadn't played since the release of Mists of Pandaria in late 2012 and hadn't paid attention to the game's systems since the end of Cataclysm's life cycle. It was an odd experience; a game that I find in some ways intimately familiar, made strange through numerous small changes. Not bad, just different.
I'll be feeling that again come October 14th, when the pre-expansion patch for Warlords of Draenor - called 6.0.2: The Iron Tide - is released and everything is different again. These patches bring the systemic and mechanical changes of the expansion to the game, and set the scene for the new expansion's big bad with new world events.
In this case that's the Iron Horde pouring out of the Dark Portal, Warcraft's dimensional gate which causes most of its ills. The Iron Horde is, as everyone knows and understands, the time-travelling future-tech powered orcs that didn't drink the blood of a demon to become super strong and evil. From timeline B. Obviously. I'm positive this isn't a Star Trek Online storyline that's somehow been confused, because I checked twice.
What this means for players is a new series of quests about pushing back the invasion. Part of what piqued my interest in the game earlier in the year was the return of a classic dungeon, Upper Blackrock Spire, as part of this. It's likely my favourite from the game's earlier years and maybe overall - I once ran it eleven times in a single day while searching for a specific item drop. I'll be re-subbing just to see what Blizzard have done with it and for the glorious nostalgia kick it's likely to provide. That's something I can often rely on WoW for: no matter how much it changes, it's still the same base and therefore offers safe familiarity.
The full list of changes is massive despite the scale of what is being altered being far smaller than previous iterations. It's a legion of minor tweaks along with a few larger philosophy changes to help overall design. The major additions, such as the player-developed land plots called Garrisons, are saved for the release of the expansion itself.
There likely aren't any WoW-based surprises left for Blizzard to reveal at Blizzcon on November 7th/8th ahead of the Warlords of Draenor launch the following week. The focus will probably be on Blizzard's other titles. More details about Hearthstone's 100+ card update are expected, as is something about StarCraft II's final expansion, Legacy of the Void.