By Matt Peckham
November 13, 2014

Warlords of Draenor sounds like the sort of thing you’d find in the B-movie section of your local gas-n-shop, maybe starring Jean Claude von Damme and Dolph Lundgren wearing horned helms and codpieces.

But in this case it’s the moniker on the latest expansion to the most popular MMO in history, available now (PC, Mac) for $50. If you’re new to the series or thinking about returning and wondering what’s changed, here’s a look at Draenor‘s standout features.

Characters can finally hit three digits

Happy 100th level, World of Warcraft characters, you’ve more than earned it (in fact you’ve probably slogged like few gamers will ever slog just getting to the last expansion’s heady nine-zero). Characters in Draenor will be able to leap from 90 to 100 at last, commensurate with new abilities and access to the world of Draenor itself.

One character can leap to level 90 immediately

This sounds a bit like handing a toddler a clutch of dynamite–or asking them to figure out how to work the mechanism that sets it off–to me. But if you’re so inclined, Blizzard will let you boost one character straight to level 90. Seasoned players looking to fast-level an alternate character will be grateful, but if you’ve never played the game, I worry it’ll be like expecting someone who just learned how to play chopsticks on the piano to dash off a plausible rendition of Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugit.”

Blizzard

The story’s actually kind of interesting

I couldn’t tell you a thing about the World of Warcraft-verse’s fiction, and I played at least one character up to the mid-70s back in the day. But I remember when the Cataclysm expansion hit, and how nice it was to see Blizzard trying to frame all its relentless creature farming and errand-running with better scripted story beats that made leveling up, at least at the lower levels, feel less like cynically pinballing from one punctuation-crowned signpost to another.

Draenor pulls a J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) and taps a dimension-hopping storyline to shunt players over to an alternate history timeline and the days a comparably fractional number of gamers were going gaga over Warcraft II back in 1996. (Allow me to speak directly to Warcraft II nerds for a moment: characters like Grom Hellscream, Ner’zhul, Gul’dan and Blackhand put in appearances.)

I could attempt to paraphrase what that adds up to, or just hand the mic to Blizzard:

No, you can’t change keystone World of Warcraft history, this is just Blizzard’s way of letting players goof around with beloved Warcraft-ian lore without tying the writing team’s hands.

It’s the biggest graphical overhaul in years

Blizzard’s approach to art design with World of Warcraft always had two things going for it: it’s a PC game and so scales to whatever native display and resolution you like, and it employs a Disney-like cartoon aesthetic that transcends the notion that visual progression is some sort of linear march toward photorealistic fidelity (whatever that even means in the context of imagined worlds anyway).

Nonetheless, Draenor has some visual tricks up its sleeves. According to Blizzard, the classic Warcraft races “sport higher detail, updated animations, and new visuals that reflect the soul of their original models.”

Blizzard

It has a more pliable quest system

Blizzard describes Draenor‘s new quest system as “refined” and “flexible,” and in a crucial reward-related sea change, the company notes that “any quest can randomly award bonus rare or epic items.”

You can carve out your own fortress-space

New dungeons (seven), raids (two), bosses, class talents and abilities you’d expect, but Blizzard’s adding fixed-world-point garrisons this time: customizable home bases that include addable substructures like alchemy labs, salvage yards, tanneries and more. There’s even a meta layer that’ll let you set up trade routes or recruit followers (read: loyal minions!) you can then deploy to go dungeon-spelunking, run errands and craft items in your stead, whether you’re on or offline.

The new map looks huge

Draenor is kind of enormous, with seven areas and one PvP to explore, a “land of magma and metal, stone and steam,” writes Blizzard.

Blizzard

It’s not the last expansion

I wondered if Draenor might be World of Warcraft‘s swan song, given this is the 10th anniversary of the game and subscriptions have dropped in recent years (at its peak in October 2010, World of Warcraft had 12 million subscribers). But according to Blizzard just last month, subscriptions are up from a post-peak low of 6.8 million to 7.4 million worldwide. That’s a predictable Draenor-related bounce, sure, but a reminder of how significant the upswings can be, if Blizzard can keep the new content rolling.

And no, Draenor definitely isn’t the last expansion for Blizzard’s tireless MMO: according to the game’s lead designer Ion Hazzikostas, there’s every intention for the game to soldier on for at least another decade. “I definitely can’t tell you what our 20th anniversary is going to be. I can tell you there is definitely going to be one,” Hazziokostas told Cnet in a recent interview, adding that the company is “definitely planning into the future, talking about what the next expansion is going to be, and what the one after that is going to be.”

Write to Matt Peckham at matt.peckham@time.com.

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