In Warlords of Draenor, Frostfire Ridge serves as the starting zone for Horde players once they’ve endured the initial rigors of Tanaan Jungle and survived their first encounter with the Iron Horde. To take you on a journey through Frostfire’s snow-covered wastes and towering volcanoes, we cornered* Associate Game Designer/self-appointed Grand Cheese Taster Zachariah Owens and Game Designer/ Champion of Sarcasm Ryan Shwayder and “convinced” them to divulge some of the zone’s secrets.
Zone Music Piece: Magnificent Desolation
What’s the story in Frostfire Ridge?
Zachariah Owens: In a nutshell? Survive.
After a daring escape from the clutches of the Iron Horde in Tanaan Jungle, you, Thrall, and a handful of survivors run ashore on the southern banks of Frostfire Ridge.
This landing is well-timed. Soon after the crash, you are met by Durotan, youngest son of Garrad and acting chieftain of the Frostwolf clan. Unlike the other clans, the Frostwolves chose to defy the Iron Horde and refused to join their ranks. This has put them in a dangerous position, with the ogre slavers of Bladespire Fortress on one side and the beastmasters of the Thunderlord clan on the other. The Thunderlord are eager to prove themselves to the Iron Horde and will stop at nothing to eradicate the Frostwolf clan from existence.
Outnumbered and surrounded by enemies, Durotan and his Frostwolves will need all the help they can get to survive. It falls to you to quickly establish a Garrison and raise an army using whatever means necessary to aid the Frostwolves and secure a foothold in Draenor.
Oh, and of course, what Durotan doesn’t know is that Thrall is his son, not yet born in this timeline. Thrall also has a personal stake in the plight of the Frostwolves. This is a chance to meet his parents and his clan when they were in their prime: Powerful heroes bound by honor and loyalty. For Horde players, this is a chance to ride alongside some of the greatest and most iconic heroes of the Horde.
Ryan Shwayder: Beneath all of the strife and survival is an undertone of family. Thrall meeting his parents, the interaction between Durotan and Draka, and brothers who have fallen out of touch. There's a certain humanity—orc-manity?—about the Frostwolves and others within Frostfire Ridge that really resonates throughout the story.
What is the zone like?
Zachariah Owens: Cold, merciless, and beautiful. The snow-covered landscape is broken by violent volcanoes and lakes of ice—not to mention the mountains made of spires of volcanic rock warped by years of wind and cold. Looking closely, one can see echoes of what would eventually become the Blade’s Edge Mountains in Outland.
Here we get to see what two orc clans were like before they joined the Horde. Both were shaped by this hard land, and you can see that reflected in their tactics, clothing, lifestyles, and demeanor. But you also get to see just how different two clans of orcs can be from each other despite having a shared background.
In the west stand the proud orcs of the Frostwolf clan. Led by their young chieftain, Durotan, these orcs have chosen to defy the Iron Horde and keep to their ancestral homeland. Threatened on all sides by enemies and the environment, they hold true to their bonds of clan and family.
This is also the home of the Thunderlord clan. Greatest of hunters and known for their mastery of beasts, this clan uses numbers and tactics to conquer animals of all types, from the flying rylaks to the defiant gronn. Their homes are the bones of the great colossi, ancient giants lost to the ravages of time. It’s even rumored that the mysterious Iron Wolf, Warlord of the Thunderlord, seems to have a very personal vendetta against the Frostwolves. . . .
The zone likes death, bloodshed, and long walks off short cliffs.
We also get a chance to meet the ogres when they were still organized and holding on to the last vestiges of their once-great empire.
In the west, the ogres of Bladespire Fortress have long sought to enslave and subjugate any orcs that dare defy them. Meanwhile, in the north, the ogres of Bloodmaul have begun to enter into negotiations with the Iron Horde, exchanging slaves and services to some dark end.
And of course, we can’t have Draenor without the infamous gronn. They and their magnaron masters control the eastern part of the zone. Part of an ancient breed, the magnaron practice dark, primal magics, and act according to an agenda they have never shared with anyone. Some claim that if the magnaron win, all of Draenor will be cast into a frozen wasteland like Frostfire Ridge.
Ryan Shwayder: The zone likes death, bloodshed, and long walks off short cliffs. It's interested in zones with a harsh climate—a land that isn't afraid to be itself. Its brutally honesty, or perhaps just brutal. Actually, I might have misheard the question. . . .
What are three of your favorite locations players should check out on their journey through the zone?
Zachariah Owens: Thunder’s Fall and Colossal’s Fall. These two cities are home to the Thunderlord clan and are formed in the bones of dead colossi. We wanted to show the Thunderlord as legendary hunters, and these are the places we really got to go all out with depicting that fantasy. Here you get to see them raising rylaks for air support; wrangling clefthoof for pack animals; and taming boars, birds, and even gronn—all being hunted, shackled, subjugated under the will of the Thunderlord beastmasters.
As far as other favorite locations, I have to say Bladespire Citadel is a place not to miss. This citadel is a massive structure that dominates the landscape and is one of the last remnants of the sort of power the ogre empire once wielded. This was a chance for us to really show some of the cultural differences between the ogres of the past and the lumbering oafs we know today. Everything from their fighting style to their architecture is reminiscent of their dying culture. Early in the questing experience you will get to lay siege to this fortress with an army of elite Frostwolves at your back and Thrall at your side.
This was a chance for us to really show some of the cultural differences between the ogres of the past and the lumbering oafs we know today.
But hands down one of my favorite locations is the Crackling Plains in the east. This great frozen lake is bordered by giants and beasts of every sort, often venturing their way onto the ice in search of food or worse. Here, gronn can be seen marching across the ice, hunting clefthoof or frost wolves, in turn being hunted by Thunderlord giant stalkers. Great magnaron stride out into the open slaying anything in sight, their loyal goren scavengers not far behind them to eat up what remains. Meanwhile, in many places cracks in the ice begin to form as things that were birthed in the dark deeps begin to scuttle to the surface on many, many legs. This is the place that is sure to remind you of the savagery of Draenor and the many types of giants that can be found there.
Ryan Shwayder: Let's be honest, my co-conspirator took at a minimum four favorite locations, which leaves me only capable of listing two locations to balance things out. I saw what you did there, Zachariah!
First is Icescar Boneyard in the northwestern reaches of Frostfire Ridge. Demonic summoning circles, bones, and necromantic orcs really get the nostalgia going and highlight a cool multi-zone story arc in Warlords of Draenor.
I also really like Wor'gol because I've always wanted to get to know where the Frostwolves came from better. It does a great job of showing their Spartan existence in a territory harsh even by Draenor standards. I like wandering the area through the eyes of Thrall, seeing the home of his ancestors as he would.
I'm stealing back a third location. More than anything ever, I love the crap out of Ogre Hut 01 in Grimfrost Hill for its welcoming atmosphere—not unlike that of a quaint bed-and-breakfast—save for the lack of beds, breakfasts, and any real comforts of survivable living.
Tell us more about the Horde Garrison.
Zachariah Owens: In addition to providing a lot of resources for crafting or portals to capitals, the Garrison you establish at Frostwall serves as a hangout for the many followers and visitors you find in your journey. There are many nooks and crannies to explore, some of which might have a treasure or two stashed away from some unscrupulous members of your Garrison.
As you level up you get a chance to choose different buildings that best suit your needs. Each choice has weight to it, as what you decide to build will augment your abilities within the Garrison and without, altering which quest lines might be available as well as what resources you have access to in certain zones. For Frostfire, you get a Barracks that will allow you to conduct patrol missions with your Followers. On top of that, you also get the zone ability Call to Arms, which allows you to call in reinforcements from your Garrison every so often to help you take down a particularly rough group of enemies or an elite monster.
As you continue your journey through Draenor, more and more of your discoveries will find their way back to your Garrison. Rescue someone from a cage during your adventuring, and they may appear later in your Garrison expressing their gratitude in the form of unique vendor items. In some cases, they’ll offer to become a Follower. We want the Garrison to feel alive, and it’s the staging point for many of your experiences throughout the expansion. Don’t be surprised if special quest-givers or vendors appear based on activities you’ve done in the world.
Of course, not everyone who comes to your Garrison is friendly. It’s important to remember that you are building an army, one capable of rivaling the Iron Horde. As you continue to foil their plans or lead attacks against certain factions, expect retaliation. Be prepared to defend your Garrison against invasions from foes of all sorts, calling upon your Followers or reinforcements that you’ve summoned in from Azeroth. This is your Garrison, and you are the commander.
Next, our perilous journey through Draenor will take us to the treacherous jungles and unforgiving canyons of Gorgrond, where opposing primeval forces are locked in an eternal battle. Stay tuned for more!
*No designers were harmed during the making of this interview.