A little over a month ago, Blizzard Entertainment launched their seventh expansion for World of Warcraft, Battle for Azeroth. Now that the initial time gating is over and all of Battle for Azeroth’s advertised launch features are live, it’s time to take a look at them and see how well Blizzard hit (or missed) the mark with them.
I should clarify that this isn’t a review so, therefore, it will not be given a review score. Battle for Azeroth is far from over as we have about a year and a half left before we see all of the patches and content. New or current features could be added or changed which would end up affecting a review score. This is why simple thoughts are being offered on what has been given to us thus far.
The first thing you’ll probably do in Battle for Azeroth is embark on your journey to level 120. Battle for Azeroth features six brand-new zones divided evenly between Horde and Alliance players. The Horde gain access to the continent of Zandalar which houses the Zuldazar, Vol’dun, and Nazmir zones. Alliance gain access to the continent of Kul Tiras which houses the Stormsong Valley, Tiragarde Sound, and Drustvar zones.
Much like in World of Warcraft: Legion, each zone has its own unique story told through quests and incredible in-game cinematics. The Horde and The Alliance received one major story for their factions on top of the individual smaller stories found throughout the zones. The story aspect was top-notch; however, the questing content failed to hit the mark.
The problem with this was that there were fewer zones to quest through despite there being more overall zones than the previous expansion. In Legion, both factions had access to the same four zones and a fifth end-game zone whereas, in Battle for Azeroth, you’re limited to only three zones while going to the enemy continent briefly once you unlock the War Campaign in the middle of your leveling experience. This means that zones were PACKED full of quests in such a way that you were practically begging to move on to a new area by the time you finished a zone. It didn’t really feel that way in Legion as each zone’s pacing felt well-balanced. Here, it seems that zones were crammed full of quests for the sake of trying to pump enough experience into a character to make sure they hit 120 by the time they nearly completed the third zone. They could have easily eliminated a good majority of the quests and simply offered a higher experience reward to make the zones feel more streamlined.
The length of each zone was the only major drawback to leveling. Some minor drawbacks pertained to quest uniqueness. If you’ve done a quest before in the history of this game then these new batches of quests are not going to feel any different. There’s still you’re average “go here and kill x amount of this creature” or “go collect these sacks of grain because we can’t be assed to do it ourselves” quests littered throughout and with the exception of a handful of them, none of them really stood out as being all that memorable.
World Quests have returned in Battle for Azeroth and if you’ve played Legion, then you’re not getting anything new here whatsoever. Every day, you get an emissary quest to go complete four (or three in the case of the Tortollan Seekers) quests for that specific reputation and gain access to a 400 artifact power token, 1,500 reputation for that faction, as well as another reward which can be gold, war resources, or a shiny piece of gear.
The system is not new by any means. The world quests are simply just select quests you leveled through, just like it was in Legion. Honestly, I am over World Quests. I was bored with them by the time Patch 7.1 hit servers back in Legion and I’m bored with them now and we haven’t even made it to 8.1 in Battle for Azeroth. The World Quest system worked for a while in Legion because it was something new and fresh but once you realized that it was nothing more than a rep grind fest that offered very little in terms of rewards at the end game if you were a raider, World Quests became something you could completely ignore. Given the redundancy of World Quests as they are, it’s something people are beginning to ignore a lot sooner than Blizzard probably intended.
There needs to be more variety in the World Quests themselves. I know development takes time and its fine to repeat some of the more memorable quests from your leveling experience but World Quests shouldn’t solely rely on those for content. New, exciting, unique, and memorable quests should have been created for this system. Tie some lore into them that coincides with the game’s main story, offer more rewards such as the low chance a rare quest spawns that rewards a pet, or a mount, or something to get excited over. Heck, you could even take it a step further and create a new tier of World Quests that offered raid bosses… and I mean more than the one that spawns every Tuesday… to create an option open-world outdoor raid that all players could enjoy. Creating outdoor shared content is a way to build community, which is a vital component to any MMORPG.
Imagine that while these world raids were up, you could get a group of players together and just farm raid trash as a group. Farming the trash could offer bonus artifact power, rare drops such as BoE raid gear, pets, mounts, etc. that were only available during the time that world raid event was up. Maybe there are essential items needed for crafting that come from these mobs. There are many options Blizzard could have gone with in a system like this that gave players an option to either farm outdoor raid trash for rewards or kill bosses. With these events being up for a limited time, it would encourage the player base to come together as a community and do the content or to give guilds something to do together. A full raid set of gear doesn’t have to come from this content… heck, it doesn’t even need to contain gear. It just needs to make the world feel like it’s alive which is something Blizzard has struggled with where other games have succeeded in that area.
Hell, more world events, in general, would be nice. Especially if some of the development team members or community managers directly participated in them.
The Heart of Azeroth & Azerite Gear
In Legion, Blizzard came up with a concept to have players get one weapon at the start of the expansion and then keep that weapon until the very end. Your weapon would grow with you as you gained Artifact Power to level it up and with each level, you gained access to new talents and traits that altered your class’ playstyle, giving each class and their individual specializations a unique feel and identity.
Those weapons are gone and have been replaced with a necklace known as The Heart of Azeroth and while the system is similar in the fact that you grind out artifact power so that your necklace can gain levels, the way the talents work is completely different.
Blizzard pulled a bold move and decided to eliminate a staple feature that has been in the game since its launch in November of 2004: they got rid of class set gear. If you’re unfamiliar to World of Warcraft, each time a new raid tier came out, there were sets of gear you could collect. Since I play a mage, I’ll use that as an example. The first raid set for a mage was the Arcanist Regalia. It consisted of eight pieces of gear and when you collected certain amounts (two pieces, four pieces, etc.), you gained additional power and/or abilities. The next set to come out was the Netherwind Regalia and this continued all the way up until the Legion expansion pack. As time went on, the number of pieces you could collect went from eight or nine down to five or six.
Now, they are gone completely in favor of Azerite Armor which takes up your Head, Shoulders, and Chest slots. The upside is that, normally, with class sets, your bonus abilities were set in stone and dictated by Blizzard. The two new abilities you got were the ones you were stuck with. With Azerite Armor, you can gain access to a pool of talents that you can choose from with different talents being on different pieces of gear. This allows you to customize your set bonuses, gaining access to up to NINE different effects. If two pieces of gear had the same talent, you could even stack them to improve their effectiveness. Sounds amazing on paper, right?
Well… the problem lies in the fact that higher pieces of Azerite gear require a higher level on your Heart of Azeroth to unlock talents. If you have your Heart of Azeroth at, let’s say, level 10… then you should be able to unlock a good portion of the talents on questing gear. If you didn’t level your necklace and you jumped into a raid and earned a piece of Azerite gear from there, chances are you can’t use any talents because your neck isn’t high enough yet to unlock them. This means a piece of gear with an item level of 355 could end up being worse than a piece of gear with an item level of 325 because you’re missing all of those talents.
Granted, there is a catch-up mechanic in play where every Tuesday, the amount of artifact power you need per level decreases by 30% but it doesn’t solve the issue that artifact power is a boring and uneventful grind. This is a problem that Blizzard (namely game director Ion Hazzikostas) said that they are looking to rectify but they never stated just how they intend to do that at the time of this writing. On top of the artifact power problem, talents are completely imbalanced right now. Each piece of Azerite armor as a pool of general talents that all classes can use as well as class talents made for each of your specific specializations. The general talents ended up being more powerful than the class talents so much to the point where class talents are barely chosen. This doesn’t make gameplay interesting as everyone is falling into the cookie cutter scenario of picking the best general talent and moving on.
The class talents themselves are also a far cry from Legion’s artifact weapon talents. They barely, if at all, change your gameplay style or make your specialization feel unique. It’s usually just an “x ability does more damage if…” talent and that’s not very interesting at all. I’m all for more damage but at least do something to where I’m not just sitting there spamming Frostbolt while waiting for a Brain Freeze or Fingers of Frost proc until my Ebonbolt comes off cooldown.
Another drawback is the fact that there are no appearances to collect. In Legion, your weapon could earn alternate appearances by completing quests, killing raid bosses, completing the Mage Tower challenge, finding hidden appearances, etc. You had a ton of choices to customize the look of your weapon but since we’re dealing with a necklace this time around, a gear slot that has zero graphical representation on your character at all, there’s no way to customize the look of it. Why not have the Heart of Azeroth have some sort of aura or particle effect on your character while wearing it and offer different auras throughout the game? Imagine an icy aura for Frost Mages, or have your gear dripping in blood for Blood Death Knights, or maybe a halo for Holy Priests, skittering light runes for Holy Paladins, etc. Some people care about appearances and that could have given them something to do in between content all while further customizing the look of their character.
Island Expeditions is a brand-new(ish) feature added to Battle for Azeroth. It may have a smokescreen of advanced enemy AI or procedural generation to make you believe this is a new feature; however if you look carefully, this feature is simply the Legion Invasion Point feature from patch 7.3 on Argus. In 7.3, you would go into a portal and be taken to a “different world” (which consisted of one single solitary confined space). You would kill a bunch of stuff, kill a boss, and be done with it.
Island Expeditions are exactly that, except everything you kill gives you Azerite. Collect a certain amount of Azerite before the enemy team and you win. There’s also quests and events that happen to make them feel more alive which also give you Azerite but the lack of variety is really killing this feature in a hurry.
Blizzard promised procedural generation but the only thing that really changes on the island are the enemies that spawn at the beginning and the type of enemy that invades the island around the 80% completion mark. Aside from the type of enemy, there’s no real difference here at all. You’re still killing enemies, killing rares, looting chests, mining nodes, and completing the same four quests over and over again. For a feature that boasts procedural generation with the promise that each Island Expedition will feel different, they sure seem to all follow the same formula and don’t really feel any different whatsoever.
The azerite detector is still going to go “barmy” and spawn the same azerite elemental at the same point each and every time, the invading forces, which contain rares and chests to loot, will still invade at the same point, and the same four quests will spawn which consist of three of them finding an item that’s always relatively close by to save a person or that one quest where you just click on the guy that needs saving to complete it. Not to mention that the rewards for doing the Expeditions are EXTREMELY lackluster. Promises of pets, mounts, or cosmetic items isn’t enough to keep players coming back.
Every week, once you collect 40,000 azerite, you are rewarded with a 2,500 artifact power token. People typically grind out however many island expeditions they need until they fill that bar then they don’t give them the time of day. Heck, some are just not doing them at all because they are uninteresting and boring. The sad part is that game director Ion Hazzikostas flat out stated that he’s fine with that. He thinks it’s okay for people to get their weekly quest done and then not touch a feature the development team took months, or possibly even a year to build.
Island Expeditions need an overhaul. Make certain enemies feel unique. Right now, non-elites, elites, and rares all reward the same azerite for their respective types. Why not have some enemies unique to that island reward more? Say you discovered a lava pit and in that pit were some fiery panthers that were unique to that island. Have those panthers offer more azerite than a typical enemy so players can say “I explored this island and I found this really cool spot! The creatures there offer higher azerite than normal so we should hit that place first!” All of a sudden, the enemy team (either AI or real players depending on the mode) may have the same mindset and, all of a sudden, you find yourself in a battle for control of those enemies so you can reap the rewards.
Since the islands are procedural, you can have different enemies be worth more azerite to create different hotspots. Heck, you could even have that happen multiple times per map! It’s not the only solution needed as there needs to be a MASSIVE addition to the type of events that happen on each island. An azerite elemental and an invading force isn’t enough. There needs to be a variety of unique events that happen per island based on that island type. Maybe you have to battle an erupting volcano to collect azerite before they are melted away by lava. Maybe there’s a pirate fleet that snuck onto the island and is threatening to leave with your azerite so you have to man ships and battle them just off the island’s coast to prevent them from leaving with your stash.
Those are just examples of improvements that need to be made to make them more interesting. Give the islands some story, some narrative. Add some game lore to it. Further some of the storylines through the islands themselves. Give us a reason to do them outside of an AP grind every Tuesday.
Here’s one of Battle for Azeroth’s features that I can’t really talk too much about because I’m an Alliance player and at the time of this writing, the Alliance have yet to gain access to a Warfront.
Essentially, a Warfront is a 20-player scenario that you cannot queue for as a guild. 5 players are the limit to how many can queue for a Warfront which, right off the bat, is a disappointment. As one of the expansion’s launch features, you’d think that Warfronts would be available starting at launch; however, they didn’t appear in the game until a month later when the first raid launched. Horde had control of the Warfront first but even when you got control, you still couldn’t do it.
Instead, you had to collect resources and fill a bar before you could access the scenario. The bar filled at a rate equal to your faction’s participation. The more people who participated, the faster the bar filled. If this sounds familiar, it should. This was the same mechanic used for The Broken Shore in Patch 7.2 of Legion when you had to turn in resources to gain access to different buildings. Once you complete your progress bar, you do the scenario and you take over Stromgarde Keep in Arathi Highlands, giving you access to a home city, quests, rares, and a world boss that offers Heroic Uldir level gear. While you’re in control of the zone, the opposing faction will begin their resource gathering so they can take over Stromgarde Keep and gain access to all of the same features.
While the alternating system seems fair, players have already waited behind a one-month time gate for the feature and now Horde players found themselves behind another week time gate just to do the scenario while The Alliance were stuck behind an additional two week time gate before we could start handing in resources.
The simple solution here would have been to have two Warfronts opened, one for Horde and one for Alliance. This way players could experience the content quicker and then switch, experiencing all-new content a few weeks later. Blizzard did state that there would be multiple Warfronts throughout the expansion and it will get to a point where they would be overlapping so each faction always had something to do but why couldn’t have this been the solution right out of the gate? It baffles me as someone who has a degree in Game Design as to how a system like this could be implemented where half of your player base felt alienated and the developers were okay with it.
Finally, we come to the first raid of the expansion: Uldir. If there’s one thing Blizzard is (mostly) consistent at, it’s creating a memorable experience through its raid content and Uldir is no exception. The bosses are pretty unique and challenging, the raid environment is absolutely gorgeous, and the lore is highly interesting…. If you’re a Horde player.
Speaking of faction alienation, the only place Blizzard dropped the ball with Uldir is the fact that if you’re an Alliance player, you’re given very little to no context as to why we’re even going there in the first place. Something about blood trolls, an Old God experiment gone wrong, blah blah blah. As a Horde player, you knew and understood exactly why you needed to go into Uldir and put an end to G’hunn. As an Alliance player, it just feels like “hey look… phat lewtz… let’s go”. In Legion, both Horde and Alliance knew why we had to go into the Emerald Nightmare to stop Xavius, why we had to go to The Nighthold and kill Gul’dan, why we had to enter the Tomb of Sargeras to stop Kil’jaeden, and why we had to go to Argus and storm Antorus to put an end to Sargeras the The Burning Legion as a whole. Here, not so much.
Again… it baffles me how a development team could create an entirely new expansion, a brand-new raid, and purposely leave half of their player base in the dark about why they need to go there. Yeah… a lot of people, especially high-end raiding guilds like Method, go in there with the intent of killing G’huun on Mythic before anyone else in the world and don’t give two squirts of rat piss about the lore but World of Warcraft caters to a wide variety of players and a lot of them DO care about the story and the lore and if those people who care strictly play Alliance, Blizzard didn’t really give them much of a reason to care about Uldir from a story perspective.
This was a long one, indeed but overall I feel that Blizzard severely missed the mark with Battle for Azeroth so far. Many people, myself included, feel like this is Legion Patch 7.4 more than a whole-new expansion. Typically, with a new expansion, you’re supposed to get brand-new features and abilities which change the way you look at the game and play. Battle for Azeroth did none of that as it felt like the took all of Legion’s systems, trimmed what really didn’t work, slapped a new coat of paint on it and called it a new expansion.
In fact, by comparison, Battle for Azeroth has fewer features at launch than any previous expansion in World of Warcraft’s history. It’s really hard to sell someone on a game when you have two main features, one of which was time-gated, with all other “features” being complete rehashes of what you had in the previous expansion.
Again, Battle for Azeroth is just over a month old. We have an 8.1, 8.1.5, 8.2, 8.2.5, 8.3, and an 8.3.5 patch to go through and experience which will add more balance, more tuning, more features, more rewards, and more aspects of gameplay. When Battle for Azeroth is over and we’re staring Patch 9.0 in the face, we will truly be able to tell just how good this expansion is. Right now; however, Battle for Azeroth is not a fun expansion and feels extremely lazy on Blizzard’s part.
Then again, Blizzard has been casualizing World of Warcraft for quite some time and Battle for Azeroth is no exception. It’s quickly becoming a game that is losing my interest as my frustrations with the development team grow more and more with each and every expansion. Battle for Azeroth is really a huge indication that World of Warcraft just isn’t for me anymore but my despite my own opinion, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the game has problems that are even affecting the audience they are targeting.