The battle is joined in Blizzard’s latest content-packed expansion.
The Horde vs. Alliance struggle has always sat at the heart of World of Warcraft, although it has at times faded into the background while the world banded together for a common cause. But now that the world-destroying threat from 2016’s excellent Legion expansion is diminished, Blizzard has once again rekindled the burning hatred these factions have for one another, bringing a welcome refocus on our character’s epic storylines and those of some of Warcraft’s greatest characters in the new Battle for Azeroth expansion. Legion left behind some pretty big shoes to fill, and while Battle for Azeroth doesn’t bring many of sweeping changes like its predecessor, it does feel right at home in the Warcraft story.
Battle for Azeroth picks up right after the major events of Legion’s last big update, which saw the Titan Sargeras imprisoned – but not before he plunged a sword into Azeroth itself. The resulting wound caused the planet to begin bleeding its “life-blood,” which solidified into a substance now known as Azerite. This surprisingly plentiful substance enhance the desires and abilities of those who possess it, making it an incredibly valuable resource and raising tensions between the factions as they vie for its control. The stakes rise even higher as you realize that Azeroth herself is dying thanks to the giant blade embedded into the heart of Silithus.
The pre-expansion events set the stage for the conflict in Battle for Azeroth, though the stakes of the new questing pale in comparison to Legion’s world-ending scenarios. In one of their more sinister and memorable acts, the burning of Teldrassil perfectly sets the stage for the struggle to come. Like many other Alliance, I couldn’t wait to hop into Darkshore with my Pandaren Monk and make them pay. In comparison to previous expansions, the carnage seemed personal.
The struggle unfolds on two beautiful new continents, with Alliance players being directed to Kul Tias and Horde to Zandalar. Each continent is stuffed with quests spread across three diverse zones. Thankfully, as in Legion, you’re free to select which zone to start in, making the questing feel less like a predefined grind and more like a sprawling adventure of your own making. You can also do these zones simultaneously, so if you’re starting to get tired of one area you’re able to simply zip off to the next zone and start anew.
The zones themselves are wonderfully diverse.
The zones themselves are wonderfully diverse. Areas like the swampland temples of the Zandalar region of Nazmir or the hauntingly beautiful forests and mountains of Drustvar in Kul Tiras are so distinct from one another that the experience of seeing what’s around the next corner never grows old. But it’s a shame that the same level of diversity doesn’t translate to the actual questing. While the stories told within the quests are entertaining enough–especially ones like the meadery that starts getting taken over by its honey–the actual quests themselves mostly remain the same mundane kill and fetch quests that have been at the heart of WoW for over a decade. Helping to eradicate the Blood Troll threat is to the Zandalari is interesting and all, but it’s hard not to get a little bored when going through the motions of killing your fifteenth blood troll in a row just to be asked to turn around and kill more. Thankfully the characters helping to tell the excellent main story in each region are entertaining and well written, especially the Loa Bwonsamdi who also pokes fun at you every time you die in Zandalar with some witty quip that never feels old.
Thankfully, new features such as the Foothold quests and the Islands Expeditions do help break up that monotony. Establishing footholds on the other faction’s continent allows you to actually quest and explore in that new zone – meaning you needn’t worry about creating a Horde or Alliance character to at least explore their shiny new continent. Effectively, footholds double the initially apparent questing area for BfA. These foothold quests are largely more of the same kill and fetch quests, but a few stand out, such as when I fended off a Goblin attack by controlling a massive fire elemental as the Alliance, or when I helped start a mutiny among a pirate company in Tiragarde Sound for the Horde. You’re able to travel back and forth between the two continents with ease once these Footholds get established, which comes in handy once you unlock world quests.
The Island Expeditions, on the other hand, feel half-baked. These expeditions take you to a randomly generated island where you and two others fight to collect more Azerite than the opposing faction via monster killing, mining, and so-on. But despite being randomly generated, each Expedition feels the same: kill and collect, rinse and repeat. There really isn’t much to it.
Expeditions also come with enemy AI characters that are meant to emulate the play of real players for the opposing faction, but they fail to put up a real challenge. Island Expeditions also have different difficulty levels that help make things more interesting, especially the PVP difficulty that pits your team of three against three opposing players.
Underrot in Nazmir has glowing fungal corruption and monsters literally rotting from their surroundings.
Battle for Azeroth, of course, includes several new dungeons. Each zone comes with one that neatly ties off its respective storyline. My favorite is Underrot in Nazmir, with its glowing fungal corruption and monsters literally rotting from their surroundings, it presents the most alien landscape I’ve seen in a dungeon to date.. And while overall the normal-mode dungeons themselves aren’t all that challenging with a good group, the powerful loot and great experience reward makes rolling through them well worth your time.
The Azerite Must Flow
Gone in Battle for Azeroth are the powerful artifact weapons of Legion; instead, you are bestowed a necklace named the “Heart of Azeroth” which harnesses the power of the Azerite you collect. In turn, the Azerite powers the new and useful Azerite armor pieces you find along the way. The power of that armor is tied directly to the level of your Heart of Azeroth, and with these levels you unlock powerful new abilities that can augment your skills, such as an extremely clutch bubble shield that absorbs damage every 30s seconds keeping you in the fight longer than normal.
While it is refreshing that most of the grind for artifact weapon power is gone since Azerite itself isn’t hard to obtain, the armor itself feels a somewhat boring in practice compared to the old weapons. The whole process of leveling up and selecting your upgrades feels wholly forgettable. It’s hard not to miss the individualized quests you needed to go on to obtain this really powerful artifact weapon from Legion, as Battle for Azeroth simply hands you these powerful items regularly.
Once you’ve decided on your armor upgrade, you can basically forget about it unless you swap class roles or need to respec. I actually find myself running with two sets of armor in my bags to swap out if I’m trying a new specialization such as Mistweaver on my Monk or Discipline on my Priest as it’s more convenient than running back to the reforger each time.
War…Mode! What Is It Good For?
One of the most significant changes is the inclusion of War Mode. By toggling this feature on, you’ll enter essentially a player-versus-player instance for your whole server with like minded individuals, doing away with the need of dedicated PVP servers. This opens the entirety of Azeroth up to player versus player combat, adding a heightened sense of adventure wherever you go. It’s also incredibly handy to have access to your PVP talents in the regular world as opposed to just PVP environments, giving extra utility any combat scenario.
Enabling War Mode rewards you with a handy 10 percent persistent experience boost while leveling, but it does come at the cost of possibly being ganked by roving groups of opposing players. At first I didn’t think much of this as the two factions were largely questing on different continents, but after being destroyed by a Horde member roving around in Stormsong Valley, I became keenly aware of how precarious War Mode can be.
If you do revel in player versus player combat, and actually get some good kills in, Battle for Azeroth will actually mark on you on the map for the opposing faction to hunt and shut you down. It definitely adds to the prestige of being great at PVP and nothing has been more satisfying than finally getting that kill on a player who has reminded me of the South Park griefer for the past hour. I found War Mode well worth participating in not just for the EXP boost but also for the increase in overall tension.
You Can’t Give Up On the World…of Warcraft
Once you establish footholds in all three opposing zones, you unlock the mostly entertaining World Quests that provide much of Battle for Azeroth’s current end game. These World Quests vary in the tasks they give you such as slaying an elite monster or gathering quantities of Azerite, and while they are fun after a while they can start to feel a bit repetitive. While we wait for Warfronts and the mythic raid to unlock in the coming weeks, World Quests can help give you the much-needed gear needed to continue progressing. There are also reputation rewards to grind for, which are well-integrated into the expansions other systems, unlocking crafting bonuses and more.
Crafting has been further streamlined thanks to Battle for Azeroth allowing you to craft recipes right away from each new zone. This is especially great for new players or those who boosted a new character to 110 right away as there is no need to go back and grind the lower crafting professions to unlock Kul Tiras and Zandalar crafting. I tend to find crafting hard to get into regardless of the MMO I’m playing, but this thankfully had me actually seeking out crafting nodes and participating in professions where I didn’t bother with Legion before it since I simply wasn’t skilled enough to make it worthwhile.
Battlegrounds fans also got some love in BfA with Seething Shore, the new Battlegrounds map Instead of capturing towers, you’ll parachute into a vale PUBG-style and attempt to accumulate more Azerite than your opposing faction counterparts. It’s intense and incredibly fast-paced, and when coupled with a good healer surviving more than a minute at a time can be a lot of fun.