World of War­craft: Bat­tle for Aze­roth

The world’s most pop­u­lar MMO goes back to ba­sics

Maximum PC - - IN THE LAB - –ALAN DEX­TER & ZAK STOREY

IT’S NOT OF­TEN we look at game ex­pan­sions, but when it comes to the jug­ger­naut that is World­ofWar­craft, we made an ex­cep­tion. Why? Well, with so many games out there nowa­days, it’s rare that two of us here are play­ing the same ti­tle at the same time. And with a com­bined 27 years’ worth of WoW ex­pe­ri­ence be­tween the two re­view­ers, we thought it would be worth shar­ing our views on Bl­iz­zard’s lat­est block­buster.

WoW is a genre-defin­ing achieve­ment. Sur­pass­ing the likes of Everquest, it reimag­ined what an MMO could be, mak­ing it more ac­ces­si­ble to the main­stream. Over the years, it reached al­most 13 mil­lion sub­scribers (at $10 a month). But it hasn’t been with­out upset, with many a de­sign de­ci­sion or lack­lus­ter ex­pan­sion re­duc­ing that num­ber cat­a­clysmi­cally.

Bat­tle for Aze­roth (or BFA) is the seventh WoW ex­pan­sion, and marks a re­turn to the orig­i­nal premise of a world at war. Hark­ing back to the con­flicts in the orig­i­nal War­craft strat­egy games, it looks to rekin­dle fac­tion pride by pit­ting Horde and Al­liance against each other af­ter the world-scar­ring events of the last ex­pac. With a re­design to how realms and world PvP works, it’s a far more at­trac­tive propo­si­tion to spend time smash­ing en­emy play­ers while lev­el­ing than ever be­fore. That said, be­fore we delve into our ex­pe­ri­ences, it’s worth cov­er­ing what BFA of­fers. It takes play­ers from level 110 to 120 (with a level boost to 110 in­cluded on pur­chase), there are two new con­ti­nents (one for each fac­tion), with three new zones each to level up through, ten new five-man dun­geons, one new raid, and a ton of class, pro­fes­sion, and game­play changes.

There are no new classes or races to play as; in­stead, there are Al­lied races. Th­ese es­sen­tially re­skinned ex­ist­ing mod­els pro­vide cos­metic re­wards to play­ers look­ing for some­thing fresh. How­ever, each is locked be­hind a lengthy rep­u­ta­tion grind, with some stuck be­hind rep grinds from the prior ex­pan­sion. There are six cur­rently— four from Le­gion (the last ex­pan­sion) and two from BFA’s endgame, with each fac­tion re­ceiv­ing three apiece—and at least two more promised later in BFA’s life cy­cle.

The ma­jor­ity of the ac­tion takes place on the lost is­lands of Kul Ti­ras and Zan­dalar, and on top of three-man is­land skir­mishes (ver­sus AI or other play­ers) and War­fronts (think a big­ger PvE bat­tle­ground), pro­vides play­ers with two unique lev­el­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. Pre­vi­ous ex­pan­sions saw the Horde and Al­liance lev­el­ing through the same ar­eas, fight­ing here and there, but gen­er­ally get­ting on with busi­ness, try­ing to reach the level cap to fight the next big bad as quickly as pos­si­ble. Here, each side gets their own is­land to level through, each made of three zones that you can do in any or­der. You do oc­ca­sion­ally pop across to the op­pos­ing fac­tion’s is­land as part of your the­matic war cam­paign, but it’s only once you hit level 120, and the world quests kick in (pro­vid­ing Azerite power, rep­u­ta­tion, gold, and equip­ment re­wards), that you re­ally see the other fac­tion.

The Azerite Neck­lace is a new sys­tem in­te­grated into the game fol­low­ing Le­gion’s dy­namic and ever-grow­ing Ar­ti­fact Weapon and Leg­endary item setup. It’s a con­tin­u­ally grow­ing power source that pro­vides a mas­sive stat boost and ac­cess to ad­di­tional game­play traits on three pieces of ar­mor that you ac­quire through­out your time in

BFA. Th­ese traits range from the mun­dane in­crease stat X by amount Y when you cast a spell to sur­viv­abil­ity in­creases, item level im­prove­ments, and even playstyle-chang­ing me­chan­ics, al­though the lat­ter is rarer. De­spite be­ing a nice ad­di­tion, it’s con­sid­ered a dumbed-down, duller vari­ant of Le­gion’s Leg­endary and Ar­ti­fact sys­tem.

As for endgame con­tent, aside from world quests and PvP, there’s a healthy se­lec­tion of dun­geons to bat­tle through and, of course, the first raid tier, Uldir, a Titan-themed lab­o­ra­tory. For dun­geons,

there are three dif­fi­cul­ties: Nor­mal, from 110 on­ward; Heroic, once you hit 120 and a cer­tain gear level; then Mythic, which is even more dif­fi­cult, but pro­vides bet­ter items. Mythic+ opens up at the same time as the ini­tial raid launch, scal­ing from Mythic 1–20, and pro­vides even greater chal­lenges and bet­ter loot. HO­CUS FO­CUS

One dif­fer­ence this time around is that there’s no ob­vi­ous big per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of evil to de­feat. For the Horde, there’s a story in­volv­ing the trolls that in­habit the is­land on which you ar­rive, with hints of big­ger things that are a threat to Aze­roth, but it isn’t as laser-fo­cused as pre­vi­ous ex­pan­sions. For the Al­liance, it’s all about re­unit­ing the is­land’s three main houses. There’s ev­ery­thing from Wic­can magic to tide-con­trol­ling sages, pi­rates, and more. How­ever, there’s a lack of ur­gency to your cru­sade, and al­though we’re sure that big bad will ar­rive even­tu­ally, there’s noth­ing too im­me­di­ately threat­en­ing, with even the grand scale of the fac­tion war be­ing some­what side­lined. There are hints that an old god may make an ap­pear­ance fur­ther down the line, but for the time be­ing, zilch.

How does this all play out? Re­ally, re­ally well. Bl­iz­zard knows what it’s do­ing, and while there have been a few mis­steps here and there, this still holds true. WoW is a mas­sive world, and there’s plenty to do at any given mo­ment. Whether you want to run dun­geons, ex­pe­ri­ence older raids, do world quests, en­joy some PvP, bat­tle pets, or sim­ply ex­plore, there’s al­ways lots more to do than you’ve got time for. There’s a re­vamped pro­fes­sion sys­tem to sink your teeth into, rep­u­ta­tion to be gained, and enough chal­lenges to task even the most fer­vent of achieve­ment hun­ters.

It also looks great. Sure, it can’t com­pete with the likes of Witcher3 or the lat­est ray­traced hype trains, but its scope and vi­sion mean there are times when you’ll just stop to take in an in­cred­i­ble vista, or marvel at the scale of the huge city that sur­rounds you. The mas­sive zig­gu­rat at the heart of the Troll king­dom is a case in point, and while it isn’t easy to nav­i­gate, it does throw up some beau­ti­ful views. It’ll be awe­some when we can fi­nally start fly­ing around again, but as ever with a new ex­pan­sion, your fly­ing mounts are suc­tion-cupped to the ground, at least for the time be­ing.

Bat­tle for Aze­roth is a wor­thy ad­di­tion to a game that keeps tweak­ing it­self to stay rel­e­vant and chal­leng­ing. It’s hard to tell whether this ex­pan­sion will be as fondly re­mem­bered as the best, but as the over­all goal emerges, it has a chance. It would have been prefer­able for the endgame to be clearer, and to have more ar­eas to ex­plore, but at least you can switch sides, and ex­pe­ri­ence the Horde and Al­liance sto­ries first-hand.

World quest bosses quickly turn into a swirl of num­bers, name­plates, and player spells.

Bo­re­alis is a beau­ti­fully re­al­ized, sprawl­ing town that takes some get­ting used to.

Zan­dalar and Kul Ti­ras is­lands have some­how only just been dis­cov­ered.

Uldir, the first raid in­stance, makes quite an im­pres­sion on first sight.

Snake peo­ple and light­ning— what couldpos­si­bly go wrong?

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