World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth
The world’s most popular MMO goes back to basics
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?