World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth
A new World of Warcraft expansion is a wonderful thing. In a game as large as WoW, with its myriad activities, dungeons, raids and quests to complete at endgame, having a clear goal like levelling to the new maximum level cap is one of my favourite things to do. The latest expansion, Battle for Azeroth, is no less ambitious than the previous expansions, and aims to bring the War back into Warcraft, focussing not on external threats to the world and our heroes, but instead to the conflict between the two playable factions themselves, the Horde and the Alliance. Now, for the longest time I have been a proud Horde player. My first “main” was a Blood Elf Mage, and when it comes down to the old who’s cooler argument, I’ll proudly exclaim “For the Horde!” every time. But, since this new expansion splits the levelling content into both Horde and Alliance stories, with two separate continents and different zones for both factions, I decided to see how the other half lived. My goal was to level both sides equally, whenever I levelled up on the Alliance side, I would swap over to the Horde side and play through the story until I levelled up there. So it took me a little longer than most to hit the new maximum level cap of 120, but when I did I had two characters ready to see both sides of the story. (I levelled a Human Paladin on the Alliance side and an Undead Warrior on the Horde side) The levelling experience was a lot of fun, the new zones on both sides of the faction divide are extremely well designed and a testament to Blizzards ability to make great, large areas with little secrets, hidden questlines and some really stunning locales to look at while doing the now familiar “collect 10 bear butts for this questgiver” that anyone who has played WoW is familiar with. In that regard, it could be said that it’s more of the same in terms of what you’re actually doing minute in minute in WoW, but the emphasis on the lore and stories and characters in this expansion is some of the best work yet. Stand out areas while levelling for me personally were Drustvar on the Alliance side, with it’s spooky forests and wickermen, and Vol’dun on the Horde side, which proved that Blizzard can take a desert environment and make it look good. However, I do have to note that while we were promised a grand Horde versus Alliance slugfest, so far the stories and content seem to be focussed on the build up to this conflict. The Horde head to the home of the Zandalari trolls to make friends with our new dinosaur riding friends, while the Alliance try and unravel the politics of Kul Tiras in order to get them to join their, well, Alliance. With more of the story set to be released in the coming months, reaching maximum level did feel like I’d only seen a third of the story that Blizzard has planned, and I guess with a game that requires a subscription to play, they don’t want to release everything all at once, in order to keep you coming back. I also haven’t touched on any of the new features or game design elements for the new expansion at all, so I’ll summarize them quickly here. On the box for BFA the features specified as it’s selling points are:
NEW ALLIED RACES – While there are no new classes to try out in the new expansion, Blizzard has added six new races that can be recruited and played as. Not all of them (read: the most interesting) are in the game yet, but if you’ve ever wanted to play as a Dwarf with a flaming beard or an Orc that isn’t green, levelling them up from scratch will add a tonne of play time. ISLAND EXPEDITIONS – touted as randomly generated adventures for 3 players, I personally found Island Expeditions a little lacklustre. Basically a race between players and computer controlled enemies, you run around collecting Azerite and filling up a bar. In some very pretty locations, mind you, but it does get a little samey after a while. WARFRONTS – A feature that was released in the first few weeks of BFA, and led to some discussion (people got mad on internet forums) about Horde and Alliance bias on Blizzards part. Warfronts are basically large outdoor battle with 20 players that harken back to Warcraft 3 and the Real Time Strategy roots of Warcraft. I personally found them pretty fun, if a little easy. AZERITE ARMOR – While the previous expansion, Legion, gave players powerful legendary artifacts as part of their class, BFA does away with that and gives you Azerite gear items, which can be infused with the very lifeblood of the planet. Gameplay wise, instead of levelling your artefact weapon, you instead level up a necklace that lets you unlock bonuses on different pieces of armor. It’s a system that attempted to simplify and streamline the artefact system, but instead comes across a little empty. Some of the bonuses are nebulous in their description, and because unlocking new traits on new pieces of armor is linked to the level of your necklace, sometimes you’ll get a new piece of armor that is statiscally better, but you’re unable to unlock its traits. In the end though, I’ve no doubt that Blizzard will polish up the systems that need to be tweaked and there are some promising tidbits of where the story will go over the next few months. Is it worth jumping back in with friends or by yourself? I reckon so, especially with friends. Theres so much to do, with new dungeons, raids and player versus player content. Just don’t rush through and take your time. While hanging out in the new Horde city of Zuldazar with a friend, I found a little bar hidden underwater called the “dive bar”. We were waiting for a couple of others to finish up an island expedition so that we could head off into a dungeon. Over voice chat my friends and I looked around this bar, which was literally a “dive” since it was underwater and populated by various turtle people and underwater creatures. That’s some of the best parts that WoW can deliver, a fun place to hang out with your friends, before you go off to bash some undead dinosaurs into submission for shiny loot.