The landscape of World of Warcraft has taken a dramatic turn of late, bringing back a great deal of ‘WAR’ for your WARcraft dollar. We have had a few expansions now that kept both Horde and Alliance at arm’s reach while we worked together to DEFEAT THE EVIL BADDIES, but now we are back to fuming at each other. And how better to hammer home just how much war sucks than by destroying some longstanding player cities with fire and plague?
Dear Diary, Today the Horde were total dicks
Once again a change of leadership has put Horde players in a puzzling position, with Sylvanas Windrunner demonstrating just how downright cruel an undead mistress of death can be (come on, spoilers people) with her first major action as newly elected prime minister of the Horde to include the burning down of a massive tree, Avatar style. That tree was also the home of basically the entire night elf people so you can see why the water cooler banter the following day for WoW players was a little frosty.
So where does this leave players at the doorstep of Battle for Azeroth? Initially you are tasked with powering up your snazzy new power rangers amulet with the blood of your dying world, in the hopes that you can get enough magic juice to heal her – but at the same time, you are tasked with finding more allies to bolster your war effort against the dreaded Horde/Alliance. So, multitasking is the order of the day – balancing such simple tasks as preventing the end of your entire world and stopping all-out war from wiping out your people. Just another day at the office for you, the champion of Azeroth.
It has only just occurred to me how freakishly massive that man’s hand is
But how does the Champion of Azeroth grow throughout this expansion, beset on all sides with all manner of horrible dangers? Well, in some ways, you kind of…don’t. Now, hear me out – I am not saying that your journey through BFA is one without personal growth/reward, more so that this is the first expansion that doesn’t provide players with new abilities during their levelling process. The argument here is definitely one aimed at WoW’s initial penchant for ability bloat – and the weird obligation that was felt to make sure that every class had a new toy every expansion. Classes had long lists of questionably cool abilities, and definitely a great many ended up entirely unused. So, after pruning many abilities (mercilessly judged by the Blizzard team) the focus has instead shifted to allowing players to tweak how existing abilities work, rather than wholesale reinventing the wheel for a classes rotation every few levels.
This works by way of your magical power ranger medallion, known as ‘The Heart of Azeroth’ – a macguffin that will absorb Azerite power as you complete quests and kill baddies, which will then unlock unique slotted armour pieces to change how a particular class ability works.
Still following? To be honest, I was a little lost at first. The system feels oddly like the initial (WoW 1.0) talent system, though separated from player EXP as a whole. A simple explanation – as a warrior, I can choose the ability Bladestorm:
Lots of fun, I can spin around like a madman and chop up everything around me! I can then choose to augment this ability once I have hoovered up enough macguffin energy, by choosing an option on a piece of gear, like the following:
So now, my Bladestorm ability actually speeds me up while I am channelling it – as well as ramping up the damage. Consider the ability tweaked, Pimp My Ride style.
This increase also comes at the choice of other similar buffs; by choosing to increase the power of my Bladestorm, I am opting away from other ability buffs – such as a stacking defence buff when auto-attacking, for example. Though I may not personally be gaining a new way to punch people as I level, I am definitely tweaking my existing repertoire in new and exciting ways, all while my stats grow and I enjoy the larger numbers that come with it.
There is also a vast and interesting new world to explore. As is customary within the World of Warcraft, cartographers have routinely managed to miss entire land masses from their exploration. Thankfully these places become far more obvious and accessible once expansion time rolls around – revealing the british sailor-spanse of Kul Tiras and the Aztec-inspired Zandalar
Both are fabulously designed. I was entirely uninterested in Kul Tiras when I read it was a land of rolling hills and harbor towns, as I just could not imagine what they could possibly do to make such a setting interesting, considering that it had been done countless times before. Instead what I found was a beautifully designed landmass that really captured a completely different feeling of sea-loving denizens. As I moved from one town to the next the entire experience felt very organic and beautiful to look at – regardless of the fact that I was simply looking at grassy hills and tree-lined horizons. Each town or plateau had some unique hook to it that made it feel alive, and I quickly found myself giving a shit about the people that lived there – an abject rarity in an MMO.
The kind of stunning vista you’d expect to be unimpressed by – but impressed I was nonetheless
Couple this with the downright creepy atmosphere of a place like Nazmir, and I knew I was in for a treat. Even the dungeons within the game have had a healthy dose of creativity injected into them. Each expansion usually has at least one ‘phoned-in’ dungeon, but in Battle for Azeroth they appear to have finally nailed the formula of making sure each experience is unique and refreshing. I am however wary that some of the dungeons have a strong narrative element that may lose its appeal after the 10th or 15th time you have run it.
These incredible areas are also heightened by the game’s stellar soundtrack. World of Warcraft has never been a game with awful music, but it still amazes me how much they can up the ante every expansion. This latest release couples some amazing new orchestral scores with what I can only imagine must be a massive vocal choir to really add new depth to the world’s in-game music, from the login screen to any desolate corner of the new world you can dig yourself into.
Dunno how to appeal to people? Just add dinosaurs, works for me
But what of my gripes within this experience? The truth is World of Warcraft: Legion was such an exceptional experience it means that Battle For Azeroth has a lot to live up to. Do I miss my artefact weapon? Yes! Do I think the Heart of Azeroth macguffin is a worthy successor? No! In the grand scheme of things does it detract from the experience enough to really upset me? No.
But it is unmistakeably hard to ignore these factors moving forward. Blizzard has demonstrated that they are happy to leave ‘new’ expansion features behind as they move forward, but I can’t help but question whether or not some of these details really do deserve to be left in the past, considering that some of the ideas that consistently turn up expansion to expansion involve some of the more time-gatey elements of the game, such as mission boards – now enjoying their third iteration within the Warcraft worlds. We get to do this all over again Blizzard? But class halls, with all their unique and interesting solo content are killed off? It’s just a downright bummer.
An undead dino is even cooler than a regular dino
Battle for Azeroth may feel a bit safe in places, and a little bland in others – but the exciting elements are by far enough to overshadow these minor gripes. And if there is one thing that Blizzard has demonstrated with their release schedule as of late is that they are not afraid to unleash incredible changes to this game further down the track as their release schedule opens the gate of content that they have planned for us players.