The drums of war thunder once again.
If there’s once constant in WarCraft, it’s that the Horde and the Alliance hate each other. Sure, they’ll team up to survive, but when the cosmic, world-ending threats die down, they’re right back at each other’s throats. You might think that working to take down The Burning Legion would have engendered some goodwill between the factions, but nope. We’re at war again.
Things start when Sylvanas Windrunner, the current Horde WarChief, decides that a depleted Alliance is ripe for the pickings and attacks Darnassus. the Night Elf capital city. She hopes to take the city, kill the Night Elf leaders, and splinter the Alliance so she can defeat the individual nations more easily. When that doesn’t work, she decides to burn Teldrassil, the sacred NIght Elf World Tree, and the entire city to the ground. With Night Elf civilians inside.
"At the beginning, you’ll spend more time recruiting other races to your cause than fighting the other faction. The Alliance head to the human nation of Kul Tiras, while the Horde attempt to bring the Zandalari trolls into the fold."
In retaliation, the Alliance attacks Lordaeron, the Undead city. They manage to take it, but Sylvanas drops Blight on it once they do, rendering the city uninhabitable. After that, the battle for Azeroth is on. This is where the expansion proper picks up.
At the beginning, you’ll spend more time recruiting other races to your cause than fighting the other faction. The Alliance head to the human nation of Kul Tiras, while the Horde attempt to bring the Zandalari trolls into the fold. Unfortunately, however, both nations have their own problems, so you’ll have to solve those before they’ll lend you their aid. I largely played an Alliance character for this review, so that’s the perspective I’ll be approaching things from.
In Kul Tiras’s case, the country is controlled by four noble houses. House Proudmoore, which is run by Admiral Katherine Proudmoore, runs the capital city of Boralus, so the plan is to send her daughter, Jaina, to petition her for aid. The issue is that Jaina is considered one of the worst traitors in the history of her country, as she sided with the Horde against Kul Tiras years before, a decision that ultimately led to her father’s death. So… this goes about as well as you’d think, leaving you to win the favor of the individual houses.
"Each area feels like a real place, with different flora and fauna that gradually shift into one another. In Tirisgarde Sound, you naturally transition from noble estate to port town, while Drustvar becomes more and more ominous as you venture into the magical corruption overtaking it."
There are three zones in Kul Tiras, one for each noble house: Stormsong Valley, Tirisgarde Sound, and Drustvar. The game’s leveling system lets you tackle these in any order you’d like and each zone in the game, whether Horde or Alliance, is great. Each area feels like a real place, with different flora and fauna that gradually shift into one another. In Tirisgarde Sound, you naturally transition from noble estate to port town, while Drustvar becomes more and more ominous as you venture into the magical corruption overtaking it.
At a certain point, you’ll also gain access to the War Campaign, which replaces Legion’s Class Halls. The War Campaign allows you to recruit Followers who can be sent on quests to acquire rewards, research updates that will aid you in Battle for Azeroth’s zones, and opens up new questlines. It starts by sending you to the different zones on the opposition’s island to establish a foothold by completing a small quest chain. Once finished, this allows you to quest in the other faction’s zones, though you may want to do in it the new War Mode.
Servers in previous eras were divided into PVE (Player vs. Environment) and PVP (Player vs. Player), allowing players who didn’t want to engage in PVP throughout the world of WarCraft to focus on other things. Battle for Azeroth ditches that system entirely, opting to for War Mode, which lets you turn World PVP off and on at will, provided you’re in your faction’s major city. There are benefits to keeping War Mode on: you’ll gain more experience and gold, and you’ll also be able to use your PVP talents. The downside is that you’re always at risk of being killed.
"Island Expeditions are essentially Scenarios from Mists of Pandaria, just expanded into a repeatable mode. You’re teamed up with two other players and dropped off at an island to hunt Azerite, the main cause of the Horde/Alliance conflict."
Progressing in the War Campaign also allows you you to unlock World Quests – which operate more or less the same way they did in Legion, offering timed quests that appear randomly on the different zones and provide rewards for accomplishing them – and the new Island Expeditions. Island Expeditions are essentially Scenarios from Mists of Pandaria, just expanded into a repeatable mode. You’re teamed up with two other players and dropped off at an island to hunt Azerite, the main cause of the Horde/Alliance conflict. How you get Azerite is up to you: you can kill enemies, mine it from ore nodes, and hunt for chests. The wrinkle here is that you’re not alone; there’s a team from another faction hunting for the stuff, too, and you have to get a certain amount before they do.
It’s a fun addition. The fact that it’s a race adds tension and strategy and there’s a lot of ways to win. You could repeatedly kill the enemy team to slow their progress, or just leave them alone in the hopes of beating them honestly. You might also try to kill a big monster or pull a bunch of mobs at once to speed things up. The best part is you can choose to do them in either PVE or PVP. It’s a nice touch that respects the story while allowing players to play how they like.
While I’m positive on much of what Battle for Azeroth offers, there are serious negatives to the game. Artifacts were a positive addition to Legion, and it doesn’t seem like Azerite Armor will be able to properly replace them, though they operate in much the same way. You’ll earn Azerite as you play, which operates a neckpiece you acquire at the start of the expansion. Acquiring enough Azerite levels up that piece, increasing its stats, but it also levels up your Azerite Armor. Azerite Armor consists of a head, shoulder, and chestpiece, each of which can be upgraded as you increase you Azerite level. When you level up, you can choose an upgrade for the armor. 3 of your options are dependant on you class specialization, and the fourth is a generic that can be used no matter what spec you are. The issue is that, unlike upgrading your Artifact, upgrading your Azerite Armor feels limiting. Each piece can only be upgraded three times, and since most of your options are locked behind your class spec, you’re largely limited to two choices once you level up. Worse still, you can’t change your decision once you’ve changed it, meaning you’re out of luck if you decide to play a different specialization and didn’t choose the generic upgrade, at least until you get a new piece. There are also no new talents in BFA, so no matter what you choose, leveling feels less rewarding than it did in Legion. You simply don’t have as many decisions to make and the ones you do have also don’t seem to matter as much.
" While I like the zones and their overall questlines, the fact that there are largely three zones per faction means that those zones are big and filled with quests. Because of this, completing an individual zone takes a very long time and some zones start to drag."
Another major flaw is the way questing is handled. While I like the zones and their overall questlines, the fact that there are largely three zones per faction means that those zones are big and filled with quests. Because of this, completing an individual zone takes a very long time and some zones start to drag. Tirisgarde Sound doesn’t suffer from this as much since the zone is quite varied, often taking you to different-looking areas and having you fight new enemies, but by the end Drustvar can be a slog since the entire storyline revolves around destroying a coven of witches. Drustvar’s questlines are excellent, but you can only fight the same few enemies so many times before it starts to get boring.
To make matters worse, the zones are often overstuffed with side quests that add nothing to the main story and it can be difficult to tell which is which. You spend most of Drustvar liberating areas from the witches, so when you run into a couple of Druids helping liberate a farm from witches, it seems like a main quest. It isn’t. This wouldn’t be so bad if the zones themselves weren’t so long or if these side questlines were clearly marked, but they aren’t.
There’s also the issue of level scaling. Battle For Azeroth’s pre-patch was an absolute mess; when Blizzard squished the game’s stats to make the numbers more reasonable – I was regularly hitting things for millions of damage in Legion – it caused balance issues in earlier portions of the game. Mobs that had once been fairly easy were far too overtuned, which makes leveling difficult. These problems still persist and while Battle for Azeroth’s new content avoids it for the most part – set bonuses and legendaries from Legion stop working at 116, which can leave you noticeably weaker when you hit that level – it can make leveling harder for low level characters.
"It isn’t uncommon for classes to undergo significant changes with a new expansion and for new classes to rise to the top of the totem pole, but when an expansion is as focused on PVP as
"It isn’t uncommon for classes to undergo significant changes with a new expansion and for new classes to rise to the top of the totem pole, but when an expansion is as focused on PVP asBattle For Azeroth is, it stands out more than it normally would. It’s impossible to say how this issue will turn out given how new the expansion is, but it’s something to keep an eye on."
Similar problems exist with class balance. Removing Artifacts, and the spells and abilities they offered, required Blizzard to rebalance every class in the same, and some classes did better than others. It isn’t uncommon for classes to undergo significant changes with a new expansion and for new classes to rise to the top of the totem pole, but when an expansion is as focused on PVP as Battle For Azeroth is, it stands out more than it normally would. It’s impossible to say how this issue will turn out given how new the expansion is, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
I also have to mention the story. While I think Battle for Azeroth‘s story beats are largely handed well once things get going, the premise once again makes the Horde the bad guys. Blizzard has often spoken about the fact that both factions do bad things, but the Horde are clearly the bad guys in Battle for Azeroth. Sylvanas burns down a tree full of civilians because Night Elf told her she was a jerk. Normally, this would be fine. Characters are allowed to do bad things and make poor decisions. Thing is, Sylvanas is supposed to be pragmatic and controlled, and this goes against her character. More damning is that we’ve seen this before, in Mists of Pandaria. How Horde players feel about their faction being the unequivocal bad guys is up to them, but it’s sad to see a story that looks very much like Mists of Pandaria so close to that expansion, especially when you disregard a character’s previous characterization to get it there. There’s room for Battle for Azeroth‘s story to fix this issue, but as it stands, the expansion’s setup is a bit disappointing.
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: reviewing an MMO is very difficult. Battle for Azeroth will be a very different game in a couple weeks when the first major content patch drops and it will continue to change over time. Trying to determine what the game might be in the future is a moot point. We can only look at what it is now. As it stands, it’s hard to see Battle for Azeroth as anything less than a step down from Legion. It’s not a bad expansion. In fact, it has a lot going for it. The environment design is among the best in the game, the questlines are largely very good, and Island Expeditions are a welcome addition. But Azerite Armor seems undercooked, the zone pacing is hit and miss, and there are a number of lingering issues with class balance. Battle for Azeroth is a solid expansion so far and Blizzard has made it clear that they’re in it for the long haul. They’ll just need to do a little more if they want to win the war.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Excellent zone design and art. Engaging questlines. Island Expeditions are fun. War Mode is a great addition.
Azerite Armor is undercooked. Zones can have too many questlines. No way to tell side quests from main story quests. Class balance needs some work. Level scaling still has issues. Disappointing setup to the story.
Battle for Azeroth is off to a solid start, but Blizzard has a lot to improve if they want to win the war.