World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is the seventh expansion for Blizzard Entertainment’s hit multiplayer online role-playing game. World of Warcraft is a 14-year-old game, and it’s up to Battle for Azeroth to keep the MMO going. How does it plan to do that? Largely by doubling-down on the formula started by the last expansion, Legion, but Battle for Azeroth has new features. But is it enough to keep World of Warcraft exciting?
The new adventure pits the two factions, Alliance and Horde, against each other as they quest through their own, unique storylines. Even only a couple of weeks into the expansion’s launch, players have a lot to do. So to prepare this review, GamesBeat took the unusual step of pairing two reviewers: one playing through the Alliance storyline in the popular massively multiplayer online RPG, and the other doing so for the Horde.
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Heather Newman: I’m Heather Newman, and I’ve been writing for newspapers, magazines and sites about World of Warcraft since six months before its initial release almost 14 years ago. I’ve played through every expansion, done every dungeon and raid on every difficulty the game has to offer, and wear my Loremaster’s Colors, figuratively at least, with pride. While I played every expansion but Legion (and now Battle for Azeroth) as Horde, I have somewhat reluctantly taken up the blue-and-white mantle of the Alliance, both for this expansion and this review. I would consider myself a casually hardcore player-vs.-environment (this means I don’t fight against other players), completing roughly half of each tier of Mythic large-group raid dungeons before the next is released.
Mike Minotti: I’m Mike Minotti, GamesBeat’s reviews editor. I’m not as hardcore a World of Warcraft player as Heather is, but I’ve done a fair share of raiding and played a lot of Legion. After leveling in Legion as Alliance, I switched to Horde so I could play with my friends (opposite of Heather, I’d rather be in the Alliance), so that’s the faction I played in this time.
What you’ll like
This means war
Newman: So much of Battle of Azeroth centers on the story of the two factions’ conflict. Driven by the discovery of Azerite, the strange mineral that appeared when the titan Sargeras plunged his gigantic sword into the planet of Azeroth, the Horde and the Alliance have jumped into all-out war — a big shift from their demon-killing cooperation during much of Legion. For the first time since the start of WoW’s history, the zones and questlines for each faction are dramatically different. The last time we paired up for a review, you represented the Alliance and I repped the Horde. How did things play out for you on Horde side this time around?
Minotti: You know, at first, I was upset that I was “stuck” playing as the Horde. The Alliance zones, with their port town and pirate themes, looked appealing to me. But I fell in love with Zandalar, the troll island that Horde players adventure through.
Zuldazar has become one of my new favorite World of Warcraft zones. It is the capital of the Zandalari trolls, and it has this beautiful, Mayan-like aesthetic with pyramids, gold, and ornate decorations set inside a dense jungle. Oh, and it also has dinosaurs, which are awesome.
The other two zones are a bit more familiar. Vol’dun is a desert, and Nazmir is an evil-infested swamp. But I still enjoyed questing in these places, thanks to the likable new characters and races. Most of the credit goes to the new races. The turtle-like Tortollan, the fox-based Vulpera, and the snake-ish Sethrak all add a ton of flavor and personality to these islands.
And as someone who isn’t in love with the faction war storyline, I was happy that it took a back seat to other plots while I was leveling, which focused on internal threats and conflicts in the new zones.
New worlds, new dungeons
Newman: I envy your dinosaurs, and especially the adorable Vulpera, whom I’d be willing to bet become a playable race for the Horde. But the Alliance won the zone and storyline battle in Battle fo Azeroth, I think. The three areas of the Kul Tiras islands that Alliance players quest in play out as both detailed and different: the creepy-witchwoodsy vibe of Drustvar, the gorgeous agricultural valley of Stormsong, and the political hotbeds and ports of Tiragarde Sound. Blizzard stuffed each of the zones full of quests, quests, and more quests.
The areas also vary within their own borders. Unlike in previous expansions, these zones change as you move from one area to another, with different terrain, weather and architectural styles all in the same borders. And while you might have been glad to avoid the faction conflict, our questlines never forgot it — while we helped out the residents of these areas, who were by and large human, we also defended them from invasion by you nasty Horde types. Oh, and we rescued our troubled ice mage, the Princess Elsa Jaina Proudmoore.
One of the things I liked so much about Legion was the way the expansion opens up, instead of shrinking down, when you hit maximum level. For Battle for Azeroth at level 120, we have the same Mythic+ (and soon Mythic+) level dungeons and world quests, but we also have the war campaign for each faction. I enjoyed getting to invade Horde territory for a change, establishing footholds in the places where you spent levels 110-120 questing. But I get the impression that many of the dungeons (King’s Rest, for example, or the upcoming large-group raid dungeon Uldir) relate to the Horde storylines.
Minotti: Legion figured out how to make the endgame compelling without depending on raids, offering a mixture of dungeons and world quests. The world quests work much as they do in Legion, but having some of them be in Alliance areas makes it a bit more exciting, especially with War Mode turned on. The new player-vs.-player feature makes it so that you’re vulnerable to attack from folks from the other faction, but it rewards you with an increase in experience points and World Quest rewards. With War Mode on while I’m in Kul Tiras, feel like I’m treading on hostile territory, which changed how I play.
I’ve played most of the dungeons. They feel more consistent than Legion’s offerings. You don’t have one that’s significantly shorter, like Maw of Souls, that you always pray you get in your random queues. And a lot of these dungeons have unique looks, like creepy, infested Underrot.
It is a little weird, lore-wise, how the dungeons tie into storylines that only half of the players are familiar with. Like you said, many are continuations of plots from the Horde zones, while others are tied to Kul Tiras.
Newman: I think Underrot is my favorite dungeon; it’s easy to play through if you do a good job respecting what each boss and minion does, but incredibly difficult if you play like a doofus. It’s also pretty to look at. I’ve played all the dungeons; other favorites include the Motherlode!, funny in the way only a goblin mecha-dungeon can be, and Atal’Dazar, which lets us Alliance folks experience some of the golden-city Mayan-esque troll goodness of Horde zones. (Rawr Stompy Dinosaurs!)
Newman: If you don’t have the time for a full dungeon, Battle of Azeroth offers a new addition: Island Expeditions, which pit three players against either an “advanced” AI team or against actual opposite-faction players in PvP combat for control of an isle full of resources. The rewards from these can be substantial, with more than 300 goodies on the loot table including collectible pets, mounts and appearances. But I’ve been fairly disappointed by what I’ve gotten out of them so far.
I do like how they change up every time you play them, and the exclamations of the AI teams are pretty funny as they jump around and retreat and group up to attack your healer if you have one. A weekly quest to do expeditions does award a lot of resources — but also requires you to run a bunch of them, especially if you’re still operating at normal or heroic, versus Mythic, levels.
I’m finding them to be a bit of a grind. Have you been taking that PvP experience full-tilt and competing against other player teams? I’m curious whether staying care-bear/PvE mode is causing my lackluster experience.
Minotti: I haven’t tackled the PvP version of Island Expeditions yet, but I’m pretty happy with the PvE mode. I’m happy to have a more relaxed way to play cooperatively with people, including some friends who may be intimidated by Mythic+ dungeons or raids.
Newman: You mentioned War Mode earlier, and I leveled up with it on as well. This a toggle that engages open-world PvP. If you turn it on, other players can attack you, and you only see players that also have War Mode enabled. If you turn it off, you can’t be attacked, and only see other people that made the same choice.
Having War Mode enabled boosts your experience and world quest rewards by 10 percent, but at a cost. It was worth it to me while leveling, but at 120 I watched a few of my friends get repeatedly ganked and promptly turned it off. You said you left it on. Are you enjoying the experience?
Minotti: I surprisingly am. I’ve never been a big fan of PvP. I have too many bad memories of being ganked in vanilla WoW. But War Mode has added a lot of excitement to my Battle for Azeroth experience. It creates organic moments outside of the predictable quests and dungeons.
I thought I’d turn War Mode off after I hit 120, but I’m enjoying it so much I think I’m going to keep it on indefinitely.
What you won’t like
Minotti: I do worry that Island Expeditions (whether PvE or PvP) may begin to feel like a grind, since they’re such an important source of Azerite Power. Which brings us to the whole Azerite Armor system, my least favorite part of the expansion so far. You have an amulet, the Heart of Azeroth, that you can make more powerful by collecting Azerite Power from various sources, including islands.
That’s fine, but but you’re also reliant on Azerite Armor. This is gear that unlocks new traits for your character. It’s the only way you can learn anything resembling new abilities in Battle for Azeroth, since we don’t have new spells or talents for classes (or even set bonuses). But having your abilities and builds tied specifically to armor can become a nuisance, especially if you’re playing multiple specs (I’m healing this expansion, but I also sometimes need to switch to my damage spec).
Newman: I’ve got more Azerite Armor at this point than I know what to do with, so the “swapping gear to swap specs” thing doesn’t bother me as much — the perils of running too many Mythic dungeons. But it feels like they don’t offer me as many new toys to play with as artifact weapons and legendary armor items did in Legion.
Yes, some of those new Azerite bonuses are gated behind gathering large amounts of the stuff, but even those that are don’t feel that exciting to me. They represent, in most cases, minor boosts to power or tweaks to playstyle. Overall I certainly don’t dislike the additions they make to gameplay, but they don’t feel like they measure up to the legendary items and artifact weapon traits and set bonuses from Legion they’re intended to replace. I do appreciate finally getting to swap weapons again!
Newman: We have a lot of positives here. Battle for Azeroth is following World of Warcraft’s best expansion, Legion. Many features are still coming in the coming weeks, including the first raid (Uldir) and the new Warfront mode (a 20-player cooperative experience with some strategy game elements).
Battle of Azeroth’s content and storyline make it a dramatic experience, and the gameplay benefits from all the tweaks and improvements the team made for Legion. This isn’t the kind of quantum leap forward for the overall game that Legion represents, but Blizzard’s done a good job of capitalizing on everything that worked in Legion and driving it with incremental improvements here.
Things that made Legion especially fun at maximum level — those world quests, a wealth of dungeons with a variety of modes, a steady pace of releasing content — show up in Battle of Azeroth at increased levels. The dungeons are better overall this time, there are more world quests and those Islands to choose from (though the rewards at this point are still fairly stingy), and the recent Gamescom announcements point to an aggressive content release schedule.
But even if you’re a casual player, Battle of Azeroth offers a lot of gameplay. War Mode makes world PvP truly flexible, and the quests are the best-written of any expansion to date. That surprised me, considering the fact that there had to be basically twice as many quests (since the factions don’t overlap.) Don’t just speed-click through all of them, people.
This is a solid, well-built, seaworthy expansion with a fresh coat of shiny varnish. It won’t knock Legion off its pedestal as my favorite of all WoW expansions, but the story grabs you, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. The disappointment of Warlords of Draenor is starting to feel like a distant memory. What do you think?
Minotti: I agree. It’s not the revolution that Legion gave us, but Battle for Azeroth does a good job of taking that new standard and giving us some nice improvements and features. More than anything, I love the look of the new zones and the personalities of the new races. Zandalar and Kul Tiras are more fun to run and around than the Broken Isles.
We won’t know the full quality of the expansion for a couple of years, but Battle for Azeroth is off to a strong start.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is out now for PC. Blizzard gave us codes for this review.