Battle for Azeroth is World of Warcraft’s 7th expansion. It’s been nearly a decade and a half since we all first walked through the gates of Ironforge or Orgrimmar, and the big question is: does WoW still have that magic? It’s an argument as old as the game itself at this point, but if the 3.4 million first day sales are any indication, the answer may be yes. This is our World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth review.
Something shocked me when I sat down to write this review - I’ve been playing around in World of Warcraft for nearly 14 years. Pretty close to that, actually, if you count the beta. I’ve been off-sub and on like most of us, but it’s still pretty impressive that I have days of /played time on many characters and that I still lovingly play a 14-year-old game.
And still, I feel like I come into this review as “Filthy Casual”. I don’t raid (anymore). I don’t strive to hit the hardest achievements, or grind out reps or collect all the pets in the world. I just play WoW when it suits me - an old friend that I can meet up with and have a laugh with without skipping a beat, even if we only hang out every few months.
But, with the exception of the Burning Crusade, I wasn’t really swept up in a WoW expansion until Warlords of Draenor. Despite the content drought that followed and the weird retconning storyline, Warlords had fantastic systems in place and great leveling content. Legion amped it up even more and is easily right up there with Burning Crusade as one of my most memorable expansions.
Battle for Azeroth, then, has big shoes to fill. Not only is it supposed to bring back the feeling of tension and animosity between the Horde and Alliance (which it has done to mixed results), it’s also got to take everything great about Legion and raise it up to an even higher standard while ditching what wasn’t so great.
I’m happy to say that minus some pacing missteps and some rather (so far) bothersome progression grinds, Battle for Azeroth has been a grand time. I’ve hit 120 on one character (Alliance), and I’m working slowly on a second (Horde) so that I might see all of the stories. If there’s one thing that feels really stepped up in BfA, it’s the cinematics, storytelling, and overall writing of the game’s characters and quests.
The zones of Kul Tiras and Zandalar are themed in such a way that reminds me of the early days of WoW - when zones had complete stories that fit into a larger narrative of the world itself. For instance, as the Alliance, you need to unite the house of Kul Tiras to get them to aid you in your fight against the Horde. But each zone and each house has its own troubles and its own themes.
Stormsong Valley reminds one of the Valley of the Four Winds, one of Pandaria’s most beautiful places. Drustvar is very gothic and reminiscent of Duskwood with witches and the like plaguing the land. Tiragarde Sound meanwhile is every bit as Pirates of the Caribbean as it can be. They’re all three fabulously designed from an art and content standpoint. But don’t get me wrong - if you no longer want to do kill this and fetch that quests, this expansion isn’t for you. That’s the core of WoW questing and you either enjoy it or you loathe it - or endure it.
And yet, as lovely as the questing and leveling content in BfA is, as I’ve already talked a bit about before the progression feels missing. There are no new talents or skills from 110 to 120 (the new cap). You have the Heart of Azeroth, a special artifact that you level up, and it powers three pieces of armor - your helm, your shoulders, and your chest piece. Those also can level up, and as they do you can slot in special effects that change your skills or add stats. It’s a lot like the not-very-used-or-useful glyph system that was removed back in patch 188.8.131.52.
The Azerite Armor feels like the beginning of a great sense of endgame progression, but when combined with the initial grind for artifact power and the lack of skills from 110-120, it makes the whole idea of gaining new levels feel tacked on and pointless. Once you hit the cap, the grind to make progress in the form of item level or Azerite feels painfully slow.
I can’t say much to Island Expeditions or Warfronts yet. I’ve done Islands once... just once. It wasn’t bad, but the fact that you can’t queue them up while out in the world is a misstep. They’re fun, but 3 people randomly grouping and wandering off to chase azerite against an AI or a player-controlled opponent seems sort of... I don’t know, a bit like Hungry Hungry Hippos.
And Warfronts are just not in the game yet. When they arrive, I’m hoping they up the tension between the races that seems to take a back seat as soon as you arrive on the new islands. There’s some excellent story setting up our arrival on KT and Zandalar, but it all dissipates in favor of letting the narrative be a slow burn over the course of the expansion’s content patches.
I have found a new goal to work towards at level 120 - the unlocking of Kul Tirans and Dark Iron Dwarves - the Alliance’s two new allied races. Both are immensely cool, with Kul Tirans having portly looking lads like myself, as well as the rail-thin sort that looks like our own Ed Orr. On top of it, the Drust magic of their homeland is all over the Druid race, giving them some fantastic looking racial beast forms. The Dark Iron Dwarves? Well, what more need I say than Black Rock Mountain-based dwarves who love fire and iron and ride molten core hounds?
The problem is - unlocking those two races is a whole other long grind of gaining massive amounts of reputation ever so slowly through world quests, dungeons, follower missions, and so forth. There are folks unlocking them now, and they should feel like something that needs to be worked for. I think there’s just a weird juxtaposition of a WoW that has traditionally been “easy” to get things in, and suddenly having to grind stuff out is just an illusion of making the game harder. In reality, it’s not hard, it’s a test of patience. How long can one do tedious things to get a reward?
Still, WoW today’s idea of tedious rep grinds, thanks to the variation of World Quests and other activities, is far more appealing than it was when reps first were a “thing”. I remember grinding furbolgs for-ev-er in old Aszhara for instance, though I can’t even remember what it was for now. No quests, no other rewards along the way - just endless slaughtering of furbolgs when the TTK was about 2-3 times higher and I was playing a pre-reworked Paladin. It. Was. Brutal.
The World of Warcraft today is a far better game than it was in the heady days of 2004, and for that I’m grateful. If Blizzard didn’t continually tweak, experiment, sometimes fail and often succeed in creating new toys for this grand playground, I don’t think I’d have just bought my first Alliance bumper sticker, 14 years after I first made my dwarven hunter. Battle for Azeroth may not be perfect, and I’m still going to wait and see if it’s a step up from Legion or merely a side-step, but I do know that it’s the third expansion in a row that has me logging in daily. The key remains: how long will that last? One month? Two? Six? A year?
For now, I’m happy to report that the core of Battle for Azeroth is strong. It may need some fine-tuning, but I have a genuine sense that Blizzard is working toward something huge with this story, and I intend to see it through.
Score - 8/10
- Excellent storytelling
- Fantastic new zones
- Absolutely stellar new soundtrack from Neal Acree
- Missing progression
- Grindy level cap activity
- Where’s the war?