Battle for Azeroth - The Return of a Filthy Casual
If you are a regular World of Warcraft player you may have noticed a influx of unwashed masses collecting on the shores of Kul Tiras and Zandalar. I’m one of those filthy casuals that has returned for WoW’s latest expansion, the Battle for Azeroth, and so far it has been glorious.
I started writing this column between heroic queues. I tank so they are near instant so what seems like a few words is really strung together over the course of a few hours. The servers had the audacity to die on my last run so I spent a few minutes fiddling with that before finally calling it an evening. That and the last two heroics I ran didn’t drop any loot for me (forgive me my self indulgent pity party). Between that and not being able to zone into a BfA instance I took up refuge in my Warlords garrison. (And then I went dusting because booooy has that place not been visited in a while).
I played my hunter last expansion so I thought I’d mix it up and go back to tank for this one. So far other than a few server issues, in addition to the ones I just listed above, my experience has been nothing short of fantastic. I subbed about a week before the expansion was released. This gave me enough time to finish the War of the Thorns prelude as both a horde, and for the first time in 14 years, an Alliance character. But seriously, For the Horde. That just has to be said right?
Playing both sides has allowed me to see just how bat crap crazy the set up to this expansion actually is. Sylvanas has lost it. Granted she probably never had it all together to begin with since she was converted into a banshee by Arthas but she’s just gone right over the edge. It seems like she has put the undead, and I don’t just mean the Forsaken, over the Horde in her effort to kill of life, not just the Alliance. She’s clearly becoming a war criminal and while I hate supporting her agenda for now I’m looking forward to a twist with a rewarding payoff later. Here is looking at you Saurfang. Do us proud! Fortunately while the Horde felt “evil” while burning down Darnassus once you reach Zandalar you feel more like you are saving a potential ally. I don’t know that it washes away all the burnt baby elf ash, but it goes along way towards feeling a little bit of redemption.
Even if you want to cast off the overall narrative completely the new zones in Battle for Azeroth are a testament to level design in World of Warcraft. The miniature story arcs in each zone are compelling, and fun. Blizzard’s design team continues to push how to tell a story within a MMO. The zones are aesthetically pleasing and distinctive from each other. They also feel different than the Broken Isles. When I played during Warlords the Isles felt like a continent in the middle of the sea, with the Zandalar and Kul Tiras, especially Kul Tiras, they fill more like archipelagos.
The level scaling technology continues to stand out as a highlight of the upgrades made during the Legion expansion. The ability to run instances with your friends while they are 110 and you are 120 and the game provide meaningful rewards to both of you goes leagues to break down historical level barriers in MMOs. I’ve spent a lot of time running dungeons and quests with friends with disparate levels and that’s not something we could do years ago. While it isn’t a brand new feature it is something that you are reminded of as everyone finds themselves leveling again.
What is new is the Azerite powered armor. Everyone gets a new necklace in this expansion. Instead of powering artifact weapons like we did in Legion we are powering a necklace and leveling it up with Azerite. As your necklace gains Azerite levels it becomes more powerful. You’ll also collect gear that will have abilities open up based upon your Azerite level. These abilities are different based upon the piece of gear and only some can be unlocked depending upon your characters current spec. You can respec the gear later if you want but it costs gold and becomes increasingly more expensive. Prohibitively so. In the end I have a suspicion most people will just have different sets of gear based upon their spec.
I’ve also enjoyed the heck out of the new instances. Waycrest Manor is my current favorite. It’s the 5 man instance tied to the Dustvar zone. Which also happens to be one of my favorite new zones. The troll based temples are really nice too and pull on my Zul’Gurub nostalgia strings. Waycrest Manor has a haunted house vibe going on and the encounters are fun if not overly challenging. It’s easy to get lost the first time you are there but you’ll figure it out quick enough. The music is also very atmospheric and spooky. The color selection is great also. Less neon demon greens and more haunting blues than Legion.
This expansion also puts a focus on putting the “war” back into Warcraft. There are new 3 man scenarios that act as a PvPvE zone. You’ll race against either a player controlled or NPC opposing faction to collect Azerite. You’ll do this by farming mobs, farming nodes, and completing short quests. You can either focus on harassing and killing the other team or developing your own effective farming strategy. Regardless of your spec these also have pretty quick queue times so if you are a dps you won’t have to wait 40 minutes to get a chance to try one out. They are a lot of fun and a good way to get Azerite for your necklace besides world quests.
Is BfA perfect? Not really. There have been some tech issues but overall the game has been engrossing. I’ve even skipped an episode of Better Call Saul and Ballers to run dungeons instead. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement I don’t know what else is. I won’t be playing WoW a year from now. I probably won’t even be playing WoW six months from now, but I will be playing WoW 90 days from now and having a blast doing so. The leveling content in this expansion is nothing short of spectacular and I’m patiently waiting to see what the first tier of raids brings us. If you see me in Azeroth make sure to say hello.
A review copy of World of Warcraft was provided courtesy of Blizzard’s PR team but I did have to pay for my own subscription time.