Battle for Azeroth’s Progression Problem
Let me preface this: Battle for Azeroth may very well be the pinnacle of story and zone design in World of Warcraft’s 14-year history. I’ve loved almost every bit of questing and dungeon content, and I’m actually reading the quests for the first time in years. But there’s a big glaring issue that’s increasingly clear the more I play – it never feels like your character is growing or making progress in this expansion.
For the most part, BfA feels like a culmination of things learned since Pandaria for WoW. The systems started there, continued in Draenor, and capitalized on in Legion all come to a head here in Battle for Azeroth. And while we still have Warfronts to come, as I play through this expansion a big part of what’s missing is that my character is leveling and growing in gear score as he always does – and yet it feels completely unnecessary. As though adding levels was just a check on a box for a list of what an expansion must have.
There are no new skills or talents in Battle for Azeroth, and yet players level from 110 to 120… why? Gear is limited throughout the zones too, as most rare monsters drop only Azerite, which is the new “Artifact Power” that only serves to power up your “Heart of Azeroth”. The Heart is essentially the thematic new Artifact that everyone gets, but it’s just a way to boost your stats without making people tied to a specific armor item or weapon. As you level it up, you unlock powers within your Azerite Armor, which are regular armor pieces that have what essentially amount to gem slots within them where you can customize some extra effects.
It’s a neat idea, and I like the basis of it so far, but Azerite Armor is only available in 3 slots, and as I’ve leveled up and gotten new armor the amount of powers within each armor piece has been roughly the same across each new piece with tiny variations. It’s the beginnings of a good system, but one that feels half-fleshed out. I’m hoping there are more additions/tweaks to it in the coming post-expansion patches.
I will say this for those who worried about my love of followers and missions: they’re definitely downplayed this expansion. They help with Azerite Power collection, gold and reputation gains, but that’s basically it. They are not very necessary to keep tabs on at all in order to progress the content.
The most troubling aspect to me so far through the expansion is how I’ve actually felt weaker as I’ve leveled up, and watched my stats like Crit Chance go down from the 30s to the low 20s from 110 to my level 118 now. I’m all for Blizzard trying to limit the amount of unnecessary skills on each class build. But at the same time, it’s hard to feel like your character is growing when all you’re doing is dinging an arbitrary number. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but simply doing away with talents and skills gained through leveling feels like a bad choice.
This week I should hit 120, and delve into the current “End Game” of Battle for Azeroth. Next week I plan to assign our preliminary score to the expansion, which could change down the line in 6 months when we revisit how the game looks after a few patches. Right now, Battle for Azeroth feels simultaneously like one of the best expansions WoW’s ever had and one of the most limiting in terms of player progression.