As of midnight last night,  World of Warcraft’s Battle for Azeroth expansion is officially here!

The first global launch for a World of Warcraft expansion was… less than perfect. Knowing it would launch here in South Africa at 12am, I went to bed early and woke up at 11, ready to get an early start on logging in just in case there were any queues. Of course, just before launch, I was disconnected, and couldn’t get back in. As it turned out, I was one of the unlucky whose realm just kinda broke. Those players who could get in faced their own problems, with some experiencing lag, quests glitching out a bit, not getting their Heart of Azeroth and, worst of all, cinematics skipping themselves.

It was a little disappointing, mostly because the Legion launch went so well. On the other hand, the Legion launch went unusually well. World of Warcraft launches often have issues, and this was their first attempt at a global one. Considering all of that, it went a lot better than it could have, especially as most of the problems seem resolved already.

So I went back to bed. By the time I woke up again (at 3am – my subconscious knows I’ve been waiting for this far too long to waste too much time sleeping on launch day), not only was my realm back up, but I got to experience the opening quests without the traditional massive crowd of players mobbing any relevant NPC or location. I also didn’t encounter any lag or glitches. All in all, a near perfect experience.

While both the Alliance and Horde introduction questlines into Battle for Azeroth start the same way, they each branch off to only tell half of a story. To really get the full experience, it’s worth playing both. I understand not everyone has a max level toon in both factions, so I’ve summarised the questlines below. However, this will probably be the last time I do this for a while. I like to take my time in a new expansion – so I will not be rushing to level 120 and I won’t be speeding through the quests.

The story

Whether you’re Alliance or Horde, you receive a summons from Magni Bronzebeard, the dwarf-king-turned-diamond who now acts as speaker for our planet, Azeroth herself. He tells you Azeroth is dying and needs you in a place called the Chamber of the Heart. Once there, you’re shown the cinematic where Sargeras thrust his sword into Azeroth, just in case you missed it and were wondering why there’s a great big giant sword sticking out of the planet, and then Azeroth gives you your Heart of Azeroth, the Azerite-absorbing amulet that will be a core part of Battle for Azeroth gear.

Up until now, Magni’s been making a big song and dance about how Azeroth is dying and the Alliance and Horde really must stop mining Azerite because it’s bad for her, but she herself gives you this amulet that fully encourages using Azerite, so it’s currently a little hard to understand exactly how to be an Azerothian environmentalist.

Anyway, you use the Heart of Azeroth to help mend a seal that will help keep Azeroth safe, and you’re rewarded with your first piece of Azerite gear. You should also already have enough Azerite Power to unlock your first trait. Magni lets you know he’ll be able to contact you through the Heart of Azeroth any time he wants – which horrified me, as someone who dreads phone calls – and you’re sent back to talk to a leader in your faction, who has an assignment for you.

The war between the factions has well and truly begun, and each side desperately needs new allies.

On the Horde side, your task is simple. Sneak into Stormwind City, break some prisoners out of the stockades, and escape. What could be easier, right?

I’m sure the whole poison in case we get caught thing is just Nathanos being overly dramatic.

You’re accompanied by Nathanos, Sylvanas’s – ahem – “champion”; First Arcanist Thalyssra, leader of the Nightborne; and Rokhan, rumoured to be the new leader of the Darkspear Trolls. When you’re in the stockades, you come across Saurfang, who’s feeling exceedingly sorry for himself. He grumbles a bit about honour and how he won’t be part of Sylvanas’s Horde, before telling us to go away because he knows you aren’t even there for his sake.

A week, Saurfang. You’ve been here a week. You can tone it down. Seriously.

Turns out you’re there for Princess Talanji and Prophet Zul, two noteworthy representatives of the Zandalari trolls, the Horde’s potential (and important) new allies. You break them out and start to sneak out of the city, until Greymane who is a bad dog spots you and, as you’re Horde and he has a special loathing for Horde, that means it’s time to run like hell. Then Jaina rocks up and she’s clearly having A Day and you’re told that you need to somehow escape her wrath. Of course, you manage this, partly with Zul’s help – who sets fire to Stormwind City to distract Jaina.

‘Cause, you know, that’s not a completely tasteless thing to do to the Alliance right after the burning of Teldrassil or anything.

You escape in Princess Talanji’s ship, and there’s a glorious little fight where Nathanos tries to order Talanji to head to Orgrimmar at Sylvanas’s command, and Talanji smacks him down with the casual arrogance only a potential ally who knows damn sure you need to keep on her good side if you want her navy can have. You head to Zandalar instead, but before you get there, an Alliance fleet catches up with you.

They quickly regret that.

I already knew I liked Princess Talanji after briefly talking to her in the beta, but I absolutely adore her now. I also can’t wait to see how she conflicts with Sylvanas.

Princess Talanji brings you to Dazar’alor, capital city of Zandalar, where you meet up with king Rastakhan, are accepted as a representative of the Horde, and get to work earning the Zandalari’s trust.

Have I mentioned how incredibly impressive Zandalar is?

The Alliance scenario occurs directly after the Horde’s attack on Stormwind, Which is noticeably fire-free, so well done Jaina. Also, imagine how many lives she could have saved if she were around during the events of Teldrassil instead of disappearing to sing sad songs to herself?

You meet up with Anduin, Jaina, Genn, and Mathias Shaw for a War Council, where you find out about the fate of the Alliance fleet that pursued the Horde. It’s immediately apparent that, if the Horde are going to ally with someone as powerful as the Zandalar, then the Alliance need strong Allies as well. Naturally, Jaina suggests approaching Kul Tiras. Sure, she’s become such a folk villain in that place they have a whole song about how much of an evil betrayer she is, but she has a touching faith in the strong, uniting bonds that is a mutual hatred for the Horde.

You head towards Kul Tiras, but not before watching a pretty stunning cinematic where you witness the fact that Jaina’s been having nightmares about her father.

Jaina’s not popular in Kul Tiras at all, and you’re taken to meet her mother. Things don’t go well.

You awaken in a prison cell, but thankfully some of that Alliance privilege is working wonders and someone’s already paid a rogue named Flynn Fairwind to break you out. You get into a fake fight, pull a lever that’s carefully labelled “do not pull this lever”, cause a riot, find some interesting gunpowder that I’m going to go ahead and assume is a form of Azerite, and eventually meet up with Taelia, Bolvar Fordragon’s daughter (Bolvar Fordragon is the former Regent Lord of Stormwind. He currently spends his days sitting on a throne of ice being the Lich King).

They bring you to Boralus Harbor to meet up with Cyrus, an old Alliance war hero and the Harbourmaster, who’s raised Taelia ever since her mother died in the Scourge attack on Lordaeron, and who is the mysterious benefactor who paid to have you broken out of prison.

It’s no golden ziggurat, but Kul Tiras is still pretty damn charming.

You find him stopping Kul Tiras guards from arresting Genn Greymane. Cyrus accepts you as a representative of the Alliance, and you get to work on earning the trust of the Kul Tiran.

And with that, you’ve completed your introduction quests into both Kul Tiras and Zandalar.

A few last notes

First, each island is such a unique experience, filled with so many secrets and hidden gems and wonderful discoveries, it really is worth playing both factions this time around. I can’t recommend it enough.

Second, it doesn’t really matter which order you play the zones in, but if you, like me, are looking for a little guidance, there are two major ways to decide on your route.

The first is by difficulty, and this is the route recommended by Hazelnuttygames. Like Legion, the Battle for Azeroth zones scale with your level, but some are still more difficult than others due to factors like mob density. If you left Legion completely kitted out in some pretty overpowered gear, you might want to start with the hardest zone first, while you’re still a bit OP, and work your way to the easiest. If, however, your gear isn’t that great, you might want to start with the easiest. For Horde, the most difficult zone is Vol’dun, and the easiest is Nazmir, while for the Alliance, the most difficult zone is Drustvar and the easiest is Stormsong Valley.

The second is by story. This is the route I will be taking, and it is recommended by Nobbel. If you’d prefer this route, Horde should start with Zandalar and end with Vol’dun, and Alliance can either start with Kul Tiras and end with Drustvar “if you like the chars” or you can start with Drustvar and end with Stormsong if you don’t.

And finally, the start of a new expansion always brings with it a frantic need to do all the things. The single most important bit of advice I can give you is this – don’t rush yourself. Savour it. I’ve just seen a glimpse of the sort of things Zandalar has to offer, and I can confidently state that this is an expansion worth exploring. It’s jam-packed with content. Enjoy every moment of it.

I know I will.

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