The good, the bad, and the uncertain in World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth

It’s official. With the release of Warfronts, LFR and Mythic Uldir, and PVP Season 1, Battle for Azeroth in all her glory is finally here. No more waiting for new content – at least, not until patch 8.1. So, what do we think so far?

Well, that depends on who you ask. While Battle for Azeroth remains one of my favourite expansions to date, even my fangirl eyes can’t ignore some of the problems it’s had. So what are Blizzard getting right, what are they getting wrong, and what could go either way?

The good

Battle for Azeroth has some of the best – if not the best – storytelling in the game to date. It’s hard to really grasp how ambitious Blizzard has been with their storytelling this time around, repeatedly trying things they’ve never tried before. Alliance, especially, gets one of the most emotional and lore-significant questlines ever seen – with a story so good, I decided it was worth gearing up an alt to run a Mythic dungeon just so that I could experience it myself.

I don’t even just mean that the cinematics are cool (but they are cool). World of Warcraft lore often feels a bit all over the place, which is fair enough for an MMO, but Battle for Azeroth has been different. Kul Tiras and Zandalar each have three zones – the main city one, the spooky one, and the other, really long one. While these zones all have their own unique stories to play through, they tie in together in a way that makes it clear that all these stories are part of a greater one – the story of that continent. On top of that, each faction also has its own War Campaign story that’s both interesting and engaging.

As Taliesin from Taliesin & Evitel has pointed out, certain themes are repeated time and time again. Not only do both factions have stories that revolve around parenthood, family, regret and death, but the two factions’ stories actually mirror each other too, with the Alliance story beginning with disaster and players slowly working to gain more and more victories until their story ends in triumph, while the Horde begins with a triumph and then finds themselves failing at what they set out to do time and time again until their story ends in disaster.

As someone who mostly loves this game because of the lore, it’s got me hooked, and I couldn’t be more excited. Now that I’ve finished (mostly) everything on both the Alliance and Horde sides, I’m even more convinced that this will be the final expansion where these two factions are at war – that Blizzard plans to end the faction war and, with it, stop dividing the player base – but more on that another time.

Even if you ignore the story, the design of Kul Tiras and Zandalar is just magnificent. Both major cities feel like home already, so much so that I feel like they’re here to stay as important hubs – perhaps more replacements for Darnassus and Undercity than Shattrath City 3.0. Maybe it’s because they’ve been established in the lore for a long time, but as new races, the Kul Tirans and Zandalari are incredibly easy to fall in love with. I already feel more of a bond with the Zandalari than I’ve ever managed to quite feel for Highmountain Tauren. I worried that the Vulpera would feel like Hozen – clearly our allies, but so ridiculous not even the game seems able to take them seriously. I was wrong. The Vulpera, like everyone else in these new worlds, are authentic and sympathetic.

Everyone except the sneks. I’m sorry, you can do what you want with them, but not in a million years will you be able to get me to take the sneks seriously.

Continuing a trend from Legion, dungeons – especially Mythic dungeons – are unique and intriguing. I could probably do without Temple of Sethraliss, but King’s Rest (which I can see myself running weekly until I get that mummified raptor mount because, hello, it’s a mummified raptor mount), is a lot of fun.

Uldir also seems an engaging raid with mechanics that are challenging without being frustratingly impossible. What’s more, Uldir carries on the trend of having some really great storytelling behind it, with bosses that aren’t all just random “here big guy, kill, get loot” placeholders. My favourites so far are the Fetid Devourer, a nightmare that causes us to ask some serious questions about the Keepers’ ethical codes, and Vectis – a reference to the Corrupted Blood Incident, an in-game plague that got so out of control, it was, according to Wikipedia, later studied by “epidemiologists for its implications of how human populations could react to a real-world epidemic”.

The bad

Unfortunately, however, there’s plenty to write about here. So much so, game director Ion Hazzikostas even hosted a Reddit AMA on Friday to just try to address some of the players’ biggest concerns.

Despite Ion’s enthusiasm, Azerite armour is not turning out to be the best thing ever. I kind of liked it at first, but now I’ve found myself admitting it’s just really dull. While I prefer the ways of obtaining AP in BFA – mostly because I quite like Island Expeditions, but also because catch-up mechanics have chosen to reduce the amount you need rather than increase the amount you get, which, I think, is quite a clever way to do things – I much preferred spending it in Legion. So far, Azerite traits remain pretty boring, especially when compared to the traits on Artifact weapons. Getting a new piece of Azerite gear is more of a pain than everything else, as you have to try work out if it’s really even an upgrade or not. Gameplay has absolutely taken a knock, and it makes everything that isn’t perfect about each class stand out, almost more than usual. Damn it, Blizzard, I miss my zoo build.

There’s also the bugs. So many bugs. Now, I’ve no doubt that, over the years, what with the updates and the changes and the expansions and the trying new things and the constant attempts to make sure the game is still relevant in today’s world, World of Warcraft has just become this huge, complicated, fragile monstrosity that is just very, very hard to work with without introducing random, bugs you didn’t expect and couldn’t have predicted, anyway, these days. So when bugs happen, I really find it hard to feel too upset. That said, BFA seems to be almost especially flimsy, and some of the bugs – and the fixes Blizzard are forced to do – have been controversial, and with reason. For example, the one where players were surprised to discover some really incredible loot in their Mythic+ chests, only for Blizzard to realise it was a mistake and take that loot away. Or the one where cinematics don’t always play, so I didn’t even know about the incredible ending to Jaina’s story until two days after I finished Seige of Boralus and happened to watch a Nobbel video about it.

The worst thing about the issues we’re seeing in Battle for Azeroth is they’re not really a surprise. Quite a lot of these issues, from bugs to the lacklustre rewards that come with Azerite armour, were identified while people were still playing the beta – which has left players wondering what the point of trying to communicate with Blizzard even is. Community manager Devolore addressed this issue during Friday’s reddit AMA, and you can read his answer here.

The uncertain

Battle for Azeroth has introduced two major new features: Island Expeditions and Warfronts, and there’s been a significant amount of confusion about both. What are they? What is their purpose? We’re clearly meant to be excited about them, but… why? Personally, I didn’t find Blizzard’s own promotional descriptions of these features all that helpful. They have this to say about Island Expeditions, for example:

Set sail for the previously unmapped isles of Azeroth. Battle in groups of three as you race against cunning rival intruders—or enemy players—to collect the island’s resources. Constantly evolving challenges await as you traverse frozen landscapes near Northrend, open the gates of an abandoned Gilnean castle, navigate a war between elementals and more.

And about Warfronts:

Head to the frontlines and take part in a large-scale 20-player cooperative Warfront to claim a key strategic location. Build up your faction’s forces, lead the charge as your troops lay siege to the objective, and battle the enemy commanders as they make their last stand in this new PvE mode inspired by classic Warcraft RTS battles.

I wound up with this vague idea that Island Expeditions would be like PVP but on islands, while Warfronts would be more like playing an old-school Warcraft campaign, but in WoW. I expected to mostly skip the first and love the second.

I was wrong.

Generally, I like Island Expeditions so far. I only feel the need to do five a week (as that’s how many you need to finish the weekly quest that rewards a huge amount of AP) and I usually find each island is different enough to be interesting. The ways to achieve your goal of collecting a certain amount of AP are diverse enough to mean there’s a variety of things you will find yourself doing. Even the teams you find yourself grouping up with can be quite assorted. A team where everyone has stuns and water-walking mounts will end up playing the Island differently to teams where everyone’s able to do massive amounts of AOE. So all in all, I don’t know if I love Island Expeditions, but they’re okay.

As for Warfronts, I can’t stand them.

I don’t know what it is. When I heard we’d be gathering resources and building a base, I somehow assumed that it would be so much more exciting. And gathering resources, building a base, following a strategy and organising an assault on an enemy fortification is exciting – when you’re playing a commander. Turns out, being a peon sucks. Apart from a few basic ideas like sending miners to the mines, there’s no real strategy. And, unless you count the occasional rare that pops up, most Warfronts seem to play exactly the same. There’s also no way to lose a Warfront, so they just wind up being tedious and time-consuming. I’ve played three, and that was at least two too many.

These are my opinions though. I’ve spoken to people who hate Island Expeditions but love Warfronts. I’ve spoken to people who love both. Personally, I think both do have potential, but honestly? I would be quite happy without either.

I don’t want to end on a sad note, so one more good thing

The most adorable satanic goat you’ve ever seen. Also known as the first official Battle for Azeroth secret that’s been discovered by the geniuses over at the secret finding Discord. Baa’l is amazing, and I love him, and best of all, it looks like he’s going be the key to discovering other secrets as well, starting with that pretty cool transmog that is the Waist of Time.

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