"Well, it's more the same" is generally my answer when people ask me how I enjoy the seventh paid expansion to World of Warcraft, Battle for Azeroth. Then I spend a few minutes explaining why that's not a bad thing.
Blizzard has spent the past six years transforming World of Warcraft from a tired massive multiplayer online role-playing game that seriously showed its age (around 2012 Mists of Pandaria) as something fresh and new. The developer has improved writing, implemented exciting new storytelling opportunities, and filled the world of Azeroth with secrets and treasures. Between the Warlords of Draenor 2014 and the Legion 2016, World of Warcraft feels like a completely different game today.
Battle for Azeroth doesn't change the game very much. Aside from a revision of how player-versus-player battles work and a few new multiplayer mini-games (Island Expeditions and the Warfronts still to be launched), the latest expansion follows exactly the Legion formula.
Players travel to a new country, Zandalar for the Horde and Kul Tiras for the Alliance, where they can choose between adventure zones through which to search. Thanks to the level scaling introduced in Legion, these zones can be addressed in any order. The players drive from place to place and take on quests and complete them. The main storyline of each zone generally leads to a dungeon.
What about the title fight? Along with the dramatic pre-launch events that led to the destruction of the undead and night elf capital, the players finally open War Story quests. These questlines take players to enemy territory, where they help gather stomachs and kill a certain number of things for experience points and loot. It's like a lighter version of the regular storyline, just without extensive speech and with more options for PVP battles.
If that isn't enough in times of war, players can also send non-player characters on timed missions to harvest resources as someone keeps saying to Blizzard that we enjoy this social game bullshit in our MMO. This is one of the most important ways to gain a faction's reputation and unlock the allied races of expansion. Variations of existing player races should strengthen the ranks of the alliance and the horde. I have never met a player who likes this aspect of the game.
As much as I complain about being flooded with quests, it's really one of my favorite things in the modern World of Warcraft. Each new group of exclamation mark non-player characters I encounter has a story to tell. A blood cult uses its evil power to oust local spirits, and players have to recruit massive mystical beasts to stop them. One of the most powerful fleets in the world has disappeared, and only the player has the ability and intelligence to solve the puzzle. They're not always epic – sometimes a farmer just has to weed a little – but they're almost always entertaining.
Compelling storylines make searching World of Warcraft a compelling activity, but it's not just writing that attracts the player. Blizzard's narrative technique has evolved for years, replacing slowly pre-rendered film sequences with unusual camera work and in-game art to provide a sense of drama and grandeur. As players approach new areas, the landscape appears to unfold like a pop-up storybook, revealing fantastic landscapes.
My favorite example of this is the necropolis, the temple of death Loa (spirit) Bwonsamdi in the troll nation Zandalar. In one moment the player trudges through a lush swamp and in the next they are in another world.
It's amazing that a 14 year old video game can still take my breath away. Every time I get a little bored with the forest or desert that I walk through, Battle for Azeroth throws me a huge temple, a rocky fjord, a hidden grotto or a few alpacas.
What Battle for Azeroth lacks in new things makes up for it in character. By sticking to the formula set out in Warlords of Draenor and Legion and not going overboard with complicated new game mechanics, the World of Warcraft team was able to focus more on the personality of the characters, landscapes and encounters. The world feels more like a living and breathing thing.
Perhaps this is why Battle for Azeroth in its current form has not nearly as much to do with the actual battle between the Alliance and the Horde as with the electrifying events that led to the start of the expansion. Players spend levels 110 to 120 falling in love with Azeroth again, so the upcoming battles mean more than just a PvP battle.
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I am curious to see how the battle for Azeroth will develop in the coming months when the excitement abates over the first launch. Adding Warfronts, team-based scenarios based on the original Warcraft real-time strategy game, should be quite entertaining. I look forward to seeing this war escalate. Will the Alliance and the Horde Lose More Cities? Will our senseless conflict devastate these new countries? Is the expansion's main gimmick, which uses the Heart of Azeroth artifact to activate special Azerite armor pieces, more interesting?
Or will Blizzard just give us more of it because I totally agree with it at this point? Stories so interesting that I defected to the Horde to make sure I can enjoy them all? I can live with that.