World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth Review — Same Ol’ Song and Dance
Blizzard's newest expansion for its long-running MMORPG, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, may have brought me back to Azeroth just one last time.
Have you ever listened to a particular song that brought back to the memories of yesteryear? For myself, anytime I put on that old The Strokes playlist I created 12 years ago, and the track Is This It? starts playing, it feels like I’ve embodied my 15-year-old self again. It’s almost refreshing going back to something you used to love so dearly.
These nostalgic feelings also translate well to the games we’ve played throughout the years. One such game for me is Blizzard Entertainment’s popular MMORPG World of Warcraft. I remember waking up at 5:00 AM to go fishing with my friends by the Wailing Caverns. We’d dress our toons in overalls and a straw hat and reel in some garbage fish for an hour until we had to go to school. After we finished our day of school, it was back to Azeroth where we do our dailies, gain rep with one of the factions, or attempt the latest raid.
In what could be considered problematic, World of Warcraft consumed my life when Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm released. It also gave me some of the best memories I have ever had with a video game. So as I started playing the MMO’s latest expansion, Battle for Azeroth, I began to remember just how great World of Warcraft is. However, as I dove deeper into Zandalar with my Demon Hunter Ozprey, I also remembered just how tedious the World of Warcraft experience is.
Like the review-in-progress I posted a few days ago, I want to acknowledge that I am a returning player. I started playing at the tail end of Burning Crusade and ended my World of Warcraft “career” during Cataclysm. I did play a little bit of Mists of Pandaria but fell off very quickly and haven’t played since.
The expansion begins in Loredaron as the Alliance attempts to take control of the city. This instance sets the tone for the overall narrative of Battle for Azeroth. We see an Alliance run by Anduin Wrynn struggle to fight a Horde led by Sylvanas Windrunner who will do anything to achieve victory. We see a loss of identity for the Horde, who in the eyes of Saurfang, have given up on honor. It is in this beginning instance where a World of Warcraft campaign was actually intriguing.
Not to say that expansions like Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King were not great from a storytelling perspective but the story never felt like an essential part of the game. In Battle of Azeroth, the story slaps you across the face. It’s a small but welcome integration that makes the experience more enjoyable, considering what the bulk of that experience is which is grinding.
The part I will never miss from World of Warcraft, or indeed any video game is grinding. The grind in World of Warcraft is one of the most brainless, uninspiring activities I have ever partaken in. If it weren’t for Coheed and Cambria, Ghost, Thin Lizzy, and Rush, the 15 to 20-hour leveling experience would be monotonous and dull.
There are good moments and features tied to the leveling guide. One of which is the new War Mode. Activated at your faction’s capital city, War Mode allows you to mark yourself for PvP within the world. Yes, servers are no longer categorized by Player vs. Player and Player vs. Environment. Taking the risk of opening yourself to PvP in the open world grants some bonus rewards and a 10% experience increase buff.
It also gives you the option to opt out of PvP when things get tough, like when a level 120 paladin camps your level 113 Demon Hunter’s corpse for a solid thirty minutes. Then you contemplate leaving the game for good because one person likes draining the joy out doing one fetch quest. With War Mode, you can turn War Mode off and go back to questing without anyone there to ruin the experience. It is quality-of-life changes like this, as well as in-engine cutscenes, that have streamlined the leveling making the process much more pleasant despite it being virtually the same since 2004.
Another new feature that changes up the leveling process is the Heart of Azeroth and Azerite gear. After you complete the first mission to the War Campaign, you’ll talk to Magni Bronzebeard to receive your Heart of Azeroth, a neckpiece that you’ll have to level as you quest through Zandalar or Kul Tiras depending on which faction you represent. Azerite gear, which is garnered from questing, have perks that can be unlocked when your Heart of Azeroth is at a certain level.
In my review-in-progress, I mentioned that this new feature brings a satisfying aspect to the leveling as you are obtaining reasonably high-level gear during the beginning of your journey to level 120. While I still think that rings true, once you have to start increasing your item level so you can access endgame content like heroic/mythic dungeons and the raid, the gimmick of the Azerite gear seems pointless. Sure, these types of gear may last longer since the last perk is usually increasing the gear’s item level by five, but when you are continually trying to improve the item level of each slot, you won’t feel connected to any piece of gear even if the perks are extraordinary.
Leveling the Heart of Azeroth requires Azerite shards. These shards are gained from questing, completing dungeons, or Island Expeditions. Island Expedition is a new addition to World of Warcraft that pins two groups of three from each faction race to collect a specific amount of Azerite; you’ll do this by defeating mobs of enemies and mining Azerite shards. The winner will receive not only Azerite shards for your Heart of Azerite, but also other rewards such as mounts, plundered weapons, and more. Like dungeons, there are multiple difficulties, one of which includes a PvP option.
As one of the main avenues for garnering Azerite, Island Expeditions are essential to getting raid-ready. Fortunately, the new mode is fun. Right when you get off the boat, there is a sense of urgency as you try to collect as much Azerite as possible. It strikes a good balance between being challenging and being user-friendly. It’s a simple premise but still requires a bit of strategy to win.
So far, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is a solid addition to the long-running MMORPG. Currently, I am trying to increase my item level so I can be ready for the raid in a few weeks. The grind to do that is a long one, requiring a lot of time that not a lot of people have. It is the one crux of this game. When you start World of Warcraft, you have to stay committed. If you’re serious about playing and want to enter the raid on the first day of release, missing just one day is a loss of progress. However, if you do commit and you have a group of people to play with, as it is right now, Battle for Azeroth has plenty of content for you to enjoy with a lot more to come.