Since 2004, World of Warcraft–the hit MMORPG by Blizzard Entertainment–is often regarded as the best in its genre. I’m inclined to agree. The game has been around for 14 years and hasn’t shown any signs of ending any time soon. The release of its newest expansion, Battle for Azeroth, only strengthens that notion with an experience that will bring players new and old to Azeroth.
I should preface that I’m a returning World of Warcraft player. My stint with the game began with Burning Crusade and ended with Cataclysm. Those years of leveling, grinding, dungeon crawling, and raiding were some of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had with a video game. I quit playing midway into Cataclysm making claims that I would never play again unless I could play as a Pandaren. Lo and behold, that was a possibility with Mists of Pandaria. I did return, but it just didn’t feel the same. That was when I truly quit.
So why did Battle for Azeroth bring me back in? After I interviewed a few of the developers and played a small slice of the beta, it felt like it was a return to the old Warcraft stories I know and love; a simple story between the Horde and the Alliance. Upon playing the first hour, there is a more significant threat, but the conflict between the two factions is at the forefront.
While there has always been a lot to love about World of Warcraft, leveling always has and always will be the worst part of the game. It seems Blizzard knows players aren’t the fondest of the grind with certain races starting at higher levels and purchasable tokens to increase your level to 110. Despite that, leveling in Battle for Azeroth was not nearly as bad as I remember.
Playing as a Blood Elf Demon Hunter, the grind begins at Loredaron as Sylvanas Windrunner and the Horde defends the Undercity against Anduin Wrynn and the Alliance. It sets the tone for the narrative throughout the expansion and it’s, at the very least, intriguing. When you exit the Undercity and are on the frontlines, it feels like you’re in this giant battle between the factions with a plethora of combat vehicles and enemies attacking each other. I don’t think there will ever be a World of Warcraft story as enjoyable as Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King but it does draw you in even if you’re a newcomer or a returning player.
After you finish the first part of the War Campaign, you’ll receive a quest to meet with Magni Bronzebeard to grab the Heart of Azeroth, a neckpiece that you’ll level as you quest in Zandalar with the Horde or Kul Tiras with the Alliance. It is relatively similar to Artifact Power from Legion. As you grind your way through one of the two continents, you’ll garner head, chest, and shoulder gear with two or three traits you can unlock by leveling your Heart of Azeroth.
The Heart of Azeroth gear are all high-level pieces (between item level 280 and 295) that are necessary to get you started with the endgame content. It is pretty satisfying to get one of these pieces, especially at the lower levels. It almost feels like cheating. It feels great when all of your gear is in the lower 200s and you have one or two pieces at 285 at level 112.
The full process of leveling from 110 to 120 is not nearly as bad as I remember from those early days; in some ways, I thought it was enjoyable. As part of the Horde, you are taken to Zandalar where you attempt to get the Zandalari’s aid; if you’re an Alliance player, you’ll be sent to Kul Tiras. The storylines in each of Zandalar’s three zones (Zuldazar, Nazmir, and Vul’dun) will keep you interested while you monotonously quest through the continent.
Leveling now is virtually the same as it has been for the past 14 years, taking around 15 to 20 hours to get to the 120 depending on how fast you are at leveling. It is nice that I could take on six NPCs at one time now rather than the two or three I’m used to but the experience is almost indistinguishable.
However, the amount of quality-of-life changes since I last played streamlines just about every feature making it much more enjoyable. The newest of these features is War Mode. Rather than categorizing servers a PvP (Player vs. Player) and PvE (Player vs. Environment), you can now activate or deactivate a setting at Stormwind (Alliance) and Orgrimmar (Horde) that opens you up to PvP throughout the world. Additionally, choosing this setting will give you a 10% experience increase and quest rewards.
A common annoyance to those who have leveled in a PvP server is camping. Nothing in World of Warcraft is as annoying as a high-level toon camping your corpse, waiting for you to revive, and kill you until you quit. This alleviates that problem by letting you switch it off if you run into that problem. It’s another quality-of-life feature that only positively affects the game, making it as playable as it was years ago.
After leveling there is plenty more to do. From dungeons to Island Expeditions, there is enough for you to do to get ready for when the raid and Warfronts releases in a few weeks. As of right now, Battle for Azeroth is a solid addition to World of Warcraft. We’ll follow this up with our final review once we experience more of the endgame content.