For the longest time, one of the biggest and most beloved lines of conversation among MMO gamers has been debates and discussion regarding the estimated death of World of Warcraft. Every new innovation in MMOs or shiny new game release has, at least in the past, heralded the doomsaying and sneers that this will truly be the WoW killer of prophecy. However, through all this, WoW has steamed on regardless. It’s not quite the all-conquering juggernaut that it’s Wrath of the Lich King zenith managed, but still, nearly 14 years later, it remains one of the biggest names in the MMO community. While other games and genres have accumulated substantial players, such as DOTA 2 or more recently Fortnight, any new launch for WoW still brings in the kind of numbers that other games would do terrible things to garner.
This time, we find ourselves (for the first time since Warcraft 2) at actual war with each other. The Horde has burned down everyone’s least favorite city and the Alliance has returned the favor bombing everyone’s other least favorite city into the dirt with a magical flying galleon (don’t ask just watch the cutscene) and, at least until the old God shows up, the Horde and alliance are at each other’s throats.
However, is World of Warcraft 7th expansion, Battle for Azeroth, worth the hype? While Legion, despised legendary system aside, rekindle the love many had lost for the game, the idea of another Warlords of Draenor left many apprehensive. Morally grey story choices had only deepened as the beta rolled on, but now, weeks after launch, Battle for Azeroth has laid its cards on the table. So… Is it any good?
Battle for Azeroth (henceforth called BFA) supposedly focuses on the new and heightened war between the Horde and the Alliance. It opens with a bang, players find themselves transported to the Undercity, either to defend it from the Alliance or to crush the Horde within and then… then the war ends.
For a war-based expansion, aside from a select few quests and the 1-2 hours that is the War Campaign, the war never really shows up. The three main faction quest hubs each has its own focus and missions, but none of them amount to much for the greater theme of what is supposed to be the main story. For the first time since classic WoW the main questing zones are divided among the horde and alliance equally, with each faction getting 3 zones each for the main campaign of the expansion. The short foray with the war campaign aside, the stories within are never shown to the opposite faction, players from the horde will never unravel the Ashvane plans just as the alliance will never uncover the machinations of Zul. This decision, I have to admit, is a welcome one. While the war never really shows up in the initial questing, splitting the stories by factions lets them tell more of a tale specific to the faction in hand rather, which was missed in the previous expansions. The zones themselves are fantastic, funny, heartbreaking and epic all at once.
One of the new additions in BFA is Island adventures. These are short, 3-player scenarios that require you to kill monsters and gather resources while an enemy team (NPC’s for most and Players for the PVP option) try to beat you by either gathering faster or spawn camping you. These are… honestly, they’re boring as hell. The rewards for completing them are either terrible or very (very) rarely amazing, which really gives a feast or famine feel that doesn’t sit well in the long run.
Warfronts are the second new major addition, and get ready for some disappointment yet again. Advertised as epic and sweeping battles for supremacy, Warfronts end up underwhelming. Each faction takes turns to battle for control of the Arathi zone; when a faction controls a zone they get a set of rares and a single world boss. The other gets to turn in daily quests.
When the progress bar has consumed enough expensive materials, the attacking faction gets to finally compete in the Warfront event. These are massive 20-man scenarios that have you attacking enemy fortifications against a team of advanced enemy AI. It feels like a mix of WoW and Warcraft 3: Players have to build, defend and attack to win. The scenario is actually pretty cool but then that’s it. When the main scenario is done the mode falls quickly by the wayside and feels more like a side-quest than a major part of the expansion.
The last of the problems with BFA is that many parts of the game feels like they’re missing polish or are just broken. Classes are missing tuning, queuing randomly breaks, the continued mangling of the LFG system persists, Mythic bosses are despawning amid the world first race and the less said about the insane gating behind the Heart of Azeroth and Azerite armor the better. The game needed longer in development, this much is obvious.
On a positive note, one of the bosses in the game is a greased up pig called “Lightning” that players have to actually catch, which is both fun and refreshing to see.
Innovation is not at the heart of Battle for Azeroth. As I’ve said in the gameplay section, this is less of an innovation as a change of venue. For all it’s new shiny coat of paint, BFA’s core new mechanics and gameplay elements are at best closely related to everything Legion added and at worst a palette swap.
The Heart of Azeroth is a less interesting take on the artifact weapons with even more impact toward gearing, Warfronts are Ashran with a waiting list that makes the DMV look speedy, Island adventures are Mists of Pandaria era Scenarios with none of the charm. Warmode is the sole new addition with any weight to it and due to the fact that it’s only relevant to PvP players, it doesn’t cover much of the ground the rest of the game lost.
Graphics / Sound: 10/10
For a game at the age of Warcraft, BFA somehow manages to look better than many newer titles. The stylized look decided upon many years ago, as well has one of the hardest working art and design teams in all of gaming, has created a lush and vibrant world of life and decay that drives WoW’s aging engine to the very limits. For all it’s faults, BFA is a stunning looking game and one that can manage that look on most hardware.
In addition to the stellar visuals, the soundtrack is amazing. As expected, a WoW expansion has an amazing soundtrack and world-class voice acting. The cinematics team as well, be they the pre-rendered opening or the in-game machinima style story bombs are by far the stand out of the expansion. Putting it bluntly, they might be some of the best cutscenes in all of MMO gaming.
Value in WoW has always been a mixed bag. As a Subscription based MMO, WoW doesn’t lock much content behind a paywall or extra fee-to-pay style mechanics that plague other games. It has a small cash shop that allows players to buy pets (about $10 each) and mounts (about $20) but no powerful items or any kind of equipable loot such as armor or weapons. The problem with this, not to sound like a broken record, is that the in-game services, such as faction and character transfers and even an insanely broken instant level up to the pre-BFA level cap, are incredibly overpriced. A simple transfer can set a player back $20 and a mass migration can lead into the hundreds of dollars depending on the number of alts a player might have. Though, as sad as it is to say, the lack of Loot boxes is a welcome change in what seems to be a plague of such things now.
All in all, Battle For Azeroth is in all things a true expansion to Warcraft; it is a continuation, a plateau for the game to simply continue existing. Even though a few quality of life changes have been made, there’s nothing that really stands out or helps differentiate from what came before. No risks are taken, nothing feels new or really revolutionary. This might not be a problem to many, but for old souls at the game, the magic that made it up feels missing. For all it’s hype, after the first hour of the game, the War between the alliance and horde quickly takes a backseat to the usual enemy of the day and then stays there with the very lackluster and poorly communicated Warfronts feeling like the epitome of the problem. BFA never feels like it’s really treading new ground, it never feels like it’s risking anything. Every new addition, as hyped as they were, just comes off as quick recolors of older modes and activities. It’s not that they are bad by any means, just that they don’t leave any kind of impression long after playing.
You’d think that it would be an understandable problem, being that the game is well over a decade old at this point but Blizzard has always managed to try something truly new, even if not always a success, but that feeling of experimentation and innovation is something that BFA just lacks. Instead, it feels like an extension of Legion with a new coat of paint.
For many, that’s not a problem. On its own, bugs aside, BFA is a great game with some great (and not so great) storytelling, beautiful art and some of the best Cutscene work in all of the MMO genre. I had a lot of fun playing it and exploring the new zones and the War. However, unlike every expansion before it, after all was said and done, after the instances were cleared, after the dust settled, I found myself really lacking for a reason to log on. Oh, there was stuff to do, plenty, but none of it felt really worth doing; it felt like more of the same, another box to tick, another number to grind.
If a player loves World of Warcraft, enjoyed Legion and even Mists before it, I would suggest buying this game. It is a GOOD game, but for anyone who’s either never fallen in love or fallen out of love with WoW in the past, there really isn’t much new to suggest you try again.
- Lots of content
- Great story
- No lootboxes
- Limited innovations
- Many Bugs and broken features
- Class balance problems