Thirteen years on and World of Warcraft is still going strong, one of the few MMORPGs maintaining a paid subscription model.
Battle for Azeroth is Warcraft’ seventh expansion, raising the level cap to 120 as well as introducing island expeditions, competitive warfronts, and the abilitiy to recruit allied races.
But does this expansion reach the highs of a Wrath of the Lich King, or the lows of a Warlords of Draenor? Here’s our review in progress.
The first three levels
Despite using the same engine for thirteen years, it never ceases to impress me how Blizzard continue to adapt and modernise the aesthetic of World of Warcraft. With each new expansion, the game seems to glisten in new, eye-catching ways.
Battle for Azeroth is very cut-scene heavy in its early stages, setting the scene with The Battle for Lorderon, having you involved in the Siege with The Third Fleet. As you ride through the rubble and flames of war with the Alliance, so you battle Goblin Shredders and Ogrimmar guards, listening to generals bark out orders and enemies have lengthy monologues.
There’s an ongoing battle happening in this expansion, whether it’s at the forefront of the narrative or in the background, but there’s always a perilous feeling which lingers on from the very beginning. The biggest names in Warcraft are clashing horns, you are right in the thick of it and anything can happen.
I won’t venture too deeply into the content to avoid spoilers but this does go on for a good 45 minutes to an hour, combining some action with narrative, until you’re back in Stormwind on the road to Uldum. And from there, the expansion really begins.
My Retradin, Rayvielle, was the first WoW character I ever made way back at launch. He’s been with me since the very beginning, through the trenches of UBRS, the bowels of Scholomance and the clashes with Arthas, there’s nobody else I’d rather take with me to Kul Tiras.
One of the expansions first major moments comes in the Chamber of the Heart and sees the player acquire the Heart of Azeroth. In Battle for Azeroth, this amulet enables you to infuse an Azerite weapon or piece of armor with additional power and is considered the new artifact power.
As the artefact is levelled and boosted by acquiring Azerite, so its power grows and stats improve. Each piece of equipment has multiple rings which can be unlocked, each one offering multi-choice powers for the players to consider.
Each ring also serves a specific purpose, like the Outer Ring focusing specifically on class and the inner ring looking at the defensive properties of the armor / weapon itself. It’s a nice system that grows throughout the course of the content and also encourages smart decision-making from the outset.
Further along, you learn about the houses of Kul Tiras and the need to unite them in the face of war as the ongoing battle ensues. It’s up to you where you begin your quest, whether you start out in Stormsong Valley, Drustvar, and where I eventually ended up, Tiagarde Sound.
The option of choice is really important in MMORPGs, I feel. While previous WoW expansions have relied on a set structure, giving you a linear path through to the conclusion, Battle for Azeroth is more open-ended and that definitely works to its benefit.
But what really separates Battle for Azeroth from its brethren is the flow and motion from location to location. Generally, WoW sees you run around a bit, find a gryphon master to establish a flight path which opens up the map for you to get around. In BoA, there’s also the option of boat travel which just feels lovely, honestly.
You get to take in and appreciate more of the environment as you power across the waters, looking at lands and mountains from a new angle. WoW has never really suffered from a sense of scale but there’s something really refreshing about this new perspective that doesn’t just feel like a gimmick but ties in nicely with the games’ focus on island expeditions. Amazingly, it also seems to improve the quality of the game’s draw distance which has always been a bit contentious.
Over time, you open up more and more locations, making Kul Tiras one of the most convenient areas to get around in all of Azeroth with varied options by land, sea, and air. It opens up World of Warcraft like never before.
And then we get to the bread and butter of WoW, questing and levelling. By now, Rayvielle is about halfway through Level 110 and the real grind begins.
What I like about Kul Tiras is that there a small pockets scattered around the map so that your questing doesn’t take place all in the same place. Each area never seems to outstay its welcome and you never feel overwhelmed by an over abundance of quests, a problem in previous WoW expansions.
Instead, Kul Tiras has lots of optional areas to earn experience, like cleansing a graveyard or killing spiders and egg sacs. It’s not new for Warcraft but these areas seem to be increased in frequency in Kul Tiras and spread evenly across the map, presenting a nice diversion from questing and levelling.
In fact, with Battle for Azeroth as a whole, between the questing, PVP, dungeons, and open world events, you can really diversify your play. Between that and the surprisingly seamless change in aesthetic with the gloomy, grimy Drustvar and the free-flowing water in harbour towns, you’ll fly through the levels before you realise how much progress you’ve made.
The nature of Warcraft hasn’t changed – if you didn’t enjoy it 8 years ago, this probably won’t convince you – but Blizzard have made a concerted effort to make the game feel more modern, fresh and varied. That certainly shines through in the game’s opening three levels. I’m intrigued to see if it keeps up that momentum over the remaining seven.