World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Battle for Azeroth, has been a controversial addition to the 14-year-old MMO. Following on the successful Legion expansion, Battle for Azeroth has gone from world shattering threats and demons to a faction war between the Horde and Alliance. The big moments in the expansion, like raiding through Uldir and Dazar’Alor, or the spectacle of cutscenes and cinematic — have been executed well. But a game like World of Warcraft demands constant attention, and must hold up to players logging in daily.
Battle for Azeroth’s big moments are more sophisticated than ever, with in-game cinematics, branching player choices, and a steady flow of new player races joining the game. While there’s plenty to talk about around these highlights, player criticism has largely focused on the connective tissue of the game. Warfronts, island expeditions, and daily quests are meant to bring players back to Azeroth every day, but are they succeeding at that goal?
What works about the end game?
“I think the strengths of the systems, as it is on live, is that there are lots of different activities that are valid for players to do,” says Kevin Martens, lead game designer on World of Warcraft. “There have been times in WoW’s past where raiding was the only thing to do, or self-driven collecting games, or leveling alts. Now, we have a lot more variety, and even if you’re chasing specific goals, there’s typically more than one way to do that.”
“Dungeons and raiding have a rich experience [in Battle for Azeroth],” says Martens.
Martens also says that players have been receptive to the changes made to Island Expeditions. Making rewards more visible and less rare, as well as making them more accessible through a vendor, reignited interest in the system. Martens confirms new islands will be coming, even after the two new additions in the upcoming 8.2 patch, Rise of Azshara.
Island expeditions have also been a way for Blizzard to return to locations and lore storylines that would be on the backburner, otherwise. Thanks to expeditions, we know that there’s a new Mantid Empress, Helya survived her fate as a raid boss, Murlocs and Jinyu are terrified of something beneath the waves, and Wrathion is searching for the Dragon Isles.
Warfronts have also allowed the development team to resurface old characters that may not have the spotlight otherwise, like Muradin Bronzebeard and Danath Trollbane. It’s a good system for restoring old parts of the world, like the Arathi Highlands or Darkshore, and making them feel part of the world in the modern day of Warcraft.
Daily quests, a system brought over from Legion, still work as a basic way to reward players for showing up and getting out into the world. Incursions, the system that clusters daily quests in an area to represent a faction invasion on enemy territory, have been one of the high points of the expansion. With war mode on, incursions make the Battle for Azeroth feel real, immediate, and when I’m getting repeatedly camped, deeply personal.
The issue regarding content is appealing to World of Warcraft’s broad audience, which is split into many different demographics, and each expansion has to make choices about who to appeal to. There’s a host of content, but no one player will actively engage with and love every single system.
Building off that base
Throughout Battle for Azeroth, the core endgame systems have been improving and evolving. Azerite offers more traits and a new ring. Island expeditions, the best way to acquire Azerite, have been overhauled to have more events, less opacity regarding rewards, and less repetition. A second warfront, Darkshore, was added to the game, and heroic warfronts are coming to the game with the next major patch.
These improvements have been subtle changes, and not big headline-grabbing improvements. That’s because Battle for Azeroth is currently setting the stage for the Rise of Azshara patch.
Patch 8.2 will introduce two new major zones: Mechagon, the home of mechagnomes and startling new technology, and Nazjatar, the base of operations for the titular Azshara and her naga army. Rise of Azshara is meant to be a major distribution of new content: companion quests, storylines, new environments, and a lead-up to one of the biggest villains in Warcraft’s history.