Thoughts on Battle for Azeroth
I am but a humble Protection Warrior, a button-clicker, and a filthy casual with no aspirations of legendary parses or +17 speed runs. I raid Normal difficulty four hours a week (at most), don’t PvP unless absolutely necessary, and have never gotten a Cutting Edge raid achievement. I generally don’t level or play alts, am obsessed with transmogging, and spend more energy than most trying to solo old-content raid bosses (with varying degrees of success). My observations are heavily influenced by these factors, so be prepared. What follows are my thoughts on a few key aspects of the expansion: it’s not so much a deep-dive as a skim across the surface.
Environments: gorgeous, as expected. I actually prefer the overall feel of the Zandalar zones, as they seem to feature fewer jarring transitions between types of terrain: Vol’dun is a rocky desert, Zuldazar a tropical jungle, and Nazmir a fetid swamp. In Kul Tiras, it feels like every zone has a big “SUDDENLY HUGE SNOWY MOUNTAINS” feature plopped into it. Not that the mountains are poorly designed, mind you, but they seem to be there just to provide a change of scenery in zones with less clearly defined themes than those in Zandalar (it doesn’t help that I find mountains to be a royal pain to navigate without flying. There’s a reason I avoided leveling in Highmountain). Speaking of Zandalar, I want to commend the environmental artists that designed Nazmir. They perfectly captured the atmosphere of a zone filled with stagnant water, to the point that I can almost SMELL the rotting vegetation and oozing algae. Finally, as a purely Alliance-side player, I can’t say much about Dazar’alor, but Boralus Harbor feels like a truly living city, much more so than Dalaran ever did in Legion (or Wrath, for that matter). Kudos!
Gear: kind of a mixed bag, if you ask me. I really like the quest and dungeon gear, as they capture the nautical flavor of Kul Tiras and the gilded troll aesthetic of Zandalar quite well. The raid sets are less successful, partly due to the decision to do away with Tier sets and have one set for each armor class. In previous expansions, if you didn’t like your class’ tier set, you could pick up lookalike pieces for the other sets in your armor class for transmogging. This is no longer the case, so if you don’t like a raid set, there are no alternatives until the next raid comes out. I believe the goal behind this design change was to allow the artists to focus their attention on fewer sets per raid to create a more unified feel, but I’m not sure I like the results (this is NOT an indictment of the artists’ skills, but rather a reflection of the fact that I like having more options rather than fewer).
Other: at the risk of sounding irrationally negative, I have to say that I HATE that every single Alliance mount seems to be a horse. I get it: Kul Tirans are a horse-riding culture. That doesn’t mean I want my own personal stable full of them! At least the Warfront rares, Islands, and 7th Legion token vendors offer a bit of a respite from the equestrian ubiquity, but still. Horde gets toads, hyenas, dinosaurs, wolves, and weird spider-bats, and we get horses. At least they’re nicely-geared horses (with strangely curved necks, as I noticed recently).
I have to admit, I was a bit underwhelmed by BFA’s dungeon offerings for quite some time. To my tanking-addled mind, they seemed to be either claustrophobic chain-pulls (Temple of Sethraliss, King’s Rest, Underrot), or outdoor accidental face-pulling wipe fests (Shrine of the Storm, Freehold, Atal’Dazar). Tol Dagor was a boring slog through a gray prison, Waycrest Manor LOOKED cool but was confusing as hell, and Siege of Boralus was just an enemy-infested version of my home city. Now, after tanking them for a few months and pushing some Mythic Plus keys (nothing higher than +10, mind you), I appreciate their design a bit more. I daresay the only dungeon I still dislike intensely is Tol Dagor, because you’ll never convince me that a mildewed prison full of look-alike cells and passages is compelling (requiring a Rogue or someone with a bunch of keys to execute the “mandatory” M+ trash skips also lowers my assessment).
As far as I’m concerned, the leveling experience in BFA is at least as good as it was in Legion, with respect to the quests and story line. I started leveling in Drustvar, then moved to Tiragarde Sound, and finally hit Stormsong Valley, where I promptly decided that Briarback Kraul was to be avoided at all costs (though still not as unpleasant for me as Highmountain was in Legion). I can’t speak for the Horde leveling experience, but I think that Kul Tiras was pretty solid (even though SSV felt a bit too long and disjointed). Unlike in Legion, I have yet to level any alts to max, and I finally figured out why: the lack of an order hall story line. In Legion, each class got a (generally) compelling order hall story to play through in parallel to the zone quests; no such thing exists in BFA. The war campaigns try hard, and they are good, but they don’t compare to the epic and meaningful feel of Legion’s class stories. Legion also had Artifacts (flawed as they were), which gave an additional avenue of progression; the Heart of Azeroth seems to be an attempt to replicate this feeling in BFA but in the end it’s really just a resource pit. The end result is that playing alts to level 120 feels much more repetitive and routine than it did in the previous expansion, which is unfortunate.
In some ways I think there was actually a bit TOO much content during the leveling experience. I found that there were so many side quests and not-so-rare Rares that I spent more time being distracted by shinies than progressing the zone narrative. The sheer amount of STUFF in each zone was refreshing, but was also a bit overwhelming the first time through, when I felt compelled to DO ALL THE THINGS so that I didn’t miss anything. If/when I level any of my alts, I’ll be a bit more conservative as to what side content I pursue as I progress through the zones.
Let me just say, after several Legion raids filled with FEL GREEN OOZE EVERYWHERE, it’s nice to get some thematic changes in the current batch of BFA raids. Uldir features a combination of crumbling Titan architecture, filamentous mycelial rot, and (possibly a bit too much) blood magic. Battle of Dazar’alor is, well, Dazar’alor: a massive golden Troll city. Let’s dive into each raid a bit deeper, shall we?
Uldir: a decent starting raid. I will always love Prancy Boi (Fetid Devourer). I have a few complaints about it, though.
- First, the raid itself makes no sense if you’re playing Alliance. Why are we here? Why is this place even here? Why do we care about a big ugly worm sleeping in the bottom of it? If you’ve leveled as Horde, all is explained. I understand the need for separate narratives for the factions, but in the case of Uldir it’s quite jarring to just jump into some sort of blood-curdling (hahaha) crisis already in progress.
- Second, the difficulty ramp-up feels extreme to my admittedly casual self. My guild found itself in the odd position of clearing 7/8 Normal and 5/8 Heroic, without getting a single G’huun kill. We found it easier to abandon Normal progression on G’huun and move straight to Heroic bosses, which says something about the raid tuning (in my opinion). I wonder if the tuning was tied to the expectation that everyone would have a maxxed-out piece of Origination Array gear, which is a bit presumptuous (I didn’t get my first piece until well into our Heroic progression). I don’t think that linking raid success to possessing a single trait on a single piece of gear that you may never get (especially with the draconian Personal Loot system limiting trading the way it does) is fun, or compelling, or anything on the positive end of the gameplay spectrum.
- Finally, the fights themselves often felt more frustrating than fun. I couldn’t nail down WHY for quite some time, until a friend pointed out that the Uldir fights relied HEAVILY on mechanics in which raid wipes could easily be caused by small personal mistakes made by any player. The unforgiving nature of these types of encounters is not something I find enjoyable, particularly when there’s a large amount of RNG involved.
Battle for Dazar’alor: I LOVE this raid! The fights are fun, with a level of complexity that seems to increase organically as one progresses through the city. Overall raid coordination and performance seem to be emphasized, rather than dependence on perfect individual execution: I find that pulling off a clutch win after things start going horribly wrong to be much more exciting and compelling than wiping continuously because someone got randomly targeted by an Explosion of DOOM while feared.
The story-telling aspect of this raid is a dramatic improvement from Uldir, regardless of faction. We know why we’re here (thanks to the war campaign quests) and we get to see the opposing faction’s side of the story. The faction-switching mechanic is something new and feels pretty epic, though I have one complaint: the default (and unchangeable) transmogs are too uniform. One of the ways I distinguish my character from the rest of the raid in a hectic battle is by looking DIFFERENT from them: when I’m dressed identically to everyone else, I find it hard to tell exactly where I am when there are spell effects exploding all over the place.
I like them. I really enjoyed the Scenarios from Mists of Pandaria, and these take that idea and improve upon it considerably. The guaranteed reward is a bit lackluster (less AP than a typical World Quest… WOOHOO!), but the sheer number of possible bonus drops is impressive: pets, mounts, toys, BoE (!) transmog pieces… For a collector like me, Islands are a potential gold mine! I find them to be entertaining little diversions to run with friends. Don’t @ me.
Warfronts are basically the LFR version of PvP, in my opinion. You queue into a battlefield with a large group of strangers, there’s very little coordination, and lots of players die for no apparent reason. There will always be that one person that does nothing but stand by the flags, waiting to capture them while others do all the work. There will always be one player that constantly demands that people attack or defend one node or another, then act indignant when nobody complies. Personally, I run them once per cycle for the high-ilevel reward, then wait until the patrol phase to hunt down all the rares. It’s all about the sweet, sweet drops from the rares: toys, pets, mounts, gear (better for transmog than actual use due to their relatively low ilevel). I’m interested in trying out the upcoming Heroic Warfronts (if/when they ever go live) to see if they offer a more compelling experience.
Professions have been a mess since Legion, and they’ve become nearly useless unless you’re making raid consumables. None of the craftable gear pieces have unique appearances (a tragedy for transmog fans such as myself), the best crafted gear is only usable by the crafter, and herbalism and fishing seem to be the only gathering professions with any purpose. The reliance on dungeon and raid drops for crafting gear (in the form of hydro/tidal cores and Sanguicell/Breath of Bwonsamdi) further diminishes the usefulness of crafting: if you have to kill 20 raid bosses or run 15 mythic dungeons to craft a piece of gear that might have TERRIBLE stats due to RNG, at that point you probably don’t want it anyway.
It looks like there will be a slew of new profession quests introduced in patch 8.1.5 next week, accompanied by some new items. These items seem to run the gamut from semi-useful, to fun/interesting, to “why?”. None of this will do anything to fix the mess that professions are in, but if they add a bit of engaging content I’m all for it.
Most people hate it. I don’t. In fact, I prefer it to the old Tier system, for a couple of reasons:
- Flexibility. Tier bonuses were rigid, and if the bonus for your spec happened to be underwhelming, too bad for you. With azerite pieces, you can mix and match, stack traits if you really want, or whatever. I have my set of gear with the typical “recommended” tanking traits, and another with some crazy stacked healing traits for raid soloing. Couldn’t do THAT with the old tier sets!
- Availability. I’ve raided fairly extensively since Icecrown Citadel. The last time I had a four-piece tier bonus was in Dragon Soul. Bad loot luck is a thing, and the old tier system made that painfully clear. I can get azerite gear from raids, mythic plus dungeons (and their weekly reward caches), world quest emissaries, warfronts, faction incursions, and sometimes even world PvP. Hell, I can BUY azerite armor by saving up Titan Residuum, which is obtained by scrapping the crappy duplicate pieces I often get from emissaries (I got my current helm and chestpiece this way).
Now, I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of the Azerite Power grind, BUT I don’t find it to be a huge problem for my particular playstyle. As I stated in the Introduction, I’m a fairly casual player, so my AP tends to keep pace with my gearing pretty well. In fact, I’ve only ever had to grind AP to access a significant trait ring once (and I’m still working on that damn piece). If I was pushing +15 mythic keys or raiding mythic BoD, I can see how the AP grind might be an issue, but let’s be honest: the “hardcore” players represent a vanishingly small percentage of the player base, and I do tend to become a bit tired of the entitled whining that seems to come from that sector.
I like Battle for Azeroth. A lot. Is it perfect? Of course not. No game or expansion can possibly be perfect. Is it my favorite WoW expansion? Probably not, though that’s a very tough call for me to make as I tend to view previous expansions through the somewhat distorted lens of nostalgia, with a bit of adjustment for the fact that I revisit old content regularly for transmog/pet/mount/toy/achievement/soloing purposes. I’m excited to see what’s in store for us in future patches, as we get closer to a face-off with Queen Azshara and the endgame of the expansion, which is still unannounced (but is definitely NOT Old God-related. BFA isn’t an Old God expansion. Everyone knows this.)