First impressions of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, part 2: Content

    
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I'm on a... oh, you know.

The first part of this first impressions series yesterday was all about the mechanical changes made for this expansion. This time, I don’t want to talk about the mechanics of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth; I want to talk about the actual content. Not the narrative text, but just the actual moment-to-moment stuff you’re doing in the game. Which, I think, is what this expansion is going to be judged on at this stage by a lot of people.

Put simply, the game could have the best combat it has ever had with the best gear enhancement system conceivable, but if the actual things you had to fight were a boring slog, no one would like it anyway. Solid content covers a multitude of sins.

There are several people who would likely argue that Legion had some of the best content we’ve ever seen in WoW, and while there’s room to debate that, I think it’s definitely worth considering. So BfA started off on something of the back foot, and that was exacerbated by the fact that it has not one but two continents to fill out almost entirely separate.

The docks feel familiar to someone who has spent a lot of time on docks.Obviously the two continents aren’t actually separate; very early on you’re sent to the other faction’s continent to start establishing a foothold, and that continues along the way. It doesn’t make things feels particularly more war-like, but it is a good effort at splitting the time between “getting the allies on board” and “actually fighting this war going on.”

It also mirrors something nicely done in Suramar while (probably) avoiding one of Suramar’s major missteps. The idea of having a whole new zone to explore and a new story to follow when you reached max level was nice; the fact that most Suramar quests felt like padding nonsense was less welcome. Here, you get a sense of these zones you’ll be exploring at max level, but there’s also a feel that max level will be more about doing world quests and the like; the overarching story is moving into the War Campaign there, which feels less errand-ish. Perhaps that’s just me.

However, you still have a situation where you’ve got only three zones on your faction’s continent, compared to the four leveling options in the Broken Isles. What helps split this up a bit more is the fact that every single zone has about a million sidequests and sidelines, so pretty much every single course has a lot of diversions you can step into if you’re tired of the main story.

The actual quests are, for the most part, what you’d think of for quests in the post-Legion era. Bonus objectives are still there, albeit less common; you still collect a mass of tasks, go do them, then run back. You also still have your random rares and treasure chests to collect, so the world feels familiar in that regard.

It’s good, clean, and solid. We can debate endlessly over whether or not it’s too many sidequests and distractions from the main thrust, and I think the main story chain could definitely use more markers for people following that (or avoiding it on alts, since you only need one character to clear Pathfinder), but the fact remains that your minute-to-minute content experience will be polished and fun.

If there are complaints to be made, it would probably be that rewards are rather thin upon the ground; it certainly feels like it takes more time to get any sort of gear rewards, and war supplies or Azerite shards are somewhat uncommon. The volume of quests seems to have increased, but the total rewards seem fixed, which means the whole thing is less dense. Not that it’s exactly worse than replacing half of your armor every five minutes, but still.

Some of this also may be a matter of remembering late in the expansion when Order Resources flowed like wine, but it generally seems like the goal, at least while leveling, is to constrain your resources enough that you have to choose. Your mileage may vary a bit.

Crafting also is here and is now helpfully broken up by expansion, which… doesn’t work and does work at the same time. It doesn’t work because it creates a really weird disconnect between parts of the world and parts of your overall book, but it does work insofar as it avoids the ever-inflating grand total and lets you focus on just making stuff and backfilling as needed.

Of course, my main is Inscription, which is a very weird beast. Inscription was a profession which many people – myself included – picked up because the whole Glyph system was very interesting. But that system has long since been banished to the land of wind and ghosts, and we’re left with… part of the system, and a profession that Blizzard doesn’t know quite how to make work.

If all we have left are cosmetic glyphs, I want to see cosmetic glyphs coming out of the dang woodwork. I want all the cosmetic glyphs. I want dozens of them. This expansion seems to have… three.

Where do we go now

What Inscription is doing now, then, is providing players with long-term buffs usually provided by other classes and Contracts to enhance reputation gains. These are useful functions! But they’re not really what people like myself picked up the profession for, and there’s a degree of irritation at seeing an entire profession have its focus change with every expansion. Especially when you’re happy if that new focus happens to line up with things you want.

On the plus side, the profession quests feel a fair bit lighter this time, compared to Legion’s regular gating of professions behind dungeons. I’ve yet to run into any profession dungeon runs, which I’m thankful for. There’s a slew of Herbalism quests that I’m working through slowly, but those feel more engaging and natural. And mercy of mercies, mass milling is easy to get early.

Speaking of dungeons… well, those are here, and my runs through them have once again been very similar to Legion dungeons for better and worse. There are still dungeons with messy layouts and unclear paths, boss fights still have rather simple mechanics that get repeated a bunch, there’s perhaps more trash than is altogether healthy. If you hated them in Legion you won’t feel different here, and if you liked them then you’ll feel much the same. They are, at least, nice setpieces.

This isn’t entirely a negative, but it’s probably the weakest aspect of pure content being carried forward; dungeon design still hasn’t evolved in any significant way. Most of the boss fights are still less about handling a mechanic and more about handling the same simple mechanic several times, and the fight stays the same from top to bottom, while failing at those mechanics generally just means a mild cleanup chore rather than a real penalty.

They’re not bad. They’re just… pedestrian. Perhaps they get a bit more engaging in Heroic mode, although based on history I tend to doubt it.

Last but not least, I want to take a moment to discuss the environments. A lot of people have said that Zandalar feels much better than Kul Tiras, and I can see why people enjoy Zandalar… but not instead of Kul Tiras because I adore the aesthetic here. The seaport really does feel like a seaport, and moreover I enjoy that the boundary between Boralus and the surrounding zone feels highly porous. It feels as if the city is sprawling out beyond its walls, like… you know, an actual city.

Zone design in general has finally hit that sweet spot where paths feel straightforward and as if they’d be easier to handle while flying, but I’ve never felt like flight is necessary or forced. The maps feel organic and navigable, both of which I appreciate.

In short, the actual content of the expansion, the things you’ll be doing, is easily a high point. There are flaws and some shortcomings, and the game’s continued weirdness around several professions does put a slight crimp in things, but I’ve certainly been enjoying the experience of just questing. Perhaps that will change once we’ve all been running this content to death, but that’s then and this is now.

Of course… there’s another side of this particular discussion, but that’s going to have to wait until tomorrow.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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kalech

BfA hasnt been… Bad exactly… I got to 120 on wednesday, but… I dunno. It feels… Lackluster. Like there’s not really a lot there. It feels like an expansion Lite.
Perhaps its just because its so early. It might change when raids come out and our generic max level quest hub arrives. So far though, my impression has been lukewarm. Nothing overly negative that stands out to me, but nothing especially new and exciting either. Overall it’s just been “meh” *shrug*

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Sally Bowls

It’s OK that people, and scribes, are ignoring the profession aspect of inscription; rather treating it as RP fodder. However, in the same way a farmer grows what sells best, not what (s)he wants to eat. Doing what you want is a hobby, doing what others will pay you for is a profession.

Alex at Wowinsider in Legion was also going on about they took our jobs and glyphs. But unless you were on a very low pop server where there were no competitors, glyphs were a very low margin and competitive business. You turned 10g of herbs into glyphs that sold, slowly, for 15g and tended to have a couple of hundred different glyphs on the AH at any time. This profession is the main reason the econ/AH automation addon segment was created.

The profit in inscription has tended to be in Darkmoon Decks. The start of an expansion, with people rushing to get raid geared, is a glorious, wonderful, profitable time to be a scribe.

[Darkmoon Deck: Blockades] US Quantity 421 US Median Price 409999.99 US Mean Price 445942.80
[Darkmoon Deck: Tides] US Quantity 426 US Median Price 475000.00 US Mean Price 500526.98
[Darkmoon Deck: Squalls] US Quantity 543 US Median Price 400004.50 US Mean Price 423934.58
[Darkmoon Deck: Fathoms]US Quantity 333 US Median Price 550000.00 US Mean Price 646616.46

According to TUJ above, there are over 1700 decks up in the US listed for over 800,000,000 gold. That is over $125,000.

So they are making four items that each sell for over US$60 of gold. There are many things to criticise WoW crafting on, but pre-first raid, the marketplace is very clearly signaling to scribes a suggestion on what to make.

rafterman74
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rafterman74

The leveling experience and zones in BfA are top notch, it’s just everything thing else that feels horrible.

ihatevnecks
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ihatevnecks

Did the Horde’s end-campaign scenario today. Cinematic at the end of it was really cool, but jesus christ whoever writes these things has no sense of follow through.

Zandalar Forever Spoilers
You somehow go from the whole city on fire, a mountain-sized old god minion standing in the middle of it, having just broken the last seal… fade-to-black and the city’s back in its normal state with the king on his throne, his only comment “We won the battle but not the war.”

That’s it? Really Blizz?

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Sorenthaz

Maybe because they were crunched for time or they planned a resolution that couldn’t be done in time.

I know that for example Thrall and Vol’jin’s spirit were supposed to be big characters coming into Zandalar’s storyline according to the Blizzcon panel not even a year ago, but with Chris Metzen having some spinal cord surgery or whatnot back in January it sounds like that stuff may have been shelved until a future patch or something.

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Sally Bowls

Chris Metzen left Blizzard in ’16 so his health would not have affected BFA since then.

ihatevnecks
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ihatevnecks

Not to mention that whole excuse is a really sad one. They have the time to throw out tons and tons of pointless side quests. To leave the whole ending of the *main horde campaign scenario* on a single cliche sentence? That’s lazy; these guys have the resources to do better.

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Sorenthaz

I was talking about the fact that Chris Metzen is the voice of Thrall and supposedly for BfA Thrall was going to be one of the main story characters.

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Sorenthaz

It’d have affected anything featuring Thrall, because he’s sort of the voice of Thrall.

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Matthäus Wey

Although the big green mountains of Zuldazar still look odd to me I really like how they designed the maps this time. Having so much more natural looking landscape with free space just feels awesome to me. Zuldazar however still feels a little unpolished in some parts with buggy water(tiles/parts) and a lack of detail in some areas.

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Sorenthaz

Tbh professions in WoW sort of just feel like they’re there as a relic of older MMOs. At best you might be able to craft one or two really good things, then maybe some utility/vanity bits… but otherwise there’s not a whole lot of use for them beyond trying to make some money.

Also one thing I noticed is that the Treasure Chests in BfA seem to be more akin to the Argus/Broken Shore caches that randomly spawn around the map + despawn after a short while of someone looting them. I’m actually kind of glad that’s how it is because it makes stumbling into them less predictable and it potentially means you can go exploring areas repeatedly and still get goodies from it.

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Serrenity

I think resource nodes do the same thing? I’ve been running up to a resource node and watched it fade away with no one around. It’s possible that I could have phasing or switching servers, but I didn’t get any of the indications of that.

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Sorenthaz

Yeah mining/herbalism work similar now, anyone can grab from a node that’s up but after like 5 minutes from the first person who grabbed it it’ll despawn.

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jealouspirate

So far I’ve only seen one zone of Kul Tiras (Tirisgarde Sound). So, not much at all. But what I have seen has been great. The zone is beautiful and really feels like a cohesive actual “place”, compared to Legion zones which to me felt like more obviously “gamey”.

That being said, the story of that zone was a little bland. Lots of “filler” quests helping miners, loggers, hunters, etc do relatively mundane things. In some ways that is endearing after the constant “epic” overload of Legion, but sometimes it dragged a bit.

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Rick Mills

“In short, the actual content of the expansion, the things you’ll be doing, is easily a high point. ”

100% agree.
Great write-up – thanks Eliot!

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Nick Martin

I loved glyphs, and still miss it. The skill feels so underwhelming at this point, and makes no sense on the character I rolled who had the skill (my Paladin).

That being said… I’m quite enjoying this, and taking it at my own pace. I finished up Drustvar yesterday, and will say, that whole place justifies itself with the Abby Lewis quest (https://www.wowhead.com/quest=47289/teddies-and-tea). Truly creepy writing there… and I will say that I honestly didn’t see how the zone story ended up.

I do agree on the Dungeon Design… mostly. The manor in Drustvar was at least an interesting layout… my group was basically just wandering around trying to figure out how to get places. But the bosses were underwhelming, and at no point did we have to deviate from the normal tank/spank model. The mechanics didn’t matter. Maybe they will on later difficulties, but for the start, they were very simplistic.

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IronSalamander8 .

I’m inscription too so I know what you mean. I liked the old glyph wheel we had and wasn’t happy when they removed that system. My guild is pretty casual so haven’t been leveling that hard yet, just got 113 last night and still working on my first zone (Nazmir) so no boss fights yet.

I like the side quests even if there are a lot of them; the faction war is just not that exciting to me anymore so I’m focused on helping our new Zandalari allies and the local and horde NPCs that find themselves in a jam and some of them are highly amusing.

My least favorite bit so far is the new mission table system. I’ve done a little more with it and as you pointed out yesterday it feels worse than either the WoD or Legion versions. Also the phone app is worse than it was before; takes longer to connect, states you’re already logged in when you’re not, just doesn’t look as nice, etc. In a way the fact that it, at least so far, feels less important is a good thing as I’ve been ambivalent to the whole mission table system since its inception.