Let me tell you a bit about me and how I play MMORPGs. Between two jobs and a family, my gaming time is relegated to the deep evening hours where peace descends upon our household. If it’s a good night, I can get in two full hours of adventuring through virtual worlds before I grow too tired to continue. Some nights it’s less.
It has been a long time since I was able to sprint alongside the pack when a new expansion or game launches, so you have to picture me as the slowpoke waaaay in the back who keeps getting distracted by small details, stops to read the quest text, and takes screenshots like I’m putting together an art book.
That’s me, the fluffy casual, and while plenty of folks have devoured vast swaths of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth this week (including our own excellent Eliot), I’ve been rotating through my roster of characters and experiencing this engaging expansion at my own tempered pace. Does that mean that I lack a perspective or any observational details? Absolutely not! In fact, here are some things that I’ve been thinking about and looking at this week from the position at the far back of the pack.
What kind of expansion is this?
This has been a very strange lead-up to the seventh World of Warcraft expansion. On the plus side, we didn’t experience any massive content droughts along the way, and it is always exciting to get a brand-new content pack to enjoy. But the story shift to factional warfare felt a little forced and the “big” selling features of Battle for Azeroth (warfronts, island expeditions, Heart of Azeroth, allied races) weren’t nearly as exciting as what we’ve gotten over the past two expansions (new classes, order halls, artifact weapons, garrisons).
It is, very much, a “more of the same” expansion. It’s more lands, more story, more dungeons, more mythic-plus keystones, more raids, more mission tables, more of what’s proven to work and be of interest to the community so far. And that’s a good thing, a great thing even. It was high time to move on. But I have the feeling that the increased pace of Blizzard’s patch cycle ended up taking some time away from developing really exciting hooks. Sure, Blizzard wants us to get excited about warfronts, but who is, really?
So I had to temper my expectations from the perspective that I was done with Legion, I wanted to have a sense of progression once more, and I wanted to go through new storylines. From that, Battle for Azeroth is satisfying me.
The story is firing on all cylinders as far as I see. Blizzard’s really refined this questing experience so that it flows organically from one area to the next while sprinkling in revelations, cutscenes, scripting, motivations, and rewards. Honestly, I didn’t care for many of Legion’s zone stories, but from the get-go, BFA has kept me really intrigued about the politics and secrets of these island nations.
Early on in Boralus, I started to investigate a missing fleet by checking out the monastery that provides the tidesages that bless these ships. When I got there, my NPC companion provided color commentary — which made me feel like I was part of a team — and the whole place was weirdly hostile toward me. I found one ally there, but the rest of the place exuded a “wrongness” that intrigued me and set me on a path to figuring out the greater mystery of this particular storyline. That was a short part of my play session, but it made for a great memory that takes the story above and beyond a forgettable text box.
I’m sure that some players will have gorged on all this content and be into the new endgame, but for me, there’s a huge wealth of stories and quests ahead of me. I find that as a casual player, pacing matters. When you don’t look at an expansion as a race but rather as a fine meal that can be devoured and savored in steady bites, then you can make the newness, the discovery of it all last. That means that weeks from now, when some people will be griping about the wait for Patch 8.1, I’ll still be happily making my way through quests that I haven’t seen before.
Going in blind
Another way that players kind of spoil the experience is by gorging on previews, beta testing, and datamining. Honestly, I did so little of that during the lead-up that most all of this expansion is fresh to me. So instead of racing to hit 120 as quickly and efficiently as possible, I was exploring and poking around and being generally inefficient.
And there is so much to see here. The setting of these two mini-continents (each with three zones) is as much a star of this expansion as anything else. We grow so inured to the artistic talent that Blizzard wields that such sights might be ignored. I try not to. I’m a total tourist, gawking at everything, combing through shops, and taking pictures of ships in bottles, vendors selling shrunken heads, and bizarre Goblin slot machines.
The two new capital cities are breathtaking in their scope and decidedly different than anything we’ve experienced in the game before. I’m more partial to the naval-themed Boralus, especially with its ferries that zip you along the waterfront, but the gigantic pyramid that the Horde enjoys is a stunning titanic design. If you like urban exploration, there’s so much to see and do in these places. I thought I’d really miss Dalaran, but I think I’m going to be OK hanging out in these towns as expansion hubs for the next couple of years.
Getting out into the countryside is even better, in my opinion (I enjoy rural rather than urban settings). What strikes me is not that these islands are super-exotic but rather a return to a more traditional fantasy setting that isn’t as alien or demonic or randomly stitched together. Kul Tiras, in particular, feels like a more grounded Azerothan locale than we got in the Broken Isles or Draenor. I don’t think I realized how much I missed that traditional fantasy setting until it was returned to us. Sure, it’s still fantasy and there are still some pretty wondrous sights to encounter, but at least we’re not bumping into fel-blasted or mana-sprouting landscapes all over the place.
The Heart of Azeroth was an early disappointment to me. It’s kind of a “set and forget” feature that’s… fine, but it’s not initially that exciting. There’s not much to do with it, and I only got my second piece of Heart-associated gear after the first long chapter of a particular storyline. Anything where I get to choose is welcome, don’t get me wrong, and I’m sure that I’ll like getting to customize my gear according to my playstyle later on, but I’m not oohing and ahhing over this like I was with my artifact weapon.
At least I didn’t start out feeling underpowered and weak in combat. There’s auto-scaling at play, so at 110, mobs are just as gentle and manageable as they were at the end of Legion. However, some of my level 120 guildies are complaining that the second they hit the level cap, the mobs started to hit like trucks due to the game being balanced around better gear at that point.
I’m personally glad that some of my favorite little activities, like treasure chest hunting and mission tables, are back. There are tons of fun rewards — or so I’ve heard — that I’ll look forward to acquiring sometime down the road. Around 120 pets? My son is pestering me to catch them all, Pikachu. And sometimes I allow herbalism nodes to lead me of the beaten path and encourage me to explore the countryside without strictly sticking to the quest directions.
All in all, it’s a good, strong start to the expansion. It may not be rocking my world with innovative design, but the solid, proven, and comfortable design means that I am in for a great ride over the next several months of combing through both Horde and Alliance storylines.
And just remember, if you feel “left behind” by the pack, know that you’ll be right there alongside me and many others who are taking our time, smelling the roses, and having a blast in our own fashion.