First impressions of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, part 4: Conclusions

    
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Well, it's still there.

As I worked my way up in levels and through more of the zone stories in World of Warcraft over the weekend, I realized something odd that summarizes just how different Battle for Azeroth feels from Legion. For some reason, I actively did not want any Azerite.

This struck me as wrong immediately. Azerite is quite literally powering the heart of this expansion. It grants you artifact power, which feeds directly into the Heart of Azeroth, which is also the actual leveling mechanic for this expansion (just like how your artifact was the real key to leveling in Legion). Why would I not want it? Why was I annoyed when a quest rewarded me a chunk of Azerite?

Then it struck me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want Artifact Power; it was that whenever that was my reward, it meant I was getting only that power, and it was boring. I would much rather have a piece of gear, or a new reputation unlock, or almost anything aside from a chunk of artifact power. It didn’t feel like a reward; it felt like a replacement for an actual reward. And if your main mechanic feels like it’s not actually a reward… boy, that’s an issue.

There were times, there were chances, there were ways.It’s particularly relevant when you consider that Azerite is the primary and almost only reward from island expeditions, which are so poorly designed that it feels like the whole system got rushed through start to finish. Warfronts and expeditions were two of the systems I was most heavily anticipating ahead of launch, but having actually played around with the latter, I find myself worried about the former.

The idea behind island expeditions is still a great one. Head off to randomly generated islands to compete against another team of NPCs or players to complete objectives. It’s role-agnostic and randomized, like City of Heroes radio missions! How could this go wrong?

Well, for one thing, you could make sure that you can queue for these things only by standing in one specific place in the city and clicking on a table. That’s a great way to make it particularly unappealing. You could also gate this pick-up-and-play casual content behind higher difficulties which require a preformed party, negating that the point of this sort of thing is the aforementioned pick-up-and-play nature. And then you can gate the cosmetic rewards behind randomness and higher difficulties, making the only reliable reward piles of artifact power.

Herein lies the problem with Azerite as a reward. In Legion, more artifact power meant more artifact powers well into the upper echelons. Yes, you reached a point when you were just sinking more power into increasingly marginal passive gains, but it took you a lot of time and play to get there. Even those marginal passive gains felt like they were tangible.

The Heart of Azeroth doesn’t feel that way. A new level feels more like “oh, that’s something” most of the time. I don’t feel any new power or new effects. Azerite armor is uncommon enough compared to artifact power that it’s rare to have new armor which isn’t immediately and completely unlocked as soon as I get it. There’s no real feeling of progress from getting this reward.

Thus we have a very, very odd effect by which the more progress you make, the less rewarding further progress feels. It’s the sort of thing that’s not immediately on display as you start leveling, but it becomes more and more tangible as you keep earning new stuff and seeing your core lineup of abilities and attributes not actually change.

It’s not bad. It’s just… well, bland. It’s whole wheat toast with plain oatmeal; filling, and it’ll do the job it’s meant to do, but the luster wears off pretty quickly. (Unless you don’t like whole wheat toast or oatmeal, I suppose, but that’s overstretching the metaphor.)

That’s the biggest problem BfA faces right now. The expansion isn’t actually bad. We’ve seen what bad looks like, and I’m sure Warlords of Draenor is fresh in everyone’s memory as an expansion that aimed low and failed to hit even those targets. But I think a comparison between the two is relevant because both expansions seem to have been made with an eye toward just doing the same thing as the last expansion, only more. You could even argue Cataclysm had the same problem.

BfA is trying to just do the same things as Legion with less. You all liked artifact power, so now here’s a simpler version. Everyone liked Legendaries, so here’s a version without quite so much randomness. World quests! Emissaries! Another mission table, but this has been trimmed down to uselessness! It’s the same stuff, only all a bit simpler and a bit slower and…

Yeah.

Remember when this expansion was released and everyone was saying that it was so great because it had a polished leveling experience with story beats that weren't awful if you didn't think too much about them? Ah, memories.

If Warlords was Mists of Pandaria but simpler (which in turn exposed the flaws with that era’s design), BfA is Legion but simpler. That means that it’s already doing a decent job because it has something with a solid foundation to build upon. But it’s still not what I’d call robust, and it falls far short of what was advertised. There’s a lot of potential here that excited me, and the actual execution seems to be flubbed at multiple opportunities.

I’ve said before that Warlords fell down in part because it aimed low and then missed even those targets. BfA aims similarly low but appears to be hitting its target thus far, which is strictly better. And so a lot of the reaction to things is going to be reliant on the follow-up. A lot of the flaws rely on some time having passed and some levels under your belt; taking the expansion slowly doesn’t fix them, but it does mean it takes longer for them to become obvious.

It’s possible for this expansion to pull itself upward, of course. Patches are a thing. Island expeditions can be made more relevant and given more meaningful paths to rewards. Better Azerite options can be added to gear. Heck, it’s totally possible we’ll get a mid-expansion update like the Netherlight Crucible that radically changes how we see the system right now; refining and expanding the Heart to be something more useful alone would work as a twist, and it would certainly help the fact that it feels half-developed right now.

But none of that is assured right now. It’s also possible for expeditions to continue languishing, new patches adding nothing more than new azerite pieces with the same sort of lackluster passives, and more story beats that feel sadly predictable rather than engaging or genuinely shocking. Given the usual trajectory of WoW expansions, I’m not terribly hopeful of this one improving.

When the expansion was first announced, I remember looking back and being very excited about the potential it had, to the point that I was eager to point out how well all of the facets of the expansion could be implemented. And the concept is still a good one. This didn’t need to be a bland expansion, but thus far, that’s what we have. It’s better than bad, but it’s not good.

Sorry, ten-months-ago-me. Your optimism was misplaced.

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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Carebear

The idea that I will have to grind World Quests (Dailies++) for reputation for months (to eventually unlock flying), is the reason I still have not bought/joined BFA… I am not on “I cant live without fly mount” group, but since there is an achievement to unlock it and others will get it, you cannot ignore it… you cannot farm ores and herbs on ground mount while others do it while flying… so in a way, you cannot ignore the flying unlock process…

And I hate dailies… World quests are even worst than dailies because, they feel more intimidating.. oh look this one is ending in 30 minutes! oh another one poped up from the rep I want, etc etc… If Pandaria dailies was bad, world quests are even worse.. it made me appreciate the old good dailies I hated lol.

And the artifact power… oh yea, dailies there as well… the first dungeon of the day gives bonus artifact (I guess, it was like this in Legion)..I also guess the first island expedition of the day will also give bonus?

Developers might think they play a farm mobile MMO and we are their toons… they put as to do specific things each day…

A player that will run 1 dungeon per day for 5 days will get lots more artifact power, than the player who will join on Weekend to do 5 dungeons… why? Why not have freedom on my play session? Why I need to check boxes on a list of tasks? Why I am cannot reach my goals on my own pace and with a different playstyle?

Why I need to do 1 dungeon with my warrior and 1 with my priest on Monday and Tuesday and not be able to do 2 dungeons with warrior on Monday and 2 dungeons with Priest in Tuesday and have same rewards? I am giving these examples to show you how we dont even have “choice” on the most simply things…

/end of rant

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Jokerchyld

Who exactly are you competing with?

rafterman74
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rafterman74

If you need to know aything about the current state of WoW just know that removing you HoA and putting on lower level gear actually makes you stronger. Let that sink in for a minute.

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Eric Dinosa

Thanks for that series, and I agree to most of your points.

I started leveling last week, and hit 120 on Sunday. It was fun at first… I really like two of the zones (Stormsong is horrible, mostly because of that horrible quillboar area), I like some of the quests.

However, here are the things that bother me right now:

– The questing seems…. dull and very repetitive. Not unusual, I know, but it feels even worse in BFA. I like picking up a ton of quests, finishing them and then going for the big hand-in. However… in BFA, it’s “get to a new hub, talk to the NPC, he gives you three quests, o look, the guy next to him has another two and there is a wanted quest there”. It feels like this happens the very same way at every hub, even more formulaic than usual.

– As many others have said – it feels you get weaker the more you level. Yeah, I have been playing since Vanilla and have been an altoholic since Wrath. I know how it can feel to hit cap and feel weak until you gear. However, it seems that the more blue and purple gear I get, the weaker I get, or at least I stagnate. WHen I pull more than one or two mobs on my shammy, I have to spam heals or blow CDs.
In MY opinion, you should feel more powerful when you lvl and gear. Not one-shot every mob, but if some normal mob takes way too long and requires you to heal a lot, its not fun. I don’t expect to blow up 20 mobs with one ability, but right now, my shammy feels very weak, and world quests feel more like a chore than they did in Legion.

– Island Expeditions… did a few, they were ok, but nothing amazing. I liked scenarios in MoP, but these scenarios just aren’t very interesting.

– As others have said, the lack of getting a new talent or spell, plus having lost the artifact ability feels odd. Add to that the new GCD-system and fighting just feels quite grindy. I wish they we could hold on to artifact weps in some way, but hey, let’s “depower” some of the most powerful weps of Azeroth and replace them with quest greens.

Oh, and add the lack of haste, which makes it even worse.

– I know a ton of ppl like the music. I don’t, unfortunately. I don’t think it stands out very much, and for some reason, a lot of it to me sounds like a rather cheap MIDI-library. Very subjective, I know.

– As I said, I’m an altoholic. I usually look forward to level the alts. I don’t here, considering how you feel less and less powerful. What was so terribly wrong about killing mobs faster because you got better gear? Was that really so bad? Is this really better? To have to struggle with each pack of trash mob?

I was worried that Blizz was on some kind of way “on off”-system, with a very flawed xpac followed by a better one, rinse and repeat. Consider this… Cata had quite a few flaws, subs went down a lot. Even though I was no big fan of Pandaria, I thought MoP altogether was a good expac with some good ideas. WOD… sigh. Legion – again, not perfect, but I enjoyed many parts of it. BFA feels… underwhelming right now. I didn’t care much about the old “This time, Alliance and Horde will REALLY get into the war” thing. A lot of this feels like a weaker version of Legion, with many parts of it just repeated big time, or watered down.

I hope this’ll get better, I really do. I still like WOW for the memories and the years of playing it, having so much fun. Right now, I can just hope that this xpac will see a lot of changes to the story, content, scaling, gear etc.

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Denice J. Cook

The forums are ablaze with L120s being two-shotted by L110s in War Mode.

Gear also makes you weaker as you level from 110-120, not stronger, so people have taken to throwing the azurite armor into void storage and running around naked because it’s easier to kill things that way.

Houston: We have a problem. Or it seems we do in Irvine, anyway. ;)

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Ben Stone

Draenor wasn’t really Pandaria V2.0, it was Burning Crusade V2.0. They had massive backlash at Pandaria and went back to what they thought was a safe bet. Unfortunately its ‘hard core’ theme actually made it worse.

Cataclysm suffered the same fate. Players complained that the game had become too easy and casual, so their answer was Cataclysm (Vanilla V2.0), which went down like a lead balloon.

I think listening to the feedback from Legion also led to the loss of artefacts and legendaries. High end players hated the randomness and game changing nature of legendaries, where bad luck would leave you at the bottom of the DPS pile for half the expansion. Certain players also hated being locked into certain weapon types for xmog reasons.

It does take away some of the interesting customisation, and takes away from the exhilaration of finally getting that item, but the other end of the RNG left a bad taste in many players mouths.

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Giggilybits

For me its all about character progression. No new spells, talents, weaksauce artifact system. Grind to unlock races. Don’t know how they could have topped Legion PvP and it looks like they wont. All I can say is its kind of nice the conflict has come full circle to being between horde and the alliance again. Blow my mind and release a bard class.

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Ben Stone

Legion PvP was garbage. PvP is in a much better state now.

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Teh Beardling

This. No new spells/talent plus the loss of some abilities from your artifact and it feels like your character has actually spiraled back in time and lost the memory of how to do certain things. It’s such a disservice to how a RPG should be, and after seeing how artifact abilities were just left in the dust there’s no way in hell I’m going to grind AP again. Especially for something I am going to lose at the end of the expansion with nothing return. I am so glad I did not go all in on this expansion.

amkosh
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amkosh

For me, it’s just not exciting enough to play. It isn’t actively triggering my anger, but I’m not super enthused.

Caveat: I have only played a few hrs into the first zone. But with Legion, I wanted to play more. Now I’d just rather play NMS NEXT, which is kinda surprising.

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Jokerchyld

Oh and the other thing that pissed me off is I can’t even go back an re-immerse myself in Legion because they turned it “off”. Who would want to play through that? But I can do Wrath of the Lich King over and over ad naseum? A+ Blizzard.

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Jokerchyld

Damn Eliot, you even slipped up and said Artifact Power, instead of Azerite. I don’t know if that was on purpose but speaks volumes on its own.

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Jeffrey Meade

I was never excited by this expansion at any point and Legion was exciting enough that it brought me back to WoW after not playing since Wrath of the Lich King. For me it feels like Blizzard went in the completely wrong direction with BFA. It was not the followup to Legion that we needed and only comes across as a underwhelming experience.