WoW Factor: The World of Warcraft expansion tour – Battle for Azeroth

    
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I don't think there's enough sorry.

Oh no.

I’d ask how this happened, but I know how it happened. It happened because I am a gigantic idiot. This expansion tour seemed like a good idea when it started, but I didn’t think ahead. I didn’t think about the not just inevitable but obvious endpoint of this project. I just kept writing, and no one was willing to be rude enough to point out that I am a colossal idiot who shouldn’t be allowed to pick projects like this, and then all of a sudden here we were. Here we were at this garbage, and I’m not even allowed to say the many curse words that should be used to describe this. And at one point I was even looking on the bright side for this expansion. I am a fool. I shouldn’t be allowed to exist. Nothing I do is ever the right decision. I deserve to be dropped into a muddy ditch and have garbage piled on top of me until I exit the world as I am.

Whatever. World of Warcraft. The latest expansion. Battle for Azeroth. I want to die.

No expression.

Premise & setting

Everyone needed two years of pointless time-wasters before we could get to the next expansion anyone should care about and no one had a good idea.

Oh, you meant that stated premise? Fine. It’s stupid. Basically, Sylvanas commits a war crime for no reason, thereby turning from being a subtle and manipulative evil person into a sledgehammer idiot evil person because a Night Elf made her momentarily angry. Then the Alliance and Horde go to war! Again. Except they spend most of their time faffing about on two separate islands and only occasionally make one another’s life any worse. Also, the planet is bleeding because of the end of Legion.

If that sounds like it’s kind of flipping the A and B plots, that’s because it is, since at least to start with the whole “let’s not let the planet die” plot was really the B plot. Except it should have always been the A plot, and the actual A plot was basically just rehashing the whole Garrosh Hellscream “the Horde has an Evil Person as the Warchief” plot even as the writers claimed that wasn’t it, and… ugh. This is exhausting. This is horrible.

Yeah, we’re going to be doing a lot of video jokes here, people. Just… calibrate yourself for that now.

Anyhow, that whole plot finally resolved and then we switched gears entirely, but it always felt like a couple of people with no real reason to fight one another kicking dirt at one another while a plane was crashing. There was also a whole lot of talk about how things were different now, but spoiler warning, faction changes aren’t coming and it’s all a narrative dead end. Ugh. Blah. Forget it.

Bart, stop creating a diversion!

Major changes

The first and most notable change is technically from this expansion, but it showed up first as a pre-order bonus in Legion with Allied Races. These were races that were more like variants on existing races, adding new options like Lightforged Draenei and Dark Iron Dwarves to the racial roster. The bright side was getting a lot more racial options added in fairly quickly; the down side is that the requirements were carried over directly from Legion to Battle for Azeroth, despite the fact that the requirements made sense in the former but were nonsense grinds in the latter and… eh, I wrote a whole article about that.

Beyond that… well, look, this is going to take about twice as long to write if I explain how all of these changes were done badly, all right? So let’s make a deal. I’m going to just write what the changes were in the most neutral fashion possible, and you can mentally add after every single change that it was done in the dumbest possible way and with associated bad decisions if I don’t specifically note it as such.

Artifacts were removed, with the main command ability of artifacts usually moved to a talent somewhere in the spec’s talent tree. The replacement was the Heart of Azeroth, which could unlock a very small number of entirely passive and usually random powers on three pieces of gear you might have. Later, the Heart of Azeroth also gained one more chosen power that you could unlock via substantial grind.

Basically no one likes the Heart of Azeroth.

Island Expeditions were added as a new form of role-agnostic content, except that they can only be queued from one specific spot on the map instead of queued anywhere, and they also don’t offer much in terms of progression rewards but lots of cosmetics. Also, you have to have a pre-made party for the Heroic version.

Basically no one likes Island Expeditions.

Warfronts were meant to be like playing a ground-level version of the old real-time strategy battles of the previous Warcraft games. They had limited accessibility windows but also didn’t really catch fire. Some people might sort of like them. Most of the world seems to have forgotten they existed, which by default means they were probably the most warmly received feature of this entire expansion.

Also worth noting is that this expansion is where level scaling was everywhere and the first time that literally no one gets any new abilities through leveling whatsoever. Demon Hunters at least had talents to unlock through Legion. This time around, no one gets a single new ability all the way through 120, meaning that ten levels are there that do absolutely nothing. Basically no one is happy with this.

Stoners.

Playerbase consensus

Basically no one likes this expansion.

All of the debate and discussion around Battle for Azeroth has been focused on whether or not this is the absolute worst World of Warcraft expansion in history. My personal feeling is yes, absolutely. It manages to combine the worst of Warlords of Draenor (aiming very low) with the worst of Cataclysm (horribly missing its target and revising things to be worse). It’s the sort of expansion that makes you wonder why you ever liked this game. Every glimmer of stuff you like feels like it managed to sneak in, and then a minute later you’re mad again.

The added features were crippled out of the gate by not understanding why people liked these things in the first place. The developers made promises and plans that no one liked and then just went ahead with them. The story changes nothing; narratively speaking, the only difference between the Horde and the Alliance between the start and the end of the expansion is the names of the faction leaders and the number of genocidal rampages. Even the things that you can praise it for feel thin upon the ground. Sure, the cinematics look better than ever, but they’re at odds with the actual story and the emotions being told.

Why would you have a whole cinematic about changing the difference between the factions if you weren’t going to do that, Blizzard? Why did you do that? What is going on over there?!

It’s frustrating. It’s painful. It’s dumb and not fun and it’s left a whole lot of players and fans – myself included – scratching our heads and wondering why a game that for so long was so good has been churning out progressively worse experiences. But I guess it did give me a chance to make some funny ha-ha jokes along the way, so that’s something.

Going nowhere, going nowhere.

A wanted Classic experience?

Let’s just move on. Specifically, let’s move on to next week, when we’re going to talk about what we’ve learned.

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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cursedseishi

There was 1 benefit from this expansion, and it fits in right with the ‘A wanted Classic experience?’ question…

Because Legion was finally the expansion that bombed so badly that they had to release the vanilla World of Warcraft classic server to even try and say they had good numbers (for a bit)…

So if we got a classic server of Legion? I’d request that the ‘classic’ server for Legion just redirected you towards the Vanilla WoW classic server instead, for your sake and theirs.

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Loopy

BfA made me feel like i was always behind. Behind on rep grind, behind on gear grind, behind on unlocking content, behind on collecting AP. I was always in a rush to catch up, and i honestly believe that the expansion was designed to make you feel that way – to make you always NEED to log in and play more so you don’t fall behind. I dislike this design with all my being.

The level design was amazing, the music was top notch, most of the dungeons were fun. Do i remember any of their names? Do i remember any of the baddies i fought? Nothing really stood out story wise or lore wise. And the game has definitely turned into a collection of minigames as opposed to serving as a virtual world. Yes, it’s obviously been like that for many years, but at least it was cleverly disguised. This time it’s all out in the open. WQs are a mini game. Island Expeditions were a mini game. Warfronts were a mini game. At to that all the pre-established mini games such as PVP (BGs/Arenas), pets, etc… It is more and more starting to resemble a lobby MMO.

This is the first time where i’ll most likely miss out on expansion launch for WoW. I’ll be curious to see what it looks like, but ever since WoD i just haven’t felt like i’m connected to the game.

smuggler-in-a-yt
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smuggler-in-a-yt

I don’t even know what to say when we’re competing for worst WoW expansion. I still say Orclords of Orccraft was the low point. The level design sucked, the dungeons sucked, the cosmetics sucks. There was nothing redeeming about that expansion.

BfA is a much more mixed bag. Yes, the story line sucked (including the whole bit of “Oh noes, we took Sylvanas too far. We’ll blame it Scooby-Doo style on an Old God! And then say we meant it all along!”). The upside is that there are some well designed levels and quest lines. I really liked the Blair Witch thing they did in Drustvar, for example.

Unfortunately, Blizz wrote themselves into a corner with the Artifacts, and rather than figure out a way to keep them in play (wouldn’t it have been fun if your artifact shattered fighting Sargeras and those fragments were what powered your Heart?), the writing and design team took shortcuts.

I sincerely hope that we get more out of Shadowlands, and Blizzard manages to keep to their 1 off, 1 on cadence. If anything, this run through of xpacs reminded me of a couple of things. First, I don’t think any xpac Eliot went through engendered 100% accolades, I wish Blizz would remember that it can’t be all things to all people. And second, as a titan in the industry, Blizz is still run by humans with foibles.

Thanks for the run through, was a fun trip down memory lane.

WrathOfMogg
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WrathOfMogg

I actually think Warlords had some of the best dungeons in the game. The raids were pretty good too, and the leveling. It was everything else that sucked.

Pepperzine
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Pepperzine

The dungeons and raids of MoP easily surpass WoD, and I find those inferior to WotLK…

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Sarah Cushaway

I just remember the forums on the first few weeks of BFA launch– As usual, everyone was gushing about how great the new expansion was, the best ever!, awesome and engaging, etc…

I played for 2 hours, thought “this expansion is absolute garbage and a huge step backward,” then unsubbed. My guild thought I was crazy. Whelp, a few months later I logged back in and no one had been on for weeks and weeks. Everyone on the forums was griping about how trash BFA was, and I definitely had a “told ya so” moment, not gonna lie.

But yeah, BFA is probably the worst for me, followed by Cata and MOP (more the setting, which I absolutely hated with a passion). I didn’t play WOD as I had a newborn then and no time, so dodged that bullet.

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Alt+F4

as much as the negativity is common sense, cuz overall Blizzneys ignorance on player base demands was BFAs major feature, it is unfair in a nuanced, differenciated perspective.

the FX (and the level-design) is great, Dazar Alor reigning above the jungle empire along the vast coastline driven by impassable mountains, the temple of Sethraliss and the Sethrak compound in the deserts of Vol Dun, the dawning calmness of Stormsong Valley to name a few very impressionest vistas of graphical (and musical) excellence – the art design improved, maybe we all r just to used to it for a little (deserved) appreciation.

the instances rnt simply thematically appropriate (as some point the climax of some plots), but seem to be designed with m+ in mind (like route diversity), which was greatly improved by the forth affix (and finally S4 Awakened etc. fixing the “Meta” issue, which until to very high key was more a community perception bias, than justified). overall instanced content wasnt simply improved, but experimently variied, like Battle For Dazar Alor, where for once in MMO history players were forced into the opposite faction (/Perspective) for the final bosses (doesnt change the story faults though).

the vast amount of MOUNTS (Kuafon!Rustbolt mounts!), toys (i got the look), pets and mogs: collectibles improved more than ever.

class balance (disclaimer: since S4, some minor exceptions before) finally works, although there always will be Meta due to utility, which is needed to counter homogenisation. but overall every class is viable (in S4) for every content – play what u like.
although the transition from Legions redesign and pruning felt much more pruned due to the sacrifice of our beloved artefacts, but Azeroth gave us her heart (poetic, isnt it?).
(we dont talk rated pvp for a reason (too overspecified niche occupied by die-hards, they deserve their niche btw), but warmode opened up the world (and removed some server choice issues btw), although gank raids sometimes became a stress factor.)

the parallel progression systems have always been there since classic: itemisation being the major one. but the player base demand for an update to the tier system was understood wrongly by Blizzney. the player base asked for less RNG, not exclusive to tier tokens, but overall gear acquisition.
while i personally like the idea of HoA, Azerite Gear still is commonly seen as a failure, although the improvements (vendor in S1, BIS Traits on Raid Azerite since BDA) negated some of the negative aspects. it still is a very poetic design idea, empowered by Azeroths blood. but it serves more of the general design purpose than every iteration before: SOFT NERFs. esp. with since s4 infinite HoA lvl.
but Blizzney didnt realise the full impact of the player base frustration on RNG – the replacement for the heavily criticised RNG of War/TitanForging in S4 was more RNG – corruption. for itself corruption is a really neat (and underappreciated) gear mechanic, exchanging risk for power, but 96 randomized loot options without a Legiondary bad luck protection is rightfully seen as ignorant sadism. but overall the idea of improving in power by simply playing the game is a great metaphor for every learning process: stick to it, u ll develop!

on the technical aspect (every quality review has to respect!) BFA improved, less lag (Netcode always was premium criteria for Blizzney, not Ashran though), less bugs (although some r simply ashaming like Tol Dagor), sharding, the tag system (see classic for worse), overall improved perfomance. also notable the perfection of anti-botting (and duping) systems, Blizzney served justice swift and sweet.
and no review ever mentioned the improvement of secondary stats (and with them SLOTS) or overall professions, but demanded the return of reforging.
there r some more points that prove insight on the player base demand by Blizzney, but BFA still feels like inferior, cuz of the overall ignorance on major features like absurd gear RNG and grind for everything (50k honor for BOTE R3?). at least 7.3 xp stretch was reverted, and alt-play with accountwide essences simplyfied (still not optimal).

overall BFA experimented with many features, did it really fail?
all this mentioned ignorance feels more like missed potential than bad intent, it even is not bad design. cuz it worked. every aspect of the game was easily accessible, a main could be maintained via 6-8h a week?
(Horrific Visions r a premium example for missed potential, a neat, but medium executed idea, too much flavor, to little variety turns into repetitive grind, like ANOTHER UNMENTIONED FLAW of BFA: the return of daily quest (terror). i hate dailys, esp. overfarmed daily quest areas, which artificially litter my daily gametime with an extra hour for what? ahja, rune and essence + 2 exalted factions.)
BFA could have been much more customer-friendly, esp. gear acquisition and alts, it could have been less toxic (most simply cant do a +15 intime, and thats ok, but y shouldnt they have endgame gear?`iam happy for anyones mum to win a mythic gear level via the WQ lottery, her luck doenst diminish my gameplay) and sometimes less frustrating, but overall most of BFA (gameplay) was fun for me.

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Sarah Cushaway

None of that matters if the gameplay itself is garbage. And it’s definitely garbage in BFA.

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Alt+F4

pls define gameplay, as i always experience the term gameplay as an excuse for an emotional judgement (and its ok to judge emotionally btw, but do not pretend emotions to be rational). what is gameplay?

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hooby _

Gameplay is the specific way in which players interact with a game,[1][2] and in particular with video games.[3][4] Gameplay is the pattern defined through the game rules,[2][5] connection between player and the game,[6] challenges[7] and overcoming them,[8] plot[9] and player’s connection with it.[6] Video game gameplay is distinct from graphics[9][10] and audio elements.[9]

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gameplay

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Bruno Brito

Level design was good in Legion, WoD and MoP too. It’s not like BfA was anything great. You’re talking like BfA was a mixed bag where they learned so much from former xpacs and applied that to new levels.

Which is wrong. BfA is more of the same, and we already had that. WoW soundtrack was always good. Level design got a huge boost with MoP. Zone design is great ever since Cata.

BfA is pretty much what happens when a team rests on it’s laurels for too long. There’s nothing innovatine. Nothing great. Nothing breathtaking.

It’s whatever. And considering that Legion was a good xpac, the blow is felt harder.

And then we get to the actively bad: The Heart of Azeroth. The RNG. The Island Expeditions. The leveling and the starter experience.

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Danny Smith

BfA feels like more of a story flop to me than some of the WoD because it feels like it could have been a success way more easily.

Think about it. Sargeras plants a sword in the planet and azryite is bursting up everywhere. You could have every downtrodden group we have beaten like the twilights hammer, the cult of the damned, the left behind demons, the scarlet crusade. All these things we far outpaced in powerlevel getting a boost to make them a relevant threat again!

…or we could just do horde vs alliance. Because. reasons.

And while it was still cool to explore Kul Tiras and Zandalar and the whole nautical theme was a refreshing change of pace the post levelling story was just lazy. And Shadowbringers coming out at the same time and being the best Final Fantasy story since FFX was contrasting competition that only served to highlight how badly the cringe has gotten.

Like we get it. They exhausted warcraft rts lore and now its time for “n-no these are the real villains behind it all!” power creep any series does when its story is exhausted but they want to drag it out to make money ala stargate or the walking dead or any other ‘zombie ip’ but the actual cringe -not the modern internet devalued usage of the term but the og sincere cringe- of Syvalanas fanwank by one of the writers who has turned her into the Lightning of Warcraft who is of course fucking his self insert is repugnant.

Then mechanically its a severe case of self professed “mostly mobile gamers” in the design lead. The new systems are sub traps designed to generate daily user retention uptick right out of a bloody mobile gacha. To the point i expect a WoW token world quest energy bar reset system in Shadowlands. Don’t like it? lalal we can’t here you, morally grey, give it time, its just a beta, but we’ll patch it and so on and so on. You WILL like this system, they made it and told themselves you would so you WILL.

What do you mean you don’t like it? its too late to change now!

All in all its a bad videogame experience trying to exist as a money farm to begrudgingly try and keep selling it as an rpg out of spite while seeing their userbase as antagonisers that utterly rides on a fantastic art department carrying them harder than ever.

and i don’t think its going to get better from here. Which sucks.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

I still say WOD was worse, the whole premise was basically an ass pull to shoe horn in a nostalgia trip for people to experience the lore characters from earlier Warcraft games that couldn’t be brought back to life in any meaningful way that made sense so we get this bull shit Time Travel/Alternate Reality expansion that made zero sense.

That said though between Burning Crusade, Warlords of Draenor, and Legion the Draeni got tons of lore service which was a positive since after experiencing it I believe they have some of the coolest back story compared to other races; that’s the only positive.

Well I know this is going to be an unpopular opinion but the leveling storylines for Battle For Azeroth were really enjoyable for me personally, granted I stopped playing WoW except for infrequent spurts after hitting 120 on both a Horde and Alliance character but there were some positives.

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Bruno Brito

WoD was bad because of how much content was cut.

BfA was designed to be bad. It’s amusing, really.

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

I highly doubt that the Dev team was given a mission statement to design a bad expansion.

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Utakata

Yeah, BfA was one of those expansion that looked ass backwards as opposed to moving forwards like they did with Legion. It’s almost if the developers thought we had it too good, and wanted to remind us we should be always be miserable in struggling to achieve our goals. As that puts hair on our chests (why would I need that?) and Epeen in our meters, cupcake! /ptptptppp

I will say though, the only saving grace is like with Cata and WoD, they did improve things in the end. But the really selling point should always be though to get people to like it at the beginning. This they failed to do. And probably lost a crap tonne of players because of this.

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kmphunk

Just so you know, not everyone hates all these parts of expansions. I really like the heart of azeroth and azerite gear. Could it have been executed better? Definitely, but I love how it works. One thing that the lower rated expansions share is some amount of major content being cut. CATA had the water raid, WOD had the Shattrath raid and BFA has 8.3.5 and I’m guessing a little effort for 8.3. I beg Blizzard to put together an outline for the expansions and stick to it, please stop cutting so much content it really hurts the story. I would have rather have Shattrath and then Legion later.

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Bruno Brito

I really like the heart of azeroth and azerite gear. Could it have been executed better? Definitely, but I love how it works.

Why?

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

Women like jewelry I guess?

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Bruno Brito

Who knows. I want a legitimate reason for why someone LIKES the HoA and Azerite system.

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Lucky Jinx

I like the additional buffs and whatnot you get from azerite gear. It was a bit of a bummer that it’s all tied to the HoA (your HoA has to be certain level to unlock all azerite abilities on other gear), but since there’s a single easy quest chain that provides you with 50 levels to HoA, it’s not a biggie. I honestly don’t understand why some people are so much against it. In any case, it’s going away soon, as do all things they implement for an expansion. It’s a shame that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a good or bad system, it gets thrown out the window when new expansion arrives, giving a lot of chances for hit n’ miss that way.

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Axetwin .

I’m a very late-comer to WoW. I played a bit of it in the early days of TBC, but I didn’t really care for it. Fast forward many many years and I got an email from Blizzard offering me 2 weeks free time and everything up to MoP. I played a bit, but again, it didn’t really stick with me. Fast forward a few more years, and Blizz offered me everything up to Legion including 45 days of game time free of charge. For whatever reason, this time things clicked and I started going at it pretty hard. Harder than I’ve played any other game in a long time. Played like this for about a year leading up to BfA. 2 weeks after BfA dropped, I unsubbed and haven’t played since. I know my knowledge of the game is only the tip of the iceberg, but even I knew BfA was not a good expansion.