World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth arrives roughly 14 years after the initial launch of the powerhouse Blizzard MMO and asks whether or not the game that helped define a genre still holds up. With the addition of new zones, an increased level cap, and improvements on systems that have been evolving during the past few expansions, BFA offers a clear confirmation that WoW can still deliver a knockout punch.
To setup the context for Battle for Azeroth, Blizzard released a series of Alliance and Horde quests leading up to the expansion that escalate tension between the two factions more than we've seen since the game initially launched. Heading into BFA there isn't a big bad enemy that both sides will eventually team up to take down together. Instead, the opposing faction is the primary enemy and players have to decide just how violently they want to react every time they confront a player from the opposite side.
This tension helps lead to a new feature called War Mode. Though the feature technically launched with the pre-expansion patch, it is still necessary to take it into consideration when discussing the expansion content. War Mode builds on the cross server functionality that has been created in recent expansions by totally eliminating the distinction between PvP and PvE servers. Instead of a server choice determining whether open world PvP is allowed, each player has the choice to opt into or out of War Mode.
Keeping War Mode active means that players could get ganked by the opposing faction, but it also offers bonus XP and an increased chance for better loot. This gamble is incredibly compelling and actually manages to make world PvP fun and rewarding. This is something that WoW has struggled with since its earliest days and War Mode seems to be a perfect solution to the problem. Players who just want to gather resources or do quests in peace can toggle off War Mode in their faction's capital city and be excluded from any PvP shenanigans. This change takes a big step towards making Azeroth more inclusive for all players and removes another unnecessary barrier in the way of playing on the same server as your friends, even if you disagree on the nature of world PvP.
Much like how WoW improved on the idea of follower missions and a central base of operations from Warlords of Draenor to Legion, the MMO makes similarly impressive improvements to the artifact power grind from Legion to Battle for Azeroth. In BFA, players ditch their artifact weapons and instead sport a necklace powered by Azerite. This resource replaces artifact power in BFA and the grind is far less intense and much more enjoyable this time around. Artifact weapons were a fantastic mechanic, but the grind became incredibly tiresome in the later parts of the expansion. Many of those issues seem to have been resolved with the switch to Azerite and unlocking new powers by leveling up the Heart of Azeroth is incredibly rewarding.
In terms of new zones, dungeons, and storylines; both the Horde and Alliance have a ton of great content and new worlds to explore. Unlike Legion, which sent both factions to a shared island of zones, BFA splits the factions up on two different islands, but allows them to venture into the opposing zones as part of the War Campaign. There is an impressive amount of new content to explore and players can level all the way up to 120 without even making it through two of the new zones if they are feeling like a completionist.
For players skipping through quest text and rushing from task to task, the quests may begin to feel a bit repetitive and grindy. Kill 10 blood trolls, investigate 3 shrines, collect 20 weapons, etc... These tasks are nothing new to World of Warcraft, or RPGs in general, but players following along with the story will likely get a lot more out of the tasks. Each faction provides an incredibly engaging story full of humor, heartbreak, and excitement. The story will continue to play out as post launch patches arrive, but there is already plenty for lore addicts to sink their teeth into.
For players looking for something more challenging and rewarding, the expansion has added some fantastic new dungeons to explore. As players increase their iLVL, these dungeons are sure to make use of the Mythic Keystone mechanics that offer 5-player groups increased difficulty and better rewards for completing multiple dungeons together. BFA also introduces Island Expeditions as a three-player, speedy alternative to dungeons for players who want a more strategic and difficult experience without a big time commitment. Like many of the changes that WoW has implemented in recent years, Island Expeditions are another great variation on the game that allows gamers with different levels of commitment and time to stay engaged a long time after hitting max level, even if they aren't an end-game raider.
Although there are no new brand new races or classes in BFA, it sort of feels like there are. Allied Races are unlockable based on reputation and offer reskins to existing races that feel different enough to be their own Race. Each faction has a few Allied Races to unlock, so there is plenty of motivation to make a few new alts after the rep grind is finished. There are no new classes, but the rebalancing of every spec that came along with the expansion makes many classes feel like a brand new experience. For players who haven't been engaged in the game in a while, this may feel like a rough transition.
Unlike Legion, Battle for Azeroth doesn't feel like a giant step forward from the game's previous expansion. This isn't really a fault of BFA, since it's building on the great framework that was established in Legion. The game is exciting in all the same ways it was two years and it does bring some great new zones to the table, but players who stayed engaged with Legion content up until the end won't feel a giant difference as they transition to BFA content. Players who skipped Legion on the other hand, are likely to feel like the game has taken giant strides forward.
As is always the case, a lot of the endgame content is still on the way. This includes the first major raids and Warfronts. We will continue to explore the game's endgame content as it is released and post additional features evaluating that new content. At this point we can only judge the game based on what has been released at launch and, so far, it definitely delivers and proves that Blizzard knows how to keep this 14-year-old machine running smoothly.
For the Horde!
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is available now on PC. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.