Blizzard gets back to basics with ‘World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth’

Blizzard capped off the opening ceremony for BlizzCon 2017 with several major announcements for one of its most venerable titles “that also has amazing shoulder pads,” World of Warcraft. As expected, we have a new expansion inbound, Battle for Azeroth, which gets back to the franchise’s core conflict of the Alliance versus the Horde. Executive Producer J. Allen Brack also had another surprise in store, however: An upcoming Classic server option that will allow players to go back in time and enjoy the pre-expansion World of Warcraft experience. Neither was given a release time frame, though Brack’s comments about the classic server in particular, “It’s gonna take some time, but it will happen” suggested it was not imminent.

Battle for Azeroth is the sixth major expansion for World of Warcraft since the game launched in 2004. The conflict between the Alliance and the Horde has been a persistent feature of Azeroth, but its intensity has waxed and waned as outside threats forced both sides to put aside their differences temporarily on several occasions. The time for compromise has passed, however, and now Azeroth is on the brink of world war. Both sides are rallying their forces for an all-out conflict on a scale never seen in the World of Warcraft. The opening cinematic featured a gritty siege in Lordaeron, with Varian Wrynn leading the Allied forces against Sylvanas Windrunner and the Horde in a castle. Apparently, the expansion begins in the wake of this world-shaking battle.

In order to tip the scales in their favor, both sides will have new continents to explore and alliances to forge therein. The Alliance will be exploring the Kul’Tiras archipelago, while the Horde will be penetrating the jungle depths of Zandalar. Both sides will have parallel quests to “battle for land and resources”  that will feed into overall conflict. Six new “allied races” join the fight, with three playable for each faction (and supposedly more coming after launch), including Void Elves, Lightforced Draenei, Blackiron Dwarves, Highmountain Tauren, Zandalari Trolls, and Nightborn. You unlock the ability to create new characters in these races (which start at level 20) once you have successfully brought them into your side through quests. The overall level cap will also go up to 120, at which point the world quests and allied race emissaries will become available.

A new system of Uncharted Islands will allow groups of three players to explore discrete areas with randomized content. There is also a new 20-player cooperative mode called Warfront in which players lead whole armies and battle for control over strategically important locations in gameplay inspired by the classic Warcraft real-time strategy games.

The announcement of World of Warcraft: Classic will excite a lot of fans that were disappointed when in 2016 Blizzard shut down a fan-run vanilla World of Warcraft server, Nostalrius. In an attempt to soften the blow, Blizzard invited the Nostalrius team to tour its headquarter and speak with them about what they want out of their WoW experience. That effort to listen to their community has finally come to fruition in these official classic servers.

According to creative director Alex Afrasiabi at the follow-up panel, the zone-level scaling introduced in Legion, which adjusted the difficulty of whole zones based on your character level, will be rolled out across the entire game. Zones will scale to a cap, so not every region will be equally playable at all levels, but it will allow for a wider range of options to play at any given level. This feature will be rolling out soon in the public test realm servers, likely dropping in the main game before either Battle for Azeroth or Classic arrive.

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