Visit Blizzard’s webpage for World of Warcraft’s new expansion, Battle for Azeroth, and you might be swayed by the expansion’s cool new features. These include Allied Races, Warfronts, Island Expeditions, and the Hearth of Azeroth, a legendary amulet that can unlock unique traits in the armor you acquire.
You might even be tempted into buying the expansion. It comes with a level boost, after all – so you can jump into the action right away. Most of the above won’t be available from the moment you begin, but hey. You just started to level and that’s ok.
Level 120 comes and goes. Island Expeditions have unlocked, but it turns out they’re not much fun, and the most rewarding versions are only accessible to premade groups. You turn to Warfronts only to realize they’re not available this week. Fine. You can always grind out better gear. Except as you do, you notice your new gear has higher Azerite requirements than your old gear, which means your shiny new items have fewer unlocked traits than what they replaced. Discouraged, you decide to roll as one of the cool new Allied Races. Except you can’t because they’re all locked behind reputation grinds.
Welcome to Battle to Azeroth.
Blizzard has, since Wrath of the Lich King, made the game accessible while also challenging the most experienced players. It’s been a successful strategy. Blizzard has given both serious and casual players access to a wide range of activities, yet Battle for Azeroth takes an unexpected step in the opposite direction.
There’s a lot of #content in the new expansion. It’s mostly locked behind a variety of gates, some of which players can’t even control. Warfronts are the best example. You might assume joining a Warfront is a simple matter of opening the group finder. Wrong! Warfronts are only accessible for a week at a time. It’s not precisely clear how often that week will come around (it’s based both on a time gate and on the opposing faction gathering resources) but, as of right now, it looks likely to be available just one week out of every four.
One week out of four — Think about that. Warfronts put the war back in Warcraft only a quarter of the time. Otherwise, the table that grants access to a Warfront is just there to tease you.
Allied races aren’t much better. You can only earn them by grinding out reputation. It doesn’t take that long but casual players will need to invest a couple weeks primarily to it, and focusing on that grind will take you away from others, like earning gear. Each race has its own grind, but the things you do to work through it remain the same, adding to your boredom.
It gets worse. The new Azerite Armor system, powered by the Heart of Azeroth, doesn’t make you more powerful as you level up and gain new gear. Your progress is instead a sort of inverted bell curve. You start off with a lot of powers and you’ll end with a lot of powers, but you’re also going to spend some time with few.
That’s because armor of higher level has higher Azerite power requirements than lower level armor. That means a shiny new piece of Epic gear will have better stats but, unless you’ve been diligent about your Azerite power grind, won’t have as many traits unlocked. You lose options as you earn better gear. Eventually, you’ll grind out enough Azerite to earn those traits back, but you’re left with limited customization until then.
Similar problems have risen in the leveling system, which automatically scales to the player’s level and equipment. For the most part, you’ll vaporize enemies more quickly as you gain power, but there are some weird dips. Many players complained they felt less powerful at level 119 than at level 110, a problem I experienced myself. And world PvP remains a strange and whacky world where level and class balance issues make wins and losses feel destined instead of earned.
It’s a good thing that the previous expansion, Legion, was the best in the game’s history because Battle for Azeroth is coasting on its success. The major class redesigns that happened then remain in effect (though some are a little worse, and some a little better), and the combination of World Quests and Mythic+ dungeons means there’s always something to do, no matter your skill level or how long you can play.
Still, it’s terrible to see the new expansion fail so spectacularly at iterating on Legion’s success. It’s hard to believe the two expansions came from the same company. Legion made you feel powerful and unique. Battle for Azeroth grinds at you by taking away as much as it gives. Sure, you can have a shiny toy. Sometimes. If you don’t get too carried away.
That parental attitude is evident everywhere you look, and its put Battle for Azeroth on a terrible path to dethrone Warlords of Draenor as the game’s worst expansion. It’s aspiring to dethrone it. Blizzard could easily turn the expansion around, but only if it abandons its strange new obsession with ensuring players never have too much fun.
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