Blizzard’s Battle for Azeroth dropped last week, launching World of Warcraft’s seventh expansion and sending players off in search of new lands to explore and a means of attacking one another. Ever since WoW launched in 2004, players have chosen to align themselves with one of two factions: the noble, good-hearted Alliance, whose troops and soldiers have born the brunt of the assaults on Azeroth, or the scheming, treacherous Horde.
In lore, the two factions are quite different, but these differences are largely smoothed-over in gameplay terms, with Blizzard removing most, if not all, of the race-specific class spells. Outside of world PvP or Battlegrounds (custom small-scale maps intended for PvP engagements), most players could experience the “conflict” between the Horde and Alliance entirely within PvE quests and bosses. There have also been a number of cases where the Horde and Alliance cooperated to take down raid boss targets neither faction could have killed alone. Up until now, if you wanted to ignore the fact that a factional conflict existed at all, you more-or-less could.
The opening beats of the story, at least for the Alliance, involve Jaina Proudmore, a leading NPC in the series since Warcraft III. In the Frozen Throne expansion for that game, a much younger Jaina killed her father, Admiral Daelin Proudmore, when he attempted to lead an unprovoked attack on the Horde. In response, the island nation of Kul Tiras (which the Proudmore family led) withdrew from the Alliance. Now, with war between the Alliance and Horde truly joined and the Alliance still badly weakened by the events of the previous expansion, Jaina must return home to her family and face the judgment of her people, while attempting to convince them to rejoin an Alliance they left out of a profound sense of betrayal.
The game gives you three areas to choose from when beginning your quest and I’ve chosen Drustvar. It’s a solid choice — I’m knee-deep in searching for the culprits behind attacks on multiple villages. The entire quest chain is delightfully creepy, with a solid dash of HP Lovecraft tossed into the mix. Leveling is fast, the art is gorgeous, and the music is easily some of the best WoW has ever fielded. The new Daughter of the Sea theme may not have the haunting beauty of Anduin’s Theme from Legion, but it’s a tune I’ve found myself humming multiple times in the past few weeks. But so far — and I have to stress that I’m only a bit into the expansion — it feels a bit as if that initial narrative thread in which we swore bloody vengeance on the Horde has gotten a bit side-tracked.
There are absolutely some nods towards the factional conflict built into the gameplay mechanics, including a new War Mode you can enable in a capital city that gives an XP bonus and is intended to give players a reason to enable PvP. There’s also a new gameplay mode, known as Warfronts, that we’ll discuss in the actual game review, once they’ve gone live. But so far, Battle for Azeroth doesn’t feel much different than the expansion that came before it. That’s not a negative — Legion’s storytelling and cinematography were both incredibly strong and the new game continues to deliver. There are also three areas you unlock to visit not long after the new campaign starts. Combat in all three is explicitly hostile territory and the game does give you a more PvP-centric area to play through, should you wish to do so — but if you were hoping for more massive set pieces to instantly leap into along the lines of the burning of Teldrassil or the Alliance’s counter strike against the Undercity, you may be disappointed.
But not me. I’ve got curses to break, noble houses to investigate, and blades to sharpen. Sooner or later, Sylvanas Windrunner is going to pay for what she’s done. I’d have liked to have seen Blizzard keep the PvP theme flowing in a more impactful way throughout the entire expansion, but by hitting PvE content now, you can be ready for the first Warfronts when they open in early September.