The much anticipated seventh expansion for Blizzard’s MMO juggernaut World of Warcraft is right around the corner, and in fact, it had its release date announced last week and it’ll be showing up quite a bit sooner than expected! For over a decade the Horde and Alliance have been fighting to protect their planet, but on August 14th we’ll be fighting for control over it with the launch of Battle for Azeroth.
The upcoming expansion will, of course, include a plethora of changes in the way of class and item balancing and brand new content to consume, like dungeons and raids. But this time around, Blizzard is really amping it up with some of the most radical changes and additions that we’ve seen in some time – not only to address some of the issues that some folks had with the Legion expansion but to also address overall improvements to the game in general. Personally, I’m pretty damn hyped, and I was fortunate enough to receive an Alpha invite for Battle for Azeroth testing, and I have to say that it’s only hyped me up even more. After spending quite a bit of time testing it out over the past few weeks, I’ve decided to put together a quick little inside scoop of some of the awesome changes and new additions players can expect when Battle for Azeroth launches later this summer.
The elephant in the room: Battle for Azeroth‘s stat squish – We’ve seen stat squishes in World of Warcraft before, with the game seeing a reduction in overall stats leading into the Warlord’s of Draenor expansion. This basically is an attempt at making sure numbers don’t climb into pure ridiculousness, which is essentially where we’re at currently in Legion. DPS and Healers boasting six or seven million health, tanks well over 10 million, and DPS numbers skyrocketing into two, three, four million damage per second. The power of characters has become so inflated due to the number of difficulty tiers and sources for gear, which is a positive thing in regards to Blizz creating lots of content for us to consume, but can be problematic when developing or designing for new changes, balancing abilities, etc.
When the announcement of another stat squish came from Blizzard, I was surprised by how many people were upset. Sure, it can be fun seeing tens or hundreds of millions of damage flying across your screen in a blur of color, but at the end of the day, the stats really are just getting to be ridiculous, in my opinion. The idea of a stat squish, especially one as drastic as what we’ll be seeing in Battle for Azeroth, is refreshing, and actually makes things easier to balance and patch for the Blizzard team. So what does the squish look like this time around? Well, Alpha has item levels in low 200s, compared to the high 900’s we’re seeing from the Antorus raid in Legion – currently, a Mythic piece of raid gear drops at 980+, whereas in BfA that same piece would be 250. The change is significant, and the assumption is the entire world (of Warcraft, HA, I’m hilarious) is going to be similarly squished, as it appears that every bit of old content has been adjusted alongside the item level/stat changes – so if it took you five seconds to kill that murloc now, it’ll still take you just five seconds to kill it with the stat squish. My take is that this is a welcome change, the numbers and gear and stats that we’ll be min/maxing and optimizing are far more manageable and meaningful, and at the end of the day it doesn’t really change anything about our gameplay, just that instead of a boss having 781 gajillion health, they’ll have, like… Well, a lot less than that! And one last thing I’ll touch on here, is along with this stat squish we will see a return to higher item level and higher primary stats (Intellect, Agility, Strength), being the most impactful stats on a piece of gear in Battle for Azeroth, unlike in Legion where an item 30, 40, even 50 item levels lower can be significantly better based on how the secondary stats (Crit, Haste, Mastery, Versatility) are weighted. This is a much-needed change and one I’m very much looking forward to.
Say bye-bye to Legion Legendaries – Now, for some folks, this is probably a little bit of a bummer because legendaries have become such an integral part of successfully gearing your character, no matter what role you’re filling when you play. But, for many folks this is a much-anticipated change as a player’s ability to perform well in any kind of dungeon or raiding environment is directly tied to getting these items, and it is such a tremendously low drop chance to get one of them – and you’re not guaranteed to get the one you want. The average player, playing at least an hour a night, is likely to land one legendary per week. Most classes have 10 or more legendaries so it could take you two months or more to finally get the piece of gear that you’ve needed this whole time to perform your class effectively. I feel like on paper the idea of really impactful legendaries is cool, but in practice, it’s a really frustrating design decision that frustrated a lot of players. But, don’t fret, because the Legion Legendary design will be removed in Battle for Azeroth. You won’t need to wait for that all-powerful item to allow you to function properly in your class, and instead, the game turns to more traditional gearing methods and a focus on more skill-based performance.
There are a couple caveats here, the first being any legendary items you do have from Legion will be usable in BfA until you reach the max level of 120, so if you were lucky enough to get those bad ass “Leggos”, then you are able to use them as you level from 110-120, but they become deactivated as soon as you ding that final level. The second caveat is some of the really impactful and meaningful abilities from the legendaries we’ve had in Legion will be moved into talents for some classes, and potentially will be rolled into an entirely new mechanic, Azerite Armor, which I’ll touch on momentarily. A perfect example of this being Shadow Priests, who currently rely heavily on a legendary belt to deal effective damage, as it gives them two charges of one of their best ablities. On the Battle for Azeroth alpha, that ability has been rolled into a talent called Shadow Word: Void, so you can keep that playstyle alive in BfA, if you so choose.
Trading in our Artifact Weapon for Azerite Armor – Artifact Weapons have been a somewhat polarizing topic for Legion as well, and many players feel similarly about the Artifact Weapons as they do about legendaries, in that they just become so incredibly necessary and integral to the class in general. I have to admit… The removal of the Artifact Weapons, and all the incredible powers and passive abilities it gave you, is going to be quite a hit for many players (myself included), as the majority of classes have become very reliant on those new wrinkles to their tanking strategy, healing ability, and damage dealing rotations. I think Blizzard is aware of how much of a blow it will be for players to put down their ancient weapons, gifted to them by the Gods, and have implemented a brand new system in the way of Azerite Armor.
Azerite Armor appears to function very similarly to how the Artifact Weapons did, in that on the Alpha you gain a resource called Azerite from almost activity you take part in – dungeons, PvP, questing, etc, and you infuse that resource into a special necklace called the Heart of Azeroth. Once enough Azerite has been infused, you begin to unlock specific abilities and passives from your armor (it looks and feels somewhat similar to the Netherlight Crucible interface from the most recent patch of Legion), and can then utilize those newly gained powers – some of them are less impactful, like stat or item level increases, but some of them are important and meaningful new abilities that can more greatly impact how you play the game. I’m hesitant about these changes, only because it’s one of the few things that haven’t been fleshed out very significantly on the Alpha, and one that MANY classes are waiting around with baited breath for, because the sky is always falling when it comes to class balancing, ability changes, etc, and we’re all waiting to see just how hard it hits us when it lands.
The content itself feels incredible – Only so much of the game is available for us to play on the Alpha, but I have to say that I am absolutely enamored by the zones, the faction cities, and the dungeons we’ve seen so far. Blizz really has a recipe for how content like this is created, but I feel like they are outdoing themselves this time with some really impressive locales, interesting mechanics from bosses in dungeons (which is unheard of in an Alpha), and so much more. When BfA launches, it will come with a raid and 10 dungeons in total, and what little dungeon content I’ve seen from the Alpha so far has been really, really fun. Much is left to do regarding tuning and balancing bosses and characters alike, but it appears the content team is really knocking this one out of the park already.
One of my favorite brand new additions, though, is the three-person Island Expeditions. They feel similar to some of the three-person scenario content we started to see back in Mists of Pandaria, but this time around they’ve added a really exciting new twist: you are competing against your opposing faction to gather up as much Azerite as possible from a newly discovered island on Azeroth. This whole expansion is pushing this Horde vs. Alliance concept pretty hard, harkening back to the old school Orcs vs. Humans vibe from the original Warcraft games, but they’re doing it in a cool new way for BfA. The Island Expeditions will have three difficulty modes: your standard normal and heroic style modes, just upping the difficulty of the baddies you’re having to fight, but a third mode incorporates a PvP aspect, which means not only are you fending off the NPC monsters while you gather your resources, but you can be ganked by the opposing team and have them steal your resources for their own gain. This mode was recently released on the Alpha, and despite some expected bugs and glitches, it’s easily some of the most fun I’ve had playing WoW in a while, and it’s something I can’t wait to bring two of my friends along for come August.
Final thoughts on classes, changes, etc – It’s easy to get caught up in “my class doens’t feel strong” or “these new changes feel weird”, etc. And I have found myself lamenting those same things about my beloved Shadow Priest, who is a face-melting machine currently in Legion, but on the Alpha for BfA, well, he leaves a little to be desired. And that’s okay! And it’s okay for a couple reasons: First off, not all the changes and new additions and talents and Azerite Armor abilities have been finalized, and since we’re still four months away from launch there is still much to be done and many things to be added before then. Secondly (and sort of reiterating my previous point on losing legendaries and Artifact Weapons), is that it is normal for a character to feel a bit weaker at the very beginning of a new expansion – it always sucks to swap your Mythic God Breaker All-Powerful Trinket of Doom for a throwaway quest reward, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes. All in all, the changes I’ve seen so far are HUGE steps in the right direction for Battle for Azeroth, and there isn’t a class I’ve seen so far that I’ve thought “oof, those so-and-sos are in big trouble”. Nope, I think everything and everyone will be viable in their own ways, and I am personally chomping at the bit to really dive in come August.