After Warlords of Draenor, one of the most coolly received expansions by fans of the Warcraft universe, and the bar set high by World of Warcraft: Legion, many players (myself included) didn't know what to expect in Blizzard's next expansion. The expectations raised by the invasion of Burning Legion could only be satisfied by an intense return to the past, namely the classic conflict of the Alliance and the Horde, which would allow old fans to feel at home, and encourage new players to start the adventure and take sides in the conflict. This is how World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeorth was born.
Old conflict, new solutions
Returning to the original conflict between the Horde and the Alliance is not a piece of cake. You can't just jump over the world and plot solutions shaped by the previous additions. In fact, no one thought it was possible at all. Battle for Azeroth is a continuation of the story presented in the previous expansions. After a devastating battle with the forces of the fallen titan Sargeras, in an Azeroth devastated by the Legion, the conflict between the two factions escalates to the point where war becomes inevitable. However, the fight against the raging demon forces has taken a heavy toll in terms of casualties and resources, and the only hope for securing an advantage over the enemy is to obtain a new resource - azerite.
In practice, however, it is not so simple. The precious mineral provides great power, but making additional alliances seems to be equally important. This way we - the heroes and ambassadors of our own factions are sent on a journey to one of two new continents to convince the races living there to fight on our side. We have to admit that the applied storytelling solution sounds extremely simple, although very interesting.
It's worth emphasizing that we are not thrown into the vortex of battle completely by accident. There could not lack numerous cinematics and a kind of campaign leading us through the initial tasks, in order to thoroughly learn the details of the conflict. This is actually the first element that immediately strikes the eye. Carefully prepared prologue and its certain linearity from the very beginning make us feel that we're dealing with something more than just a classic MMO game. You can see that the story aspect is important here and it is there to draw the player into the vortex of action and encourage him to explore the threads of the story. And you know what? It only gets better.
Pirates or ancient tropics?
There are many things to say about the world of World of Warcraft, but anyone who has ever seen the vastness of the locations and terrain available in the game has certainly bowed before the creators more than once. What's more, the latest expansion adds new locations to the game. These are the islands of Kul'Tiras, for whose favor we fight as heroes of the Alliance and the ancient empire of Zandalar - which is the default location for the Horde. Each of the lands consists of three, completely different locations with their own campaign, heroes, new races and history. What's more, the creators made sure that each of them was filled with its own unique atmosphere, which is reflected by the soundtrack, but also fauna and flora. The scorching sands of Vol'dun, the bloody magic of Nazimir and the dark forests of Drustvar are more than just visuals. Their climate literally pours out of the monitor, which in this case is a huge plus.
Nazimir is just one of many examples of how atmospheric a mere cluster of pixels can be.
I won't hide the fact that it's also influenced by the quests. We'll still find a lot of "find, kill, bring" quests, but after exploring all available lands I have no illusions - World of Warcraft ceases to be a typical MMO game with a limited, although still available number of storylines. The world without looking back marches towards the single player campaign, and Battle for Azeroth only confirms this trend. What does this mean in practice? Well, nothing less than that you can expect a lot of interesting tasks, numerous interludes and a really engaging story line of each land. This is a very big advantage. Especially for fans who want to know what's going on in the game and fans of learning about the history of the universe. I have to admit that it took only a few minutes for the plot and problems of the troll empire to push aside the need to achieve the maximum level as soon as possible and the desire to get better and better items.
It's worth mentioning, however, that this aspect of gameplay by no means eliminates the possibility of fast and murderous leveling up. So everyone will find something for themselves. What's more, the scaling system of locations has been noticeably improved and adjusted so that gaining levels was possible even in the basic version of the game. This is a good solution, which gives a lot of freedom. Each of us can gain experience in his favorite locations and explore the content of the land at his own pace from start to finish, without having to abandon the thread in favor of tasks with a higher level of experience.
I'll give you my heart, and you take care of it
One of the biggest changes to the game is undoubtedly the legendary artifact system introduced with the Legion expansion. Ashbringers, Doomhammers and other tools of destruction had their opponents and supporters. To some they seemed boring, because the acquisition of items was limited only to our armor and accessories. Anyway - it doesn't matter, because in the newest addition you won't find them anymore. Artifact weapons have been replaced by one, unique piece of equipment. I'm talking about the medallion called the Heart of Azeroth.
The mechanics of its operation is very simple and directly linked with three elements of our equipment: headgear, epaulettes and chest armor. Armor elements from the latest addition are equipped with additional skills that directly replace the bonuses known from previous supplements for completing the entire armor. Each of these skills allows you to unlock one of many additional bonuses that improve your character. What does the Heart of Azeroth have to do with it? A certain level of the amulet, which can be obtained by imbuing it with special azerite crystals, allows you to unlock each of the three or four circles. They contain a number of selected skills, which, depending on specialization and needs, can be chosen by you - the hero.
Sounds dangerous, right? In practice, this system is very simple and in comparison to the legendary weapons in World of Warcraft: Legion, in my opinion, is also just worse. Artifact weapons had their own talent trees, and their additional powers could be modified with special relics. They were also unique enough that you didn't forget about them during the fight. In the case of Heart of Azeroth it is quite the opposite. Even the powerful effects of our equipment and the high level of the medallion, which allows you to unlock them, does not make your jaw drop. After just a few hours of gameplay, I forgot that such an item is in my inventory, and the numerous effects that it allows you to use are not noticeable enough to noticeably affect the gameplay. While the mechanics of how it works certainly won't change, I hope that over time the equipment will include bonuses that will noticeably affect the gameplay.
Unlocking another skill circle in one of the three armor elements requires the medallion to be saturated to level 21. The better and more valuable the equipment, the higher the requirement for its saturation level.
The mechanics of Heart of Azeroth and the need to saturate it with countless amounts of azerite forced the producers to design activities that allow you to acquire crystals of the new resource, and thus increase the level of the medallion. There are really many ways to do it. Starting with performing special global tasks and ending with rewards for defeating bosses in instances and raids. However, the game does not lack additional, completely new activities such as Expeditions. These are special scenarios that allow for PvE (players versus computer) and PvP (players versus players) gameplay. The task of the player and his two companions is to collect the appropriate amount of valuable raw material as quickly as possible.
This task can be performed in many ways: from killing creatures to simply splitting its rocks. What's more, a three-person team led by the computer or players (depending on the mode) has exactly the same task. The island's terrain, weather and enemies are randomly generated, which in practice is supposed to be an effective protection against repetitiveness. After a few dozen expeditions I can say one thing. It's a pleasant variety, but a kind of evolution of traditional instances, which in the case of PvE competition can get boring quite quickly anyway. Even despite the refined artificial intelligence and the ability to choose one of three difficulty levels (normal, heroic, mythical), collecting the appropriate amount of azerite is not a big problem. In the case of Mythic mode, it is more difficult, but even for intermediate players, completing it will not be a problem.