World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is landing in a couple of weeks, bringing some major changes to the way we play the world’s most famous MMORPG.
From exploring new lands and the stranger faces within to new ways to play with and against your fellow heroes, there’s a lot to catch up on before setting foot on the shores of Kul Tiras and Zandalar.
Many of these changes are already well underway – but for the unprepared, here are some pointers to catch you up on World of Warcraft’s seventh expansion.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth story
Last time we caught up with the gang, the Horde and the Alliance had just teamed up to take down Sargeras. So what’s all this about war? Despite a cooperative effort against the Burning Legion, there’s always been a seething hatred between the Horde and the Alliance.
When nasty old Sargeras struck the world with a sword so large that some (not me) might say he’s overcompensating, a sparkling, explosive substance named Azerite began spilling out across the world. Both factions are keen to take advantage of this miracle-grow-for-bombs, and key players began shifting gears towards war. This set in motion events already underway in the BfA pre-patch.
Right now, players are fighting the war that will see the Night Elves’ home of Teldrassil go up in flames. On launch, the Alliance will retaliate by laying siege to the Undercity, leaving the city a blight-stricken ruin and leaving the landscape a burning waste.
New lands, new friends
You can’t fight a war without soldiers. Players of both factions are tasked with travelling to new lands, seeking the aid of long-lost societies who might not be so keen on spilling blood for your cause.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth Alliance story: Kul Tiras
The seafaring island nation of Kul Tiras is the homeland of Alliance leading-lady Jaina Proudmoore, but they’re not particularly happy to have her – or you – back.
Alliance players find themselves drawn into the internal machinations of noble houses, as well as unravelling dark conspiracies wracking the isles. From Boralus, the center of power in Tiragarde Sound, we’ll help Jaina reconcile with her ruling mother Katherine, and foil a dark plot to snatch power from the Proudmoore line.
House Wayfarer, rulers of the grim realm of Drustvar has gone silent, with rumours of witchcraft and ancient evil attributed to their absence. And in Stormsong Valley, the Alliance must figure out the mystery of Kul Tiras’ vanishing fleet by investigating the mysterious water magic of the Tidecasters.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth Horde story: Zandalar
The Zandalari Empire has been around for millennia, but only in the background as far as the games are concerned. BfA brings us to the island home of the ancient Troll empire.
Zandalar promises to aid the horde, should they fix its little problems with cannibals and conniving politicians. Zuldazar acts as your first stop, where the Horde’s quest to recruit the Zandalar to the war effort begins.
In Voldun, a desert land where exiles are sent to live in servitude, an advisor to the throne plots and schemes with the Empire’s enemies. The swamps of Nazmir, meanwhile, has been left to stew for too long, and bloodthirsty cults plot their vengeance against the vulnerable Zandalari.
Nazmir also contains Uldir – the expansion’s first endgame raid location.
We saw the start of this as Legion wrapped up, but Battle for Azeroth will see a further drive towards Blizzard’s new approach to new races in World of Warcraft. Expect Dark Iron dwarves and Mag’Har Orcs to start populating each faction, alongside the native Zandalari Trolls and Kul Tiran Humans of each new continent. More allied races are likely to arrive as the expansion develops.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth new missions and quests
Battle for Azeroth is coming with the usual suite of new content. Of course, we’ll be getting a slew of new dungeons and a gradually evolving endgame built around raids.
But a Battle for Azeroth would be nothing if we didn’t battle over… er, Azeroth. There’s a host of new modes coming to help bring the fiction of the vast, world-spanning conflict to life.
A quick-fire race to collect the most Azerite sees two teams of three sail to one of Azeroth’s many uncharted islands. Expeditions can be played against another team of players, or three AI opponents of increasing difficulty.
You’ll race across the shore and explore hidden coves to collect resources through mining or – more reliably – killing monsters. As rounds go on, the situation spirals out of control. In one, for example, volcanoes erupt across the sands, spilling elementals all over and revealing a tough boss hidden beneath the battlefield.
Not strictly PvP in itself, Warfronts still bring the idea of battlegrounds to a whole new scale. Pegged as “Warcraft 3 from the ground-level”, a team of players have to gather materials, build up their base, grow an army and take down the opposing team’s stronghold for control of the region.
At launch, Warfronts bring players to the hotly-contested Arathi Highlands, as Alliance and Horde duke it out over the fortified ruins of Stromgarde. However, Blizzard has confirmed that we’ll see more fronts open up before the Battle for Azeroth reaches its conclusion
For the most part, Alliance players will stay on Kul Tiras, far apart from their Zandalar-bound Horde foes. But it’s no good building up allies while the enemy does the same unhindered, and War Campaigns give players the chance to strike at their opponents’ heart.
The mission table returns from Warlords of Draenor and Legion, this time for hiring heroes and troops to fling at your foes. But on top of that, a series of quests sees you establish footholds on enemy land, strike at their population, and eventually lay siege to either Boralus or Dazar’alor in one of BfA’s two Mythic-only dungeons
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth gameplay changes
Okay, so we know where we’re going, why, and what we’re doing, but what about that down-and-dirty gameplay? Battle for Azeroth is bringing a few key changes to the way we mash our action-buttons this August.
Artifact? Never heard of it.
Artifacts as we know them have gone, but Blizzard hasn’t given up on the idea of upgradeable equipment. In their place comes the Heart of Azeroth – a shiny necklace that absorbs Azerite and makes special pieces of gear better.
Like artifacts, the Heart collects artifact power through Azerite. But instead of a dry, flat upgrade tree, increasing Heart levels unlocks the option to imbue special pieces of armour with new traits. Each piece has three tiers of upgrades, that allow you to pick from one of three special traits to gift the item.
As a result, gaining power feels less grindy than before – there’s a real sense of being able to customise items more than the linear artifact tree ever gave, and equipment can still be replaced by exciting new loot.
One size fits all
With the loss on unique, spec-specific weapons, there’s been a general focus on returning class identity through other means. Older abilities have returned, active-buffing is a thing again, and roles have generally seen tinkering to improve the sense of class-fantasy.
That is, except for armour sets. Say goodbye to class-centric armour – each category of armour (mail, plate, cloth and leather) will get one intricately-designed set per raid tier, with associated difficulty-based variations. While they’re quite good looking, it’s a shame to see Blizzard scale back on the range of looks.