WoW Wednesday: Reviewing the World of Warcraft

After 15 long years, the World of Warcraft still marches ever onward. Despite no less than four “WoW Killers” launching and failing, the original Massively Multiplayer Online Titan doesn’t just dominate pop culture. It dominates its own section of the fantasy genre, inspiring legions of fan works, devotees, and enough loyal subscribers to make up its own pseudo-nation. After eight entire expansions, a major motion picture, over 20 novels and a legion of popular propaganda, its time to give this game the review it deserves. After 15 years its time once more to criticize the wide world of Warcraft.

We here at MMOGames.com have reviewed the entirety of Azeroth previously. In this coverage, shortly after the massive graphical revamp and it’s 10th anniversary, we gave World of Warcraft a solid 8/10; “It is grand and splendid enough to be worth a player’s time and money.” This is a sentiment echoed throughout the industry, with similar reviews passing along the desks of MMORPG.com and PC Gamer. Last year we reviewed it’s 8th expansion, Battle For Azeroth slightly less favorably with a 7/10. Still passable and a fun experience, but with serious critical flaws incumbent to its systems.

In this review we’ll be peeling apart all of Warcraft’s systems from cradle to grave. From level one to 120, I dove into the wide world of Azeroth as a very much familiar Veteran. I’ve played the game for over twelve years, raided until shortly before Warlords of Draenor, kept up in the Rated PvP scene and written more about it than I would probably like to admit. While it is no small feat, I will be endeavoring to give you the most in-depth and pinpoint review. In an attempt to keep information relevant while we will be covering things from our Battle for Azeroth review, we will be more focusing on the systems present in Patch 8.2, “The Rise of Azshara.” While promises to fix many issues are incumbent with its 9th expansion, Shadowlands, we will be focusing on the game as is in its present state.

It’s time to see if after 15 years, World of Warcraft is worth more than your money. Is this MMORPG still worth your time?

Enter Azeroth

World of Warcraft is, at its core, a world at war. The land of Azeroth is host to dozens of races both native and alien. Originally set off its axis due to the invasion of the demonic Orcish Horde, the world has trembled under its two new national superpowers. Compromised of Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes, Night Elves and all noble creatures of Azeroth, the Alliance seeks to strive to do good like the knights of old. Banding together in the face of adversity, they seek the righteous way of the land and to do right by its denizens. Whether they follow the Holy Light, Elune, or the legacy of their original creators, they hope for a prosperous future for the entire land. Led by High King Anduin Wrynn, the young ruler endeavors to forge a world of true peace for his people.

Built on the bones of a dark legacy, the Horde has expanded to find its place at redemption. Composed of the once noble Orcs, the mysterious Darkspear trolls, the proud Tauren tribes and the cunning Forsaken Undead, this new Horde seeks to eke out an existence in a world that never wanted them. Drawing all kinds to its banner, the Horde promises unity and Honor no matter the cost. Recently in a political upheaval by the betrayal of its Warchief, Sylvanas Windrunner, the Horde now stands at a dangerous crossroads. While rumors of a council, a Coalition of Leadership, have begun to rattle through the ranks the future is uncertain for the Horde.

This will be your first major decision in World of Warcraft. Unlike other MMORPGs with cross faction play, tensions in Azeroth still run high. Its very unlikely that a Draenei from the Alliance would ever want to see a Blood Elf from the Horde, let alone work with them again. Races are restricted to certain factions, and who you will interact with will be. Certain cosmetic effects such as titles, mounts and more. Certain locations, major questlines and the world itself may change depending on which faction you select.


Once you’ve made your selection on the character creation screen, you’ll have 7 races to choose through (up to 11 for veteran players). Each race has its own unique storyline, racial abilities, customizations and can pick particular classes. Some, like the Trolls, are jacks of all trades but cannot pick certain heavy plate classes. Others, like the Gnomes, are limited by their diminutive size but can access every intellect-based class. Largely, based on what you want to do, your class will largely decide your race but your race will decide your faction overall. All have a slew of customization options throughout, though the interface is notably dated.

World of Warcraft is a fifteen year old game, built on an engine that is nearly 20 years old. As such, its rather amazing what can be done on it when it comes to newer content. When it comes to character customizations, however, you may find yourself completely screwed. On the large, older races like the Orcs have a wide plethora of options and selections, however these are worked through at most 15 or so static changes. While there are, realistically, hundreds of possible permutations for your character’s appearance some are better than others and are far more popular. That is, if you’re fortunate enough to have more than one favorable option; some newer races like the Nightborne or the Lightforged Draenei introduced in Legion are impossibly sparse on customizations; the Nightborne functionally only have one gender due to how ugly the male models and their faces are.

Once you’ve built up your avatar you can decide on your class. Warcraft being an older game, still works on the static Holy Trinity model of class design. Most classes are built to do one of three things: either soak punishment and deal area damage as a Tank, unleash powerful destructive fury as a Damage Dealer (or DPS), or keep their allies alive as a Healer. While most classes are tooled to perform only one role very well, such as the Mage or Hunter, just about every class can do one or the other. Some classes, like the Paladin, Monk or Druid, are Hybrid classes and can perform all three roles seamlessly.

Each class does play remarkably different, even between its three specializations. Some, like the Warrior, are exactly as its archetypical theme describes. They wade into the heat of melee combat and deliver punishment with one, sometimes two, massive weapons. Others, like the Warlock, use dark curses and stay at range while their minions deal with the enemy. Its hard to recommend a new class to newer players, simply due to the depth and volume of playstyles. This choice widens when players unlock Death Knights and Demon Hunters, Warcraft’s hero classes. These veteran-player classes are only unlocked after you’ve achieved a certain level on your first character, and as such start at a higher level in their respective expansion.

The best advice I can give you? Take your time and experiment with different player classes. Since its inception, my main has changed dramatically over time, from a Shaman to a Warrior to a Death Knight, Shaman, Warlock, Priest, Hunter and now a Warrior again. Even between them, each has up to three specializations that further customize your gameplay and feel like individual classes on their own. This is an expansive game, with plenty to do and explore.

We’re Going On an Adventure!

Once you’ve sorted out your character, and decided your class, you’re ready to get onto exploring the wide world of Azeroth. With recent graphical overhauls and a massive leveling change in it’s 4th expansion, Cataclysm, the world has never been more beautiful. From sunny high mesas in Mulgore to the steamy jungles of Stranglethorn, the world is utterly and absolutely breath-taking to explore. Even in the game’s older content through Northrend and Outland, there is not one zone I could complain about in its design, theming, or music.

Azeroth, however, is a dangerous place and even the heartiest diplomats will need to engage in combat. Being an older MMORPG, Warcraft’s systems are largely static in combat. Unlike entries such as the defunct Wildstar, heroes will often have a host of abilities to attack enemies in a somewhat standard, non-movement oriented combat style. While some classes subvert this by being based on movement, such as the Demon Hunter, others like the Mage and Warrior remain largely stagnant in order to deal damage. Instead, the complexity comes from intrinsic combat systems in order to maximize damage; buffs and debuffs to manage detrimental effects on your enemies.

You will be exploring them all as you adventure and progress your character. Starting at level 1, you’ll be working through several older RPG tropes and tools to level up. Starting with Quests, you’ll gain experience to level up and advance your character. After gaining so much experience your avatar will “ding” (gratz!) and you’ll get a little bit more powerful through new spells or advanced ranks of older ones. At major milestones your characters will unlock massive features such as mounts, class specializations, battlegrounds or new expansions worth of content.


In saying such, however, there’s a lot both good and bad in this progression system. You have 120 levels to advance through in Azeroth, and sadly there just aren’t enough rewards to make it feel worthwhile. While the journey is fun in this MMO, the RPG elements are incredibly lacking and are noticeable after your first five hours with the character. After reaching level sixty you’ll have most of your major class abilities unlocked and will be progressing onto your first expansion of content. Its unlikely, however, that you’ll see a new ability or intrinsic reward for your character’s power until another 7 to 15 levels away.

A lot of this power instead will come from your gear that you will obtain as you progress. Gear comes in a wide variety of colors, starting with White (Common) and Grey (Trash), you’ll gain Uncommon (Green) and Rare (Blue) items from questing or doing 5-man dungeons when you unlock them. Epic (Purple) quality items will drop from incredibly difficult challenges in your journey, or are otherwise incredibly rare. Legendary (Orange) are utterly unique items. Only a handful of them exist in the world and each will significantly change how you play your character. Most are incredibly difficult, if not impossible to get, but everyone knows their names. As you unlock them, you’ll save your gear appearances in your collectibles tab, alongside mounts, toys and cosmetic pets, and can transmogrify them over your gear to adjust your appearance.

Additionally you’ll unlock Talents. This interchangeable selection system unlocks tiers of abilities every 15 levels, usually themed around one type. While limited compared to previous iterations, this system allows you to change your playstyle for your class and specialization in between adventures, and offers a wide variety of utility. While most players will stick with the optimal or their favorite choice, staying flexible with your talents is rewarded in high tiers of gameplay and can massively alter what role you fill.

World of Warcraft
On paper this all sounds like a marvelous system, despite a few drawbacks, but the new player experience is painful, to say the least. There is a very good reason why Blizzard-Activision have been pushing their Character Level Boosting Service; leveling is painful, long and dull. Due to the rapid scaling of your character’s power in the early game in order to meet the end-game’s stats, enemies are never any major challenge. Instead they sit as more of a nuisance in between you and your objective, whether that involves collecting 4 zherva hooves or just trying to open a book.

In working on this review, I logged roughly additional an additional 30 hours between a Highmountain Tauren Shaman, a Night Elf Druid and a Nightborne Warrior. I can tell you, wholeheartedly, that the leveling experience is incredibly brutal. The only character I managed to max out was my Warrior, and that was simply because they’re my new main. Leveling is a tedious, repetitive venture to work through and a lot of its meaning is lost as you progress to the endgame; what many people rightfully cite as the ‘true’ game in Warcraft.

While we have covered it extensively in past entries of our WoW Wednesday Column, I’ll reiterate it once more here. There are not enough rewards to encourage players to naturally level and progress their character. The bloating of levels up to 120 is simply too vast a distance with the game’s current playstyle philosophy to reward players with spells or abilities every level. There aren’t enough talents or unlockables to go around, and this results in one of the most painful moments of any leveling experience.

World of Warcraft
The only moment that particularly stands out in a bad way, among hundreds if not thousands of quest texts, is Outland and Northrend. At level 60, you’ll begin to unlock additional expansions of content to play through, each with its own choice. From 60-70 you’ll be allowed to choose with either The Burning Crusade or The Wrath of the Lich King and their respective continents. Its also about this time that new abilities just stop coming all together while you adventure through some of the oldest, most difficult and outright obtuse questing content in the entire game.

While it is only for this small band, these two continents can kill nearly all of your momentum. Add in the issue of sharp increase in experience point requirements and it suddenly feels like a monumental mountain in your progression. There’s a reason that, at this point, nearly halfway to level 120 people either stop outright or start looking for ways to increase their experience gains monumentally. For veteran players, this is an easy hurdle to pass with a slew of experience boosting buffs that increase gains by over 200%. Other subversive options become the norm, such as grinding dungeons in an attempt to escape monotonous and awful questing. For newer, unguided players these options are more than likely not available or unknown.

Defender of Azeroth!

But you’ve finally done it, you’ve made it to level 120 despite all the hurdles and challenges. What awaits you is a wide plethora of content to explore and adventure through. Massive raids open up to challenge with up to 20 players. Rated Player versus Player combat and the cosmetic Honor system are ladders for you to climb in slaughtering your enemies. Pet Battles, cosmetic collections and more are at your fingertips. There is, quite literally, an infinite amount of things to do in Azeroth and with every expansion’s content unlocked at max level, you can do whatever you’d like.

The gateway to your personal progression, however, is now tied to Artifacts. Introduced in Legion and revamped for Battle for Azeroth, Artifacts now tool how your character plays more than your own end-game gear. The newest form of this, the Heart of Azeroth, unlocks class changing traits on your armor called “Azerite Traits.” While initially unique and could redefine your class in totality, most have now been reworked so that there are only one or two viable traits depending on your field of gameplay. While new, socketable essences have been introduced which act as additional spells or abilities, these are locked behind a leveling wall.

Your experience for the Heart of Azeroth? Azerite Power. This resource is rewarded from almost every single activity in World of Warcraft and can be infinitely grinded through certain gameplay elements like Island Expeditions or other instanced content. Due to this, however, there is a form of soft “scaling cap” each week. While you’ll unlock all of the passive and active slots on your Heart by level 67, it will also increase in power up to level 70 with certain Essences being locked behind that level cap. Essences themselves come from a wide variety of gameplay elements and hitting certain milestones will reward them.

World of Warcraft
There are a host of incumbent problems in this system, but the largest one is its effect on gear. While leveling, your gear will be rotated out roughly every zone or so. It goes through an upgrading process, but due to the limited number of customizations you’ll often be prone to keep it as is or hunt for smaller, rarer items to complete your look. As you reach maximum level, and are able to customize and change the appearance of ANY gear item, instead it falls to the name and what it’s worth to set it apart as an enviable object.

As Azerite and Gear can come from ANY source in Battle for Azeroth, most of it being Epic, it all really begins to blend together. Instead you’ll be hunting for gear with specific stats and Azerite traits in a constant form of upgrading to maximize what you can do in your class. In reality once you hit 120 you’ll be hitting a massive statistics crunch and will begin measuring your gear based on numbers instead of looks and rewards.

That’s not to say the content to get it isn’t fun. Raiding and Rated PvP are at their pinnacle in Azeroth. PvE encounters have only gotten more complex and varied throughout the years, and conquering a major villain with 19 of your friends can be incredibly rewarding. Even moreso, conquering other players and reaping Elite rewards isn’t just a challenge but a massive learning experience into the complexities of Warcraft. Playing through the fantasy of living in Azeroth is fun to do, even if you’re adventuring to cap off a few achievements or just to roleplay in a darkened tavern.

Gameplay: 5/10

World of Warcraft is an OLD game. Older than, frankly, quite a few people playing it. However, despite its stumbling and falling in leveling and rewarding characters, it is still IMMENSELY fun to play especially in the endgame. These flaws, like the infinite treadmill of endgame content and the crippling painful nature of leveling tar the whole process. There’s a lot here, and quite a bit of it is VERY good, but the struggle to get into that content and mean something as a whole dampen the entire project.

World of Warcraft

Innovation: 5/10

Once upon a time, Warcraft defined the genre in what it could do. These days the game and its team are struggling to keep up in similar showings from competitors. Desperately trying to keep a 15 year old engine alive, Warcraft’s developers seem to constantly struggle in adding things in such as ‘color tints’ for equipment. Addressing the inherit systemic issues caused throughout the game is a struggle for them, including admitting to their own mistakes for the worse. While they occasionally make a breakthrough concept for the game, it struggles to keep pace with others in the industry.

Multiplayer: 7/10

World of Warcraft is the Notorious B.I.G., the progenitor of the modern MMO. Community is everything to any worthwhile progression in Azeroth. While wolves and the rabble of the world won’t trouble your character, you will NEED friends in order to adventure into dark dungeons, heart-pounding raids, or merely to keep your sanity during leveling. While most basic endgame content is queue-able as a single player, generating you into a larger group, truly challenging content requires friends. If you’re invested in finding such and taking on the hardest challenges the community, on the whole, is largely receptive to new players and still thrives strongly to this day.

Graphics / Sound: 8/10

Despite being built on an older engine, Azeroth is beautiful to adventure through. Thanks to large-scale graphical improvements in Cataclysm, the world has never looked better for the adventuring player though more modern innovations such as Light Rays make it seem somewhat flat in color. Together, with a wonderfully orchestrated OST, Warcraft oozes environmental theme and beautiful artistic design. Whether it’s the pounding of the drums of war in battlegrounds or the eerie strings plaguing you in Azshara’s Eternal Palace, the hills of Pandaria and the dark dungeons have never looked and felt more beautiful.

World of Warcraft

Value for Money: 8/10

I cannot understate this: Warcraft has no end to its content. If you have the want to explore its vast breadth and depth from faction reputations to achievements to PvP to raiding to battling PETS there is legitimately no end. Even with a subscription model still attached to the game, my $15 USD per month is STILL well spent in Azeroth. There is enough to do legitimately every day of the week between its eight expansions and the base game, and still not get everything done that you’d like. While there are concerns on the depth of the content, there is enough breadth to make up for it.

Overall: 6.5/10

There are a lot of problems with Warcraft. I don’t think there’s a 15 year old on the planet that doesn’t have its slew of problems, but beneath all of them is a gemstone. While there are problems in a host of Warcraft’s systems, it feels exciting to go on that next adventure through Azeroth whether as the lone Champion or among a host of friends. Whether you fight for the Horde or the Alliance, this is a game that still lives and breathes fun and entertainment. While it can be a slog, sometimes more than even the developers would like to admit, charting the world of Azeroth is an adventure in and of itself in every sense.

With promises on the horizon to fix so many of its problems, I can only hope that we’ll still be adventuring throughout the worlds of Warcraft for many more years to come.

Pros

– Easy, simple pick up and play MMORPG
– Varied Systems of Progression
– Tons of Gameplay systems and Endgame Content
– Potentially Endless Content to Play

Cons

– Painful Leveling and Level Bloat
– Little Reward for New Players
– Meaningless Gear/Character Progression Outside of Artifact Systems
– Limited Avatar Customization and Cosmetic Personalization Outside of Armor

The post WoW Wednesday: Reviewing the World of Warcraft appeared first on MMOGames.com.

WoW Wednesday: Weeping For the War Campaign

With this last week we finally saw the Blood War, now known as the Fourth War, finally come to an end on Azeroth. This was one of the most pivotal parts of the expansion, being the predominate narrative marketing behind Battle for Azeroth. Hyped up with the beginnings of its previous expansion, Legion, World of Warcraft has been awaiting a major confrontation between two polar opposite figures in its world for quite some time. Truly, two no better candidates arose than Anduin Wrynn, King of the Alliance, and Sylvanas Windrunner, the undead Warchief of the Horde. The world was prepared for two diametrically opposing forces to strike in a total conflict. How did that play out?

Of course, spoilers ahead.

Veteran readers might recall our article nearly a year ago on the first volley fired in the War Campaign, the War of Thorns. This was a pre-expansion event that featured a host of gameplay problems, from repeated armor drops, no meaningful rewards aside from a quest-gated faction mount, and wretched issues with the server sharding systems. Insult was only added to injury with merely unlocking daily quests, which were later replaced with live content in patch 8.1 and the massive void left by Legion’s artifact weapon system. All of this was compounded by a mind-boggling narrative.

In an effort to stop a war before it begins, Sylvanas Windrunner and her two right-hand men, Nathanos Blightcaller and High Overlord Varok Saurfang, decide to wage a surprise war on their neighbors to the north. The Alliance-loyal Night Elves had often waged war on the Horde’s holdings and could be a threat to their continental hold. So they charged the Elven homelands with a goal in mind: to capture their island home Teldrassil and hold the natives hostage until the Alliance left Horde territory. Ideally, they’d also kill one of their major heroes and kill any hope the Night Elves might have in their future.

This is immediately where Battle for Azeroth’s writing took a nose-dive for the worst.


While fighting the Warchief, Night Elf hero Malfurion Stormrage was ambushed by Saurfang with an axe to the back. Instead of killing him herself, Sylvanas left his murder to be done by a Saurfang who was clearly in shock and disgust in himself for such a dishonorable act. Then, Tyrande Whisperwind, another Night Elven leader, rescued Stormrage and fled the war. However, she did not return to their fortified island home, they instead fled to another continent and abandoned their people.

Then, after Saurfang reported the heroes had escaped, Sylvanas decided to set Teldrassil on fire and kill thousands due to the cajoling of a dying Night Elf.

If that last paragraph seems a little odd in terms of its narrative structure, you’re not alone. There is a lot of, ‘and then’s, instead of, ‘therefore’s. Instead of, ‘Saurfang let Malfurion flee, therefore Sylvanas destroyed Teldrassil,’ plot points do not feel they have consequences or at least consequences that matter. Something similar happened famously in the adult American animated sitcom South Park during it’s 20th season. Featuring a large over-arching parody of the 2016 Presidential election, acts between characters featured consequential narrative actions.

For example, because a character’s internet trolling antics angered the Danish people, they threatened to release everyone’s private internet history. Therefore, because Hillary Clinton has something to hide (in the show, of course), she is forced to hire that same internet troll to erase her dark history. Consequential storytelling builds off of ‘therefore’ and ‘in retaliation’ moments. Peak decisions that have cause-and-effect relationships. While Battle for Azeroth does possess these, in a way, most are either very poorly handled or simply don’t exist.


Take, for example, the Alliance’s first War Campaign quests. It is discovered as the Alliance begins to encroach into Zandalar, that Sylvanas has allied herself with vampiric mages known as the San’layn. These horrific undead were once the most zealous of the Lich King’s commanders and possess an unrivaled thirst for living blood. Opposed to the Alliance’s stealth operations, the San’layn attempted to curb them step after step and time after time again. Therefore, the Alliance make them a primary target. As such, the San’layn try to retaliate and the plot builds over several quests. Finally, they are slain during a Horde operation on the open sea, killed dead by alliance assassins…

…And that is the end of that plot hook.

Then we come to a problem in the plot overall, not just simply in Battle for Azeroth. Due to the gaps of time that World of Warcraft has between major expansions and their current plan to build new expansions from older characters, things get slow. At least when it comes to narrative development. This is all well and good when it comes to major characters such as Gul’dan, who at the end of Warlords of Draenor set up Legion.

Then we have situations like the San’layn. The San’layn never comes up ever again in either the Alliance or the Horde War Campaign. In fact, if you exclusively play as a Horde character, you’d never know these San’layn existed. This rather demonstrates one of the more effective concepts of narrative development known as Chekhov’s Gun.


Chekhov’s Gun is the narrative concept that describes how every single element of a story should contribute to the whole. In a novel, commentary about the world around you adds to the world building. Dialogue in a movie should add more to the story instead of, like in films such as Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, filling random scenes with needless drivel. Every portion of a story should contribute in a way that makes sense and pays off. In the words of the man who coined the phrase, Anton Chekhov, “If in the first act you have a hung pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it in there.”

From the San’layn, to Saurfang, this principle applies through Battle for Azeroth’s storytelling. This, more than any other character, ultimately applies to Nathanos Blightcaller.

From the get-go of the expansion, Nathanos is the Horde’s dour overseer. He’s cruel, cold, calculating, but entirely devoted to the task at hand. While he fights avidly for the Warchief (and will tell you so to your face), it’s clear his goals are in line for the Horde as well. Despite clear affections for her Champion, Sylvanas was publicly rebuked all throughout the expansion’s storyline and beyond. His anti-Alliance sentiments were high and powerful, even to the point of murdering treasonous members of the Horde without command. While he is a dog of war, he is spurned on solely by his hatred of the living Alliance and revenge against them. While his devotion to Sylvanas is fanatical, it’s clear he is in no mood to mingle outside of his purpose.

Then we come to the Mak’gora. Saurfang’s now famous, and excellent, moment of redemption and heroism is witnessed by every mortal who matters on Azeroth. However, Sylvanas’ revelation that the Horde is nothing to her falls on only two important ears. The first of them being ‘Bannerbae,’ the First of Her Name and true *Tink Tink* of the Horde (that is canon, look it up). The second is every member of the Horde and the Alliance except Nathanos. Catching up with the pair after Sylvanas’ escape, one can find Nathanos calling her his, “love,” seemingly leaving all of his development to one side. His vengeance is abandoned, his battle lust discarded, and his cold demeanor finally accepts unrequited feelings simply ‘because.’

war campaign
This is only one of several unfired ‘guns’ throughout the plot, or moments that seem written simply to advance the plot because it frankly has nowhere else to go. Dazar’alor, the capital of the Zandalari Empire, is besieged and ransacked because despite their firm refusal to side with the Horde, they are a clearly neutral port allowing the Horde a place to stay. A neutral tactical target raided, ransacked, and having their king slain. In the same raid, we have the, “Death” of Gelbin Mekkatorque, leader of the Gnomes.

Except he’s not dead because he’s in a frozen cryogenic pod that no one can open. For some reason. Then of course we have the infamous moment of Tyrande Whisperwind quite literally telling Anduin Wrynn to piss off, merely to undertake a life-threatening ritual to the 1% of her surviving race to kill the Horde just because.

Some of this is incumbent of a game that now tries to setup its next expansion with the content of a current expansion. There are some plot threads that will inherently be dropped or avoided even when they don’t make sense to do so (ie. Why is Malfurion not fighting Azshara? Why aren’t ANY of the major Night Elves who didn’t take the ritual?). But that develops a weakened narrative as a whole, especially when a side-plot begins to be set-up to take over the end of the expansion. Despite us being sold a total world war with Battle for Azeroth, instead we now have an odd thing.


It’s often said that the only things we remember about a story are the beginning and the end. The beginning for how well it steps off and the end for how heavy of a conclusion it leaves. Much like the newest Avengers: Endgame, Battle for Azeroth was very much tied as the powerful continuation of a building tension in Azeroth. Instead of an engaging, earthshaking story we were instead taken on a trip of terrible stutters and stops. Where a cohesive, self-contained tale could have carried Azeroth up until Patch 8.2.5, instead we now find ourselves with a muddled mess. Where Red and Blue once clashed to light the world aflame, we now instead have a morally grey trash-heap. In an effort to make a story with Game of Thrones-esque twists and turns, we were left with an unfulfilling pile of confusing drivel.

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WoW Wednesday: The Future of the Battle For Azeroth

Battle for Azeroth has taken quite a few interesting turns and detours from its previous expansions. The general opinion is that, despite slight improvements to gearing over Legion’s static artifact system, the war for the world has taken a large step backward. Even with the heavy advancements with the Essence system and character progression Rise of Azshara introduced its clear that reception is less than positive for the expansion overall. Now that we are officially over halfway into the newest adventure in the wide World of Warcraft, we can begin to take some guesses as to where things might just take us next. What does the end of the Blood War have in store for us?

With the launch of Azshara’s Eternal Palace, we’ve seen the realization of N’zoth’s ten thousand year plan. The Old God of the deeps, with the assistance of Azshara, Xal’atath and the Champion of Azeroth, has managed to break his titanic prison. Those taking the fight to Azshara’s personal chambers will get to witness the event in full below. Despite her intent to use the Heart of Azeroth to become a goddess of her own, N’zoth instead unleashes his full might from the depths and buys his own freedom when she fails.

And then it simply ends. Frustratingly.

With Blizzard’s method of storytelling in Battle for Azeroth, it’s highly unlikely we’ll get much answer as to what the fallout of such an event is in the near future. Like previous installments of the War Campaigns, including the latest, its incredibly likely we’ll only see further story advancement during the next mini-patch in 8.2.5. With Xal’atath’s freedom in the Crucible of Storms its unclear where the Old God storyline is going from here, though its been made clear that Azshara is not gone forever. Rather instead, Blizzard employees have teased that the patch was named as such for careful reasons.

The only firm direction or knowledge of the plot we know is in direct correlation to the recent War Campaign. With Baine Bloodhoof’s rebellion in freeing Derek Proudmoore, he has since been imprisoned in the Heart of Orgrimmar. In the sanctum of Garrosh’s True Horde, Warchief Sylvanas Windrunner imprisoned the Chieftain with a bloodthirsty guard. Assisted by Thrall, Saurfang, Jaina Proudmoore and Mathias Shaw, players fight off rabid Sunreaver Mages in their hunt for justice against Proudmoore. Managing to free Baine, they teleport away to Thunder Bluff where Thrall and Jaina divine the next steps Sylvanas will take.

It is incredibly likely that Sylvanas will besiege Thunder Bluff and its people in order to seek her justice. This is the popular choice among storycrafters for the direction in which Patch 8.3 is going to go, as while the groundwork is present for N’zoth’s rise it is underdeveloped in several aspects. With the Great Gate of Mulgore featuring as a Warfront during Battle for Azeroth’s testing and development cycle, the groundwork IS already there for a large, zone-based raid or even a revamped Mulgore quest hub. With the War Campaign having been a major focus of the expansion’s earlier progression, it makes sense to resolve it in the last major patch.

That begs the question, “Where do we go from there?” With the large factional divide present throughout Battle for Azeroth, its incredibly unlikely we’ll see much of a peace accord fall together at Thunder Bluff. Even if the Alliance and Tauren pin Sylvanas against a cliff-face its been made clear that the Warchief will not surrender as Garrosh did. Clearly in an effort to tie off this expansion we’ll need some large ‘bad guy’ villain to unite the two factions in an alliance of survival. The Heart of Azeroth will undoubtedly be retired in lieu of the next expansion’s main gameplay system, as well as the concept of Azerite being widely available for our gear.

Logically, the conclusions all point towards one major brewing entity: N’zoth. While it is incredibly likely we could see something come right out of thin air as happened with Warlords of Draenor and Mists of Pandaria, Blizzard seems against such a notion. Previous expansions since Warlords tend to set up the narrative for the next expansion. Gul’dan’s escape at the Black Gate led to Legion, whereas Sargeras’ defeat lead to Battle for Azeroth. While we have had light teases into new concepts such as Helya’s return, the Dragon Isles and the Infinite Flight, it’s far more likely to lead into a Void related expansion.


As such, for 8.2.5 we could certainly expect that patch to deal with the fallout of both Azshara’s Eternal Palace and Baine’s Liberation. Patch 8.3 will most likely feature one of two things. The first is a siege upon Thunder Bluff if not a Great Gate Warfront, much to the chagrin of players who experienced the Siege of Orgrimmar several expansions ago. The second, and in my opinion less likely, possibility is the rise of N’zoth and his attack on the Heart Chamber in Silithus, it being Azeroth’s most vulnerable point. However, it makes much more narrative sense to tide the ‘big baddie’ to the next expansion and wrap up the war plot with a strong lead-in.

Falling in line with this theory, a poster on 4chan (which was later reposted to the WoW subreddit) posted a ‘leak.’ Most 4chan leaks, unlike other sites such as ResetEra, have historically been largely false. This particular post, made on the /b/-Random forum, is most likely just as fake as others. It does offer up an incredible wealth of possibilities for the narrative to travel in a hypothetical Patch 9.0.

This ‘leaked’ expansion, entitled Age of Darkness, sees N’zoth interrupting the Siege of Thunder Bluff during their final battle. Seeking to take Kalimdor as the first sect of his Black Empire, N’zoth rallies the Infinite Dragonflight and attempts to finally turn Nozdormu, the Aspect of Time, into their leader. Using their aid, he attempts to alter time to where the avatar of his brother, C’thun, was never defeated. Utilizing a revitalized Twilight’s Hammer cult, he then seeks to awaken C’thraxxi and Old God forces across the Eastern Kingdoms and Northrend.


Even if this isn’t the plan for the future, other thematic teases for upcoming expansions seem incredibly bleak. From Vol’jin’s quest throughout the Realm of Shadows and the Horde’s new-found crusade on behalf of Death itself, to the fanatical vengeance of the Night Elves on behalf of their new Night Warrior, conflict on Azeroth between the two factions will not end here. The war, however, does need to come to an end sooner than later; Ion Hazzikostas, Warcraft’s game director himself, has expressed interest in completing the relatively panned expansion promptly. With a brutal war on the horizon, and dark possibilities at every turn, there’s only one assured direction for Azeroth’s future.

A new giant threat will eventually arise. Let’s just hope this one is worth focusing an entire expansion around.

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WoW Wednesday: What’s New in Season 3?

Azshara has risen from the depths and with her comes Season 3 for Battle for Azeroth! As she begins to play the end of her long-prepared game, heroes race both towards and away from the terror she threatens to unleash. With the official beginning of Season 3, this week we’ll be diving into everything that’s new with its release.

Azshara’s Eternal Palace

First and foremost is the release of Battle for Azeroth’s third major raid tier, Azshara’s Eternal Palace. With the collapse of the Well of Eternity ten thousand years ago, Queen Azshara made a terrible bargain to save herself and her people. She would serve the Old Gods and N’zoth and build him an army of her people, if he yet made her a Queen over all. Through millennia of conquest and glory, the Naga have built an empire that stretches across the seas of Azeroth. Using the Tidestone of Golganeth, she has cordially invited both the Alliance and the Horde into Zin’azshari, the very seat of her power, to witness an ascension to godhood.

“Magnificent…”

Unlike the previous raid, The Battle for Dazar’alor, Azshara’s Eternal Palace follows a more traditional approach to its boss progression. Most of the encounters in its three wings must be defeated one after the other, aside from the second and third bosses. The Blackwater Behemoth and the Radiance of Azshara are both interchangeable in order but are radically different challenges for raid teams.

While cosmetic rewards abound in the Palace, certainly more in this tier than ever before, the main focus will be on collecting the Raid’s unique essence. Defeating one of the three Azshara-related encounters will reward you with a set number of Aqueous Reliquaries, which can be combined to create the raid’s Heart of Azeroth Essence. These three encounters are the Radiance of Azshara, the Queen’s Court, and Queen Azshara herself. Like previous rare raid items, the amount rewarded depends on the difficulty you engage, with Mythic rewarding the most.

Looking for Raid Wing 1 and Mythic Difficulty will open the week after your region’s particular launch of Season 3. Players will not be able to teleport to the raid’s entrance without completing their faction’s respective reputation-gated storyline achievements in Nazjatar.

Step Into the Arena!

Battle for Azeroth Season 3 brings a new and glamorous title to the mix, “Notorious Gladiator.” With the rollover into the next season of Rated PvP, both personal and matchmaking ratings will normalize and return to zero. This means a fresh start for all players seeking to carve their name into the halls of conquerors.

Returning to Season 3 is the graduated Elite Gladiator System, rewarding players who advance their rating with progressive unlockables for your Elite Notorious Gladiator sets, as well as the seasonal tabard, enchantment, and cloak. Those looking to claim the Gladiator Title and the Notorious Gladiator’s Proto-Drake must also win an additional 50 games in the Elite bracket (2400+). Those looking to claim the “Notorious Gladiator” title must place in the top 0.1% of rankings in their region, as well as claim 150 victories in 3v3 Arenas during Season 3. The returning Gladiator’s Dreadflame enchantment appearance will still be attainable for those who hit 2100 rating in Season 3.

Returning to Season 3 are temporary seasonal “Elite Class” titles. These titles will be awarded to players who reach the Elite bracket. Several PvP exclusive Essences will now begin to appear in Conquest Chests at week’s end, including Conflict and Strife. Others such as Blood of the Enemy can be unlocked through several PvP encounters. Like their PvE counterparts, these Essences have various ranks and may require improving your personal rating to unlock higher tiers.

At this time, Gladiator PvP sets from Seasons 1 and 2 will be unavailable to purchase until a later date.

Marvelous Mythic+

With the start of a new seasons comes a plethora of adjustments for the Dungeon Delvers of Azeroth. Unlike Season 2, there is not a baseline adjustment in enemy difficulty for Normal and Heroic dungeons. However Key difficulty is scaling far more aggressively in Season 3 to compensate, from an 8% increase in health and damage to 10% exponentially. While lower keystones won’t be affected much until approximately +4, those pushing higher end keys such as +10 will be facing a 114% increase in Season 3 compared to and 85% increase in Season 2.

With Azshara’s emergence from the depths, a new Mythic affix has been introduced as the Seasonal Affix: Beguiling. Added to every keystone that is level 10 or higher, Beguiling adds additional enemies throughout your Mythic+ dungeon. Azshara’s Emissaries have joined your dungeons in an effort to rally its leaders to her cause and will join to combat you. Different packs of mobs receive additional group-wide buffs from these emissaries, though the types and placements will change from week to week. There are three types of emissaries and a dungeon may have multiples of any type.

The Enchanted Emissary buffs their groups with a passive aura that redirects 150% of damage dealt back at the target. Players will want to prey on its passive ability Enchanted, which forces it back after being attacked, in order to damage its nearby allies. 20 seconds after being in combat, the Emissary will retreat to the Eternal Palace, removing it from the dungeon permanently once its energy is drained. Its energy will only drain when actively being engaged in combat.

The Emissary of the Tides supports its allies with Queen’s Decree: Unstoppable. This buff makes all nearby mobs immune to crowd control, aside from the Emissary. Unlike its counterparts, this mob will reset its health to full if the group wipes before defeating it.


Void-Touched Emissaries are the deadliest in the instance and cannot be snuck up on. Possessing a passive True Sight ability, the Emissary will only cast a 9-second ability in combat. The Queen’s Decree: Hide will deal shadow damage equal to 50% of maximum health to enemies in a line of sight within a 60-yard radius. This ability will debuff you with stacks of the same name, increasing ALL shadow damage dealt to you by 50%.

Players banking up their Titan Residuum for the Ethereal Traders will be pleased to note that Titan Residuum does not reset between seasons, meaning you can continue to save it for upcoming gear in Season 3. The amount players gain through looting their weekly chest and scrapping higher levels of Azerite Gear has also increased.

Releasing with Azshara’s Eternal Palace is Operation: Mechagon, a new 8 boss dungeon reserved only for Mythic difficulty. Similar to Karazhan’s remaster in Legion this difficulty will have unique rewards and reward elevated iLvl loot.

Upgrading Gear Tables!

Alongside the opening of Azshara’s Eternal Palace, players will find new loot with increased item levels in their weekly activities. Baseline rewards in Normal, Heroic, Mythic and Mythic+ dungeons have been increased by 30 item levels, putting them on par with The Battle for Dazar’alor and Crucible of Storms raid rewards.

Gladiator PvP gear now begins at item level 400 in both the Conquest Chest and regular rewards from Rated Player vs. Player activities. Like last season, players will be able to choose from at least four different rewards in their weekly Conquest Bar. On weeks when the gear rewarded is neither a piece of Azerite gear, trinket or weapon, players will be able to choose between two different item slots of gear.

Emissary rewards for World Quests have likewise been increased and several items may re-roll or update their stats with the start of the Season.

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WoW Wednesday: Blizzard’s Proposed ‘Level Squish’

The World of Warcraft is a very old game. Celebrating its 15th anniversary later this year the wide world of Azeroth has seen quite a bit of change over the years. Despite adding more and more to its end-game content, however, there has been a clear and deprecating problem to the overall experience. This experience, alongside Battle for Azeroth’s many other issues, continues to degrade the overall quality of the game and can be the biggest turn off for new players. I speak of course about Warcraft’s leveling experience.

We’ve talked about this before on WoW Wednesday in an article several months ago. There we discussed the controversial Draught of Ten Lands ban and why players seek to exploit their way to the end-game. Venturing through Azeroth’s old, and sometimes primitive content, can be utterly painful. While long strides were taken to revamp older content in Cataclysm, both Outland and Northrend still feature obsolete systems that stall the leveling process. Changes during 7.3 to experience gains also drastically elongated the process. Simply speaking, to level a character isn’t fun.

As such, Blizzard is now looking to reduce levels in World of Warcraft by squishing them to what they call a ‘dramatically lower’ number. An internal survey sent to multiple Blizzard departments (featured below) as well as players doing Customer Service surveys shows that the idea is a near certainty. While teased and suggested before in the past, such a thing has never been considered before. In the past it has seen several stat squishes with both Warlords of Draenor and Battle for Azeroth. These reduced overall numbers which by their previous expansion’s end had fallen into the several million range. We’ve also seen a sizable reduction in abilities for classes during the great ‘pruning’ at the start of Warlords.

A level squish, in my opinion, is neither a desirable solution nor the correct one.


Frankly its hard to know what exactly Blizzard is planning to do with this as press inquires from multiple outlets have simple received a, ‘no comment,’ response. Hypothetically, what would a level squish look like?

Frankly we could see a squish drop down to as much as level 60 reasonably. The first twenty levels could take place in the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. The next ten could feature Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King content. 40 and onward could take place over Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. 50-60 could culminate in the latest three expansions, with the last few levels covering all of Battle for Azeroth.

The problem isn’t that level numbers have gotten too ridiculous. It’s simply that leveling has gotten ridiculous and there has been no attempt to fix it. While true, there have been adjustments to  gains and experience over the last few years, these have done two things. The first, as we’ve already surmised, is lengthening overall leveling time after level 60. The second has been more of a patchwork fix to try and allow people to choose what content they can undergo, giving certain brackets a choice where they’d like to tackle their grind.


Here’s the greater issue. No matter where you go, leveling simply isn’t fun. Whether its your first time or your twenty-first time, leveling is not an enjoyable experience. Gameplay is not engaging; there are no rewards to questing over the easy grinding that dungeons can garner (unless you enjoy titles). Unlike later expansions, which have made an attempt to be narratively engaging, there are no attempts in any of the first four that do not otherwise tie directly into end-game content. These storylines then become obsolete when players cross the level threshold and are forced (by breadcrumb quests designed to do so) into the next legacy expansion’s content. That cycle then repeats itself and gets incredibly boring INCREDIBLY quickly.

Meanwhile, especially for newer players, leveling time is impossibly long. As a player at max level, pushing through an alt, you can realistically level a character to 120 in a week if you played for five hours a day. That’s with full heirloom gear, all three different experience buff potions, with a monk, doing nothing but dungeons.

A newer player could spend at least three times that long, and only if they knew exactly where to go.

Let’s be honest, who wants to spend 160 hours on a game that frankly sucks to play?

world of warcraft raiding

There are two methods to go about fixing this. One is, of course, completely overhauling leveling. This would be an incredible amount of work to go about and re-do the entire game up until Battle for Azeroth, retooling quests and making the whole world more engaging. This is frankly straight up impossible and unfeasible not just from a game development standpoint but a business standpoint. As we’ve seen in Battle when content is dreadful, like Patch 8.1, it is in Blizzard’s best interest to redouble efforts on the next end-game patch and push forward to better content. Most of its player base is full of end-game content players.

However, in doing that they ignore newer players unwilling to make that grind and thus lose more of a potential player base.

The other solution is to introduce new systems into leveling to make it more enjoyable.

This can be done in many ways, but the easiest to perform would be introducing new intrinsic reward systems. In game development there are two methods of doing so. The first, an extrinsic reward system, would be introducing new elements outside of normal gameplay process. Comparable extrinsic systems we’ve seen are akin to the Artifact Skin system in Legion; it wasn’t something that was used in the natural flow of the game. These were simply additional bits to bolt on to existing gameplay.

The other, intrinsic, are systems that tie directly into the gameplay and can be seen as inseparable. It’s easy to introduce extrinsic systems, such as the Heart of Azeroth’s new Essences in Patch 8.2, to bolster old ones. Intrinsic systems must be carefully crafted, however, in order to be successful.


Take the old talent systems. Players from Warcraft’s Classic era may remember the three branching talent trees. Unlike the current 6 tier, 18 selection system, the older talent system featured roughly 49 talent points which could be spent on an expanding tree. This system was later introduced most effectively in the Borderlands franchise, where it remains as a great example of Classic’s old design philosophy. Whereas the current system focuses on large-scale changes immediately, the older system focused on progressive change over time.

There are perks to both systems. Now, talents are very versatile and can be changed for a variety of situations. In Classic this was not the case, where there were often singular optimized builds to collect specific necessary stats and abilities due to severe class underdevelopment and imbalance. However, you got a talent point for every level after 10 in Classic, meaning that every level you had something to look forward to. Now, you get one point every fifteen levels. Perhaps you get one ability every four or five. Instead of small development you have a wide array of control over, you now have BIG developments that quickly feel like extrinsic additions that your class doesn’t require.

Even crunching the required levels in half for leveling, that won’t change the time required to go to the NEXT major development. It will still realistically take the same time, just now you’ll have less of the pretty colors and nice sounds to enjoy.


So what is a realistic fix for this? Simply make leveling more rewarding.

Despite my opinions on most of Classic being poor gameplay, it knew how to reward players. While the talent system is primitive (and perhaps incompatible for current Warcraft), it intrinsically rewarded players consistently. It was exciting to plan out your progression and try new things. Even in terms of individual class identity every single class had a new quest to unlock abilities or unique weapons every ten to twenty levels. Most famously are the Warlock and Paladin Mount questlines, but Shaman also had several involved adventures to procure their next elemental totems. Warriors got incredible weapons and their new stances through questing as well.

This is partly why Legion was so celebrated. It felt GOOD to not only perform duties as the paragon of you Class, but to do MORE as a member of your class. While Warcraft is an MMORPG, the RPG part of that experience has been missing for an incredibly long time. Introducing more class-based elements as players progress, even as simple as new story-based quests, is a good way to start.

YouTuber Bellular has one of the better suggestions in an additional ‘latent power’ talent system. This system would introduce a new branching tree that would unlock as you progress. Unlike talents, which are variable, these would become passive abilities to engage in throughout world content. As they would be turned off during instanced content, there would be no need to balance them, allowing players to grow in power more and more over time.


Additionally, introducing new milestone rewards over time may be another concept. We have such a system now in both the new Heritage Armor transmogs. Every ten levels simply unlock a new transmogrification outfit for your class based on the zone you’ve been leveling in. Not only would this encourage players to level to that next major milestone (often offset from talents), it would also encourage playing on every continent. This would elongate playtime, something that Blizzard currently seems to want.

All of these are extrinsic systems. These are additions that are not going to fix the main problem of Warcraft. They don’t make leveling fun; they simply make it more REWARDING to perform. The fun comes from getting more flashy bits to enjoy, less so from the experience of leveling. The intrinsic problem Blizzard has will require an intrinsic solution. For now the best we can hope for is an addition to the problem that makes the suffering a little more enjoyable.

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WoW Wednesday: The Gatekeeping of the End Game

World of Warcraft is a deceptively easy game to pick up and play. Despite all of its issues in pacing and progression throughout the leveling experience just about every single class is intuitive enough in Battle for Azeroth to quickly grasp. I myself can personally attest to that fact; despite maining a Priest for most of BFA, I’ve recently made the transition to a Hunter alt that I’m enjoying and slowly polishing my skills with. While I’m certainly nowhere near ready to begin pushing the arena rating I want with it, I’m more than prepared to start hitting for the lower aspects of the ladders. However, even with more skilled characters players can often find themselves facing down particular situations in Warcraft that can slow if not bar their progress in the end-game entirely. Gatekeeping is a problem in WoW.

Now what is gatekeeping? Gatekeeping is a method identified as barring or controlling people from participating in or using certain things. In Warcraft this occurs primarily in two major streams of the endgame both in Mythic and Heroic raiding, but also predominantly in Rated Player vs. Player content.

Why does gatekeeping occur? For one simple reason: content is hard.


In the Raiding scene Mythic (or Cutting Edge) raiding is the most mechanically difficult content in
World of Warcraft. A perfect example of the intensity raiders have to mitigate can be witnessed in the Gul’dan encounter in Mythic Nighthold from Legion. The encounter begins with Gul’dan’s fully powered-up state from previous difficulties at the beginning of the fight, further increasing already high damage numbers due to difficulty. Gul’dan then empowers himself to a further state over the course of the battle including a move that can instantly kill players during a phase transition at 66% health. After his defeat, the fight then continues with a unique encounter against a new boss enemy, with new abilities and difficult mechanics. All of this falls on top of increased boss health, enemy mobs spawning in, increased damage percentiles and people managing 20-man groups to pull off the encounter flawlessly.

It’s not hard to see why players involved in raiding want to settle for their best teams possible. This form of self-curation has existed since Vanilla Warcraft, where players could become both famous and infamous within their server community. Later during Wrath Gearscore became the mark that players measured each other’s skill level, as most classes were incredibly gear dependent to a certain extent. Up until Battle for Azeroth with the release of Raider.IO, item level became the big determining factor for player recruitment.

Rated Player Vs. Player content features similar issues across the board due to its reward systems and tiers. In Battle for Azeroth rewards are now gameplay oriented, however, throughout RPvP’s history impressive cosmetic rewards have been synonymous with elite status. Those rewards are tied directly to your Rating, a publicly viewable score that actively adjusts based on your performance. Your personal rating will go up and down as you win matches, increasing and decreasing at a higher rate depending on who you participate with. If you win games with players with a higher rating, yours will skyrocket. If you lose matches while playing with those who have a lower rating than yours, it will plummet.


As such, players naturally only want to compete and play with those of a similar rating and perceived skill level. Some will only want to play with particular, guaranteed proven compositions of classes. With RPvP rewards being restricted to the highest echelons of players, of course others only want to compete with the best of the best. At any moment you could find yourself on a losing streak and your rating could drop between fifty points or five-hundred points depending on your partners’ placement.


Thus comes an incumbent problem with these aspirations of the end-game. Whether you want to be the Gladiator or the killer of Mythic Jaina, players naturally only want to work with those on their skill level to minimize their wasted time. As such, the bar is set high to disqualify those without either the experience in completing lesser difficulties or the equipment and higher gear on their character. Some face fewer issues depending on their server population, some higher. Being based on an RP server, we have one super-sized PvP guild and as such I need to form pick-up-groups if I wish to progress in Rated Battlegrounds. A personal friend based on a PvP oriented realm faces a similar issue with only a handful of raiding guilds and none forming any additional teams.

As such, here’s where we find the problem with gatekeeping magnified. Is gatekeeping inherently wrong? Absolutely not. As a current player in the RPvP circuit, forced exclusivity has forced me to play better in compositions and learn as much as I can. Certainly, I just lost 20 rating with a bad team but now I can recognize the differences between a very good Rogue and a very bad one. Of course, my friend lost a night raiding a Mythic PuG and wiping on the first boss, but now they recognize what really doesn’t make a good raid leader. Failing is as good a teaching tool as playing beside higher-level competitors. Is it frustrating to want progression and effectively take three huge steps backwards? Absolutely.


So what is the solution to this issue, at least in the World of Warcraft? Surely its to get a team of your own together, and on the surface this is a good solution. However, for higher player content, such as Rated Battlegrounds and Mythic Raiding, this becomes innately more difficult. It’s a simple task to rally a few friends for Arenas, despite the fact that high-level rewards are now only afforded to top-tier 3v3 players. However, the often more expansive and broader gameplay is instead even more difficult to breach into due to sheer numbers. Cultivating a cohesive team in the long term is a task that most players simply do not have the time to engage with, nor the skillset to maintain.

 

So here’s my question to you: Gatekeeping seems to be a necessary part of culling the chaff from the wheat. But when that chaff is really some of the most eager and healthiest bushels of the plant, where do we as players have to go against our gut and give people a better chance?

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WoW Wednesday: The Heart of Azeroth’s Problem

The World of Wacraft has seen a lot of controversial change over the years. From the mishandling of the Arena power-game in The Burning Crusade to the train wreck that was Warlords of Draenor, Azeroth controversy has not gone unnoticed. Battle for Azeroth, however, has been the expansion that has scraped the bottom of the bucket in more regards than one. Despite strong appreciation and enjoyment of the questing systems and experience both Kul Tiras and Zandalar offered at launch, these days positive reception of the game has slowed to an outright crawl if not turned outwardly hostile. Part of this poor perspective relies on the expansion’s pointedly flawed system, the Heart of Azeroth.

The first signs were on the wall as of Legion with the retiring of our powerful artifact weapons. Despite heavy criticism towards the endless concordance of the Legionfall grind and a lack of player choice in its linear system, players enjoyed their artifacts and all the perks that came with it. Some, like the Shadow Priest, had utterly unique personalities hidden in their weapons. Others, such as the Subtlety Rogue, had smaller but no less important affects. Without question, however, Artifact Weapons were difficult if not impossible to appropriately balance; tweaking one golden trait might fix how much bleeding damage Warriors are doing in Rated-PvP but it might also make them that much less utilized in Mythic Raiding Content due to total damage output.

Thus, the Heart of Azeroth was born: a necklace that leveled with a similar Artifact Power system. However, instead of the linear player progression most complained about, this system would instead unlock traits on your equipment. These traits were randomly generated on some pieces but set in stone on others.


This was where the train started to rumble off of the tracks.

RNG, or Random-Number-Generation, gameplay has always been an issue with MMOs of any type. Games need a reason to hook you into daily, if not monthly play. Developers want you to keep coming back and spending your money. Its why, to this day, Invincible and the Time-Lost Proto Drake are two of the most prestigious and difficult mounts to achieve for burgeoning collectors. Player gear has often been subjected to RNG as well, from “Will my tier piece drop” to the newer Warforged and Titanforging systems.

Now players would have to deal with that on individual pieces of very limited gear. This Azerite Gear falls lower in drop priorities than other pieces of loot. It cannot War or Titanforge, and it often has a lower item level than your current difficulty tier (Rated-PvP and Mythic+ gear is often 5-10 iLvls lower). Its unlockable abilities can range from a moderate buff for healers to a vital aspect of your class that changes how you play.

Take a Priest for example. For Discipline Enduring Luminescence is a vital trait as it increases our only Area of Effect Heal’s output, as well as Atonement which is our primary healing buff. For Shadow Priests our most important trait, arguably, is Chorus of Insanity. On high-end Azerite pieces this trait turns our Voidform buff, which stacks every second in Voidform, into a very large critical strike buff which affects the entire damage set. These numbers also increase with higher iLvl Azerite Gear, making it vital to progress in quality if you want your character’s power to increase. Both traits above, without their inclusion, can severely break your performance in every aspect of gameplay. Sub-optimal traits, even ones suited for your favorite content, will harshly affect your performance. Some traits can be stacked, others cannot and there is no manner in which to tell until you use it in practice.

Now on first glace this seems like a far better solution to issues that occurred in Legion’s artifact system. From here traits can be fine-tuned exceptionally without disrupting every possible part of the artifact system for one class (aside from role related traits). Despite this several of the system’s more interesting, and frankly more powerful traits, can and have been nerfed into the ground before. Both Arcane and Fire mages have felt their most powerful and game-changing traits destroyed in Equipoise and Blaster Master respectively. Consequently, classes have been designed weaker to compensate for Azerite Traits, meaning that when something is hit with a nerf you cannot escape feeling it.

A typical Azerite Armour piece.

For those who only want one set of gear or have the unfortunate luck to have one piece be best for multiple specs, you’ll be reforging your traits often. Performed at the Ethreal Traders in Zuldazar and Boralus, reforging costs a small amount of gold to reset your Azerite Traits. Similar to old talent resetting systems, this cost increases the more you perform it and does not reset in totality week by week. Thus if you find yourself fulfilling multiple raid roles in a week without multiple Azerite pieces you can quickly rack up gold costs in the tens of thousands.

Despite the RNG and targeted nerfing there are aspects of the Heart of Azeroth that players do like. It puts the power of choice back into player’s hands and allows them to hunt particular pieces of gear for the traits they want. There is still the artifact power grind for players seeking for something to always do. Players can set goals for what they want in the Azerite System and there is a semblance of controlled balance across classes. Understandably there are many people who do not like the system. Despite complaints over two patches about how weak classes fee

As such Blizzard are endeavoring to fix it. In Patch 8.2, Rise of Azshara, Blizzard will be introducing the Heart Forge; a system of collectible essences for your Heart of Azeroth that can be reequipped at any time. Certain gameplay actions can collect essences, with greater power coming in higher quality traits (up to Legendary). These can be exchanged any time you are in a rested area and include a variety of role-based abilities.

There are, of course, a host of problems with that last sentiment. The same traits that a Rogue can take may also be the most optimal for a Balance Druid. What a Protection Warrior might need can also be the most favorable trait for a Blood Death Knight. As such when one trait is nerfed for a role it affects a multitude of classes which can put a weaker performing class in a further unfavorable position. And for these new traits nerfs ARE coming. Some, like that below, are so ludicrous that several classes can regularly stay in a high-power position for minutes while having virtually no down-time. The numbers for these new traits are so obscene that the official class discords refuse to talk about them because they believe they will not make it to live in its current form.

One of the Heart’s newer controversial essences.

The PTR for 8.2 is out, however, and so far the only number changes we have seen belong to the price of reputation mounts. The Heart of Azeroth is the heart of Battle for Azeroth’s several incumbent problems. Right now, from where I’m sitting, it seems those problems are only going to get worse.

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WoW Wednesday: The Noble Garden!

The great feast of Noblegarden has long been celebrated by the races of the Alliance, and in more recent years has been adopted by the races of the Horde. During this joyous celebration it is customary for the nobles and lords from each race to hide coins, candy and the occasional treasures within special eggs painted to look like wildflowers throughout Azeroth. Based in the long druidic festivals of old, Noblegarden as the denizens of Azeroth now know it is a blend of ancient Kaldorei history and modern youthful vigor.

During the celebration of Noblegarden, the World of Warcraft takes a different tone, even far more relaxed in comparison to other World Events dotted throughout the year. During the Feast of Noblegarden the towns of Azeroth are sprinkled with treats and surprises hidden inside the simple Noblegarden Egg. This week we’ll be taking a look at the holiday and giving you the steps needed to become a noble yourself!

Unlike other major holidays there is no large event associated with Noblegarden. Everything tied to the holiday can be completed by picking up Brightly Colored Eggs around the towns of the Alliance (Goldshire, Kharanos, Dolanaar and Azure Watch), the Horde (Brill, Razor Hill, Bloodhoof Village and Falconwing Square) and Shattrath. These eggs will often drop Noblegarden Chocolates which isn’t just a delicious sweet treat, but also serves as the currency for the season to purchase vanity items. Players may also find cosmetic equipment in their eggs, such as bunny ears, entire dresses or a small fluffy friend to call your own.

An Adventurer and his fluffy friend!

As such, both your desire to collect items throughout the event and completion of the Noble Gardener meta-achievement are entirely tied to your want to collect eggs. As such, we recommend you look at hunting eggs during VERY off-peak hours for your server, lest you find more competition than you’d like. Its also recommended you go searching in either Brill for the Horde, or Dolanaar for the Alliance with the recent world changes in Battle for Azeroth. Simply speak to Zidormi and you’ll be transported to a point in time where you can collect these delicious treats.

The meta-achievement for Noblegarden is the Noble Gardener, which is a requirement for the holiday meta What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been and will award the title <the Noble>. The list is actually much shorter than most other World Events and can easily be completed in an evening if you find yourself lucky or without much competition. All in all, you’ll need roughly 305 Noblegarden Chocolates to complete your meta-achievement, though each clothing item you’ll require can also drop from your egg-finding. It’s recommended that you don’t spend a single egg until you’ve found all the ones you’ll need.

I Found One! is the easiest to complete by far. Simply loot your first Brightly Colored Egg!

Chocolate Lover and Chocoholic are two achievements tied to the same meta-chain. All you have to do is go searching for one hundred Brightly Colored Eggs and eat the delicious Noblegarden Chocolate found within! And don’t worry, unlike Hallow’s End you won’t get an upset stomach from eating too many sweets.

Desert Rose is the first of the several outfit related achievements. First you must collect the Spring Robes by either purchasing them from the holiday vendors for 50 Noblegarden Chocolates or finding them inside a Brightly Colored Egg. Equipping the robes will enable you to activate its Use ability, which plants a flower at your feet. Once you’ve got them on simply travel to each of the five zones listed and plant a flower anywhere within them.

Blushing Bride requires you to kiss someone wearing an Elegant Dress while you are wearing a White Tuxedo Shirt and Black Tuxedo Pants. These clothes also have a chance to drop from Brightly Colored Eggs, reducing the chocolates needed to complete your meta. Completion for this achievement will only be rewarded to those using the Spring Tuxedo two-piece set, and not the tuxedo set that tailors can craft. As these items are not bind on pickup, however, you can also purchase them on the auction house or swap clothes with a friend (if you’re feeling adventurous).

Hard Boiled is perhaps the most complicated achievement on this list sheerly due to logistics. After being polymorphed into a bunny, either by opening Brightly Colored Eggs or being transformed by a Blossoming Branch, you must travel to the Golakka Hot Springs in Un’Goro Crater and lay an egg. As most of the egg-collecting towns are either too far north of Kalimdor, and mounting up will dispel the polymorph, either you must run to Un’goro on foot (taking care not to enter combat or get hit along the way) or have a friend transform you in the Hot Springs.

Once there simply simply sit anywhere at the Hot Springs for a few moments until you lay an egg!

Spring Fling requires you to go to your Faction’s four towns celebrating Noblegarden and find your pet Spring Rabbit someone to mate with. The Spring Rabbit Battle Pet is one of several items that has the opportunity to come from the Brightly Colored Eggs. With your pet in hand you can head out to each of the four towns and find another player with a Spring Rabbit pet. After a few moments of the rabbits noticing each other, the magic will happen. Yes, its exactly what you think it means.

Noble Garden requires players to hide an egg in their respective city of nobles. These eggs can be purchased from the Vendors and can be looted once you’ve set them down for a Noblegarden Chocolate and perhaps another item. Horde players will need to hide their eggs in Silvermoon City, while Alliance players have to hide them in Stormwind.

Shake Your Bunny-Maker is the last achievement for Noble Gardener and is the most difficult on the list to complete. Players must first collect their Spring Flowers from the local vendor or a Brightly Colored Egg before going out to hunt their would-be victims. With your flowers in hand players must now seek out other players of at least 18th level, placing rabbit ears on their head. Yes, it’s exactly what you think it means.

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WoW Wednesday: Who is Xal’atath?

Battle for Azeroth has seen its fair share of movers and shakers in its lore in just one patch. From Sylvanas Windrunner to Tyrande Whisperwind, every major lore figure is quickly making world-changing decisions with just a snap of their fingers. Other shadowy organizations lurk behind the scenes, however. Last week we talked about the Infinite Dragonflight and their potential return to wreak havoc on the timeways. This week, with the release of the Crucible of Storms, we’ve seen the rise of a newer face to the World of Warcraft. Giving N’zoth the tools to free himself from his prison, this character threatens to reshape the very tenants of what we know about the Void as a whole. Today we’ll be taking a look at what may be the only free Old God that has ever existed: Xal’atath.

Xal’atath certainly isn’t new to Azeroth, having made her debut in Legion as a Shadow Priest Artifact Weapon. Her history, however, dates back much, much further. Nearly as old, if not older, than the original Black Empire of the Old Gods, Xal’atath’s true nature is shrouded in mystery. Whether she was the weakest of the Old Gods, or initially a claw of Y’shaarj himself, Xal’atath was a blade of renowned power. Infused with the most powerful spells of the Black Empire, Xal’atath was a weapon worthy of its title.

Xal’atath

The many faces of Xal’atath, Blade of the Black Empire.

Much like Tolkien’s One Ring from The Lord of the Rings, Xal’atath always had a will of its own, and her mysteries have eluded even the most diligent students over time. Changing from hand to hand, Xal’atath has made several pointed appearances throughout Azeroth’s history sowing death wherever it emerged. Its most savage eruption was when it found itself in the hands of Zan’do, a Gurubashi Witch Doctor who had been ousted from a position of prestige within his tribe. Stumbling across the blade, his thoughts were easily warped into doing its bidding, Xal’atath’s whispers too seductively. Following its promises of power, Zan’do was led to a mountain deemed forbidden by his people. Urged to make blood offerings to the slumbering Loa beneath, Zan’do awoke the mountain and unwittingly gave new life to Kith’ix. The being, an ancient General of the Old Gods, awakened their insectoid servants in the region and started the world-wide conflict known as the Aqir and Troll War.

Xal’atath returned to reshape current history, both influencing the War of the Three Hammers, and the birth of the Cult of the Forgotten Shadow. This religion, founded by Natalie Seline, is one that current day Forsaken most popularly practice, though the faith is spread throughout the Horde and the Alliance. Seeking to understand the dark magics Orc Necroplytes used in the First war, Priestess Seline eventually came across the Black Blade in her travels. By the Second War she had not only learned to wield it to dramatic effect but taught it to her growing sect of followers. At every step Xal’atath twisted their belief into mindless fanaticism, eventually resulting in Seline’s disciples murdering her in her sleep and claiming the blade for themselves.

World of Warcraft Legion Priests
With the Third Invasion of the Burning Legion, the Priests of Netherlight Temple sought artifacts of all powers to resist the encroaching demonic forces. It didn’t take long for its senior members to discover that the Twilight’s Hammer, a doomsday cult associated with the Old Gods, had begun a dark ritual in Tirisfal Glades. Sending their High Priest to investigate, they discovered that the sect had begun using Xal’atath to resurrect Zakajz the Corruptor, a C’thraxxi general who had served alongside Kith’ix. Thwarting their plans, the Priest found themselves in position of Xal’atath, who promised that they would do great things together.

Together Xal’atath and the High Priest travelled to both the Broken Shore and Argus, empowering the Black Blade through artifacts of all sorts to combat the Legion. Players grew intimately connected with the ancient weapon as it fed upon their works to save Azeroth. Indeed she talks often to players wielding her, and warns of far darker things to come for the world.

“It appears the prison of N’zoth is not as strong as it once was… Another seed of corruption planted in death… The last prison weakens. We must prepare.”

After defeating the tortured soul of Argus, Azeroth bore witness to Sargeras, the Dark Titan of the Burning Legion, driving his weapon into the crust of their world. Its dark energy threatening to disrupt it, heroes from all walks of life were called to aid. Using the combined powers of their artifacts (and much to the displeasure of the Blade) the heroes of Azeroth sealed away the Dark Titans power, leaving their weapons dormant.

Xal’atath was thought to be destroyed.


Yet still it persisted. Kept by the High Priest of Netherlight, Xal’atath would lay in slumber until the Blood War in Battle for Azeroth. After the disastrous invasion of Dazar’alor, Naga forces swept upon the shores of Zandalar and Kul Tiras, intent on making their footholds for a future invasion. Reawakening Xal’atath, she revealed that the Naga sought to conjure a storm like no other. When unleashed it would be greater than even the Wrath of Azshara with its potential to scour all of Azeroth. Using three artifacts, the Void Stone, the Trident of Deep Ocean, and the Tempest Caller, the Naga would control dominion over all of Azeroth.

Guiding the adventurer to Drustvar, Xal’atath confronted the High Elf Inanis, attempting to wield the Void Stone’s power. After killing her, Xal’atath drew upon the relic’s power to revitalize herself, and possessed Inanis’ corpse as her vessel. Guiding her champion to the other two relics, she took them to the Crucible of Storms in Stormsong Valley.

Instead of halting the Naga invasion, Xal’atath revealed her true nature. Proclaiming her chosen champion was, “the Opener, the Bringer of Truths, and the Torch That Lights the Way,” she offered the relics and her victim as a bargain to N’zoth. In exchange he severed Xal’atath from her blade, giving her both freedom and a corporeal form. In return she was to leave the blade behind, and left her champion with a promise that their paths would cross again.

Xal’atath

“Before you walked this land… -I- RULED!”

This was not the final fate of the Black Blade. Adventurers seeking to retrieve the three artifacts and stop the coming of the storm also came across the empty relic. Champions of the Horde, compelled by the dark power that still resonated in the weapon, knew it to be a powerful weapon. Now with dramatic losses in their military, they took it to their Warchief. Delivering it unto Sylvanas Windrunner, players were left with a second ominous promise about the future of Azeroth and the fate of both Xal’atath and the Blade of the Black Empire;

“The Fall of Night Reveals Her True Face. She will bring only ruin.”

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WoW Wednesday: Identifying Class Identity

World of Warcraft and its latest expansion, Battle for Azeroth, are perhaps one of the greatest representations of the high-fantasy genre in popular gaming culture. While others have done it first, and some might argue better, the wide world of Azeroth has taken us on wide-reaching journeys in its twenty-five year history. Coming off of a gigantic demon invasion and with a Lovecraftian foe not far off on the horizon, Warcraft is certainly not short of its diversity when it comes to the fantasy genre. However, whereas the denizens of Azeroth have a flourishing world to inhabit and survive in, the players sadly do not.

Fantasy has always been a vital part of any RPG game, let alone the MMO genre. Warcraft, however, suffers from missing any sort of fantasy or lore in its most vital areas: the character classes.


Class Fantasy is a very broad topic to touch on, especially for a weekly column. The idea of Class Fantasy is every effect and piece of world-related lore that helps build out the concept and identity of your player-class. Some concepts are easier to build out than others; Warriors are fighters of martial prowess and weapon skills. Priests are typically healers of faith who use religious powers to support their comrades in battle. Not all classes are built on so simple a concept, nor are their roots so cut and dry; Shamanism in the world has seen many things from ritual sacrifices to communing with ancestors, Pagan Druidism contains more concepts of religiosity in line with a typical Priesthood.

This is where we stumble upon the need for Class Fantasy and history in RPGs. These ideas and concepts flesh out not just the lore of a class but its very identity to the playerbase. A lot of it can be built up through flavor text and ability animations but Warcraft has issues with its class fantasy due to how it conveys its main point of storytelling.

Take for example Star Wars: The Old Republic, the MMORPG developed by Bioware Houston. As the player-character progresses through the game’s main storylines they are also driven by a personal class storyline. This storyline is tailored directly to the idea and fantasy of that player’s class and is built around the core design concepts during development.


World of Warcraft has no such thing for its player classes. Older players may remember systems in Classic that helped to convey these ideas. While many classes had particular quests to unlock major spells or ability upgrades, some like the Rogue Class had entire professions dedicated to vital performance enhancing abilities like poisons. Each player class filled its own niche uniquely, some to the controversy of others in comparison to Paladin and Shaman buffs. This idea of unique systems continued to stretch forward even into Wrath of the Lich King, with Death Knights inheriting their Runeforging system to enchant their blades with class-specific buffs.

An extensive amount of these quests and systems have been removed over the years, the only remaining artifacts being old cooking recipes some classes used. Due to very legitimate complaints of class stacking in some end-game instances we have seen those niches widened to accommodate multiple classes. Some of this has been completely unintentional simply due to the fact that not every class specialization in Classic was viable; Discipline Priests and Enhancement Shaman had at one point intended to be tanks, but the specs were simply incomplete.

This idea of, “class homogenization,” has become more prevalent over the years as specializations begin to share some of the design and gameplay concepts of others. More and more we see the Rogue Combo-Point system spread into Monk, Warlock and other caster designs. We see Warrior Rage mechanics pushed into newer and creative avenues in the Shadow Priest. Core concepts and niches can realistically be filled by almost any particular class or specialization.

So now we come to a very important question, “What makes any class different from the other?” Certainly, Mages are not Demon Hunters, as they play completely differently. But what separates Demon Hunters from Rogues? What is the difference between Warlocks and Mages, realistically?


Legion answered the question masterfully with its Class Order Halls. Tied into the main storyline of the expansion, players took a vital role in banding together famous paragons of their classes into Orders to fend of the demonic Burning Legion. While panned for being not as widely utilized as many hoped, the Order Halls injected an incredible amount of lore and storytelling into a field that players had been craving for years. Some of the Order Halls feature my personal favorite storylines to date, with the Rogue and Death Knight campaigns being some of my most vivid experiences in Legion. Many introduced brand new possibilities and characters, while others saw the changing of an old-guard in pushing new characters to the forefront.

For new players to Azeroth, this is the only sort of building out class identity receives. There is realistically almost ten full hours of adventuring throughout the wide World of Warcraft before players experience any sort of building out of their class. While we touched on the issue of the new player experience last week, this issue radiates beyond just that. In Battle for Azeroth there is no semblance remaining of the Order Halls, instead abandoned for a rather stilted faction war. With the abandonment of tiered raid sets for armor-type designs it really feels that there is no intent to illustrate the cultural ideas of each class anytime soon.

So what makes any class different from the other? While a Druid casts Nature magic and a Paladin throws about hammers of Light both heal their allies adequately enough. A Warrior tanks damage just as effectively as a Death Knight. What separates each class aside from ability flavor in Azeroth? What makes each player class realistically stand out from its peers in their fields aside from a nameplate and a class color? The answer that I come to again and again is nothing. After an expansion that put the ideas of its classes to the forefront, after looking at other MMOs that put that emphasis on individual designs of its unique heroes, it simply makes the World of Warcraft look a little flatter and darker in comparison.

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