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