War has touched every aspect of Azeroth’s wild and untamed horizon in the last fifteen years of its history. In Battle for Azeroth players have gotten to experience that ongoing faction war first hand in both its deep-rooted storylines and in the game’s newest instanced content: Warfronts. One of the few ulterior modes of gameplay aside from Raid Tier and Rated PvP, Warfronts offer players the chance to take the field in some of the world’s most heavily contested battlefronts. The main question I wanted to ask this week is why? Why should players invest their time in warfronts, why should Blizzard continue the trend, and why is it that these great pieces of content lose their luster so incredibly quickly?
For those not present in World of Warcraft’s current expansion, Warfronts are just that; Players parachute and storm a currently in-progress battleground between the Horde and Alliance that must be claimed. Securing a foothold for their faction, players then proceed to engage in a Player vs. Environment battle as they take territory along the battlements and advance upon the enemy’s fortress. Gathering resources heroes of the Horde and the Alliance will reinforce their own battlements while creating new weapons for their troops, creating siege weapons and eventually striking down the enemy commander.
Battle for Azeroth started the Warfront with its greatest showing so far. Taking fight to the Arathi Highlands, heavily featured in Christie Golden’s pre-expansion novel Before the Storm, this area has long since been in conflict since World of Warcraft’s inception. Originally struggled for by the Defilers and League of Arathor in Arathi Basin, the Highland’s Warfront features some of the game’s greatest legacy characters making their stands against each other. For the first time since the original Warcraft: Orcs vs. Humans, Danath Trollbane, the rightful ruler of the Kingdom of Stromgarde and the territory of Arathi returns home to claim the warfront. Famous characters of both the Horde and the Alliance take the field for the first time; both a recently returned Turalyon and an underused Muradin Bronzebeard square off against Lady Liadrin, one of Silvermoon’s greatest Blood Knights and Eitrigg, one of the Blackrock Clan’s greatest warriors.
Upon parachuting into Stromgarde, players quickly found themselves embroiled right in the thick of combat. It takes mere moments to engage the enemy and begin building your base outwards, assaulting the wilderness itself in order to gather resources and recruit forces to assist offensive players. No matter where you go in Stromgarde, battle is to be found, eventually culminating in a fight at the gates of your foe’s stronghold before the gates are blown aside by artillery. From there it is a mad rush into the jaws of the beast and the defeat of the enemy commander.
Furthermore, the unique Warfront rewards were more than just a passing fad. While sharing similar models with current season PvP gear, the Battle for Stromgarde also offered two different armor sets for the Warfront with different color variations. While the first could be gained through simply completing the Warfront, the other Elite variant required going above and beyond. Initially offered by both completing the Warfront once and again for a follow-up quest in the zone, Warfronts Equipment Caches could award multiple parts of this Elite set potentially.
This, however, was soon to become more frustrating than not in every respect. With the launch of the Battle for Darkshore and Battle for Azeroth Season 2, there has been a distinct paradigm shift in the design and reward philosophy of Warfronts.
Darkshore and Stromgarde are, in several respects, virtually identical in their construction. Both see players storming a battlefield, gathering resources, building a base, and launching assaults against an enemy commander in order to defeat them and claim victory. Darkshore, on the other hand, suffers far more from the limitations of the zone it is featured in and how the story has so far been structured about its conflict. Featuring the Night Elves, now empowered by the dark side of Elune, they try to retake their ancient lands from an encroaching Forsaken army intent on blighting the lands from shoreline to shoreline. Headed by Maiev Shadowsong, the leader of the Wardens and Sira Moonwarden, now raised into the Forsaken’s undead army, these two commanders offer little if any long-term history or development for the players unless they closely followed the goings-on of the Warden faction during Legion.
Unlike Stromgarde, players also must carve their way into their own base; while the invading faction quite literally parachutes into their fortress and can retake ground in moments, Darkshore players must now carve their path from shoreline to base before beginning the Warfront proper. This really only serves to extend the total length of the event. Both factions will take the exact same steps through the battle, from Bashal’aran north to Lor’danel Landing, effectively giving no real sense of battle-lines.
While Darkshore is almost identically laid out in terms of capturing bases and branching pathways to Stromgarde, the longer design of the zone makes the entire encounter feel much more claustrophobic. Frankly it feels more like players are skirmishing with the enemy in a hallway than spreading across a battlefield, allowing groups of players to easily intercept enemy forces and eradicate them with little effort. This problem is only compacted by the endgame where players must wait to disable sea-weaponry off the shoreline, making it unattackable. It can only be destroyed by your own siege weaponry meaning that it takes an extensive period of time before it can be obliterated and the commander unlocked. While some enemies will spawn to harry your assault, these are far reduced from their equivalents in Stromgarde, meaning most will simply /afk and twiddle their thumbs.
This narrowed focus can be seen once more in the Warfront equipment available to players. Unlike the three distinct varieties players could obtain in Season 1, this was altered to two with three different color variants (one for PvP ‘Aspirant’ gear, one for ‘Gladiator’ and one for ‘Warfront’). While the regular Warfront set can once again be acquired in a day or two of grinding, both the Darkshore and Stromgarde Elite sets have become much more difficult to achieve. With the addition of Darkshore there is now only one Warfronts Equipment Cache rewarded per week, meaning that in order to get every piece of your Elite set, you will spend at least four months per set if you are lucky. Each cache randomly generates its loot, meaning you can also acquire the same piece repeatedly if you are particularly unlucky.
Why should players invest their time in Warfronts? That answer is simple: they are quite fun, despite their issues. While I still see Stromgarde as utterly superior to Darkshore, even gallivanting through the plagued treeline is still enjoyable once or twice per week. There is an innate thrill in playing out the war between the Horde and the Alliance, even if it is essentially the same scenario each time. As we covered in a previous WoW Wednesday, both Warfronts still offer a superior method to gearing characters than Normal or Heroic dungeons as well. There is something here for every player, even if that something is gradually worn down over time.
Why should Blizzard continue with Warfronts? Despite these detractions, Warfronts are a great way to put players into the field when it comes to struggling against the enemy faction. They wonderfully illustrate current battles in the game during Battle for Azeroth and are a wonderful vehicle to convey that visceral action the expansion has lacked thus-far in its regular question content. More can be done with Warfronts, but so far they make for quick and fun action-driven segments that are far simpler (and sometimes more relaxing) than PvP content.
Why does this great piece of content lose its luster so quickly? Frankly, Warfronts have nothing to give to the experienced player. Once you hit or exceed item level 370 there is simply nothing more that Warfronts can offer you in immediate rewards and this is where they begin to greatly suffer. Whereas completing the basic set is achievable and doable, the more elite rewards seem to be purposefully time and RNG gated to forcefully lengthen the amount of time required to ‘finish’ warfronts. While there is now an Honorbound and 7th Legion currency vendor tied to War Events in Battle for Azeroth, these medals are unobtainable in Warfronts, giving players looking for greater and enhanced rewards little to no reason to continue past the basic rewards.
Warfronts are a wonderful additive piece of repeatable content in Battle for Azeroth. While they’re perhaps a slight adjustment to older instanced content formulas permeated throughout the World of Warcraft, they are still incredibly enjoyable even for just casual play. However, their lack of mindful design through zone construction means that they amplify incumbent environment issues directly onto how gameplay feels in the Warfront. Rewards are simply unrewarding to a vast majority of players, meaning that the continued play for Warfronts will only decrease as the expansion drones on, even as additional warzones open up across Azeroth.