World of Warcraft returns with its seventh major expansion, Battle for Azeroth. In the sixth expansion Legion's last big update, the titan Sargeras was imprisoned - but not before he sank his sword deep into Azeroth, causing the world to bleed its very life-blood, also known as Azerite.
Battle for Azeroth picks up right where Legion left off. Due to Azerite being both surprisingly plentiful and an incredibly powerful means to enhance one's abilities, it becomes a highly valuable and sought-after substance. This once again damages the relationship between the Horde and Alliance - despite the two factions banding together to defend Azeroth against the demonic Legion in the previous expansion, they are now back at each other's throat. After the Horde burns down the city where Night Elves reside, the Alliance seeks revenge by attacking the city of Lordaeron.
By the way, all this while Azeroth is slowly dying due to having a huge sword stuck in it, but the greed for Azerite seems more important than saving a dying world - for now.
Having the two factions facing each other off feels like old times - after all, this ancient battle is what World of Warcraft started with. Unlike previous expansions, where there is a common enemy and all raids lead up to one cataclysmic event, there is now a clear divide between the Horde and Alliance. Both factions get their own questlines and new areas to discover. The Alliance seeks help from Kul Tiras, the home of Jaina Proudmoore, where they get to venture through Tiragarde Sound, Drustvar and Stormsong Valley. The Horde travels to Zalandar, home of the Zalandari Trolls, and get Zuldazar, Vol'Dun and Nazmir to explore. However, this does not mean you will not get to see any of the lands of the opposite faction - when you undertake foothold missions you venture into enemy territory, eventually sending players through all six new zones.
The new zones Blizzard has created feel alive - questlines are interesting and get more immersive as players get drawn deeper into each zone. Zones also feel more connected - whereas in previous expansions you clearly cross a border from one zone to another, the areas now flow much more naturally into each other, making the environment feel more authentic.
One downside we found was that at the beginning, there aren't many flight points - this means you have to travel around on your mount and run back and forth a lot. As your reputation increases, you will unlock more flight points thus making travelling a lot easier, but this doesn't take away the fact that you're often running around at the start.
Another new addition is Island Expeditions, a three-player mode that takes you to one of seven islands filled with monsters and quests that reward you with Azerite. What makes Island Expeditions stand out from normal dungeon runs and raids is that you're in a race against another team of three players.
Island Expedition lets you play against another team in PvP mode, but you can also opt to play against the AI. The latter has surprised us: whereas in dungeons and raids the NPCs are rather predictable, the AI in Island Expeditions seems actually intelligent: they will attack weak opponents or even run away from a fight if they are losing. Island Expeditions remain interesting and fun: the maps are randomised so you have a different experience every time, and whether you play against other players or AI, you must stay alert and think of the best strategy to beat your opponent.
The PvP mode has been changed entirely and is now called War Mode. This new mode can only be activated in the capital city of your faction. When you turn War Mode on, the zones of Battle for Azeroth turn into PvP grounds with other players who have also got War Mode on. This makes the game a far more social experience as you now have a reason to talk to the strangers around you so you can rally together against the enemy. Zeppelins will sometimes drop loot crates as seen in other big names such as PUBG and Fortnite.
If you get enough kills you'll be marked as an assassin on the map, allowing enemy players to find you and kill you for extra rewards. This certainly makes the already exciting War Mode even more interesting. When killing 10 players as a marked assassin, you gain a title (for example, as Alliance you get the title 'Horde Slayer').
World Quests were introduced in the previous expansion and return in Battle For Azeroth. They allow players to earn more reputation and gear through daily quests. Legion also introduced players to Mythic Plus mode - a mode that significantly increases the difficulty of five-man dungeons and adds challenges. It will come as no surprise that Mythic Plus remains as well.
What does not return, however, are artifact weapons. In Legion, your artifact weapon would grant you new abilities and had a plethora of skins to unlock. In Battle For Azeroth, all the Azerite you gather gets absorbed by your necklace: the Heart of Azeroth. As your necklace gains power its level increases which in turn unlocks passive abilities forged into the three main pieces of armour, but grants you no new active abilities. In fact, Battle For Azeroth doesn't introduce any new active abilities to any race at all, making the Heart of Azeroth a rather underwhelming experience compared to artifact weapons. That is not to say this won't change in the future, but for now, we aren't incredibly impressed.
We also don't get a new class nor entirely new race in this expansion. We do however get to unlock 'Allied Races', which are a variation of the already available options. Horde players can unlock Mag'har Orcs, Highmountain Tauren, and Nightborne, whereas Alliance players can unlock Void Elves, Lightforged Draenei, and Dark Iron Dwarves. Eventually, Zalandari Trolls will become available for Horde players and Kul Tiran Humans for Alliance players. Levelling any Allied Race to level 110 rewards you with a Heritage Armor set - a lasting symbol of your dedication.
We are a bit on the fence about Allied Races; on the one hand, it seems like re-skinning already existing races is less interesting than introducing a new race/class. We have also heard players argue that levelling these new allies through older content doesn't make sense according to the lore of World of Warcraft (Death Knights and Demon Hunters start at a high level for that reason). On the other hand, we do like their addition for their storylines and the fact you have to put effort into getting them. If you want to speed things up you can always purchase a level boost or change the race of any of your already existing characters. Allied Races also introduce more variety within already existing races and is a nice stopgap until new ones are introduced. Rumour has it that Vulpera, the cute fox race, will eventually become an Allied Race as well.
We greatly enjoyed the cutscenes to compliment the storytelling in this new expansion - both the visuals and the voice acting are of high standard and never bored us. Blizzard has had a long time to perfect this art and that they have, and nothing beats getting sucked into a good cinematic CGI trailer.
Just like in Legion, Battle for Azeroth will slowly get more content over time, with the main focus being on new raids. War Mode and Island Expeditions are a welcome new addition and the Horde and Alliance facing off against each other once more doesn't feel like a repetitive blast from the past but rather an intriguing dive into the unknown. As it stands now, we deem Battle for Azeroth a worthy successor of Legion. We are certain the dying world of Azeroth will eventually be saved - after all, without Azeroth there would be no world for any Warcraft.