Today marks the Q&A where Blizzard is expected to announce a large volume of things relating to Battle for Azeroth. People expect preorders, allied race availability (at least the first 4), more info on Warfronts, Islands, the Heart of Azeroth…well, anything!
But mostly, people expect an alpha/beta test schedule.
When this was first announced, some people seemed skeptical that they’d launch the alpha already. Patch 7.3.5 just came out! What good could come of it?
Later that very same day, it seems we got the answer – sort of.
Wowhead and MMO-Champion both started posting that they had their hands on a BfA alpha client, with real, unencrypted data. Earlier that day, they had datamined the icons for what we presume are the collector’s edition bonuses, but this – oh my.
That data is filled to the brim with new, exciting things. There are new models for tons of our lore characters – Anduin, Jaina, King Rastakhan, Bwonsamdi, and more. There were tons of armor models, questing and dungeon, alongside Warfront sets. There were questing weapon models for both factions (Alliance Demon Hunters getting anchored glaives, oh boy!).
And if you know what corners of the internet to look to, there are flyover videos of zones and scenarios, showing a world (including new faction capital hubs) that is pretty damn cool. Dungeons that appear to be coming along rather nicely. And even, a first for this early of progress – cutscenes. Not the final ones, but in-game approximations of the ones the machinima team will make, including the (mostly non-voiced at the moment) dialogue.
There is a lot of lore to look at there, but for right now, I’m going to put that to the side, because there are some huge takeaways with just the gameplay content we can talk about.
-These environments are incredible: The new zones look awesome, easily some of the best visual work Blizzard has ever done. They are lived-in, well populated spaces that have diverse settings, from the torn desert of Voldun to the unnerving tranquility of Stormsong Valley. That being said, while I think the Horde setting on Zandalar has cooler setpieces, the Alliance areas in Kul Tiras are visually more interesting overall, to me at least. The maritime theme is very well presented, and the Alliance capital of Boralus has a hedge maze. How cool is that? Okay, my faction bias is showing, the Horde gets some pretty cool stuff, including lots of golden architecture done in a style befitting it.
-The level of attention to upgrading old visuals is immense: Tons of critters that have old potato models are getting revamps, including fan favorite prarie dogs. There are new cat models including ones rendered off of developer family pets! We are very nearly out of the old-fashioned classic models that featured a Playstation 1-era level of fidelity!
-We might be getting more allied races…?: So this is definitely unconfirmed as of now, but there are a few new models in-game with playable character flags – most notably, Kul Tiran humans. They look great, and I hope they are indeed playable – I’d roll a warrior with a giant belly that isn’t also a Pandaren male. Or a priest, whom I could name StThiccolas. Yes, I brought that joke in. No, I won’t take it out in editing.
-The new races added in are spectacular: The Vulpera models are just so well done it has me excited. Further, the Tortollan are awesome, and I look forward to seeing more of these models in-game.
-Straight-Backed Orcs are in!: They look good, of course not terribly different, but it adds an interesting visual dimension to see an Orc stand tall.
-While I like the new zones, they are kind of small: scale is hard to get in the flyovers I’ve watched, and I hope to get a better sense of it when my alpha sandbox is up and running, but they do seem to be relatively small zones. Granted, Legion’s zones were fairly compact as well, but didn’t play like it, so I can imagine the same style of questing will add some perceived size to the zones.
-Cities, just – wow: The lesson of Suramar appears to be very well applied to the capital hubs of Zandalar and Boralus. These new cities are absolutely enormous, featuring multiple points of interest and large, open layouts. They look incredible. Plus, Boralus has a hedge maze! And this is even in their unfinished state – there are clearly rough edges and the like which will be expanded upon and cleaned up.
-The cloth armor set confirms last summer’s speculation: the Alliance cloth leveling set includes the infamous tentacly Kul Tiras robes. The full set looks really nice too.
-Armor and weapons look great in general: Regardless of what you think of the game as a whole package, the art team always delivers a lot of really great stuff to the game, and the datamined stuff so far only reaffirms that. Great job, artists!
-Class changes: I will write an expanded post on this topic, but a large number of changes were made even from the Blizzcon demo. Nearly all tank self-healing is based on damage taken over a rolling 5 second window, meaning that Guardian Druids and Blood Death Knights will already be used to the specifics of that, while the other classes will be adapting. Damage is way down for all specs across the board. Many artifact active abilities are being made baseline or slotted into talent choices. Some artifact passive abilities are also being made baseline or similarly locked into talent choices. Threat appears like it will matter again with the addition of a new threat-reduction weapon enchantment, although how much importance that carries remains to be seen.
-Profession changes: Skill caps at 100 points?! Blacksmiths able to repair their own gear? These are looking interesting.
-Mounts: Seriously, holy shit. I am so stoked for the number of new and unique mounts that are in the files. Some favorites include The Hivemind, which appears to be a group flying mount, Bees(!), the Brontosaurus with a big seat, the Hyenas, and the new horse models which hopefully make it into mounts.
Overall, I will write more when the Q&A is done, but I think it is worth pointing something out.
In the past, I think it would be safe to say Blizzard had a frenemy relationship with dataminers, noting that they don’t like them mining things and revealing such big details early on, but yet, while we know they can encrypt files to prevent this, they often do not. This is quite telling overall. I think, as I have continued to think throughout Legion, that Blizzard is using datamining in a more friendly capacity now to build the hype and in effect, market the game. Knowing a new expansion is coming is exciting to many people who sub and unsub regularly, but knowing that alone may not entice someone into coming back. I think Blizzard wants a big increase up to Battle for Azeroth, and using Allied Race unlocks and 110 boost with preorder, alongside newer, slower leveling from 1-110, Heritage Armor, and the excitement of having some inkling through datamining of the story hooks is a tool they want to leverage to pull people in earlier.
Will it work? That remains to be seen. I certainly know that despite the end of expansion lethargy beginning to set in, my group of friends is still seemingly quite excited for Battle for Azeroth, and we’ll see how many Void Elves begin leveling to 110 tonight.