As promised, I have been reading piles of broadcast text from the newly launched Battle for Azeroth alpha test.
Wow, is it something.
I think it is worth pointing out, besides the title, that this post will have gigantic spoilers based on what is currently available. Huge spoilers. Spoilers larger than you might see on a Honda street-racing car.
To pad this out to avoid the possibility of spoilers in the summary text in any views, I’m going to preamble this a little bit.
Battle for Azeroth is fundamentally, at least to start, a far more rooted story than the ones we’ve been getting the last two expansions. Warlords of Draenor started with alternate universes, renegade Bronze dragons and new versions of old Orc characters.
Legion started with a body count, Thrall mostly disabled, and the looming doom of our world.
The problem then was that in both cases, these undercurrents of lore were cast aside. WoD made jokes of the Iron Horde very quickly, making it clear through the story beats that they were easy to beat and not a Real Threat. And surely enough, we mowed them down pretty quickly. One was our intro raid boss for the expansion, one was a (cool) encounter in a five-player dungeon, and only one felt like a badass – Blackhand. But surely, he too fell to our might. Gul’dan was the villain, and even he was often pulling Team Rocket stunts – rapidly running off when the threat we posed was too great.
Legion was a little better in this regard, but the sense of urgency conveyed via the Broken Shore scenario was lost quickly in the shuffle of the zone stories. Sure, in many cases they served to inform us of what the Legion was doing, or what the people of the Broken Isles were doing about them, but the Legion was just set dressing in most areas. Ooh, Azsuna has a demon island – which you quest through in the first 30 minutes of the zone and then the rest is all Blue Dragonflight and Farondis and Azshara. Val’Sharah is a favorite zone for me, but it has literally no Legion presence, fan theories about Xavius’ true master aside. Highmountain – awesome, the Legion are here…but actually most of the story is about the unification of the tribes and the fight against the bad Drogbar.
Stormheim – awesome zone with a main story that is Legion-tinged. Cool. Still though, yet again, in the effort to avoid large swaths of fel green, Blizzard gave us a Legion storyline that doesn’t really seem to be about the Legion itself, and more about the types of people who stand against them, contrasted by those who give in to try and obtain their power.
So to say my hopes are not high for Battle for Azeroth is an understatement. I am optimistic, but I know that in reality, the lore and setting stuff is really just there to give me a flimsy platform from which I can play the game. Azerite just exists to give me an excuse to do repeatable content like queued dungeons, Islands, and Warfronts (maybe because we still don’t know shit about them!).
However, I think Blizzard might (maybe, possibly) subvert our expectations here. I am not going to uber deep dive the stories in this post, but I will be doing so over the next several weeks, as much of it becomes clearer.
-The Burning of Teldrassil: It’s still not clear what happens here, and it remains the big mystery of the expansion opening. The broadcast text here indicates a more strategic campaign, targeted specifically at Malfurion Stormrage. This is an interesting idea – while Tyrande is the leader of the Night Elves, the target is specifically Malfurion and putting pressure on him. I wonder why that would be, but for now, we don’t know.
-Siege of Lordaeron: This one we know a lot more about now. Jaina returns here in some manner, firmly on the side of the Alliance. The Horde is caught unawares, with SI:7 spies being contained as the attack begins. Sylvanas unleashes plague in a way that is not pleasing to Saurfang, but he ultimately acquiesces. The Alliance ultimately wins, here – a full battle that seems different from the burning of Teldrassil.
-The Journey to Kul Tiras for Jaina: Jaina actually does NOT want to return to Kul Tiras. She would rather push the attack on the Horde, especially after the victory at Lordaeron. Someone (Anduin?) works to convince her otherwise, and they set sail for Boralus – the main port of call in the island nation. We are met by Jaina’s mother…who REJECTS us and imprisons the expedition, including Jaina, it appears. There is a larger rift in the nation than we see from outside, with Katherine Proudmoore being a wedge – leading those that are loyal to her and darkening the nation. It is difficult to tell from solely these texts, but the implication seems to be that tales of Jaina paint her in something of a villainous light – for the downfall of Daelin Proudmoore (there’s that pesky RTS lore again) and for leaving her homeland. Despite this, it seems the citizenry is far more open to accepting her back in, and will associate with us in order to bring balance to their land. The noble houses system in place has led to divides besides just the Proudmoore one, as well. The political intrigue is present and the intertwining potential stories there are fascinating, even in this early state.
-The Zandalari: Similarly to the Kul Tirans, the Horde enter the scene to a deeply-divided Zandalar, with a sect led by the scheming Zul and a more welcoming group headed by King Rastakhan. What is most interesting is that despite the Horde rescue of Princess Talanji, she does not seem to align with the Horde much, and ultimately the family conflict drives a lot of the early questing, with Rastakhan being accepting because of the rescue, perhaps. There is a sort of aggressive stance taken against the Alliance that underlines a lot of the text so far, which seems to indicate that this will be largely (including the inciting events) Sylvanas acting and Anduin reacting.
-The Old Gods and Azshara: ARE HERE AND I HAVEN’T READ THAT TEXT YET BECAUSE I WANT TO REALLY READ IT AND I’M FREAKING OUT IT’S HAPPENING
Overall, I really like the early vibe of these stories. There are good, separate plot lines, which will incentivize folks having 110 characters of both factions. What I am curious to see is the points at which the plots merge again. The obvious build from the explanation of the story structure given at Blizzcon 2017 is that at 120, the divergent plot lines will come back together and will see more active combat between the two factions. The nature of that is completely unclear as of now, but I am legitimately curious to see how it unfolds, because the early plots being set suggest large divides between both the Zandalar and Kul Tirans, ones that could perhaps suggest each faction would have a path to allies within each nation.
Overall, the text has me very excited for what is to come in BfA!