So, while my review of Blizzcon 2018 for WoW, particularly the What’s Next panel, is “not quite as good as 2016” there is still a lot worth talking about.
For today, we’re going to stick solely to gameplay – there are absolutely story hits to dive into, but for the sake of those who want to not be spoiled, we will split those out!
The Tides of Vengeance Are Still…Out
The launch date of 8.1 was the first major detail given to us, with the week of December 10th targeted for release. While this isn’t all that far out, it does seem to indicate that we’re going to have a slightly longer patch cycle this expansion, as nearly 4 months will have passed between launch and the first patch. This is a full month more than the gap in Legion patches, and if this cycle holds true for the rest of the expansion, it will mean two things – larger gaps where content may run thin between patches, but a (hopefully) shorter gap at the end of the expansion. As this is the first patch, I don’t want to infer much of anything from this release date – it seems fairly apparent that there was a fair amount of pivoting done during the development of this patch, and so it might be difficult to use the timetable we’ve seen for 8.1 as a benchmark for the rest of the expansion’s likely 6 patches.
8.1.5 – Systems Improvements
The first big announcement was 8.1.5, the patch cycle we could predict was coming, given the team’s confessed desire to keep a similar cadence and cycle to Legion. In the same vein as the equivalent patch in Legion, we see a broad set of systems improvements designed to refresh the content delivered in 8.1 while adding small new pieces of content. We get remastered, HD graphics for Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin – small changes, that are very cool, and with WoW Classic coming out, the original versions of these will remain preserved, so all good there. Kul Tirans and Zandalari are confirmed to be coming in 8.1.5, so while the data on them is largely contained in 8.1, they will not be available until 8.1.5, which likely means that Battle of Dazar’Alor will not be open until close to that point, which is not terribly surprising, but hopefully it means there won’t be a long wait. There will be WoD Timewalking, adding a majority of the Warlords dungeons and two new mounts. I imagine there will likely be purchaseable gear as well, but unlike the prior timewalking eras, there is not a badge vendor from which you can draw the items to use. Darkmoon Faire gets a rollercoaster, which is…cool, I think? Brawler’s Guild will reopen with new tuning, new bosses, and story content. Both faction’s main capitals will receive updated portal rooms, taking the hodgepodge of portals spread out over both Stormwind and Orgrimmar and consolidating them into new rooms that offer additional space for future portals. Finally, new profession quests are supposed to offer us additional perks, none of which were elaborated on or are particularly clear, save for a few basic ones (Jewelcrafters will, apparently, gain the ability to unsocket gems – if this will be limited to the JC’s own gear or a service that can be sold remains to be seen).
Overall, this is a solid bit of content, and given the pacing I would imagine we can expect, this will be fairly decent if released soon enough!
8.2 – Azshara Rises (At Last)
The biggest bit of content we were told of, though, is the large, middle patch of the expansion – Rise of Azshara, 8.2. In many ways, it matches the expectations set by its Legion equivalent, but in some ways, it appears ready to exceed them.
The biggest feature, as expected, is the debut in-game of Nazjatar, the Naga stronghold. The zone appears to be primarily land-based, with small stretches of undersea content, and it continues the faction conflict story slightly by keeping Alliance and Horde corralled in separate hubs across from one another. Alongside new questing and stories told through that content, there is the Eternal Palace, the raid which will play host to a Naga raid, which was mentioned to be largely land-based with the possibility of an underwater boss.
As with Legion, flying in the zones of BfA opens in 8.2, and while the criteria are unknown outside of the current Pathfinder Part 1, the expectation is that it would be safe to assume the new factions aiding each of our main factions will be a requirement, alongside completing the Nazjatar story and war campaign. With this, we can assume the model continues with a new PvE season featuring updated item levels in dungeons, likely a Naga-themed 10+ affix for Mythic Plus, and World Quest updates.
Interestingly, the presentation specifically sought to mention that Nazjatar will be focused on additional modes of repeatable content outside of just World Quests. What form this will take is unknown, but the fact that they are thinking about offering mixed-modes of repeatable gameplay is promising, I think!
Gnomes and Tauren will be next up on the classic race heritage armor, and the armor on offer looks great!
We’ll get two new islands for Expeditions, and hopefully the tweaks to their gameplay in 8.1 will make them more worth doing!
Warfronts are getting a premade difficulty in Heroic Warfronts, requiring a group of 10+ to assemble and queue together in order to tackle tougher challenges for better rewards.
There will also be a new arena, based on the next thing we have to discuss…
This all would have been enough, but Blizzard has taken to adding a second zone – Mechagon! This zone is a smaller, side zone featuring some goblin and gnome exploration. Mechagnomes run this place, and their king is looking for some more power, so the zone has a short story leading up to the megadungeon of Battle of Azeroth. Similar to Return to Karazhan, this dungeon is 8 bosses, Mythic only to start, and while it wasn’t announced as such, it will likely not have a Mythic Plus mode available until the likely eventual point where it is split into two and made available on Heroic.
All of this, held together, makes 8.2 a great looking bit of content.
8.2.5 – The Shortest Tease
Lastly, we got the briefest tease of what would come in 8.2.5, with two announced features – model revamps for both Goblins and Worgen, delivering sharper, more modern models. While these models already have a great amount of detail, being added just prior to the highly advanced animation updates made to the WoW engine with Mists of Pandaria and the Pandaren race means that their animations are slightly old-fashioned, and some of the artistic decisions for Worgen in particular are somewhat questionable. The new models are quite close to the originals, and given the higher-fidelity of those models relative to the launch races or BC races, that was to be expected. I actually wasn’t sure which were the new models at first glance. But the added details refine the models, giving them a nice refresh and further advancing the state of the game. These two races are playing larger roles in this expansion, and so the updated models will give NPCs we interact with in this expansion a welcome advance in detail.
And….that’s it? (or is it?)
The major deviation from the 2016 version of this very same panel, where a last minute tease of Argus set us up for the rest of the expansion, was the end. No further tease was offered…at least not directly. The slide had one little detail pop into frame as the presentation wrapped up…a fish with a glowing red eye, which is, conveniently, a fish from the Warbringers: Azshara video, and specifically, is a N’Zoth fish…
Now, I would suspect that Battle for Azeroth, following the Legion model, will have 6 content patches – of which we now have details of some sort on four of them. Of course, much is still to follow on those patches – I would suspect that 8.2 will see an Azerite refinement of similar scope to the Artifact overhaul of 7.2. We also don’t yet have a challenge similar to the Mage Tower, which, while it may be difficult, seems likely to be in the cards given some of what we heard prior to launch. While no new Allied Races were announced, it seems likely given some interviews around Blizzcon that major patches will likely add more (8.2 mentioned as a breakpoint at which they would consider adding more). Lastly, the story beats ultimately haven’t pointed us in a clear direction yet – 8.1 continues and refines the war aspect of the story, while 8.2 seems to keep the trappings of conflict while also moving to a more planetary threat. While it seems likely still that as 8.2 story unfolds that we’ll be pushed to unify against a common enemy, the cinematic unveiled at Blizzcon points to the idea that Sylvanas is the larger threat, and not the Old Gods. We’ll…revisit that one more in a later post, because the story details seem to be getting more filled in on that front!
In Summary – Overall Good, Some Looming Questions
The impression I had coming out of this panel is that it makes me pretty happy that this patch structure, borrowed from Legion, continues on. Further, the content that was announced was solid, satisfying, and gives solid teases to the future of the story. However, I do get the impression that if the collective focus of the playerbase was not focused on Diablo Immortal, there would be some degree of unhappiness with the lack of news on the community’s favorite punching bags. Azerite Armor, while very briefly addressed in the Q&A session, seems to be a wait and see pattern until we get past 8.1. To be fair, the 8.1 changes are pretty decent, but the actual gameplay interactions are the larger curiosity, and those need to be played with. The Azerite Impurities system does seem like it will affect acquisition of armor positively, coupled with a few more cycles of Emissary rewards of higher level Azerite gear, and I think we may be past the BfA equivalent of the “constant grind of Maw of Souls” phase of the foundational expansion system.
But I don’t want to focus too much on those things, as even in my own play post-vacation, I’ve found that I’m not really that bothered by the acquisition of the armor even at this point – it has gotten better and I think when Season 2 finally hits, it will get better on multiple fronts.
I find myself slightly disappointed in not knowing more about 8.3 and the effective finale of the expansion, but at the same time, I think that having those details under wraps until we can play the story (or read the datamined text!) is an effective way to keep the story progression more focused on the moment-to-moment and firmly rooted in the present, which is a good thing.
I’m pretty hyped for the future of Battle for Azeroth, and provided that Azerite continues to evolve positively, I think we’ll land in a much better place as the expansion progresses!