I spent most of my night last night playing the new content on offer with patch 8.2, and it was a pretty good time, all told. There will be some light story spoilers deep in this post, so be warned!
Fresh off a guild merge, we had nearly 20 people online, a sharp increase from the 8-12 I might have expected normally. Everyone was in Nazjatar or Mechagon, although the majority of the time went to Nazjatar, which seems to be the design intent.
Both zones have gorgeous artwork, not really a surprise, but they are distinct in their ways. Nazjatar is beautiful – brightly designed with blue, teal, and purple contrasting with naval detritus and earthy tones. Lots of details are folded in to each corner – gravesites for the Ankoan who fell in battle, elven ruins that remind one of the glory days of Legion and the Suramar architectural flourishes, and a distinct brand of Naga design that is visually appealing but also serves to designate the more dangerous areas. Mechagon is a bit less visually impressive to me – it lacks a lot of the color saturation that makes Nazjatar so wonderful to behold, but the zone is also littered with thousands of little props and signs of life that add so much to it.
However, both zones suffer a bit from a problem I’ve noted about modern WoW – they are so dense with content that I often found myself navigating by map screen, following the arrow there rather than my own vision of the landscape around me. I’d struggle to remember more than the basest layout of either zone, and before I have a chance to really learn the zone layout, I’ll be able to fly over it anyways. The other problem I have is that Nazjatar has no real sense of place in the world – Argus made sense as another whole planet off in the cosmos, but Nazjatar is a zone interacted with solely via portal. It has no place on the world map, and the zone map only vaguely hints that it is between Zandalar and Kul Tiras to give it the most minor sense of belonging.
Speaking of flying, having an Ankoan emissary up on the first day was a strong play. Provided the rotation is generous, I don’t expect that it will take all that long to unlock flying – and I’ve already made sure to cross off both exploration achievements to ease into that work.
Mount equipment is pretty cool so far, as I don’t have the leery-eyed skepticism some have about how this is actually a not-so-secret backdoor to remove water walking at the start of expansions. I equipped my mail from Nat Pagle and forgot it, so much so that when I jumped off a bridge in Boralus on Invincible and landed on the water’s surface trotting away, I actually had a visible reaction of shock. I have no other mount equipment, which may admittedly color my perception of the idea – I’m water-walking 100% of the time because it is all I need and all I have.
Systems-wise, Benthic armor is better than I expected, as the upgrade vendor is much clearer than I anticipated, although I am slightly disappointed that it is an upgrade system and not item-based, meaning alts will have to farm their own Prismatic Manapearls for upgrades, which is (admittedly only slightly) disappointing. The buff to critical strike damage I got from my now-415 item level boots isn’t really noticable, but hey, boots were my last sub-400 piece of loot and now I’m firmly into BoD heroic level gear, which is nice. The bodyguard system is cool, but also somewhat annoying – they don’t really help much at this phase, but it is nice to have them again. I think a lot of the problems with world scaling at launch would have been helped with bodyguards to speed things along – I realized after Nazjatar that BfA is the first expansion since WoD introduced the system where we did not have the option to have one at launch.
A guildie found himself unaware of heroic Warfronts and very excited that Stromgarde gives 425 loot, but we had to explain that Heroic difficulty is a thing now and it is actually supposed to be much harder, which he didn’t know. We haven’t done one yet, but I might try to sucker our raiding core into doing one tonight – it would be better than smashing face in the now-old raids for two hours.
Content-wise, Nazjatar is brimming with little things that make it nice to play in. The zone is full of these little buff items similar to the Timeless Isle, which the early zone quests introduce you to. The follower experience quests, for me, consisted of jumping on geysers in 3 different locations and in different numbers at each location – easy enough, but repetitive. Zone scaling in Nazjatar is harsher than I expected – I played as Havoc all night and would frequently round up 4-5 mobs to Eye Beam to death, but I was finding myself in risk of dying somewhat often. Elites are sprinkled in somewhat heavily around the zone, which makes exploring it somewhat dangerous, and I think that is not great from a gameplay perspective. It doesn’t help that the elites patrol many areas, so they cannot just be neatly sidestepped around. The exploration aspects are fun, especially the mini-chain with the laboratory and the puzzles in Zin-Azshari. However, I do not feel as warmly to the fact that unlocking the full breadth of the zone requires all of these separate quest chains – having the flight whistle unlock, for example, be a mini-chain that is far from the Alliance hub (but close to a Horde one) is a baffling decision, especially since the game doesn’t do a great job of pointing you in that direction, and from a lore perspective, it doesn’t offer much justification to explain why this is the case.
Mechagon is a place I spent less time in, but I enjoyed the time I spent. The crafting stuff you can do with its custom Tinkering is cool, as is the unifying use of the tinkering mechanics across the zone. The flavor is fun – silly, light-hearted gnome and goblin stuff. The landmass is pretty light – there’s not a whole lot of land there, and exploring the full zone on the ground doesn’t take that long. It’s not nearly as dense as Nazjatar, but still uses weird angles to expand the perceived size, such that orienting yourself without the map on day 1 is a bit tricky. Flying here seems like it will be a challenge, as there are roaming flying mobs that seem to be there solely to challenge flight. The punchcard trinket seems worthless to raiders, but will be a nice item level inflation mechanism for LFR heroes to reach the needed item level to queue for Azshara’s Eternal Palace.
Story-wise, the early part of this patch is falling on its ass a bit. The Alliance introduction to Nazjatar is supremely lacking in detail, and while the Ankoan are cool (and perhaps a sure sign that the Jinyu will end up as an Allied Race at some point), they are also devoid of a lot of characterization. All of the voice actors used for their dialog and emotes sound like surfer bros, which is slightly disorienting. Azshara’s presence early-on is cool, but there is a lot of oddness surrounding it. She has been trying to steal the Tidestone of Golganneth for a long time, and when she finally succeeds, she gives it to a lackey (who we are almost certainly going to kill). Her derision to the creeping void of N’Zoth fits with the characterization we saw in last summer’s Warbringers: Azshara, though. The other thing, which has been pointed out a lot at this point – the image of a dozen Alliance boats chasing 4 Horde vessels is hilarious, but interestingly, Nathanos seems prepared for the reveal of Nazjatar by Azshara, and the wreckage seems to be primarily Alliance vessels – I didn’t see any wrecked Horde boats.
Class balance wise, my haste as Havoc felt like it was contributing less, somehow? I felt slower than I did pre-patch, and while my DPS numbers were roughly in-line with expectation, it felt off, somehow. The new Heart of Azeroth systems are not very well touched upon when starting the patch – there just isn’t a lot of essence acquisition happening at this point and the starter essence is a bit of a bland entry point. I did confirm for myself that essences are per spec (assignment wise) so I was able to use the same essence for both Havoc and Vengeance, which is a relief – no duplicate essence farming and no locking in a single essence tree that has to work for all specs you play on that character.
Lastly, to summarize my screenshot experience (which I will substantiate with actual uploads when I am home later today) – flowing sea walls are cool as hell and the visual of the threatening sea being held at bay is awesome.
My early impressions of Rise of Azshara are positive, although, I am waiting on final judgment for more content. We still have Season 3, the remaining quests, and the actual unlock of flying to go!