Tomorrow Shadowlands will be here, and I’ll be on my way to uncover a new story in a world unlike anything on Azeroth. There will be new stories, favorite characters, and the new endgame to discover. Today, however, I’m taking the time to reflect on everything I’ve experienced in the past two years. I’m a nostalgic person and, as always, I look forward to these kinds of posts.
BfA made several advancements and improvements in storytelling that I loved; including the use of more cinematics in the middle of quests, and cut scenes that show your character being directly involved in the story. There was more focus on narrative and story that was improved on in Legion, which had excellent storytelling as well. The first thing that comes to mind as an example of this is the storyline with Jaina on the Alliance.
We are introduced to Kul Tiras for the first time through Jaina; feeling her shame and embarrassment after attempting to return to her homeland and heal old wounds. It doesn’t quite go as she planned – her own mother, Lord Admiral of Kul Tiras at the time, sentences her to prison. Though Jaina isn’t present for our questing experience, we see Kul Tiras for what it had become in the aftermath of the Second War. Broken, and its ruling houses in shambles.
Only through our deeds in Kul Tiras and eventually freeing Jaina does everyone begin to heal. We see the conclusion to Jaina’s story arc when she ultimately overcomes the demons haunting her, and reconciles with her mother who names her the next Lord Admiral. Blizzard did a great job with that, and the overall theme and feel of Kul Tiras. Even today I can sit idle in Boralus for hours and listen to the amazing music or take in the buildings and scenery.
The war campaign was the major quest chain that spanned most of the expansion. It served to be the backbone of the power struggle between the Horde and Alliance – a narrative that would eventually shift into Old God territory as the true plot of the expansion revealed itself.
Even though the war campaign was no substitute for the awesome Suramar story in Legion, it served its purpose. Its job was to fill in the gaps leading up to the first raid Battle of Dazar’alor, and showing the battles and telling the stories of characters who participated in the Fourth War. It was shorter, but it peppered in content that prodded the players to explore Zandalar and uncover secrets and treasures in the hopes that the war would turn in our favor.
Questing was awesome during BfA, and was an improvement to the already-awesome questing of Legion. Questing through Kul Tiras on Alliance and Zandalar on Horde was a smooth experience, and was very fun. Drustvar was fantastic and just knocked it out of the park, while Tirigarde Sound had many memorable moments and was almost as good. My favorite questlines include the Norwington Estate, stowing away on a pirate ship with Flynn, and pretty much all of Drustvar.
I didn’t enjoy Stormsong Valley to the same extent, and still think that there was some wasted potential there. During the last chapter of the Tirigarde story we meet Brandon Stormsong, son to Lord Stormsong, who has been charged with overseeing Anglepoint Wharf. The Wharf has fallen victim to a group of corrupted Tidesages led by Lord Stormsong himself, but after we help Brandon escape and defeat the threat we never see Brandon again. The story was building him up to be an important character in our journeys though Stormsong Valley, and I was sad we never got to continue that story. I already have posts on Tirigarde, Drustvar, and Stormsong Valley, so I won’t continue to ramble on here.
My experience questing through the Horde continent of Zandalar was just as good. All three zones were amazing and the first zone I chose, Zuldazar, did a great job introducing me to the story. My favorites were Vol’dun and Nazmir. In Vol’dun I teamed up with the Vulpera to fight against the Vulpera across a beautiful desert backdrop, and in Nazmir I braved Old God horrors in order to meet powerful Loa to aid us. I also have posts on Zuldazar and Nazmir, but I somehow missed Vol’dun (I had a great time there though).
Leveling & Zones
The pace of leveling in BfA was great, and as always Blizzard continues to improve this process in every expansion they release. I continued to enjoy leveling on my alts and didn’t find it to be an experience that dragged on. I don’t have much to say about leveling, but I thought it would be important to note that it continued Legion’s trend of great leveling experiences.
Kul Tiras and Zandalar were designed beautifully, and I always found something new to explore every time I revisited them with alts. Both capital cities are just astounding and massive areas on their own, not to mention the lands they are nestled in. The first time I went to Zandalar as part of the Alliance war campaign quests, flying mounts weren’t added in BfA zones yet. I remember wandering through the jungles and getting lost, just like what would happen in real life. It’s a world all on its own and, especially as a fresh level 120 with low level gear, dangerous. Just like in Legion, all of BfA’s locations are places you want to spend time in, whether it be doing world quests or gathering herbs. As I write this I feel sad that after tomorrow I won’t visit them as often anymore. Not because I’m bored of them, I’ll just be distracted by the new areas Shadowlands has for us.
-Mechagon & Nazjatar
These two zones were introduced in patch 8.2, and served as a place for max level characters to quest and continue the expansion’s story. Nazjatar was a direct tie in to the upcoming raid, The Eternal Palace, where players finally confronted Queen Azshara. Nazjatar was an important zone because during this patch, the expansion took a notable departure from the Horde vs. Alliance theme and further highlighted the underlying Old God threat that was introduced in patch 8.1 with Crucible of Storms. Besides that, Nazjatar is a beautiful zone with lots of secrets. It was, after all, where Azshara made the deal with N’Zoth after her empire was lost under the sea. As someone who loves Night Elf lore, it was a dream to finally see Nazjatar in the game. The music that plays as I approached a section of the ruins of Zin-Azshari was emotional and told the story of an ancient tragedy.
While the zone looks amazing, it feels kind of empty at the same time. After completing the new war campaign chapters there, I didn’t find much reason to stay. Nazjatar was built up in my mind so much that when I finally saw it, part of it felt disappointing. I wanted more story; more Night Elf stuff, whatever that may be. If you’ve read part one of Aurashot’s history you’ll know that returning to her former home would have been hard for her. I wanted something more, and I realize part of that is my personal feelings towards it, something Blizzard couldn’t have given me.
On the other hand, Mechagon blew me away. I wasn’t expecting much from it, and didn’t fully understand what it was about until I went there. I love the goofy personalities of the Mecha Gnomes and their unique voice lines. The quests were great and the junkyard crafting feature was a lot of fun. I enjoy content that involves rare bosses and awesome loot, and that’s what Mechagon turned out to be – a small island filled with lots of different things to do. I’ve spent way more time in Mechagon than in Nazjatar, and found myself flying back to the island whenever I was bored but still wanted to play WoW.
My experience with Warfronts is mixed, and part of that comes from some confusion on what a Warfront was supposed to be. When they were announced, they were described to be a strategy game kind of like Warcraft 3. Players would command troops and send workers off to gather resources, and upgrade buildings. Those things still happened, except you had to join a group and the players themselves fought against the enemy and gathered the resources. It ended up being cool, but it was different from how it was initially pitched to us at BlizzCon. In particular, I found the Stromgarde Warfront to be boring.
When the second Warfront, Darkshore, came out it was greatly improved from the first one. The fact that the Darkshore Warfront took place in Kalimdor and was focused on the Night Elves’ struggle against the Horde might also have something to do with it.
Sadly, I didn’t really start running expeditions until the end of BfA. Island Expeditions didn’t seem very interesting in the early days of the expansion, but I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that Blizzard was working to improve them. I tried expeditions again with my guild and had a blast with them; little scenarios where you kill as much stuff as you can and take their loot. What’s more is each island had its own little story playing out, and even then a single island has a set of random scenarios that play out. The primary reason for doing expeditions is to get Azerite to level up the Heart of Azeroth, which in turn unlocks more traits on Azerite Armor. The other reason is to collect mounts and pets, and I’m all over that. I only wish that I spent more time doing expeditions, but I hope Blizzard will introduce a way to continue farming them after the Shadowlands launch.
Dungeons & Raids
BfA was a special expansion for me because I joined a raiding guild, which is something I haven’t really done before in this 16 year-old game. I got to experience raids and dungeons in a way I haven’t in the past, and what a great expansion it was for raiding. My favorite raid of this expansion was Battle of Dazar’alor, and we spent many hours running it and perfecting the boss fights. To me it has the most memorable boss fights, ending with an epic fight against Jaina Proudmoore herself. Set in Dazar’alor, capital of the Zandalari, it was golden and brilliant. I had so much fun editing the videos for this raid.
The other raids were all great, even if I did want a little more from the Eternal Palace. I wanted more lore-inspired boss fights, and even the fight against Azshara herself felt lacking. The raids were all wonderfully designed and had fun fights. Because of my experience in BfA, raiding Castle Nathria in Shadowlands next month is one of my most anticipated activities.
The dungeons this time around were no less amazing. From Kul Tiras, my favorite is Waycrest Manor; and Atal’Dazar over on Zuldazar. Waycrest Manor is one of those dungeons that I’ll continue to run just for the fun of it. I love that the whole dungeon takes place in a gigantic haunted mansion that reminds me of playing Luigi’s Mansion. It sums up the theme of Drustvar perfectly. Atal’Dazar is sunny and gold, and I love it for the same reasons I enjoy Battle for Dazar’alor. I’m looking forward to what the designers create in Shadowlands.
visions of n’zoth
Visions, introduced in patch 8.3, gave players re-playable scenarios that scaled depending on the amount of players participating in it. Running a Vision can be done solo, but is usually much more fun in small groups. I had some issues with Visions that caused me to stop running them after a while, but I love the direction Blizzard is going with content like this.
I really like the idea of being able to run content that is dungeon-like, yet have the choice of going solo or in a group of up to four other layers. What I don’t like, however, are things that are timed. The major mechanic in Visions was basically time, and how long players could withstand the corruption levels before they had to evacuate. I was also pleased when I discovered one of the major mechanics in Shadowlands is Torghast, which is re-playable content that can be done solo or in a group but without the time element.
BfA’s systems mostly branched from the theme of collecting Azerite. At the beginning of the expansion, players were given a quest that rewarded us with the Heart of Azeroth. The Heart would increase in power every time we gathered Azerite from quests, rare bosses, dungeons/raids, or island expeditions. We needed to level up the Heart in order to unlock Azerite traits on our Azerite armor, special armor for our helm, shoulder, and chest slots. Azerite traits increased the power of the gear, and boosted players’ stats and gave additional passive abilities. As the expansion progressed, more systems that worked with Azerite was introduced.
Azerite traits were in the game from the beginning, and aren’t complicated or difficult to understand. Every time you get your Heart to a certain level, that will unlock a trait on a given piece of armor. The item level of the armor and how you acquire it determines how many traits the armor will have. Armor that drops in a raid will require a higher Heart of Azeroth to unlock the traits, but the traits will also be more desirable. Each “tier” of traits has three different choices so that there is a degree of customization – even though most players pick the trait that benefits their class and specialization the most. Traits were simple to use, but found that I always picked similar traits. It wasn’t particularly exciting, but it was a good system for enhancing gear.
Essences came later, and could be added to the Heart like sockets rings and armor. Essences were found through raiding, quests, and PvP. You could set both a Major and Minor essence. Major ones often had a spell that could be added to a rotation, whereas Minor essences had passive effects. My personal favorite is the Concentrated Azerite Beam, which fires a beam of Azerite energy in a cone and does tons of damage. Plus it looks cool and it’s fun to use. I got used to having essences and I’ll miss them in Shadowlands.
Missions played a smaller part in BfA than in Legion, and had less features. This time around, Blizzard made the mission table almost unnecessary besides running missions for a chance at Azerite or other small rewards. I actually enjoyed missions during Legion, where we leveled up our followers and gave them better gear and items that gave them various abilities. Missions have always had a mini-game feel to them, and lots of people don’t like that. I like having that idle content and having missions running in the background while I’m questing or doing other things in game. Missions definitely shouldn’t be a main focus, but I like them for what they’re supposed to be. I’ve heard good things about their replacement in Shadowlands, and can’t wait to learn them.
Corrupted armor was introduced in the last major patch to BfA, and added a risk vs. reward element to the gear system. Corruption worked independently from the Azerite system. Any gear you got from quests or the Nya’lotha raid in patch 8.3 had a chance to be corrupted with Void energy, and granted players increased power. At the time time, building up corruption had consequences. Reaching certain levels of corruption had adverse effects for your character. What starts as a small annoyance builds into multiple enemies spawning and killing you. I was pretty good about balancing my amount of corruption. but many people would take all the corrupted armor they could in order to get all the benefits.
Battle for Azeroth was a great expansion, for many reasons. One of the most subjective being that I joined a raiding guild, and had tons of awesome experiences I’ve never had before. I enjoyed the dungeons, questing, and the story of Jaina overcoming her tragic past. The zone design on both Kul Tiras and Zandalar is amazing, and it was always fun to revisit them whether it be for herbing or leveling new alts. The continuation of the story of Azeroth the dormant Titan World Soul and the threat of the Old Gods was nice, although the Old Gods part did seem sort of rushed. There are things that I didn’t like so much, but that’s normal with every expansion. I look back at the last two years of WoW and remember the great times I had playing the game, which is the true test of a good expansion to me.
Looking to the (very near) future, I hope Shadowlands is just as entertaining as BfA if not more so. I can’t wait to pick up raiding again and choose my first covenant – Aurashot will be going to Ardenweald, but I haven’t locked in choices on my alts. Even though I’m eager to start a new journey, I’ll try to slow myself down today and appreciate all of the awesomeness already in the game.