Battle Bards Episode 135: Battle for Azeroth

It’s Battle Bards vs. Battle for Azeroth — and only one victor will come out of this alive! Actually, the podcast trio is delighted to have another World of Warcraft expansion to explore and investigate. Will it be destined to obscurity as this x-pack apparently will be, or does the score rise above and beyond Blizzard’s design flaws? Find out in today’s show!

Episode 135 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “The Grand Bazaar,” “Drustvar,” and “Freehold”)
  • “Pride of the Seas”
  • “Crimson Forest”
  • “Might of the Zandalar”
  • “Zuldazar Zandalari Lament”
  • “The Motherlode Dungeon”
  • “Time and Tide”
  • “Tiragarde Sound Tavern (Night)”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Pedro Macedo Camacho (Composer, Star Citizen), Katriana, and
    Jinxed Thoughts
  • Jukebox picks: “Pallet Town” from Pokémon Let’s Go, “Hunting Path” from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and “Another Voyage” from Chrono Cross
  • Outro (“Dive Bar C”)

World of Warcraft is hurting, and I’m feeling it

While I want to say that this came out of nowhere, the truth is that we really did see a big problem brewing dating back to BlizzCon last year. We were riding high off of one of World of Warcraft’s best expansion that featured tons of great content and loads to do, and there was a lot of hope about the next step for the game.

But then Battle for Azeroth was announced, and no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t get that enthused about it. It’s not our fault; it just was very underwhelming. The name, the concept of warfronts, the whatever-is-island-expeditions, the reheated leftovers of Legion’s content, the Horde vs. Alliance angle. Blizzard even seemed somewhat disinterested in it all, putting in a bare minimum to hype it.

Yet we told ourselves — at least, I told myself — it would be fine. Hopefully. Initially, there was a good rush of excitement around the BFA launch, and for a few weeks there, we sung the usual praises. Great zones (and they are). Good story (and it is). Wonderful music (indeed). But once you milk all that limited, one-shot content dry, you’re left with the rest… and the rest has really started to lose my interest.

Hey, you’re not a BFA boss, so why am I here?

This past week, I really felt my momentum start to slow down with this expansion. I think it happened once I got my gear around 340 and stepped back to take a look at what I had to do to “progress” going forward. Dungeons are too long and full of too much trash, so mythics are losing their appeal. I’m not going to raid. Warfronts are a joke, and I still don’t get island expeditions. This whole azerite armor fiasco has soured me on a gear system that I didn’t even care about after losing our artifact weapon a couple of months ago.

It gets worse. There’s a mountain of reputation to climb with various factions. Blizzard’s taken any of the joy out of world questing by axing that Legion addon. I can’t really make money that well any longer, thanks to a lackluster mission table and world quests that award diddly squat.

So why am I doing this? What’s the point? Patch 8.1 doesn’t really look like it has anything in store for my playstyle, and unless Blizzard comes out swinging hard at BlizzCon with amazing WoW news — and that is not looking likely — then I fear my flame of interest might be guttering out.

Perhaps it’s time, not to leave entirely, but to really scale back. I’ve been going strong on this game since the last few months of Draenor, and that’s a long run. I have some other MMOs that have captivated me lately, and Fallout 76 is on the way for next month. It’s not like WoW is my only hope of entertainment right now.

Blizzard had a good opportunity that it squandered with this expansion, and that leaves me feeling disappointed. BFA simply never wowed us with interesting new features or systems, and I worry that it won’t be able to limp on for the next year and a half to make it to the next expansion (and era) with a bulk of its playerbase intact.

WoW: Arathi Highlander

With all of the “new expansion smell” long since gone for Battle for Azeroth, the community has found itself in a strange place. Some, like me, are happily still questing and gearing and busying themselves with a hundred various activities at a casual pace. Others are highly frustrated with what they see as a recycled endgame and lackluster azerite armor. Then there are those who are waiting for Patch 8.1 to arrive and give meaning to their lives again.

I’d probably be a lot more frustrated if I had blown through all the content and was on my Nth alt, but truth be told, I still only have one level 120 and haven’t even finished all the zone questing yet on that single character. I’ve got plenty to go before I summit Mt. Warcraft again, so for now I’m mostly occupied with a mixture of questing, chasing world quests/emissaries for gear and rep, and very occasionally doing a heroic dungeon. Doing less of those lately because they do take too long and the chances of gear upgrades dropping are kind of rare.

These fungal guys are easily my most favorite foes of the expansion. Blizzard had way, way too much fun with these crazy mushroom dudes. My ghoul isn’t having any of it, however.

I am getting to a much better place, gear-wise. I have mostly blues and a few purples, and I think I’m sitting around 328 or so. The next step is to dip more into mythics and mythic+ dungeons, and there is a rumor that my guild might be setting up a regular night for that. I’d love that; I’m finding that these days, regularly scheduled guild events are the only way for me to get a social fix. I certainly don’t have time to trawl LFG or spam my need across channels.

I did get out to Arathi Highland for some rare questing the other day, and that was both fun and somewhat gear profitable. I was so excited to get a level 340 sword that I swapped it out, disenchanted my old mace, and then realized that it was a ONE-HANDED sword which meant I couldn’t use any of my abilities.

Cue running to the AH to get a 280-ish placeholder and then doing more Arathi until a two-hander dopped. Boy was my face… blue. I’m Draenei, that’s how it usually is, but more blue than usual because of embarrassment.

Nothing like bringing a giant spider train right into the home of an arachnaphobic NPC who is cowering in sheer terror from these beasts.

So I’d say that all in all, I’m in a good place for long-term survival. I do wish that there was more excitement and a personal drive to play, but when I do log in — which is at least for a half-hour every day — I have plenty to do and am enjoying the ride. Still ahead of me are allied races to unlock, other classes to level, and my Horde alt who has probably put my face on a milk carton by now because I’ve been missing so long.

How are you doing in BFA these days? Do you think that 8.1 is going to give the community what it wants and needs?

Not that impressed with World of Warcraft’s island expeditions

While the World of Warcraft community is all up in arms these days over azerite armor, my outrage is lagging behind and is still stuck at island expeditions. Remember these? Remember how Blizzard announced these last November at BlizzCon as one of the main features of Battle for Azeroth and the collective response was, “Huh. I hope they’re not as dull as they look.”?

If predictable disappointment could be summed up in an activity, it would be island expeditions. For over a week now, I’ve made it part of my routine when I logged in to queue up and run at least one of these, and I can now report with some degree of certainty that they’re just as blah as everyone knew they would be.

Island expeditions are pocket instances for three players of any random class/role mix to go through on a bloodthirsty hunt for AZERITE. I have to put AZERITE in all caps there, because this is another instance of nobody caring except for Blizzard, which has been trying to shove this down our throats for a year (and one gets the distinct impression that not even the developers care that much). So our main objective is getting power-ups for our gear that nobody really likes and everyone knows will be discarded in another year and a half. That’s not powerful motivation.

The main activity, as far as I can tell, is to blitz through an island and try to stay together as a group. There’s a lot of killing and a bit of mining azerite and… well, not much else, really. It’s not very interesting, not very deep, and not very satisfying. Add to that the stress of trying to beat the other side’s meter and it’s a “GO GO GO” experience without the excitement of anticipated rewards.

And there really aren’t any good rewards. Blizzard was crowing about how large the prize pool was for expeditions, with gear and mounts and pets and toys. But I’ve run about 10 of these things and received merely AZERITE each and every time. If the studio was smart, it would give players a guaranteed fun payout their first run to hook them, but nothing doing.

I’m of the mind to outright ditch this activity going forward. It all feels like such a waste of effort and resources to build a system that any focus group should have told Blizzard was not wanted. Can you imagine the excitement if Blizzard had announced, say, real housing instead of this? Island expeditions are the Secret World scenarios of World of Warcraft, and I shall file them away as such.

What will we get out of the World of Warcraft Classic demo at BlizzCon?

Blizzard raised some eyebrows — and perhaps excitement — by announcing that it would be allowing both attendees and virtual ticket holders at BlizzCon the opportunity to play a demo of World of Warcraft Classic. Now, it’s obvious why the studio didn’t save this for a big stage announcement; got to sell them $50 tix, after all! But I can’t fault the studio for shrewd marketing and selling a $50 demo from 2004 to fans.

We’re suckers for nostalgia.

It’s not a particularly big draw for me. I’ll still peek at the game when it goes live, but I don’t need a demo to remind me what vanilla WoW was like. I suspect that for many people, this will be a quick way to satisfy curiosity in a few departments:

  1. Is playing vanilla WoW actually fun today or is it something we merely remember as fun but the times have changed?
  2. Can Blizzard pull this off and bring back classic-era WoW the way it was?
  3. Are there things about WoW vanilla that we forget?
  4. How different will WoW Classic be to the live MMO?

People will have about six days to figure this out as they explore two beginner zones. I’m sure it’s going to be a huge event for streamers and YouTubers, and that’s another way to satisfy that curiosity.

But the more meta question that I’m pondering is this: What will we get out of this demo in the long run? I could see this demo dampening enthusiasm or driving hype for the actual product, depending on the temperment and reception of the players. Will this be the start of Blizzard talking more about this legacy server? Is it an indication that it’s nearer to reality than we thought, or are we still in for a few years of development yet? Will players be talking about WoW Classic in December or feeling as though they got their fill from that one week the month previous?

This is what I’ll be watching for next month. My only worry here is that Blizzard has already spilled the big announcements for WoW between this and Patch 8.1 and won’t have much to discuss about the MMO come BlizzCon. Might just not be WoW’s year, if all the Diablo talk is any indication.

WoW: Clad in steel and taffy

World of Warcraft this past week became more about a singular and rather casual goal: To scratch and claw my way to gear level 305 so that I could hop onto the heroic dungeon expressway and really start gearing up. It was remarkably slow going, because regular dungeons didn’t provide enough gear for the time investment, and I had yet to unlock world quests.

Fortunately, once I pressed far enough into Drustvar, I hit that one quest where the Order of Embers opened up and granted me instant-friendly status. From there, a blanket of world quests unfurled over the areas, and I got to work. I installed a new mod that helped to sort out world quests by reward type and used that to start pinpointing which quests needed to be completed to help get that gear score up.

Inch by inch, quest by quest, it started to happen. I couldn’t figure out how to improve my weapon — I’m guessing that part is dungeon-only — but all of the rest of my gear gradually upgraded from 275s greens and blues to 310, 315, and even one 325 blues. Getting from 303 to 305 was the toughest stretch, because I really needed just leg or glove gear to put me over the top. Finally, it was done.

Well, that small step was done. I know I have a long way to go. At least now I can get into heroics, and the next plateau that I need to reach is 320 — that’s when I can go into warfronts. And since everyone is singing the praises of the gear there, I want to reach it before Blizzard nerfs that all into oblivion.

At least I have more options at the present: heroics, world quests, and island expeditions. Once I reach 320ish, I’ll upgrade to mythics, warfronts, raids, etc. All at the casual pace I’ve been gaming at, but it’ll be nice to have a full set of purple gear and be able to trounce world content.

Speaking of which, I still have a TON to do for regular questing in Tiragarde Sound and Drustvar. I think I’ll keep hacking away at Drustvar until that gones done, wrap up TS, then focus on my war campaign. I know I’m a full month or so behind the masses now, but I guess I’m well over feeling behind. Now I just am happy that I have goals to reach.

Long-term, I really want to unlock Dark Iron Dwarves and start in on a Shaman, but that has to wait until I get the rep and perhaps also finish up on my Horde alt. I’ve abandoned all other characters to go all-in on my Death Knight right now, but I can’t stay like this forever. But I do want to stay with her for the time being because another long-term goal is getting Pathfinder and eventually flying, and that means getting on top of reputation grinds right now instead of leaving them for later on.

World of Warcraft: Breaking down that level 120 wall

So, I hit level 120, like, a month after the rest of you. And that was the easy part.

As has been well-documented before me and is now going to be further documented BY me, there’s a nasty wall that you hit at level 120 thanks to Blizzard’s scaling technology. Zones and mobs that used to be a breeze now hit like a Mack truck. Three-player mobs are all but impossible for my newly minted 120 Death Knight to beat, even with all sorts of cooldowns going off. Questing has slowed down because of this, and my enjoyment of progressing has diminished now that I (ironically) feel much weaker than I did at 119 (or at 110, for that matter).

The only way out of this quagmire is to gear up, as is the long-standing tradition of World of Warcraft. I know that if I can push my item level high enough, all this will go back to feeling normal and then, hopefully, rather easy.

But the question is, how? What’s the best path to take at 120?

My first thought was “world quests,” because I’ve been conditioned by Legion. However, with only one-and-a-half zones under my belt, I didn’t have the three friendly reps needed to unlock world quests. So I shifted course and moved over to Drustvar for the time being until I got that rep. Still working on that, but hopefully I’ll access it one of these nights.

The only other way that I see right now is through normal mode dungeons. Yes, I’m so pathetically weak that I don’t even have the item level needed for heroics. This is fine and normal, but it’s not my preferred route right now. For one thing, Battle for Azeroth’s dungeons are way, way too long. There’s so much in the way of trash mobs, and at least for those of us struggling to gear up, it’s kind of a slog to get through them. Even so, I’ve gamely queued up for them and crossed my fingers for some blue loot that will help to pull my item score closer to 305.

And while the dungeons are long at this point, at least they’re pretty interesting! I haven’t seen them all yet, but my favorite so far is Waycrest Manor, because I am a sucker for haunted houses. This one is quite well done, too. My only complaint is that everyone keeps pushing forward and there’s always combat to be had that I can’t stop and take all of the screenshots that I want to do.

My hope is that within a week or so, I’ll hit 305 on gear, access heroics (and better gear), get world quests going, and work my way up toward warfronts and LFR. I don’t need to be top-tier or anything, I just want to be good enough so that combat is breezy fun rather than annoyingly tough. Past that, I’ll start figuring out alternative goals, such as pursuing island expedition rewards and getting that rep for allied races. Plus, there’s always my poor level 116 Hordie who could use love and the whole same process.