As expected, Blizzard announced a new World of Warcraft expansion at BlizzCon 2017, Battle for Azeroth, and it's all about the war between Alliance and Horde. A lengthy beta phase is expected to start early next year, with release later on in 2018.
For the hints that lead up to here, check our coverage of all the hints on a new WoW expansion.
The expansion will explore the wounds suffered in the long-running feud between the Alliance and Horde. There’s no love lost between them, and their tensions really come to a head in the story. Here's some vital info:
- Two new continents, Kul Tiras and Zandalar, with zones and dungeons
- The Heart of Azeroth, an artifact-style necklace all players will have that upgrades your other gear through new resource Azerite.
- Allied Races, three for each faction
- Warfronts, an RTS-style game mode
- Island Expeditions, three-player scenarios with a PvP option
- Level cap increase to 120, and all the associated questing
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth release date
So far, Blizzard have not provided a release date for Battle of Azeroth. Best guess would put it late on in 2018, either shortly before or shortly after BlizzCon that year - this would be consistent with previous expansions. Blizzard also normally give a release date estimate at some stage, usually around pre-orders opening or large press events, along the lines of "on or before" a certain date.
Some elements of the expansion, such as a preview battleground and level scaling, will be introduced in the next WoW patch, 7.3.5. There is also a lot of data for Allied Races in that patch, though Blizzard have said they aren't being introduced until Battle for Azeroth is available.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth beta
This is also thus-far unannounced, though easy to assume from past events. Throughout Legion, Blizzard have always made sure there is a new thing on the test server almost immediately after a patch goes live. The gap between 7.3.2 and 7.3.5 was one of the largest, but we expect it won't be long after 7.3.5 comes out - which also doesn't have a release date, but will likely be early 2018 - that the Battle for Azeroth beta begins.
Beta is usually a catchall term that includes the alpha phase as well, and simply means whatever part of testing is available to the public. Alpha testing for Legion started nine months before its release and just three after it was announced, and was longer and more in-depth than most. If the same pattern was followed, we'd expect to see it in late February. This would match up with suspected 7.3.5 release dates in January.
All the new BFA features and content are on the two new continents, Kul Tiras and Zandalar, which are explored by the Alliance and Horde respectively. Horde players will need to persuade the trolls of Zandalar to lend their naval might to the war effort, while Alliance players will travel to the home of Jaina Proudmoore and rally its inhabitants to fight for their cause.
In gameplay terms you'll level on your own continent, then both will open up once you hit max to do world quests and continue the storyline. They each contain three zones, broken down like this:
- Kul Tiras
- Stormsong Valley - the place where Kul Tiran ships are blessed by Sea Priests. There are probably Old Gods here.
- Drustvar - playable at BlizzCon, this area concerns a mysterious village and its frozen inhabitants.
- Tiragarde Sound - overrun with pirates, as well as Jaina's mother Katherine Proudmoore. Likely the Alliance capital of the expansion.
- Nazmir - also playable at BlizzCon, this is a Blood Troll focused area where you defeat various spirits. It also has Old Gods in it.
- Zuldazar - capital of Zandalar, and thus the Horde capital for the expansion. An uprising provides the narrative focus.
- Voldun - a desert and prison for the Zandalari, it also has a race of almost certainly adorable fox people. Plus: Old Gods.
During all of this you'll also be progressing through the War storyline that explains what's going on in the wider world - such as the burning of Teldrassil and the invasion of Lordaeron that leaves Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor each dominated by one faction. Expect things a bit like this, from Legion's levelling experience:
Only more of it, as there won't be the individual class campaigns to design this time around.
Battle for Azeroth dungeons
New dungeons are also on the way, ten in all. Here's the run-down, which is split by faction while levelling up but all ten are available at max level for both:
- Freehold - A pirate flavoured dungeon in the underworld of Tiragarde Sound. Was playable at BlizzCon 2017.
- Waycrest Manor - A stately manor in Drustvar, haunted by a Kul Tiran noble house.
- Tol Dagor - The "prison island" of Kul Tiras.
- Shrine of the Storm - Stormsong Valley's ship-blessing dungeon with Old Gods and sea priests. It was featured in the Boss Design panel at BlizzCon 2017.
- Siege of Boralus - Set in Tiragarde's capital, this is a max-level dungeon akin to Court of Stars from Legion.
- Atal’Dazar - "undead dinosaurs" inhabit this troll-based dungeon in Zandalar. Fun.
- Temple of Sethraliss - Vol'dun's snake-people temple.
- The Underrot - Also at BlizzCon 2017, this dungeon is where Nazmir is being corrupted from.
- King’s Rest - An ancient tomb filled with probably not still dead kings of Atal'Dazar. Dungeon inception.
- Kezan - The Horde max-level dungeon is the Goblin starting zone reconfigured as the little green ones go digging for Azurite.
Battle for Azeroth raids
Two raids have been announced so far:
Uldir, Halls of Control
A Titan facility where they experimented on Old Gods. "It didn't go so well." Details are massively unknown so far, but it will have eight bosses plenty of whom are grisily monsters. Don't expect too much of a challenge as it is very much an initial raid. You'll also be defeating the heart of corruption in Zandalar.
Even less is known about this, as it will be the second - possibly third, if there's a surprise extra - raid of Battle for Azeroth. Even the name is TBD, but will involve eventually fighting Queen Azshara and her Naga.
A key part of your character’s progression will be based around the Heart of Azeroth, an artifact-grade neck piece entrusted to each hero by Magni Bronzebeard. The pendant absorbs Azerite, a rock-like mineral that crystallizes around fissures in the ground; it’s the very lifeblood of Azeroth made stone. Goodness knows how that started bubbling to the surface.
Here's how the process actually works from a gameplay point of view:
- Any Azerite picked up is automatically absorbed into your Heart of Azeroth, levelling it up.
- At certain level thresholds, your Heart of Azeroth empowers your helm, shoulders and boots with new powers.
- These powers are selected from tiers of a wheel, as seen above. All the choices on the same tier should be for similar situations, meaning you're never choosing between utility and damage, for example.
- Each item that can be empowered has specially selected powers, rather than anything being dependent on RNG, and the higher the ilevel, the stronger those powers.
- These items cannot Titanforge, to avoid things getting too complex and aid with balancing. Ilevel differences will purely come down to which difficulty of a dungeon or raid the item was acquired on.
- Respeccing these is a consideration, but not yet decided.
The important distinction here is at no point are you set back by your choice of where to invest. Your Heart of Azeroth is always the same level no matter which gear you have equipped or which spec you're in.
New races will be joining each faction, six in all. They are:
- Lightforged Draenei
- Void Elves
- Dark Iron Dwarves
- Highmountain Tauren
- Zandalari Trolls
They start at level 20 with their own questlines, then transition into the normal levelling experience - supplemented from patch 7.3.5 onwards with scaling. Getting an Allied Race character to max level will unlock a 'heritage' armour set unique to that race.
The first two on each list there are factions we initially encountered in Legion, and the implication is that unlocking them will happen during the end of this expansion, rather than waiting for Battle for Azeroth. For example, during the What's Next panel at BlizzCon 2017, level 110 was mentioned as the max to reach for the heritage armour - not 120 as it will be in BFA. It's also been stated that unlocking the Legion-related Allied Races will involve finishing their Legion storylines and getting a high reputation with them - something you're not going to be too interested in doing once Battle for Azeroth is out. Again, though, Blizzard have been very specific that Allied Races aren't coming to the game until Battle for Azeroth, so it's possible they're a part of the 8.0 launch experience and will require a pre-order.
Naturally, if you don't want to level a new one they will be available through the race change service. It's also fully intended that this system will be expanded to include more Allied Races - there have been plenty over the course of WoW's existence - and likely soon. We'd expect at least a couple added in patches for Battle for Azeroth, and if the system proves successful and repeatable, more in expansions going forward.
Island Expeditions are three-player scenarios that are designed for any type of team composition - feel free to head in as a trio of tanks or healers, though it may not be as efficient. The goal is to obtain some Azerite for both you and your faction, and the whole thing should take under 20 minutes.
Essentially they’re mini plundering missions, but with a key difference to typical WoW activities: it’s all created on the fly. It’s not quite random or procedural generation - there are rules to ensure the island you land on tells a ‘story’ with the right combinations of enemies and loot - but it means there’s a vast enough variety to keep things replayable.
They’re also time pressured; the enemy faction has dispatched a team of champions who are also hunting that precious Azerite. Those champions can be AI controlled in normal, heroic, or mythic difficulties, or real players in the PvP version. The NPC versions also have a significant AI boost, with actual intelligence rather than rote patterns and simple aggro.
Battle for Azeroth AI
Highlighted at BlizzCon but not in much detail, BFA brings with it a new AI system, specifically for use in Island Expeditions. The plan is for the enemy team to play much more intelligently than your average mob. Traditionally in WoW an enemy will use its abilities on cooldown, in a set priority, on the target with the highest aggro unless otherwise specifically stated.
These enemies will consider far more options. For example they might crowd control a healer and then attempt to deal massive burst damage to DPS or Tank players. Equally, they may avoid combat altogether, rather than mindlessly railing on you until death, if they determine the fight isn't in their favour or there are better ways to spend their time completing objectives in the scenario.
Warfronts is a 20 person activity that looks back to Warcraft’s RTS days for inspiration. The mode sees each faction build a base, develop an army, and attempt to defeat the enemy in battle. Those core RTS loops will be present and correct here; you’ll head into the world to find resources and claim territory. Lumber and iron will allow you to build new buildings and train units, while claimed territory will increase your tech tree. Said tech tree is modelled closely on the one used in Warcraft 3. Your buildings, such as a barracks, will create AI troops who will march, MOBA creep-like, on the enemy’s base
They're PvE only, and are part of the ongoing battles between the Alliance and Horde. They're longer than Island expeditions, expected to take 40+ minutes more akin to a full dungeon. Difficulty, and rewards, are still in development.