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WoW The War Within is great, but there’s one major flaw

I tested out the WoW The War Within alpha in London, and while it has some of the best-looking zones I’ve ever seen, there’s one major flaw.

A blond haired elf woman wearing a silver gown stands looking over her shoulder in a sunny area

The Isle of Dorn is a battleground. You awaken beneath a pile of boulders, waves crashing against a stony beach, littered with corpses. Your rescuer calls out to either Jaina or Thrall, “the champion has survived!” before being cut down by the swathes of arachnid monsters that swarm the sands. This is our introduction to World of Warcraft: The War Within, and it’s absolute chaos.

Chunks of glowing purple crystal lie embedded in the sands, potentially foreshadowing the fate of the iconic floating city of Dalaran, which lore snippets hint lies in ruins around us. As I push the Nerubians back to whence they came, I’m invited to take to the skies using the all-new dynamic flight mounts – once called Dragonriding. As the tempest rages and the skies gray, the clouds part to reveal the sprawling Lord of the Rings-esque city of Dornogal, World of Warcraft’s newest hub zone.

And it is absolutely spectacular. Carved entirely out of stone, pillars rise above the city streets, piercing the azure skies above. There are nooks and crannies down every alley, and there’s a perfect balance of Dwarven (or Earthen) mechanization and glowing blue veins of magical energy, which spider in Nordic-inspired patterns across buildings and rooftops. For the first time in a while, I’m impressed by how Blizzard’s MMORPG looks in action.

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The last time I remember being excited by a new zone was Zuldazar in Battle for Azeroth. While the expansion itself doesn’t rank very high on my tier list, there’s no debating the sheer majesty the stunning Azetc-style city exudes. From the tips of its golden step pyramids to the dense jungle foliage that swallows the surrounding landscape, I’ve never loved a zone more – but Dornogal (and The War Within as a whole) may just change that.

And that’s before I’ve even explored the arachnid-inspired Azj-kahet, whose deep, venomous greens and violets have already infected my gothic soul. During the War Within WoWcast, which we were given an exclusive preview of, snapshots of the Nerbuar Palace interior look absolutely gorgeous, channeling the Warhammer-style grimdark cathedral aesthetic I absolutely adore. All in all, The War Within looks like it may just have some of the game’s most polished zones to date, and I’m loving it – despite absolutely hating spiders.

A World of Warcraft character sits on a unicorn with a blue tail in a rocky city area

Speaking of spiders, WoW now has an arachnophobia filter. I’ve ranted before about how well-animated WoW’s eight-legged monsters are in comparison to some of the other enemies in the game; they’ve kept me up at night once or twice, I can confirm. Now, however, you can magically transform them into crabs by ticking a box in the accessibility menu. Goodbye Shadra, haunter of my dreams, hello Crab Rave crab – I finally got the last laugh.

But it’s not just bosses that have been given the crustaceans treatment. Any arachnid mounts can also be transformed into crabs, so I won’t have to deal with the infamous Bloodfang Widow. Given all mounts (with a few exceptions) now sport dynamic flight, that’s a pretty good thing – I don’t think my heart could deal with spiders casually dropping out of the sky.

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Lack of freefalling spiders aside, however, dynamic flight did somewhat ruin my War Within experience. This is, of course, the first time we’ve been able to fly in a WoW expansion from the onset (excluding Dragonflight, because Dragonriding was initially built for that adventure), and while I appreciate that it saves you running from one place to the next, the flip side is its difficulty to handle.

As someone who has acquired many a Dragon Glyph and completed several races, I got to grips with dynamic flight relatively quickly despite an extended absence from WoW. However, my mount did start off with the basic abilities and three Vigor slots, meaning that I kept falling out of the sky several miles from my destination. Given the team is now designing maps to be dynamic-flight-friendly, they are a lot bigger (and, in this case, taller) as a result, so three slots of Vigor doesn’t feel like enough anymore. While it’s unclear whether or not your previously acquired talents will port over to The War Within, it was the one thing I found pretty frustrating about my experience.

And I’m someone who has done all of this before. Blizzard is heavily marketing The War Within – and the World Soul Saga as a whole – as being the prime place for newer players to jump in. At the moment, there’s no explanation on how to use dynamic flight, and I felt the pain of a few of my peers as they tried to get to grips with things with no instructions. As I’ve said, this is an alpha, so it’s the perfect time to make changes – this, for me, is the one thing I’d like to see fixed before the WoW The War Within release date rolls around this summer.

A World of Warcraft character flying on a griffin in a forest area

But it is a relatively minor blip in what was a very positive experience overall. I only had a few hours with the alpha, but I’ve already experienced the highs of excitement and the lows of loss. From blowing up a mead field to ward off an army of encroaching Nerubians to losing one of the expansion’s most lovable NPCs early on, The War Within’s opening sequence very much sets the tone of what is to follow.

As Blizzard slowly but surely pulls the curtains back, and we get more windows into what to expect from its mammoth three-part saga, I grow increasingly excited. While I’ll always miss good ol’ Sylvanas Windrunner (I’m one of those people, sorry), Xal’atath has the makings of an incredible antagonist – perhaps the powerful villainess that The Banshee Queen was supposed to be before the confusion of Shadowlands. While the future looks slightly bleak for Azeroth, this is a new dawn for World of Warcraft; I can feel it in the very fabric of the game. So, fellow Shadow Priests, rise up – a new adventure awaits.