From the Burning of Teldrassil to the Siege of Undercity, the results of the Fourth War, and more, the Battle for Azeroth has changed the face of World of Warcraft forever. Throughout the expansion, the WoW team would respond to criticisms and questions with a hasty “Wait and see! The expansion is not done yet!”
With the pre-expansion event winding down and World of Warcraft: Shadowlands just around the corner, it is finally possible to say that we have waited and have seen what BfA had to offer throughout its 2 years-long existence.
Before we venture deeper, I want to note that I am not delusional enough to believe that my reasons would prompt the WoW team to change anything, far from it. But the devs do encourage leaving players to provide feedback on their reasoning via the forums, the subscription cancellation survey form, or via other means, and this is my version of getting this closure.
Legion massively revamped WoW’s gameplay. Whether for better or worse, Battle for Azeroth iterated on its work and, as Shadowlands pre-patch shows, it will continue in kind.
Most gameplay problems featured in BfA have not just suddenly appeared out of nowhere but are a result of years of incremental changes that have reached its peak in WoW’s 7th expansion.
My main gripe with WoW’s gameplay lies with its class design. It is not as simple as saying “WoW’s classes suck!” as the problem consists of several intertwined issues.
One of such issues is Blizzard’s love to fix what isn’t broken and revamp certain classes/specs every expansion while ignoring others. The Survival Hunter specialization, for example, has not received a single specific change between the two expansions besides some number tweaking and general class changes.
As for the other issues, check out the points below!
Heavily Spec-Oriented Gameplay
Unlike Vanilla-to-WoD timeline, Legion and onward started treating various specs as their own mini-classes. In previous expansions, you were a Hunter or a Paladin, whatever Class you chose on the character creation screen. Sure, you might have needed an extra set of weapons or a few different pieces of gear to optimize your gameplay, but nothing else stood in the way of diving into content in a different spec/role of your chosen Class.
But everything changed when the Legion attacked. Now you’re not just any Death Knight, you’re a Blood Death Knight! With the introduction of Artifacts and other expansion systems, in addition to pursuing extra pieces of gear, one would have to level the Artifact, hunt down needed Relics and pursue the spec-specific Legendaries to be able to compete in the end-game content. Sure, by 7.3 with all the catch-up mechanics in place it was not a big deal but early on?..
BfA continued Legion’s tradition with the new expansion-specific feature: Azerite Gear. Now one just had to get a new set of the Azerite Armor, role-specific Essences and various Corruptions to jump into the content.
Shadowlands takes it a few steps further: now you aren’t just, say, Marksmanship Hunter or Blood DK, you’re a Kyrian Marksmanship Hunter and a Night Fae Blood DK! Your Covenant of choice provides your character with a bunch of cosmetics in addition to a Class-specific ability and a spec-based ability. Not to mention the Netherlight Crucible v2 – the Soulbind system that also features spec-specific elements. Legendaries also make a return with their spec-specific power boosts.
With the new leveling system, at this point, it is easier to level another character of the same class to try out the new role than to go through the hoops to switch.
Another issue related to the overall class design is the concept of rented power-ups adopted by Blizzard in Legion and continuing its influence in Shadowlands.
Instead of creating fun and fulfilling classes and then enhancing them further via talents, gear sets and stats, as well as other means, lately it feels like Blizzard is plugging the holes left in design with expansion-specific rented power-ups.
Sure it can be fun playing when your character is at their peak – fully leveled Artifact and two Legendaries, Azerite Gear + Corruptions + Essences and I’m pretty sure it will be a fulfilling experience to have Covenant-specific abilities and passives boosting your rotation, complete a spec-specific crafted Legendary.
But it will also be going away, just like the Artifact abilities and just like the Azerite Powers. At best, we can hope that Blizzard will reintroduce some of those abilities via talents or passively to some lucky classes.
It is not a good feeling to lose power and feel weaker when your character should be growing stronger with better gear and levels. This approach seems almost anti-RPG. Take a look at Torghast: your characters grow in power with every floor of the tower only to lose all of it once they step a foot outside. Almost a miniature version of WoW expansion.
I also can’t help but feel that WoW does not have a long-term goal in mind when it comes to Class Design and Expansion Systems. Instead of designing a power or creating a system and then reiterating or reusing it somehow in the next expansion, it is as if WoW developers are trying to create a new game from scratch every expansion.
That leads us to the next point.
An Overabundance of Systems & Currencies (That Are Left Behind as Expansion Ends)
Every WoW expansion has its own specific features that are supposed to enhance the gameplay. Some are smaller, some are bigger, but almost all of them are left behind:
- WoD: Garrisons & Invasions.
- Legion: Class Order Halls, Artifacts and supporting systems, Mage Tower
- BfA: Island Expeditions, Warfronts, Azerite and related features
Ironically, the Table Missions manage to sneak their way into every expansion since WoD.
In addition to the dev time spent designing and iterating these systems that are to be left behind, many of them have related currencies that will be cluttering your characters’ currency page for years to come.
Shadowlands does not seem to be very different in this regard: the expansion introduces a variety of new systems and currencies. Too much, in fact, if you ask me:
In your very Covenant, you will have to deal with the Sanctum, its Anima Network, Adventures aka Table Missions, the Renown Grind, Maw grind locked behind time-gate, leveling up Soulbinds and buffing it with random spec-specific Conduits, gathering materials for your legendary in Torghast, doing your special Covenant feature and more.
That is without mentioning the features that will be carried over from previous expansions such as PvP Honor/Conquest farm, reputations and Paragon boxes, Mythic+, crafting.
While it remains to be seen, most likely Covenants and the related systems & Torghast at a bare minimum will be staying behind.
PvP & PvE – Separate But Not Equal
Taking a step away from class design and expansion features, let’s take a look at WoW’s PvP. Since Legion the developers have tried to divorce it from PvE by introducing character templates, PvP talents, War Mode and more.
Those efforts left PvP in a weird place: you don’t have to PvP if you are a primarily PvE player (and you shouldn’t!) but if you prefer to spend your time on battlegrounds or arenas, you better spend at least an equal time in PvE.
Leveling Artifacts? Easier done in PvE.
Azerite gear? Essences? Corruptions? Most of it is PvE.
Good trinkets? PvE.
Unless you are a high-rating PvP player, the rewards also leave much to be desired.
I spent an embarrassing amount of time in WoD running Random BGs and Ashran and had a few characters geared up doing exactly – and only – that. In Legion/BfA, it would have been next to impossible – unless you’re fine with the ilvl way below the average, of course.
The previously used system of Conquest cap and PvP vendors was simple yet graceful and allowed you to work towards a long-term goal. BfA made a big step forward with the weekly Conquest cap rewards compared to what Legion offered but the system is still lacking the elegance of what was used in WoD.
Then, of course, you can participate in the PvPvE so that you can PvP while you PvE via the new Comp Stomp brawls!
The first game in the series – Warcraft I – released in 1994, and since then the game’s story has gone through many new chapters, expanding through books, short stories, movies, animations, comics and more.
The World of Warcraft story is… pretty unique. Time-traveling orcs, space Satan stabbing a planet with a giant sword, going full-on “IMMA FIRIN’ MAH LAZER” on an eldritch horror, cutesy sentient fox race – WoW has it all and more.
Some of my friends have stopped playing WoW at various points between WoD and BfA and have seriously believed I was just trolling them when I was recounting the latest story beats in friendly banter. That included the Holy Undead Calia Menethil vying for the Forsaken leadership and aiding the good guy Lich King against one of the OG Horde leaders, now serving as one of the main villains of the upcoming expansion.
Too Much of WoW’s Story is Told Outside of the Game
The existing WoW story covers over 10,000 years of in-game lore. Obviously, it is impossible to tell its entirety in-game without skipping large bits and important details so the developers use other media outlets to bring players up to speed.
However, if you go entirely by the game, the story does not make much sense. Partially because many important world building-events are happening inside the novels.
Unless you have read Arthas: Rise of the Lich King, would you even know that Arthas had a sister? How come she is a glowing, unblemished Holy Undead? What do the Forsaken think about her? Read more books to find out.
Calia Menethil is not the only example of WoW relying too heavily on outside media to tell a story:
- How did the Alliance welcome Gilneas, considering Genn’s history with the old Alliance of Lordaeron?
- Much of MoP’s story: the fall of Theramore, Vol’jin’s personal journey and the rebellion against the Warchief, what happened to Garrosh after his defeat in SoO?
- The real story of Illidan. How did it lead to Legion?
- The transition between Legion & BfA: what happened during the meeting at Arathi? The fate of Calia Menethil.
- The transition between BfA & Shadowlands: the fate of Zandalar and the Horde leadership. Who is the Loa of Death – besides his name, Bwonsamdi – and what is his connection to the story?
Please buy WoW books to find out!
Retcons – When Continuity Is Getting In The Way Of Your Story
It can’t be easy to keep continuity in check with so many people working on WoW story across such a variety of media. That’s why Blizzard is all too ready to cast it aside if it gets in the way of telling the story they want to tell – in fact, the team admitted to that in an interview.
The most glaring issue was retconning the Chronicles – remember, all WoW lore in one place and all that? Apparently, the Chronicles are telling the story of the cosmos and Azeroth from the standpoint of Titans and their followers so it cannot be taken for granted.
In particular, one of the retcons occurred to the Wrathgate. Remember it? The quest chain that occurred during the Wrath of the Lich King? The one that ended with an amazing cutscene? “Did you think we had forgotten? Did you think we had forgiven?”
Yeah, about that… it never happened that way. Your memory betrays you much like your magic during the fight with Sindragosa. According to the Chronicles, Dranosh Saurfang died as a result of the New Plague getting unleashed by the rogue group of the Forsaken. Or was it a rogue group of the Forsaken?
There are many examples of retcons, big and small, both in the game and in the media outside of it:
- The quest chain related to the Dalaran mages in Silverpine forest? Never happened.
- Garrosh’s actions against Overlord Krom’gar in Stonetalon? A mistake.
- Illidan being dead? No, he has a demon soul. In fact, all demons can come back!
- Sargeras killing the Titan Pantheon, as told by the Chronicle? Nope. Alive and well.
- Sylvanas’ main goal in BfA being Stormwind? Nah.
Here’s also something coming in Shadowlands: the origins of Frostmourne and the Helm of Domination. In Warcraft 3, Dreadlord Tichondrius reveals that Frostmourne has been created by the Lich King.
In Arthas: Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden, it is mentioned that the Nathrezim were behind the creation of the runeblade. The same thing is also mentioned in the Chronicles.
But according to the new lore from Shadowlands, it is the Runecarver who created both the weapon and the armor of the Lich King. It was only stolen by the Dreadlords.
The new expansion also introduces some other new lore: Scourge aesthetic being influenced by Maldraxxus vs the Nerubians, Spirit Healers are actually a group of Kyrians as opposed to being Val’kyr (revealed in Legion) and other changes.
Generally saying, I don’t mind retcons, especially minor ones. But getting to a point where I actively doubt whether the things I remember reading/playing through did actually happen is quite uncomfortable.
Old Lore Begone
With Shadowlands, WoW is moving into uncharted waters: for the first time since Argus the players are moving to a completely new lore. New, unheard of, lands, people, forces! Even in WoD we had Outland and older WoW books to look back to, whereas Shadowlands are something else entirely.
Normally, I would be excited about such a possibility. But some things spoil my impression:
It feels like the developers are trying to move onto new lore as fast as possible, even if it means utterly discarding some old plot threads. Just take a look at the list below.
In two expansions we’ve dealt with: Legion, Emerald Nightmare/Dream, Elemental Lords (if you’re a Shaman), Titans;
Faction War, Kul Tiras, Zandalar, Azshara, N’zoth (thus all but finishing the Old God storyline), Mantids, Black Dragons and are about to embark on a journey to deal with the Lich King, Scourge, Kel’Thuzad (most likely) and other hanging plot threads.
The Focus on NPC Characters Makes WoW Feel Like a Comic Book
With every expansion, more and more of WoW’s focus is centered on the faction leaders and other notable characters, making the world feel incredibly small. Instead of playing the role of an adventurer in a vast world, you get to follow the drama of a group of superheroes. It feels more like reading a comic book about someone else’s adventure than having your own.
Sure, you might be the one to do all the legwork and even get a killing blow or two to show off for it, but who is the real hero of Azeroth? Who does the story revolve around? Who drives it?
Sylvanas Windrunner. Other NPCs do.
Speaking of NPCs, over the last few expansions the Horde lost a number of important figures: Garrosh, Vol’jin, Rastakhan, Saurfang, Sylvanas, Nathanos, Gallywix. With some of these pillars of the faction gone, the Horde currently feels a bit – a lot – faceless. Characters like Baine, Mayla or Rokhan can’t hold a candle to the likes of Alleria, Jaina or Tyrande. This issue will not be resolved any time soon – it will certainly not be approached in Shadowlands as already admitted by Blizzard themselves.
Admittedly, despite the strong roster, the Alliance is not much better off as Blizzard is obviously afraid to start inter-faction conflict when it comes to the Blue side:
- Nature-loving Night Elves and imperialistic Dark Iron Dwarves in the same faction with no conflict? It is more likely than you think.
- Lightforged holy goats sharing the faction with Void Elves, literally getting driven mad by whispers? No problem. Their leaders are a couple, after all!
- Tyrande showed a certain promise for inter-faction conflict, returning Anduin’s letters unanswered in the latest book. However, the High Priestess mellowed out when it comes to her faction – now she has the eyes only for one lady in town.
- Admittedly, Talanji, whose story also revolved around vengeance and the conflict with her own faction, also softened up.
As long as the Alliance revolves around what Anduin believes in, it will continue to be a boring grey mass behind his throne. Hopefully, Shadowlands will spice things up a bit!
Your Choices Matter… Not
For the first time, World of Warcraft provided players with some agency, allowing the Horde players to choose a side in the War Campaign while the Alliance players got to name a ship.
When patch 8.2.5. came out, there was even a cool roleplay moment that allowed Loyalists to engage in PvP with Alliance players and followers of Saurfang outside of the gates of the besieged Orgrimmar.
Sadly, that choice amounted to nothing. Following a cool but brief cutscene with Sylvanas in Ghostlands, your character was left behind while the Dark Lady went off to break the sky in Icecrown.
Blizzard had already revealed that the Loyalist choice will likely not be acknowledged in Shadowlands – it already wasn’t acknowledged when it came to killing Nathanos Blightcaller, the Champion of the Banshee Queen, in the latest expansion’s pre-patch.
Did I actually expect Blizzard to give players something intricate? No, not really. However, since the team decided to provide players with choice, I hoped it would amount to more than “Just play along for now, everything is going according to plan”. At this point, the devs should have just added the same line to being present during Nathanos’ death, for the maximum salt effect.
Keeping the Gift of N’zoth (de)buff on your character amounted to much the same, except it also ruined my mog for a year in the process.
Sylvanas Windrunner and the 4D Chess
With the expansion coming to its end, now it is obvious that the entirety of BfA served as a glorified intro to the Shadowlands, bringing players some delicious gray morality and faction pride along the way. That was sarcasm in case you couldn’t tell.
At the moment, it feels like entirely too much is riding on Sylvanas Windrunner and her mysterious plan to “set us all free”. Does she have a great reason for doing what she did? Would it serve as a reason enough for Teldrassil? (note: reason, not excuse)
To me, it feels like too much can go wrong too easily with the playerbase still tense in the aftermath of the Battle for Azeroth, no one more so than the Night Elves and the Forsaken.
I will be honest, it is hard for me to imagine an ending to this story that will satisfy all sides. There are those who are rooting for Sylvanas’ redemption while others want her to face eternal suffering. How do you find a way to please those two camps as well as all those in between?
Some of my reasons for finally deciding to leave WoW after over a decade spent playing the game lie outside Azeroth.
Lack of Communication From Devs & Ignored Feedback
I think at this point pretty much any WoW fan would smile upon reading “we want to improve our communication with players!” – I remember seeing this line many times over the expansions, but the communication is still where it was in WoD: nowhere.
During the alpha-beta cycle, it is also exacerbated by developers openly ignoring pages upon pages of feedback.
I can’t really talk about most classes except the one I main: the Hunter. It took months upon months to get Blizzard to take a look at Pet Revival time (originally increased to 6 seconds in Shadowlands) and to take the damage component out of Hunter’s Mark despite next to universal agreement on the forums and other social networks.
Lack of Permanence
World of Warcraft is constantly evolving – it involves the classes, the content and even the world itself. And it is a good thing – if players still had access to the old stuff.
I’m more than fine with time-sensitive content like Ahead of the Curve mounts, the Mage Tower, Elite PvP sets and so forth. But since Cataclysm, Blizzard has taken out large chunks of the game such as:
- Pre-Cataclysm world
- MoP Legendary Cloak Quest Chain
- WoD Legendary Ring Quest Chain
- Legion Artifacts system
- BfA Corruption system (thank the Titans)
Additionally, the developers keep on revamping classes and specs, sometimes taking them to extremes: Demonology Warlock from WoD and onward, Survival Hunter revamp in Legion and so forth.
What is preventing the team from introducing, say, Necromancers and cutting out Unholy Death Knights from the game to give the new class some interesting bits? Or completely revamping your spec to reflect a new fantasy?
WoW Is Falling Behind
WoW is not the only MMORPG I have tried out. I spent a lengthy period in Star Wars: The Old Republic, played through the entirety of The Elder Scrolls Online story-wise and had a long bout of Guild Wars 2 among less involved stays in other games.
And the truth of the matter is that WoW is falling behind when it comes to features.
It took the game an extraordinary amount of time to introduce new customization. The team revamps crafting and professions every other expansion but they remain mostly useless, especially when it comes to the “general” professions. So much so that First Aid got axed in Legion and Archeology will be staying out of Shadowlands.
WoW’s Epic Battlegrounds that pit 40 players of one faction against 40 players of the other still lag as much as Legion Dalaran in its peak while other MMOs out there feature much larger scale battles with no problem.
But the saddest thing is that the closest we got to real housing in WoW were the Garrisons back in Warlords. I still use mine frequently due to having easy access to a bank, a mailbox and the Auction House in one place, but I want a real house and not a bunch of tents in a frozen wasteland of an alternative universe! I want to display my trophies from my time in WoW and dive back into old content to hunt down some furniture or what have you.
Thank the Titans for Vulpera Camping ability! The true WoW housing of 2020.
One Story to Rule Them All
One of my pet peeves when it comes to Blizzard at large and not just World of Warcraft is how frequently the team is reusing the same tropes when it comes to female characters.
Let’s see: a trauma, followed by a (forced) body change to symbolize the transition, followed by crazy town.
- StarCraft: Kerrigan aka Queen of Blades
- Diablo: Leah and to a lesser extent Adria
- Overwatch: Widowmaker
- WarCraft: Azshara, Helya, Sylvanas and to a lesser extent Jaina, Alleria and Tyrande
Frankly, it’s repetitive and boring. Blizz, there is a way to write characters facing their trauma and not going evil, you know? Ask Bungie for advice.
Honorable mention to Leah from Diablo 3, who was not a long-range fighter and got turned red, but was still tortured into becoming evil because Blizzard really likes that trope for some reason. pic.twitter.com/EhGGwKk1DY
— Sam Sykes (@SamSykesSwears) December 16, 2019
I Feel Lied To
As a part of my work and also because I cared for the universe so much, I have followed Blizzard’s interviews, livestreams and other reveals before the launch of BfA. I’ve seen it all: the “morally gray”, the “you will be surprised by who burned Teldrassil”, the “faction pride”, the “attacking Lordaeron for wrong reasons”, the “Red Kalimdor, Blue Eastern Kingdoms” – and I feel lied to.
It isn’t the first time Blizzard overpromised and underdelivered – just look at WoD – but this time it hits differently, almost maliciously.
There is a great forum thread on the official forums that provides a list of what was said about BfA before its launch and what we have gotten in the end. Check it out if you want to see what this expansion could have been.