Battle for Azeroth has been a divided expansion for a lot of players of World of Warcraft. Understandably so, as it comes after the massive hit of its predecessor, Legion, which managed to almost unanimously encapsulate what a large majority of the player-base felt was their Class Fantasy. Some have referred to it as the, “Golden Age,” of end-game storytelling in Warcraft. Aside from it’s strong opening very few can say the same about Battle for Azeroth, where an incredible amount of its systemic problems revolve around its repeatable and shallow gameplay. All of this, however, we can trace back to the expansion most lauded for its wonderful design.
Taking a cross-section of the endgame experience in BFA, it is incredibly easy to see where a lot of player’s problems begin to develop. Everything up to this point in Warcraft’s endgame, from launch until 8.1, is chocked full of repeatable content with little substance. Part of this comes from the need for constant content streams in any MMORPG; that is simply an inescapable part of the genre. However, as we’ve seen with recent releases such as Anthem there is both a very good way to manage repeatable content and multiple very bad ways.
Battle for Azeroth has two primary content streams outside of the PvE scene (including the Island Expeditions, Mythic+ and Raids), and the Rated PvP brackets. These revolve around World Quests and the War Campaign, and each has its own series of systemic problems and deep rooted issues.
The War Campaign, of course, mirrors Legion’s longstanding Suramar Rebellion Questline. This was arguably one of the biggest draws to the endgame after level 110 and is still a piece of content I encourage every new player to go through. Opening up the inaccessible Suramar zone, this questline tells the story of First Arcanist Thalyssra, exiled from her city and people after the invasion of the Legion. Fighting alongside her, you establish the Dusk Lily Resistance, an underground group of Nightborne who seek to overthrow Suramar’s fascist regime and expel the Legion. Time, however, is of the essence as enemies from all sides race to an inevitable war in the streets as the gaze of the Legion’s master draws ever closer to Azeroth.
Undoubtedly this is one of my favorite questlines in Warcraft’s recent history, even more so than the excellent storytelling found in Mists of Pandaria or the interwoven questlines found in Icecrown from the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. A high points was the way questing was paced out for Suramar, with its original huge amount of quests and a drip-feed of more each week until Nighthold’s release in late 7.1. Aside from the excellent long-term character development and storytelling through Thalyssra and the Rebellion’s long roster of characters, this was digestible new content for players each week that told an engaging story which linked back to Legion’s main plot point.
The War Campaigns for both the Alliance and Horde attempt to emulate this example, however, both fall incredibly flat. Part of this is simply due to the mentality of how these storylines are developed and where they fall into importance for the player. Feasibly you can start your War Campaign within the first few levels of Battle for Azeroth’s gameplay and can finish almost half by the time you complete both [Zandalar Forever] and [A Nation United] respectively. This eats up the available digestible content at the end-game for players, despite the fact that the War Campaign is simply shorter than Suramar’s [Insurrection] questlines.
It is quite hard to argue against that, while they may have close to the same number of quests if you squint a little, the War Campaign quests are simply far shorter. Whereas [Insurrection] saw you often traveling both within and without Suramar City for varied tasks, the War Campaign often takes you from Point A to Point B, doing five quests and then returning to your capital city for a brief break. This was no harder felt than at post-launch, with both War Campaigns ending incredibly abruptly with the theft of the Abyssal Scepter and the Incursion of Vol’dun. This was lengthened to a similar extent as the Suramar grind, where players needed to open up further quests through reputation grinding. Once again, this simply does not change the fact that there is not enough substance to these unlocked quests to make it worthwhile. This is not even comparing the quality of storytelling between the two questlines and their hosts of characters, who frankly just do not get the same level of development in Battle for Azeroth.
This leaves us with World Quests, which veteran players will know as the replacement for the old Daily Quest system. Ideally these quests and events are dotted throughout the world to keep you engaged and playing for just a few minutes each day, and work to unlock some of the game’s completionist content including Reputations. These existed in Legion just as heavily as they do in Battle for Azeroth, and they were just as much of a problem then as now. Each day a new quest comes up to perform four World Quests for one of your factions, which works wonderfully as an incentive to get out and grind. These quests, however, only last for three days each meaning you can quite easily fall behind not just on your World Quests, which also only often last eighteen hours each, but your reputations as well. After hitting Revered by completing each zone’s questlines, World Quests become the only manner in which to grind that reputation.
This is a long-standing problem that has existed well since before Battle for Azeroth, but most prolifically reared its ugly head in Mists of Pandaria. At the time, there was a large level gap between what you could earn through regular content versus what you could earn in Raiding and PvP content. The only manner in which to close that gap was to complete every single reputation and buy incredibly high item level gear.
This problem, thankfully, no longer exists in World of Warcraft, as with the introduction of Mythic dungeons and the Mythic+ circuit, gearing has a much easier curve. However this has only reduced the importance of these Reputations in the endgame, meaning you are far less likely to grind them to completion and do your World Quests.
Blizzard attempted to introduce a potential incentive to correct this issue in Legion with the Paragon System. Used as an additional reward tier, those who completed their factions could continue to grind additional Reputation and earn a Paragon Chest with additional rewards, including a faction-based mount. For obvious reason this system was not received well, chief among them being the incredibly low drop rate of the mounts, some having a chance of less than 1%.
This doesn’t mean the Paragon System stopped in Battle For Azeroth; instead each Paragon chest now contains a plethora of War Resources (the new mission currency), some crafting materials, Azerite for the expansion’s new Artifact, and that’s often it. While both the Honorbound and 7th Legion now have access to mounts tied to the Warfront System, the currency required that also drops from Paragon Chests is incredibly minimal. Despite religiously grinding my chests weekly, I have yet even a quarter of the rewards now available through this new currency. Aside from this, there is zero incentive to perform any extra work in the Paragon system.
This effectively neuters two main strips of endgame content in Battle for Azeroth. While most players will find themselves falling into Mythic+ content, Raids or the Rated PvP scene, others will float in this cycle of dry, repeatable content. It is no wonder why World of Warcraft’s endgame continues to be heavily criticized after the end of the [Insurrection] storyline in Legion. There is, plainly speaking, nothing here rewarding for players to engage in. While there are deeper incentives to completing the War Campaign or grinding out factions, there is nothing immediately rewarding for players undergoing these major aspects of the endgame.
In looking at both of these, there just simply isn’t enough here for players to bite into at the peak of Battle for Azeroth’s endgame content. Quality is king when we talk about hooking players into long term MMO consumption, and while every live service game or product does have repeatable content, there is a massive divergence in quality even between two separate expansions in World of Warcraft. The War Campaign is simply too short to fully enjoy and explore, while the World Quest and Paragon systems barely warrant that much about them. If Blizzard wants to keep players invested for the long term in Warcraft’s endgame beyond high-tier content, their most basic systems require a serious innovation that, if BFA is any indication, won’t be coming yet for some time.