Players are unhappy with World of Warcraft's Battle for Azeroth expansion. It doesn't look like we're looking at the pre-launch disappointment of Mists of Pandaria or the long-term dislike engendered by Warlords of Draenor, but the expansion is having problems in fundamental areas.
To its credit, Blizzard Entertainment decided to wade into the fire itself with a Reddit Ask Me Anything on Friday to address concerns. Battle for Azeroth game director Ion Hazzikostas directly answered questions about current play issues, developer intent, and future fixes. That AMA will be followed up by livestream detailing Patch 8.1 tomorrow, September 18, 2018.
While we wait, here are some of the issues that are currently bothering fans and how Blizzard is intending to potentially fix them in the future.
Azerite Armor is Confusing
One major pain point right now is the progression of the Azerite gear system. Currently, you gain Azerite Power which feeds into new levels for your Heart of Azeroth neckpiece. When you receive new head, shoulder, or chest pieces in Battle for Azeroth, each piece has different traits you can choose to unlock. The idea is that you're always able to specialize new gear towards what you want to do; Blizzard wanted Azerite Armor to be a system about player choice.
There are a few problems though. First, the Heart of Azeroth levels mean that you can't always unlock the Azerite traits for a new piece of gear. If you're at Azerite level 8, that might be enough to unlock all three traits on your current helmet, but not enough for the new one you just picked up. Even beyond that, some Azerite powers are simply more powerful than others. This means upgrades don't always feel like upgrades, which leads to dissatisfaction in players.
"We're certainly not entirely happy with how the system is playing out, and all of these are very valid concerns. We agree that it's a problem for someone to look at a 30-ilvl upgrade under normal circumstances and feel like it's not worth equipping," said Hazzikostas. "Reducing the number of situations in which that is the case is one of the system team's top priorities right now. Many [traits] are undertuned. A handful are overly powerful, to the point that they stomp out the entire decision space for a spec, and the game becomes about getting a piece with one specific trait. We'll be fixing the outliers on both ends (probably buffing dozens of weaker traits and nerfing a handful of too-strong ones)."
Reputation is a Grind
Gaining reputation with each faction for specific rewards has always been a large part of World of Warcraft. It started becoming a problem again in the latter part of the Legion expansion with the introduction of the Allied Races. To play one of the new races—Highmountain Tauren, Nightborne, Void Elf, or Lightforged Draenei—a player has to achieve Exalted, the highest Reputation level, with their respective factions. Dark Iron Dwarves and Mag'Har Orcs were added after Battle for Azeroth's launch and players expect that Zandalari Trolls and Kul Tiran Humans will be in a subsequent patch. As Blizzard adds more Allied Races, which are listed as a major expansion feature, the number of reputations you need to grind to Exalted only grows.
Once you've unlocked those Allied Races, you still have to level your new characters or pay for a level boost, only adding to the feeling of tedium. You grind out reputation, only to have to turn around and grind out levels on your new character. Players have also complained that Legacy reputations from past expansions aren't account-wide, forcing players to grind rep on multiple characters.
Hazzikostas didn't really have an answer to this problem and Blizzard in the past has said that it sees no reason to change the Reputation requirements for Allied Races.
"We're often torn when it comes to questions about alt progression, alt catch-up mechanisms, or account-wide systems. Philosophically, what's the point of an alt?" he asked. "We do want to strike a balance between offering meaningful progression, and wanting to avoid tedium on alts. The examples above are helpful, but I'd love to hear more about specific elements that feel like they discourage playing alts."
Island Expeditions Are Too Frantic
Island Expeditions were one of the new gameplay modes added to Battle for Azeroth. The system works similar to Scenarios, allowing three-player teams of any composition to queue up and tackle randomly-generated islands. The idea is to gain Azerite faster than the opposite faction team, which can be a team of AI or real players. First team to the threshold wins.
Early at launch, this was a fun system. It offered competition and exploration to PVE players and a new mode for PVP play. The problem is as the expansion has continued, the optimum way to play Island Expeditions is a mad scramble to get Azerite. There's no exploration and it doesn't matter what varying encounters are on your randomly-generated island. The goal is always "Kill everything that moves and loot Azerite faster than the other team.K Furthermore, the rewards for completing Island Expeditions were sporadic at best.
Hazzikostas said that his team would be adding more variety to Island Expeditions, but the pace probably won't be changing. Instead, Blizzard is looking into using the technology for modes that offer a different pace.
"We've heard feedback that the pace of Expeditions in general feels too frenetic, and the 'gogogo' race to gather Azerite detracts from any ability to really explore your environment or fully process the events that are unfolding. Ultimately, the Horde vs. Alliance theming of Expeditions in particular requires that competitive feel, which we know isn't for everyone, but we'd love to explore applying the underlying tech upon which Expeditions were built to other settings that don't have that same pacing," he explained.
Warfronts Take Forever
Warfronts look to be the feature that broke the back of many players. Warfronts are a new 20-man PVE mode that is supposed to push the concept of the Alliance-Horde War. When a Warfront opens up, players contribute gold, items, and War Resources to a shared pool. Once that pool has been filled, one side makes an attack to take control of the area. Once you've successfully attacked, you not only gain item level 370 gear, you also unlock further world quests and world bosses.
The problems here are many. First, you can't fail in the attack, so some feel that the mode doesn't really highlight any player interaction; you win no matter what you do. Second, the rotation cycle between factions is very long, sitting at around three weeks for a full turnover. This means one side is simply waiting to even engage with the content.
"We did a pretty poor job of communicating in advance exactly how the Warfront rotation was going to work, since it was very different on beta for ease-of-testing purposes. The gap between player expectation and reality didn't do us any favors here," said Hazzikostas. "We also do intend to add additional Warfronts over time, so that these cycles will be interwoven in a way that hopefully makes it feel like there's more to do, more often. Yeah, I recognize that right now, literally one month into the expansion to the day, a whole week feels like an eternity, let alone waiting 2 full weeks to get a shot at it on your faction."
Blizzard is entering rough seas in regards to Battle for Azeroth. A number of systems are either not working or don't feel satisfying to the player base. Battle for Azeroth might have been one of the fastest-selling expansions for World of Warcraft, but if players jump ship after launch, it's not really a win. A couple of tweaks and fixes could alleviate the pain or a lack of real fixes could make players even more angry; we'll have to see what Blizzard Entertainment offers up for the Patch 8.1 livestream tomorrow.