Everything you need to know about Battle for Azeroth, WoW's next expansion

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is coming in 2018. As players predicted months ago, it's an expansion set on the high seas full of trolls, pirates, and troll pirates. At the heart of this expansion is a renewed focus on the conflict that started everything: the monstrous Horde duking it out with the noble Alliance. During Blizzcon 2017, game director Ion Hazzikostas and creative director Alex Afrasiabi took to the stage to talk about everything we can expect from this nautical adventure.

The expansion will offer two new continents and a level cap of 120, several new races to unlock, 10 new dungeons, and exciting new activities like the real-time strategy inspired Warfronts, where 20 players will siege fortresses in a Warcraft 3-style campaign complete with base building, researching, and more. There's a ton to unpack about Battle for Azeroth, so here is everything that you need to know.

Orcs versus humans 

At the center of Battle for Azeroth is the raging conflict between the two factions at the heart of World of Warcraft. With the Legion defeated and the external threat to Azeroth now gone, the Horde and Alliance are turning on one another and seeking new allies to bolster their ranks. Capital cities have been razed in the opening blows, and players are setting out on the high seas to the new continents of Kul Tiras and Zandalar in hopes of securing a foothold against the other.

Battle for Azeroth will increase the level cap to 120 as players set out to bolster the war effort for their faction. Instead of everyone leveling in the same zone, Horde players will venture to the troll-occupied island of Zandalar while the Alliance seeks to restore diplomatic ties with the naval superpowers of Kul Tiras. Each continent has three zones that have dynamic level-scaling identical to Legion, so you can choose where to go at your leisure. Once you've reached level 120, the opposing faction's zone becomes available to explore and conquer.

Alliance

Kul Tiras is the home of the Proudmoores, most notably Katherine Proudmoore, Jaina's mother. Here, the Alliance players will need to involve themselves in the squabblings of the various great houses that each rule a zone and help settle their disputes in order to win their allegiance in the coming war.

  • Tiragarde Sound is the main hub, populated by hearty monster hunters and vicious pirates. 
  • Drustvar is a forested mountain region to the south battling a terrible curse that is consuming its citizens. 
  • To the north of Tiragarde is Stormsong Valley, a lush, green land ruled by House Stormsong and a group of sea priests who build boats for the Kul Tiran navy.

Horde

Horde players will venture to Zandalar, once the homeland of an ancient troll empire that has fallen into disarray since the events in Cataclysm. 

  • Zuldazar is the capital and only secure region on the continent—but maybe not for long, thanks to an internal uprising and raids from blood troll marauders to the north. 
  • Naz'mir is a festering swampland to the north and home to savage blood trolls who players will defeat by enlisting the aid of Loa, gods whom the trolls worship.
  • Vol'dun is a sweeping desert ravaged by legions sent by the Old Gods. Inhabited by the criminal exiles of the Zandalri tribes, players will befriend a race of cute fox-people to fight back against the slithering sethrak.

With Legion, character arcs like Illidan's redemption became a central pillar of the main story. Battle for Azeroth will expand on that in a big way by focusing on key characters from Warcraft's lore. Players will see the next chapter in the story of heroes like Anduin Wrynn, Slyvanas, Jaina Proudmoore, Thrall, and everyone's favorite troll, Vol'jin. 

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Allied races

Like previous expansions, Battle for Azeroth introduces some new races to play as—well, they're actually variations of already playable races. Throughout the story, you'll be able to curry favor with subfactions like the Lightforged dranei. Once you complete their respective quests, you unlock their unique appearance and can start a new character at level 20. There will be six allied races at launch, with more added later. The Horde gets the Nightborne, Highmountain tauren, and Zandalari trolls. The Alliance can unlock the Void elves, Lightforged dranei, and Dark Iron dwarves.

You'll be able to pay to change your race to one of these once they're unlocked, and you can also pay to boost their level, so you don't have to start over from scratch with a new character. Those who do, however, will unlock a special set of Heritage Armor at level 110 tailored to each race's aesthetic. This armor will be amazing for fashion-minded players and isn't restricted to any armor-type, so Dark Iron dwarf priests can still be decked out in the race's Heritage plate armor.

Here's a gallery of each Heritage Armor set.

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Heart of Azeroth 

One of the most contentious features in Legion was Artifact Weapons, which players leveled up and customized throughout the entirety of the expansion's story. With Battle for Azeroth, Artifact Weapons are being retired and replaced with a new system focused on a necklace called the Heart of Azeroth.

After the events of Legion, the World Soul of Azeroth is dying and its essence is bleeding to the surface. This new resource, called Azerite, feeds your medallion and lets you unlock latent properties hidden in the armor you'll be finding on the high seas. The more powerful your amulet, the more powerful bonuses you can unlock in your armor. "The Heart of Azeroth is the focal point of your character's progression throughout the expansion," said senior game designer Jeremy Feasel.

The system is a bit complex. You gain Azerite from exploration and from the usual suspects like dungeons and raids. Each piece of armor has four rings, which unlocks as your Heart of Azeroth becomes more powerful. Each ring can contain several powers, of which you can choose one to unlock. Your Heart of Azeroth isn't an expendable resource, however. So when you loot a new item, you won't have to grind more Azerite in order to unlock its abilities.

Equipment you find from more challenging content will also have more powerful abilities to choose from. Equipment's power is also related, so you won't have randomized abilities and need to farm gear hoping for the right set to be choosing from.

Island Expeditions 

One of the coolest features coming in Battle for Azeroth is Island Expeditions, where players set out in groups of three to explore uncharted isles and race against the enemy faction to secure resources. This is a hybrid "player-versus-player-versus-environment" mode where you can choose to fight enemy players or "highly dynamic" enemy AI that strategizes on its own to thwart your plans. "It's going to be one of the most, if not the most, variable, dynamic replayable experiences we've ever offered in World of Warcraft," said Hazzikostas.

The theme here is exploration, as each island encounter can change dramatically between playthroughs. Hazzikostas gave a few examples, like finding a neutral troll tribe you can befriend in one playthrough, and coming back later to find the isle cursed and full of demons. At the same time, the enemy faction will also dispatch their own group of players that you'll be competing against in order to secure the resources needed for the war effort.

If the idea of PVP doesn't appeal to you, you can also choose to go up against a new type of AI that Blizzard has created. Unlike normal monsters, these AI-controlled opponents won't just attack you onsite, but will set traps and try and subvert your own strategy as you explore the island. They'll use skills strategically, change formations to try and out-maneuver your own squad, and even retreat. These enemy groups aren't just random, either, but have personalities and archetypes that you'll come to know (and hate).

Island Expeditions will also come in four difficulty modes, like dungeons, so you can choose just how challenging the encounters will be.

Warfronts

The other major activity coming to Battle for Azeroth is Warfronts, massive 20-player cooperative battles that are directly inspired by Warcraft 3. Once players reach level 120, they'll begin an all-out assault on the enemy through Warfronts.

Players will coordinate together on how to build a base, research upgrades, and hire troops that they'll then lead into battle against an enemy fortification. If you've been wanting Warcraft 4 (and I mean, who hasn't?), this sounds like a pretty cool solution.

Warfronts are centered around the Arathi Highlands and surrounding zones, with the first fight being for Stromgarde. Like Warcraft 3, you'll need to build a Townhall (or Greathall for the Horde) and begin collecting resources like lumber and iron to build new structures. There's a full tech tree just like in Warcraft 3, too, so you'll build different structures that offer new units to use in the battle.

The 20 players will each gather resources for themselves and put them towards buildings they want to prioritize, but obviously communication is key. Once your buildings are in place, you can begin recruiting your army and send them to the frontline. These happens automatically, so it almost sounds more like a moba with lanes of creatures attacking automatically with players swinging the tide of combat.

This isn't a PVP mode, so you'll be battling AI armies commanded by a specific enemy commander who has his own strategies and army composition. There's also randomized events that might pop up, like goblin merchants who will sell powerful mercenaries.

New social features

There's also big changes coming to the social features of World of Warcraft. For one, Battle.net voice chat is being integrated into World of Warcraft so you can chat directly and not have to fuss around with Teamspeak or Discord.

One big new addition is WoW Communities, which are similar to guilds but you can belong to multiple Communities and still be in your regular guild. Communities have rosters, and roles like officers to help moderate them. This is a fantastic way to meet and socialize with players beyond guild activities, like joining crafting or trade communities. Or, as Blizzard suggested, just being in a group because you all love D.Va.

Dungeons and raids 

Of course, what would World of Warcraft be without dungeons? Well, Battle for Azeroth has ten of them. Starting out, the Horde and Alliance will each have access to four, but once they reach level 120 all ten dungeons will open up.

The great news is that the 'Mythic+' system from Legion is returning. If you're not familiar, Mythic+ cranks dungeons up a notch by throwing you against increasingly tough packs of enemies while racing against the clock. Like Diablo 3, enemies will have special affixes that change how they behave in combat, like exploding upon death or ignoring tanks to harass healers. Hazzikostas has said that while the system will be largely the same, there are some improvements to the UI and how players go about finding Mythic+ groups.

Here's some screenshots of two of the upcoming dungeons, Freehold and Atal'Dazar.

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For the dedicated raiders, Hazzikostas wasn't willing to reveal much. Uldir, Halls of Control, will be the first raid coming in Battle for Azeroth. It's a Titan Quarantine Facility where mad scientists tried to study the ancient beings before it, unsurprisingly, all went wrong. The facility is now corrupted by the Old Gods, and players will need to locate the source of this corruption and cleanse it once and for all.

As players have predicted, Queen Azshara will be the final boss in the second raid of this expansion. She's the queen of the serpentine naga—an underwater empire that has long threatened the denizens of Azeroth.

Changes to open-world PVP and more 

It would be a shame if Blizzard made all this talk about reigniting the Horde versus Alliance conflict and didn't actually do anything with World of Warcraft's PVP. Fortunately, there's a ton to cover in this area as well. For one, Blizzard is completely scrapping PVP servers in favor of a whole new ruleset built around opting into open-world PVP. We've already written about it in detail.

Battle for Azeroth will also introduce new PVP Brawls, the weekly mode where Battlegrounds are turned on their head with all sorts of wacky twists like gravity being turned off. Players can also expect an entirely new Battleground which is arriving earlier than the expansion with patch 7.3.5. Seething Shore is off the coast of Silithus, and players will skirmish to secure Azerite deposits as they crop up over the map. This Battleground will also supposedly provide an intro to the story leading up to Battle for Azeroth, so that'll be interesting to see play out.

One other major feature announced at Blizzcon is also arriving ahead of the expansion in patch 7.3.5: level-scaling for all of Azeroth and old expansions. We've already written about it, but zones will now automatically scale to your level within a certain range, letting you take your time soaking in the story of each old leveling zone instead of outpacing it like you currently do. It's something that, as someone who has been itching to start a fresh character, I'm very excited for.

Oh yeah, and Blizzard is making goddamn Vanilla servers. Crazy.

As Blizzcon continues and we get closer to 2018 and the launch of Battle for Azeroth, more details will emerge. But this overview covers some of the biggest features to get excited about (or lament over). We'll update this story over the weekend if anything major is unveiled, but for now you best be working on cleaning up the Legion on Argus. There's a new threat on the horizon.