It's almost impossible to overstate how important World of Warcraft's next patch is for the overall health of this 14-year-old MMO. For eight months since Battle for Azeroth launched last summer, its themes of war between the Alliance and the Horde have been overshadowed by a much more dispiriting battle between the players and Blizzard. Whether it was a lack of communication or fundamental problems with core features, there was a lot to be mad about. And players were very angry.
With so many fundamental problems in Battle for Azeroth's core features, it quickly became apparent that Blizzard wouldn't be able to fix some of the biggest issues right away—especially since major updates are often set in stone months in advance. If Blizzard was going to make the dramatic reworks that players wanted, it was going to take time.
Enter Patch 8.2, Rise of Azshara. Though players have known about it in some form since November's BlizzCon, today Blizzard finally pulled back the curtain to reveal exactly how it was planning to fix some of WoW's bigger problems. If 8.2 failed to impress, Battle for Azeroth would probably go down as one of the worst expansions in World of Warcraft's history.
With senior game designer Jeremy Feasel hosting, the Rise of Azshara livestream was a brief but informative look at what the rest of the year holds for World of Warcraft. And for someone like me who hasn't felt excited to play WoW in months, it was everything I needed to get hyped up again.
Unlike Borderlands 3's disastrous reveal, Feasel didn't waste any time with dumb jokes or elaborate gags. It was all business and I loved it. With over 21 different topics to cover, it quickly became clear that Rise of Azshara could be one of WoW's biggest updates ever. Over on the WoW subreddit, players have taken to jokingly calling this an expansion announcement because of its size. Not only will 8.2 add two new zones to explore that are each distinctly different, but it will also add an eight-boss mega-dungeon, a new raid, new story quests, two new Island Expeditions, a Heroic-difficulty Warfront, a new arena, the return of Ashran, NPC allies who fight alongside you and level up, massive overhauls of the gear system—the list just goes on and on.
I won't break down every feature being added in Rise of Azshara, but arguably the most important is the changes to the Heart of Azeroth and Azerite Armor. In my interview with game director Ion Hazzikostas last week, he hinted at what these changes would be. Seeing them in full is something else entirely. Once 8.2 launches, Azerite Armor traits will all be unlocked by default and The Heart of Azeroth is now much closer to being an Artifact Weapon from Legion except its skill tree is completely customizable. Instead of having just one game-changing active ability to use, players can now collect and swap between several—choosing for themselves what best fits their build and playstyle.
What's better is that these abilities are found from a variety of sources and come in different rarities that'll in turn change and improve their effectiveness. This encourages players to participate in PVP, dungeons, raids, and questing in order to collect the ones that are most desirable to them, which feels a lot more engaging than just grinding Azerite to level up your Heart of Azeroth.
Though it's hard to say this overhaul will be good without playing with it for weeks on end, it already sounds much more rewarding and exciting than the current progression system players are stuck with.
And I love how customization seems to be a major theme in Rise of Azshara. Feasel also unveiled a new trinket that players can slot with different addons that each have unique effects, while mount equipment will give you various bonuses like waterwalking to all of your trusty steeds.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The new zones of Nazjatar and Mechagon are so distinctly different and double down on what makes adventuring in World of Warcraft fun. In Mechagon, for example, Feasel said players will be collecting resources and funneling them into construction projects scattered around the island that might unlock hidden areas, special perks, or give advantages against tough world bosses. Sometimes those projects might reward you with special loot, with one example being a robo-cat mount that you can paint different colors.
Meanwhile, Nazjatar will have special world quests similar to Demonic Invasions from Legion, where elite Naga champions take over an area, building fortifications and spawning extra enemies that players will have to work to take down.
I'm particularly excited to see how the Heroic Warfronts play out. The current version we have now are pretty boring—a far cry from the Warcraft 3-inspired battles we were promised last summer. But Heroic Warfronts promise to ramp up the challenge by requiring players to actually coordinate and communicate as the enemy general specifically will send enemy attack waves to weakened parts on the battlefield or change unit composition to effectively counter your own. Whatever stops Warfronts from being a total snoozefest is okay by me.
Of course the major caveat to all of this is that, before Battle for Azeroth launched, everything about it seemed all sunshine and rainbows too. What good is a load of new activities and features if they're just as broken or repetitive as before?
It's definitely my biggest concern, but it also looks like Blizzard isn't repeating past mistakes. When I spoke to Hazzikostas last week, he told me one of the biggest mistakes Blizzard made with Battle for Azeroth was not getting major features out onto the beta servers early enough so that they could listen and act on feedback. With Rise of Azshara, the patch—including the Heart of Azeroth overhaul—is expected to go on the test server next week, giving Blizzard months to get feedback before 8.2 goes live sometime this summer.
But what matters to me more is that, at least for now, I'm excited about Battle for Azeroth again. Sometime around January I completely lost the will to log in. I just wasn't having fun. But even if Rise of Azshara is months away, today's livestream gives me hope that Blizzard can turn the tide on Battle for Azeroth and end it on a positive note. I guess it's time to pull my demon hunter out of his (very short) retirement.