Update: Tides of Vengeance is out today and will be live at 3PM PST. You can read the full patch notes of every major and minor change in patch 8.1 here.
Ever since World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth launched in August, discontent has been bubbling up over its unrewarding loot system and underwhelming new features. We don't have numbers on the overall health of the expansion, but it's clear that players are pissed with Blizzard right now. That will hopefully change next week. On December 11, Battle for Azeroth's first major patch will launch. Called Tides of Vengeance, this update marks the second chapter in Battle for Azeroth's ongoing story by adding a wealth of new quests and activities. More critically, Tides of Vengeance is also hoping to fix much of what people currently hate about World of Warcraft.
New features and activities
When players first log in after Tides of Vengeance launches, they'll have a decent chunk of story quests to chew through that finally pick up narrative threads that have been ignored since Battle for Azeroth's contentious pre-launch event. Alliance players will get to see what Tyrande and Malfurion have been up to ever since the night elf capital city, Darnassus, was torched. The Horde, likewise, will take on a new quest to track down Saurfang—the orc warlord whose motivations sparked a wildfire of controversy back in August. Both factions will also have new War Campaign quests that take players further into enemy territory too.
Completing all of that shouldn't take too long to do, however, so most players will be spending the coming months playing with the two new Island Expeditions and the Darkshore Warfront. You can check out Blizzard's preview of the new islands, but aside from new locales the big thing to note is some subtle fixes to Island Expedition variety and rewards.
Basically, new dynamic events have been added to Island Expeditions that will hopefully shake up the monotony, like being able to place an Azerite Extractor which harvests Azerite over time but needs to be protected from enemies. That's good news, because there are now some cool rewards you can buy with the currency you get from completing expeditions.
The new Darkshore Warfront is similar to the first Warfront in Arathi Highlands. It's a new setting with some fun twists on the formula, like the Altar of Storms now transforming you into monstrous creatures with powerful abilities instead of just giving a nice damage buff. The biggest allure of the Battle for Darkshore will be the new armor appearances, which are styled around night elves and Forsaken and look amazing. Along with Faction Assaults, which mimic the demonic invasions from Legion, there's going to be a good chunk of things to explore right away.
Fixes to existing systems
Rebalancing classes: For many players, the most important changes aren't nearly as big and flashy. One of the biggest complaints about Battle for Azeroth was how dramatically Blizzard culled the abilities of so many classes, making them feel far weaker and less intricate than they did in Legion. Tides of Vengeance takes a swing at rebalancing several classes, like Feral Druids, while ignoring others completely. YouTuber BellularGaming has a great rundown of every change along with his own opinions on whether they go far enough.
One massive improvement to note is that Blizzard is reverting many abilities to no longer be tied to the global cooldown. If you're not big into WoW, just know that this incredibly unpopular change effectively slowed down the pace of combat and people hated that. Tides of Vengeance will see Blizzard capitulate and reverse those changes.
Making alt-characters easier: Class balance is always important, but I'm far more excited about other tweaks to Battle for Azeroth. For one, Tides of Vengeance will make leveling second characters less painful by making many unlockables account-wide instead of character-specific. For example, increased power from grinding Champions of Azeroth faction reputation will now affect all your characters, so you'll only need to grind this out once. Even better, Blizzard is nerfing experience requirements for every level, which will make leveling way quicker. The average reduction is about 25 percent, but can reach as high as 40 percent for some levels, resulting in a much quicker climb.
Azerite Armor improvements: Tides of Vengeance is also trying to fix Battle for Azeroth's busted gear system—chiefly Azerite Armor and what an enormous pain it is to get. In 8.1, players will now earn a new currency from completing Mythic+ dungeons that they can use to buy Azerite Armor directly. What's awesome about this system is that, if you save enough, you can buy your best-in-slot items directly from that vendor instead of relying on random chance. It's a good change for now, but Azerite Armor is still boring and counterintuitive to power up. Unfortunately, players will have to wait until January 22 when "Season 2" of Battle for Azeroth begins. Along with a new raid, this mini-patch will replace a bunch of boring Azerite Armor traits with more viable and exciting alternatives while also unlocking a fifth slot so players can power up that armor even more.
It's easy to see how much Tides of Vengeance will improve Battle for Azeroth across the board. Players are going to have more activities to do with better incentives for doing them. But I doubt this will be enough to assuage those disappointed by how underwhelming Battle for Azeroth has been since launch. Unlike Legion, Battle for Azeroth stumbled right out of the gate, and while Tides of Vengeance feels like it's regaining some footing, it will probably take until the next major patch before it feels like World of Warcraft's new expansion is hitting its stride.
To see the entirety of what's coming in the Tides of Vengeance update, check out Wowhead's comprehensive guide