Last year was easily one of World of Warcraft's best. While Legion arrived in late 2016 and quickly won our hearts with its gorgeous zones and excellent new systems like 'Mythic+' dungeons, 2017 was the year that the expansion really came into its own. With two major updates adding new quests, zones, raids, and dungeons, there was never a shortage of things to do or look forward to in Azeroth. But in 2018, the battle with the Burning Legion is finally winding to a close—although not without a serious fight.
That leaves us with the massive question of what's next for Blizzard's seminal MMO. During BlizzCon back in November, Blizzard announced not only a new expansion, Battle for Azeroth, but also World of Warcraft: Classic—official vanilla servers that fans have been wanting for years now. Still, 2018 is likely going to be a weird year for World of Warcraft.
Uncharacteristic of their expansion announcements, Blizzard hasn't even announced a rough release window for Battle for Azeroth. It's likely that the expansion might not release until the end of 2018. With only one minor patch announced to finish off Legion (and the usual pre-expansion patch which will come ahead of Battle for Azeroth), the first half of 2018 might be a tad boring. That isn't to say there's nothing to get excited about, however. While there won't be oodles of new quests or a challenging raid to conquer, here's what to look forward to in 2018 in chronological order.
Level-scaling for all of Azeroth
The next few months are going to be an excellent time to level a new character. Patch 7.3.5, expected to be the final patch of Legion, is already on the PTR and should hopefully go live in the next couple of months. One of its biggest features will finally give us a good reason to go back and level a new character or two, as every zone and previous expansion will now have dynamic level-scaling.
Previously, leveling in World of Warcraft was disappointing. While the rates at which you gained experience were quick, the catch-22 was that you'd often out-level zones and their respective questlines too quickly. It was hard to appreciate some of the quality storytelling that was introduced in the Cataclysm expansion. That's set to change thanks to this new level-scaling system, which will let you experience Azeroth at your own pace.
When patch 7.3.5 launches, quests and monsters will dynamically scale to always match your level, but only within a certain range. Starting zones like Elwynn forest will scale up to level 10. After that, each of the original zones will have a minimum level requirement and then scale up to level 60. Expansions will also be level-scaled, and you can even choose which ones you want to tackle first. Both The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King's areas, for example, will scale from 58 to 80. Community site Wowhead has a handy breakdown of the ranges for each individual zone.
A new battleground and Timewalking raid
Patch 7.3.5 isn't just about the fancy new level-scaling. It's expected to bring closure to the Legion storyline and summarize the events following the defeat of Argus and Sargeras, the big-bads of this whole expansion. One way Blizzard is doing that is with a new Battleground set in the old zone of Silithus. Called the Seething Shore, this Battleground will play similarly to classic Arathi Basin but will include a battle for a resource called Azerite that will become a foundational system for upgrades once Battle for Azeroth launches. It's not entirely clear whether Seething Shore will be available in 7.3.5 as Blizzard has only said there will be a "preview" of it. What that means is anybody's guess—but it will likely be available with the pre-expansion patch at the very latest.
One thing that is definitely coming with 7.3.5 is the new Ulduar Timewalking raid. Timewalking is a system that revamps old dungeons and raids to make them relevant again for max level players. Longtime fans will remember Ulduar as an infamous raid back from Wrath of the Lich King, with a really cool concept for unlocking harder difficulties. Instead of just selecting the desired difficulty like normal dungeons and raids, players had to complete extra hidden objectives during the fight in order to make the encounter harder and unlock better loot rewards.
While it's not clear yet, 7.3.5 should hopefully include some story quests that help bridge the ending cinematic of the Antorus, The Burning Throne raid (which you can watch here if you want to spoil it for yourself) and the conflict between Alliance and Horde that is set to boil over before Battle for Azeroth launches.
Massive changes to how PVP works
One of the most interesting announcements out of BlizzCon was sweeping changes to World of Warcraft's antiquated PVP system. Since World of Warcraft's launch in 2004, servers have been divided into PVP and PVE versions. If you wanted to kill others while questing in the open world, PVP servers let you deal death without restraint. The problem with that system is that if your server heavily favors one faction or the other, finding a fair (and fun) fight is incredibly rare. In an attempt to revitalize open-world PVP, Blizzard is scrapping PVP servers entirely.
Instead, a new system will allow players to go to their capital city and flag for PVP. When they venture out into the world, they'll only encounter other players who are also flagged for PVP. If you're currently trapped on a PVP server that favors the enemy faction and just want to get some questing done, this is great news. There's no window set for when these changes will be implemented, but my expectation is either with Battle for Azeroth's pre-launch patch or soon after.
Battle for Azeroth
Following BlizzCon, we sat down with game director Ion Hazzikostas and creative director Alex Afrasiabi to talk specifics about Battle for Azeroth's island expeditions and new Azerite armor. Read the full interview here.
As I've already said, my guess is that Battle for Azeroth won't be arriving until autumn 2018. That's a long wait now that Legion's final raid is out, but hopefully it, like Legion, will be worth it. With the Burning Legion now in shambles, this new expansion is all about reigniting the conflict that was always at the heart of Warcraft: The mighty Alliance versus the barbaric Horde. Players will sail to the islands of Zandalar and Kul'Tiras as they help their faction's war effort.
Part of Blizzard's new vision for expansions is ditching the need to treat each system like a permanent part of the game. For example, Battle for Azeroth will retire the Artifact Weapons that players used all throughout Legion. Battle for Azeroth is introducing a hell of a lot of new systems to replace it, however. We've already covered them extensively in our feature on the expansion.
Easily the most exciting is the new island expeditions. Here, teams of up to three players can set out explore dynamically generated islands that Blizzard wants to feel like a mini Dungeons & Dragons campaign. There will be puzzles to solve and monsters to slay and each time you visit an island, the campaign might be something totally different from the last time. Adding an interesting wrinkle is the presence of three enemy players (either AI or players of the opposite faction) who will be working to undermine your team, effectively turning island expeditions into a kind of PVP-hybrid race.
With Artifact Weapons going the way of the dinosaur, Battle for Azeroth is introducing the new Azerite armor system. Each piece of Azerite armor comes with its own tiers of perks that can be unlocked as you gather Azerite and imbue it into a magical necklace each player will receive. You can only choose one perk from each tier, but thankfully they aren't randomly generated so you won't be throwing away gear hoping for a good set of perks to use. Azerite armor, while the spiritual successor to Artifact weapons, thankfully sounds less like the exhaustingly infinite grind than the latter was.
World of Warcraft: Classic
There's a lot of questions surrounding World of Warcraft: Classic. Blizzard isn't talking any concrete details just yet, but they did open up about the one major breakthrough that made it all possible in our exclusive interview.
Considering how withdrawn Blizzard has been about the announcement that they're working on official vanilla servers, it would be crazy to expect WoW: Classic in the next year. In fact, my guess is we won't see it for several years at least. What I do expect is that 2018 might have some more information on how exactly Blizzard plans to implement a return to World of Warcraft as it was back in 2004. There's a lot of concerns players have, and it'll be interesting to see how committed Blizzard is to rebuilding an authentic classic experience.
Still, that's a long ways off. If you're a dedicated player, there's far more pressing concerns—after all, Antorus, The Burning Throne has only been open for a month at this point. The lull between expansions is always a drought for hardcore players, but the new level-scaling will hopefully give you a reason to go back and start that class you've always dreamed of playing. Until Battle for Azeroth launches, however, 2018 is likely going to be a quieter year for World of Warcraft. I only hope that it ends up being the calm before the storm.