World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth launches August 14

World of Warcraft's next expansion, Battle for Azeroth, will launch on August 14 game director Ion Hazzikostas revealed during a preview event held earlier this week at Blizzard's California HQ. The seventh expansion for the nearly 14-year-old MMO takes players to the high seas in search of allies to aid in a renewed conflict between the Horde and the Alliance. Battle for Azeroth isn't just all fuzzy nostalgia, however, as Blizzard is cramming in more than a few unconventional ideas—from Warcraft 3-inspired Warfronts to the highly dynamic Island Expeditions, where teams of three race against either human or advanced AI opponents in a super fun PVPVE mode (more on that later today).

First revealed last year at Blizzcon 2017, Battle for Azeroth will let players set sail for the islands of Kul'Tiras and Zandalar. Each faction will have their own continent to explore while questing up to the new level cap of 120. In terms of features, all the usual suspects from a major WoW expansion are here, including new dungeons, raids, and progression systems.

If you've been following World of Warcraft these past years (and why shouldn't you, it's never been better), Battle for Azeroth follows the defeat of the Burning Legion. The corrupted cosmos-destroying Titan Sargeras is finally beaten, but he first managed to plunge his mountainous sword into the planet and now a magical resource known as Azerite is bleeding to the surface. Without a giant demon-lord to kill, the warring factions of Horde and Alliance can finally address old wounds—like, I don't know, the fact that Sylvanas left King Varian Wrynn to die, maybe?

During the preview event, Hazzikostas also revealed some new details. In a similar fashion to previous expansions, Battle for Azeroth will be preceded by a prepatch to help bridge the gap between it and Legion. This prepatch will act as a prologue and will include events where Alliance players retake the Undercity (formerly Lordaeron) while Horde players burn Teldrassil to the ground (good riddance) as the conflict boils over into all-out war. While Hazzikostas couldn't say exactly when the prepatch will arrive, he did say players could expect it "weeks earlier."

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In addition to the prepatch, Hazzikostas detailed what Allied Races will be available at launch. Unlike previous expansions, Battle for Azeroth isn't introducing a brand new race to play as. Instead there are variants of already existing ones. Those who prepurchased Battle for Azeroth can already unlock the Lightforged draenei, void elves, Nightborne, and Highmountain tauren. But as we've already said, dataminers have uncovered a slew of other Allied Races. Hazzikostas said that, at launch, the Dark Iron dwarves and Mag'Har orcs will become available to unlock. Meanwhile, the portly Kul'Tiran humans and menacing Zandalari trolls will not become available until later because they're a crucial part of Battle for Azeroth's story.

Lastly, Hazzikostas ended up spilling the beans on some cool details regarding Warfronts. This 20-player PVE mode emulates Warcraft's RTS past by challenging players to gather resources, build a base, and lead soldiers in an assault against an NPC fortress occupied by the opposing faction. 

It's a cool-sounding system. Each Warfront is tied to a zone in Azeroth that is owned by either the Horde or Alliance. In order to unlock the Warfront, players on the opposing faction must stockpile enough resources like crafting materials, gold, and Azerite. This process is region-wide so all North American players, for example, will work towards one stockpile. Once enough resources are gathered, the Warfront is opened and players of that faction can queue to assault the opposing faction's fortress. If they succeed, that corresponding zone will become theirs, unlocking special world bosses and activities until the losing faction can stockpile their own resources and trigger a Warfront to take it back. The first Warfront will take place in the Arathi Highlands but more will become available in later updates.

It's a complex system that is a bit hard to wrap my head around, but I'm looking forward to checking it out once it becomes available either during the alpha or at launch. To recap: Battle for Azeroth will go live on August 14. If you're already playing you can preorder it for a free character boost and the first four Allied Races. For more on Battle for Azeroth, check out all the fun things dataminers have found.