BlizzCon 2017: Hands on with Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth

Attending BlizzCon was a teenage dream for me, and being able to attend years after the peak of my time with World of Warcraft was still amazing if a little bittersweet. I played for a better part of my young life, and it didn’t end well for me. It’s easy to laugh at the idea of people being ‘hooked’ on WoW with fun names like ‘Warcrack’ and jokes aplenty but, there was a time I had a real problem. Quitting Warcraft was not something I just did, it was like going through a terrible break-up: alcohol, candy, tough decisions, and ugly crying. Lots of ugly crying.

Fast forward to today, years later, when given the opportunity to go to Blizzcon I thought twice about if I really wanted to go. I had flashbacks of ignoring college parties, skipping classes, or losing countless hours of sleep to grind out materials for potions or level-up one of my countless alt-characters. Ultimately I decided that since I am a bit older now and enough of a critic (and to a lesser extent, an adult) that I should be able to explore this content without my life spiraling down the drain of late night raids and escapism.

I was able to sit down with a good friend that sparked my love of MMOs, play World of Warcraft’s unreleased expansion pack, on the show floor of BlizzCon, before anyone else. We literally lived the dream that we had been talking about since the mid-2000s. I expected to be blown away, to have a religious experience, or at the very least just to feel the pull to dive back into this world. What I got instead was the ‘unique’ opportunity to spend another 20 minutes of my life killing boars, collecting widgets, and ignoring quest text.

After years of uniting against a common enemy, the classic Horde vs. Alliance conflict returns in full force 

I didn’t notice it right away. I was still riding on the high of peak experience: I was on vacation with an old friend, having a great time, nerding out, and seeing the sights. But after a chat during the game, it really set in. Even with all the cool announcements, new features, enhancements, and promises, nothing has really changed. Even on the impressive gaming machines, the convention was equipped with, the same old cartoony textures were ever-present. The same fetch quests, the same mass-produced writing, the same enemies; it truly disappointed me on a deep level.

There are a few exciting features that are coming to the new expansion. The promised war fronts allow for some RTS gaming from the roots of the series to return to the PVP of the game. New procedurally-generated island scenarios sound legitimately cool, boasting new enemy AI and more interesting replayable content. The only problem is: None of this content was playable. They had thousands of fans practically eating out of their hands and waiting in long lines to see the game and what they gave us was ‘kill 10 boars’.

I would like to return to World of Warcraft, mostly for academic purposes and seeing if I am adult enough to handle playing the game in a more casual fashion, but I will tell you that that desire had little to do with my time playing the next expansion. The Warcraft players, they will buy it, they will play, they will like what they like and continue to be the long-suffering community that they are. But if Blizzard is trying to get old players back or expand their user base, Battle for Azeroth really misses the mark when it comes to trying anything new.

- Justin Wicker