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Five things we learned from World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth’s BlizzCon panel

Communities, islands, warfronts and more

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

After the announcement of Battle for Azeroth, World of Warcraft’s seventh expansion, the developers hosted a few different panels at BlizzCon 2017. The “World of Warcraft — Gameplay and Systems panel” did a deep dive into several of the expansions newest features.

Here’s what we learned.

The Battle for Azerite

In World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, the planet itself is dying under the player’s feet. As Azeroth bleeds, its lifeblood is boiling out of the ground and making its way to the surface. This crystallization is called Azerite, and everybody wants some.

As we quest through Kul Tiras and Zandalar, Azerite will be our main goal. Azerite will be rewards from quest givers, island raids, warfronts, enemies and more. No matter what you’re doing, you’ll be rewarded with this new resource.

But to what end? What’s it all for?

From a narrative perspective, grabbing all of this Azerite for our factions should help us gain ground in the war against the Horde/Alliance. But for every piece of Azerite we grab, a tiny bit of its power will be absorbed into our new necklace: The Heart of Azeroth.

The Artifact replacement system adds new abilities to every piece of armor

As our world dies, players will be given the Heart of Azeroth, a necklace built to harness the power of Azerite for good rather than individual faction gain. With every piece of Azerite we collect, our necklace will level up and gain new abilities. But the Heart of Azeroth doesn’t just bottle up the power it absorbs, it shares it across all of your armor pieces.

As your necklace levels up, you’ll gain new abilities on your armor pieces. This essentially works in a tier-based system. Depending on the level of your necklace and the level of your gear, you’ll be able to choose from a select set of skills on that armor. As your Heart of Azeroth levels up, more skills will become available to you.

Each of these armor pieces is also lovingly hand-crafted by a developer, so you should never run into a piece of gear that is too powerful or too weak thanks to RNG. This system results in a specialization neutral power increase as you play. As the expansion goes on and better armor is released, you’ll need more levels in your Heart of Azeroth to reap the rewards.

Islands are new, infinitely repeatable scenarios

Islands change each time you play them.

One of the best ways to grab chunks of Azerite is to run through the new Island system. These are small, 15- to 20-minute missions where three players can group up and assault an island together. But these islands never really stay the same. While it isn’t necessarily as procedurally generated as Diablo 3, they should have dozens of different combinations.

The panel went into several different scenarios that could appear on the same landmass. You could play the same Island three times in one day and fight different enemies in different locations every time. But the locations of Azerite nodes and where you choose to fight isn’t the only thing that will change.

To add even more replayability, Blizzard has developed some extra smart adversaries to go up against.

Blizzard has created AI that plays like we do, for better or worse

As you and your squad run through the Island, three AI-controlled enemies from the other faction will be there as well. But these NPCs don’t react to combat the same way that most enemies do. Instead, they play like every jerk who’s ever ganked you while leveling.

At the panel, developers painted a picture of an AI-controlled Rogue who might run up, knock you out, steal the Azerite node you were trying to get and then run away. These AI are aggressive and make smart decisions. They don’t have spawn locations or aggro ranges, they simply act like another player.

These Islands can also be played in a PvP mode, where the enemy AI is actually replaced with real players.

Warfronts bring Warcraft 3 to WoW

You can use resources to build buildings and aid your faction.

One of the other new features in WoW’s seventh expansion takes inspiration from Warcraft 3, Blizzard’s beloved real-time strategy game from 2002. These Warfronts are 20-player wars against the opposing faction. But rather than simply offering a PvP experience similar to the battlegrounds that have existed for years, Warfronts are RTS-light experiences.

When the Warfront starts, players will spread out and gather resources just like in Warcraft 3. These resources can contribute toward building various structures that will spawn out AI controlled armies. The Warfront developers are even building the tech trees to emulate the original Warcraft 3 versions.

For more on World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, check out Polygon’s exclusive feature on the expansion.

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