World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is doing something Blizzard’s MMO has never done before. Instead of both factions leveling in mostly the same set of zones, the Horde and Alliance will each have their own continents all to themselves. The opposing faction players will eventually establish a foothold on the other continent, but during leveling, Alliance players will rarely run into the Horde.
This new change leaves each faction with their own “home” zones. Each continent — Kul Tiras for the Alliance and Zandalar for the Horde — has three zones for their faction players to level through.
We played through each of the zones for the Alliance in the Battle for Azeroth beta.
While the zones can be played in any order, Alliance players will complete their very first quests in Tiragarde Sound — more specifically in the city of Boralus. Boralus is the Kul Tiran’s capital city, and it’s bustling with oddly shaped humans going about their seafaring business.
The continent of Kul Tiras centers around an aquatic culture. Boralus is the kind of port town you would expect to find in the next Pirates of the Caribbean film. Sure, there are nice spots, but most of the town is discolored by constant exposure to salt water and high winds.
The city is built into the massive gate that protects Tiragarde Sound from the outside world, making the city feel cramped and alive. Boralus is easily the best looking and most realized city in World of Warcraft so far, and is a massive perk for Alliance players.
The rest of Tiragarde Sound isn’t quite as interesting. The story revolves around a group of pirates to the south of Boralus and a coup d’etat against the ruler of Kul Tiras, Jaina Proudmoore’s mother Katherine. But the zone never quite makes it in terms of theme.
Tiragarde Sound feels like the catch-all zone for the Alliance. Both Drustvar and Stormsong Valley — the other two zones — have very specific themes, and both are executed fairly well. Tiragarde however bounces between pirates and other sea-themed shenanigans fairly quickly, leaving it to feel fairly thin when it comes to identity.
None of this is to say that Tiragarde Sound is a bad World of Warcraft zone. In fact, all of the zones in Battle for Azeroth are strong in comparison to those in Warlords of Draenor and are at the very least even to the best zones in Legion. Tiragarde Sound suffers from a thematic perspective, but the quests themselves are fun at best and fast at worst.
Drustvar is one of the two coolest-looking zones in Battle for Azeroth. It’s themed around bizarre, 17th century witchcraft. World of Warcraft has its fair share of horror — what with playable werewolves and zombies — but Drustvar offers a completely fresh aesthetic.
Almost all of the enemies in Drustvar are made of wicker, and are held together by string and witchcraft. At one point, you come across a cult attempting to build their own wicker warrior, which goes about how you’d expect. You also run into the daughter of a prominent family just as she’s about to be hung for being a witch — an encounter that sets you out to prove her innocence.
All of the magic wisps through the trees, leaving a streak of blue energy everywhere it goes. It leaves the zone feeling gloomy but beautiful. That aesthetic carries over into every aspect of the zone, including the final story chapters on the northern shore as players invade a haunted house.
Drustvar is a beautiful zone with interesting quests and a cool storyline. And it culminates in the best dungeon World of Warcraft has seen in years.
Playing through Drustvar is like walking through the haunted woods in Disney’s Snow White. You never know when you’ll encounter something fun like the Seven Dwarves, or something sinister like a twisted old witch.
Stormsong Valley is the expansion’s second best zone, and features some awesome quest lines throughout. Stormsong Valley is Kul Tiras’ magic center. Filled with images of tentacled sea creatures and water elementals, this is where the Kul Tirans learn and practice hydromancy.
The landscape of the zone is lush and beautiful, finally fulfilling the fantasy aesthetic that Blizzard has been chasing with World of Warcraft for over a decade. But everywhere players trek in the zone is troubled by something or someone.
The water mages are being taken over by the followers of Queen Azshara and the Old Gods. Priests that once sought to help Kul Tiras are trading their souls — and their normal, human faces — for a taste of Void power.
For those unfamiliar with the Old Gods in World of Warcraft, imagine if Lovecraft’s Cthulhu had an army of tentacled weirdos. These strange creatures have invaded Stormsong Valley and are ready to use their mind control to convert all of Kul Tiran’s hydromancers to their will.
Stormsong sees players push through the Old Gods and the Naga while also allowing them to witness the great religion and magic of Kul Tiras. In a perfect world, you can imagine the water flowing over the plains, put into harmony by the very priests that now seek to destroy everything.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth will be released on Aug. 14 for Mac and Windows PC.