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, Horde players will rarely run into the Alliance.
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 Horde in the Battle for Azeroth beta.
Zuldazar is the capital zone of Zandalar, where players will first make their journey into the trolls’ homeland. Zuldazar houses the Horde’s capital city in Battle for Azeroth, Dazar’alor. The city is a massive rectangle in the middle of the zone, with a great pyramid at its center. Dazar’alor is beautiful, with water canals flowing through the city and golden buildings sitting off the bank.
The questing hub, along with some mission-critical NPCs, is set in the pyramid. However, players will spend most of their time on the docks, where the Horde war effort is housed. This is where Dazar’alor runs into problems as a capital city.
The fastest way to get between the pyramid and the docks is with a flight path. Players will take this flight dozens of times over the course of questing alone, and it takes a little more than 50 seconds to complete. The view from the flight is spectacular, but after the first few times it’ll only serve as a quick break to go grab a drink.
The rest of the zone maintains the city’s gorgeous, jungle aesthetic. Zandalar as a continent is full of dinosaurs, but no zone has more giant reptiles to hang out with than Zuldazar. There is an excavation site for old bones, a training montage with a triceratops, and a really strange mating ritual between two giant brontosaurus-like dinos.
There is also a great deal of time spent interacting with the Loa, spirits that protect the trolls and act as their gods. The story of the zone is fantastic, and concludes in a really exciting way with the zone’s dungeon, Atal’Dazar.
Zuldazar’s quests feel a bit disjointed, with not much of a through-line between them. However, that never felt bad when adventuring through the zone. Each miniature questing section felt like its own story with a beginning and ending. Sometimes those stories would bleed into each other as the zone progressed, and other times they would simply stay dormant. But it was always fun to fight a new enemy or walk into a new area and watch the screen light up with exclamation points.
Nazmir is easily Battle for Azeroth’s best zone. From an visual perspective, it’s absolutely stunning. The entire zone is a dark swamp filled with blood trolls — evil trolls that practice forbidden magic. There are also plenty of dinosaurs in Nazmir, although most of them are undead, with their bones peeking out from their flesh.
The quest lines themselves are stellar. Two areas in particular stand out. The first sees players investigate the corpse of a giant turtle Loa that has been corrupted. The body is massive, and quests take place around and inside the beast. The entire area is all centered around the corpse, and it’s the closest thing World of Warcraft has had to a small-scale set-piece in quite some time.
The best quest line in the entire expansion revolves around Hir’eek, a great bat Loa that the blood trolls worship. Players have to infiltrate the blood trolls in disguise in order to assassinate Hir’eek. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and the entire scenario feels epic to actually play — a rare feat in an MMO.
Each new area of Nazmir is fun to discover, and the quests always play into that area’s unique look. Players will hunt beasts to help take down a giant undead T-rex only to find themselves collecting spirits in a jar about 10 minutes later. Nazmir has a cohesive, spooky theme that always manages to twist into something slightly new, keeping it from ever feeling boring.
Nazmir is also the hosting zone for the expansion’s first raid, Uldir.
While the Horde get two amazing zones in Nazmir and Zuldazar, Vol’dun is probably the weakest zone in Battle for Azeroth. Vol’dun is a giant desert on the west coast of the continent. It’s inhabited by a group of snake people called the sethrak and a race of fox people called the vulpera. The landmass is huge, but the quests are few and far between.
Vol’dun’s problems stem from its size. While the idea of a giant desert zone is awesome, the reality is that it’s a bit too large for World of Warcraft’s “no flying at launch” policy. There are flight paths to help players get around the zone quickly, but there will be plenty of time spent riding across the desert on bat- or horseback both during the leveling experience and for all the world quests after.
The storyline itself is also fairly contained in the expansion, meaning it doesn’t feel very connected to the continent. The exploration and introduction of two unique races is cool, but the vulpera and sethrak combined aren’t as interesting as the rich culture of the Zandalari trolls found in the other two zones.
There are a few interesting quest lines here, however. One sees players collect the belongings of some long-dead Zandalari trolls, so they can be resurrected in a small oasis in the middle of Vol’dun. Another tasks players with rescuing a group of vulpera from a horde of zombie pirates.
The best questing area in the whole zone takes place outside of the Temple of Sethraliss, Vol’dun’s dungeon. Players join up with a group of sethrak to help reclaim their temple from their snake brethren. The dungeon itself is fine, but the temple is surrounded by a lightning storm, which plays pretty nicely into a few quests.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth will be released on Aug. 14 for Mac and Windows PC.