First look: World of Warcraft's The War Within alpha is giving a promising teaser of what's to come

The new expansion also has strong storytelling moments, especially with the return of Anduin Wyrnn, who struggles with his connection to the Light.

Stormwind's lost king Anduin Wyrnn returns in The War Within and his character development is one to watch. PHOTO: Blizzard
Stormwind's lost king Anduin Wyrnn returns in The War Within and his character development is one to watch. PHOTO: Blizzard

When Chris Metzen, executive creative director of the Warcraft universe, announced at BlizzCon 2023 that the long-running MMO World of Warcraft was getting its own MCU-level saga that spanned three expansions, you best believe the stakes are going to be high.

Titled The World Soul saga, and unfolding across The War Within, Midnight, and The Last Titan expansions, this epic storyline focuses on the villain Xal’atath, and it’ll also uncover the real intentions of the Titans and the true nature of Azeroth.

Right off the bat of the alpha build that the media had access to from 16 April to 18 April, players were greeted with the deaths of two characters - one whom we’ve known for a long time, and another who we only met on the Isle of Dorn, the starting zone for The War Within.

Sure, Blizzard is no stranger to killing off NPCs for maximum emotional impact (like Varian Wyrnn in Legion) but the death of the former was something very unexpected.

And, it’s only made known during a dialogue exchange between key NPCs - think Jaine Proudmoore, Thrall, and Anduin Wyrnn (who has Longbottomed for this expansion).

It’s a detail that is easily missed as the alpha build doesn’t give you full access to the precursor story chain that leads you into the Isle of Dorn. Instead, there’s an NPC in Stormwind/Orgrimmar that instantly kicked off our test experience in the zone itself.

Interestingly, you do get the quest that starts the entire quest chain for entry into Isle of Dorn, but I was unable to progress past a certain point - possibly Blizzard’s way of avoiding spoilers for those able to get an early look at the expansion.

Isle of Dorn

On the Isle of Dorn, you’ll encounter a dwarven race called the Earthen, and there are two sub-cultures you’ll meet in this zone.

The first are the Oathsworn who remain loyal to the Titans and are awaiting their return, the second are the Unbound who have branched off to build a society free of the Titans. The central storyline here revolves around Magni, Moira, and her son Dagran, as they negotiate with the Earthen to reopen Coreway so they can follow the Nerubians down under.

The Earthern are a race of dwarves you'll meet on the Isle of Dorn. PHOTO: Blizzard
The Earthern are a race of dwarves you'll meet on the Isle of Dorn. PHOTO: Blizzard

Surprisingly, the zone is not that densely filled with quests - as Blizzard likes to do - so it was a breath of fresh air for those who, like me, have a compulsive need to finish all the quests in a zone. I’m not sure if all the side quests for Isle of Dorn have been included, but it took me about three hours to complete everything that was available - including Delves, a new type of dungeon that you can complete with everyone’s favourite explorer NPC Brann Bronzebeard (who unlocks abilities as he levels).

Honestly, there is nothing new about the quest types on display here. There are your standard MMO quests along the lines of “kill 10 rats” or “collect 10 flowers”, but what Blizzard might lack in quest variety, they sometimes make up for it in their story of said quests.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but pay a little bit more attention (than I did) to a side quest that involves the passing of the torch from one Earthern to another. It takes about 20 minutes to complete the quest chain and it was heartbreaking.

The Isle of Dorn is the first zone for the new expansion The War Within. PHOTO: Blizzard
The Isle of Dorn is the first zone for the new expansion The War Within. PHOTO: Blizzard

And it’s in these quiet, intimate moments that Blizzard hides some of their storytelling gems. Shortly after you arrive at the city of Dornogal, if you descend further down into the inn, you can listen to a conversation between Anduin and Magni as they talk about their respective struggles.

The former, once corrupted by evil, struggles to find the Light again, while the latter is jaded and frustrated with his circumstance as the Speaker of Azeroth.

New dungeon type Delves

As mentioned, Delves are a new type of dungeon that can be completed with one to four players, and the best part is that you don’t need specific roles to enter - unlike the typical dungeons we’re used to.

If you’re taking on a Delve solo, like I did, the NPC companion Brann can also be alternated between a DPS role or Healer role to fill the ‘gap’ you need. As a Balance Druid, with some access to basic healing spells, I tried Brann as both a DPS and a healer, and felt that the difference was negligible.

In fact, I much preferred Brann as a DPS because my rationale was that if I could kill enemy mobs faster, I would need less healing. Yes, things got a little dicey with the end boss, but if you play your cooldowns and defensive skills right, you should be able to burst it in down in time.

What’s refreshing about delves is that it’s less about combat and fight strategy, and more about puzzles. The second delve I entered, which required me to take something back from one of WoW’s oldest enemies - the kobolds - had me running around with a candle to chase away the bad, bad shadows.

One of the Delves on the Isle of Dorn has you facing off against kobolds. Don't take their candles! PHOTO: Blizzard
One of the Delves on the Isle of Dorn has you facing off against kobolds. Don't take their candles! PHOTO: Blizzard

The twist? These candles diminish with each step you take until you find a new one, so you got to make all your steps count.

Two dungeons were supposed to be playable in this build but when the main campaign questline led me to a dungeon, a notification popped up saying that the dungeon wasn’t available and completed my quest instantly.

Class changes

Yes, there are significant updates to a few classes, with the Balance Druid being one of them. But, the talent tree felt mostly familiar, with some talents shifting positions. When I was mapping out the talent tree based on the IcyVeins guide, the bulk of it remained the same, so take from that what you will.

And I’ll be honest, I’m not one of those min-maxers who experiment with talents, skill rotations, and count the big DPS numbers to see which specializations are most effective. It takes too much time, effort, and a lot more brain power than I want to invest while gaming.

What I mean to say is, I can’t definitively tell whether the new changes to the class has provided a buff or a nerf - I’ll leave it to the good folks at IcyVeins when the game launches.

However, when I was playing my Balance Druid, I felt like I could kill mobs faster.

On the alpha build, most of my gear on the druid had an item level of 437, with maybe two pieces that are 450. On the live server, my druid was decked out in items that were at least of item level 450.

Yet, when I attempted the quest to free Gilneas on both characters, the alpha-build druid had less of an issue dealing with the elite mobs. In fact, I died a grand total of zero times, compared to the live-server druid who died about three times.

Full disclosure, the alpha-build druid had access to a new feature called Hero Talents, but the effects of the latter felt negligible to me.

Hero Talents

Let me explain - the Hero Talents are meant to be an expansion of the class fantasy and are inspired by characters from the Warcraft universe. So as a Balance Druid punishing evildoers in the name of the Moon, I was expecting to feel a little closer to Tyrande.

However, the benefits from the talents didn’t feel that substantial to live up to the expectation of a “class fantasy”. It felt like run-of-the-mill talents as they added things like damage boost, or a passive buff to your Moonfire ability to have a chance to summon a beam of celestial light to damage enemies.

Frankly, they could have just been additions to the existing talent trees.

While I get that Blizzard doesn’t want Hero Talents to overshadow the core talents of the class and specialisations, it wasn’t giving me the power fantasy akin to Solo Leveling. Instead, I felt a little like Spider-Man who upgraded from his homemade suit to the shiny new tech suit from Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War.

Final thoughts

Though my time with the alpha build was brief - my collective playtime was somewhere around five to six hours - I’m excited by what I’ve seen so far.

The new class changes, at least in my experience, seem to have been a buff, and the delves certainly provided a refreshing break away from dungeons.

I would have liked to see what the new dungeons are like - Blizzard has always been rather creative in this aspect - but I guess I’ll have to wait till the game launches.

Hero Talents should also be given a more substantial boost if Blizzard intends to sell this power class fantasy.

And, my god, I’m glad to see characters like Anduin (who has become a bona fide ‘daddy), Magni, and the dwarves taking centrestage in WoW’s story.

For too long, it’s been about Sylvanas and her tantrums, and while I love heavy character moments, the Banshee Queen’s paper-thin motivations were as illogical as the 2021 Mortal Kombat film.

The War Within has, as promised, teed up one of WoW’s most ambitious storylines and I’m waiting with bated breath to see if they stick the landing.

The War Within is available for pre-purchase now, with a special limited collector's edition available for pre-order at various global retailers.

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