The Best Azeroth Has Been in Years - Edit
In August, Blizzard Entertainment released the sixth expansion for World of Warcraft. Legion, announced at Gamescom 2015 has come with a lot of promise from the development team to bring back the core game play that brought players to WoW in the first place. Does Legion deliver that promise? Let's find out.
Everything about Legion harkens back to the past in one way or another. The Burning Legion is once again making a return to Azeroth and players are tasked with leading the charge to defeat them, hopefully for the final time. Wow power level. Old favorite characters are also being featured prominently with some leaving the game for good and others finding a new path in the lore. Locations throughout the Legion setting in the Broken Isles hearken back to other areas in WoW including the Vrykul first seen in Wrath of the Lich King and Night Elven enclaves near the site of the Emerald Dream. Nearly everything in Legion is designed to strike a nerve with players, both those who have stayed for the duration of WoW's 12+ years and those who might be returning after an absence. Legion also provides ways for those new to the game to feel included and part of the larger story as well. New mechanics including zone scaling and multi-tap on monsters bring a modern feel to a game created long before today's second decade of the century.
Of particular interest to those who loved the storyline surrounding Illidan and Outland, and in response to the community’s long held wish, Blizzard has literally brought Illidan back to life along with his Demon Hunters. He’s become sort of IlliDAD to them all to fulfill Blizzard's vision of class fantasy. In fact, every class in the game has been given an ability prune and reorganization of skills and talents to fit into that "class fantasy". Some, such as Survival Hunters, have been utterly rewritten from a ranged class to a melee class.
Players begin their journey in Legion at level 100. It is assumed that, at this point, players are aware of the events at the Broken Shore and that the Burning Legion is on the march. Within moments of arriving in the newly relocated Dalaran, players are confronted by a class-specific messenger who starts them along a quest line to retrieve an 'Artifact' weapon of legendary proportion. Each spec within a given class has its own artifact weapon. Ashbringer for Retribution Paladins; Doomhammer for Enhancement Shamans; Felo'Melorn for Fire Mages; and so on. After being installed as the class order leader and labeled with a spiffy new title (Deathlord for Death Knights, Highlord for Paladins, etc.), players are scooted off to the Broken Isles to retrieve the legendary Pillars of Creation, all five of them and to score some new gear and Artifact Power (AP) while searching through the expansion's five major zones.
Artifacts completely replace weapon drops in Legion and players will be able to secure all three (or four in the case of Druids) class spec Artifacts along the way. Artifacts are individually leveled through a number of passive traits in Blizzard's version of horizontal progression. Artifact Power, or AP, is gained through questing and then is applied to the player’s Artifact of choice. At first, AP comes in small denominations that grow over time as players progress their Order Halls. The cost for leveling to the next passive ability also grows so that it will take over five million AP to fully unlock all of an Artifact's abilities. Nearly a month after release, and with at least four AP acquisition upgrades on my Order Hall, I have yet to see any AP reward much over a thousand. Blizzard has promised, however, that AP and leveling second, third or, for Druids, fourth Artifacts will go faster, with bigger gains in shorter time frames. Time will tell how well the developer's simulations predicted the length of time to level additional artifacts, not to mention whether that increase in AP ramp up will be enough to entice players to level up their alts even knowing what is ahead of them.
Blizzard has done so many things right in Legion that it is difficult to know where to begin. Visually and aurally, Legion is a pure delight. The art teams have truly outdone themselves and it’s fascinating to see how far they have been able to stretch a nearly two decades old engine. Each zone has its own unique look and theme from cold and stony Highmountain to the beaches of Aszuna to the towering beauty of the regal Suramar, the look and feel of Legion is just about right. If there is one criticism, however, it is that the immediacy of the Burning Legion’s invasion is simply not felt in most zones. There are pockets of demonic activity but given the urgency of the mission handed to us by Archmage Khadgar, the countryside is somewhat lacking. Kicking fish back into a river in Highmountain is scads of fun but, in the end, how does that serve to bring the Burning Legion to heel?
Questing is also done nicely and the leveling pace is just about perfect. It is neither too fast nor too slow. Some questlines are epic and interesting such as the freeing of the tormented spirit subjects of Prince Farondis in Aszuna or the peacekeeping and unity mission undertaken in Highmountain. Questing comes into its own in Suramar, a weeks' long episodic campaign to rid Suramar City of its demonic overlords while simultaneously learning why the city sits in a protective bubble and why hard choices were made ten millennia ago. Add in some truly fun ways to accomplish quests such as masquerading as a Suramar citizen, complete with costume, and it can be tons of fun.
Questing is also more fun with friends and Blizzard has created a much more group-friendly environment in Legion. Zones are open level-wise so that players anywhere from level 100 to 110 can adventure together with each receiving loot fitting their level. While not yet implemented into the larger Azerothian world, this level scaling is something Blizzard is taking a long hard look at for the future.
Open zones, however, do pose their own problem for those who love lore and story, something players were promised would be eminently present in Legion. Cinematic trailers before and since the release of Legion promised to follow the stories of legendary characters such as Genn Greymane, Tyrande Whisperwind and now Horde Warchief Sylvanas Windrunner. Those stories are present but they seem to cut off just as they become interesting, though this is something that a more mature expansion may address with content patches over its course. Additionally, each zone’s storyline is taking place simultaneous to all the others which can lead to discontinuity and wondering why folks just across that river over there don't have a clue what's going on here.
Combat is another feature that has been overhauled and, at least by Blizzard's reckoning, improved. Melee animations are vastly improved and give a more visceral feeling to each and every fight. Blizzard has promised new animations for casters as well. Most abilities have flashy new looks too along with new voiceover work. Admittedly, however, the grunts, yells, YEE HAWs, blinding spell / combat effects and the like can get tiresome in a crowd. Luckily, Blizzard has provided a way for those to be toned down by enabling the raid filters via the options menu.
During combat and questing, multiple players of the same faction can "tag" the same monster. On the surface, this is great. Monsters will scale according to the number of "tags" it has received. While a nice feature on paper, however, this comes with its own issue of people running by spamming, for instance, Death and Decay or some other form of AoE and then moving on leaving the hapless attacker with a tougher monster to battle alone.