I am prepared, actually
It always feels strange looking back to screenshots of a journey through an MMO.
I keep a catalog during the leveling process of every World of Warcraft expansion, from the opening moments to the second I ding at the cap. It’s strange watching this digital avatar morph into something more personal over time, something that you’ve painstakingly created as an extension of yourself.
I’ve finally reached the top for Legion working my way through Mythic dungeons, so I feel like I can make a complete assessment.
World of Warcraft: Legion (PC)
Released: August 30, 2016
To make this a more rounded review I took the brand new hero class of Demon Hunter to the new level 110 cap, and it’s slowly become one of my favorites. I can hold hate in dungeons as a tank and deal a respectable amount of damage, my kit is diverse with a number of CC (crowd control), AOE (area-of-effect), and single-target abilities, and the skill tree offers an array of alterations.
But really, it’s the gliding effect I love. Not only can Demon Hunters double jump, but they can opt to spread their wings as well, protecting them from harmful falls more effectively than any other prior method like a Mage’s “levitate.” It makes for some incredible moments, leaping off gigantic mountaintops and slowly cruising through terrain with a giant wingspan in tow, especially since Blizzard has packed-in so many little Easter eggs and hidden alcoves in the new Broken Isles zone — more-so than any expansion before it.
The leveling process is just fantastic. Players can opt to choose where they want to go first, and even though they’ll eventually see all four starting regions, the chance to go to place you might find more enticing without being forced into a typical ho-hum “starter zone” forced the team to put effort into every area. The shared mountains of Highmountain and Stormheim allow for the map to feel like a cohesive, organic setting, and the lore-heavy Val’Sharah and Azsuna have something for returning players.
But in typical MMO fashion, the game isn’t over at the cap. I was pretty blown away with the effort that was put into the fifth “endgame” zone, Suramar. The narrative centers around a faction called the Nightfallen, which, as a result of many years of isolation, have become dependent on an energy source they fashioned into a drink called Arcwine — if they don’t get their fix, they morph into mindless creatures called “Withered” and go on a rampage.
Although there’s still your typical rendition of “good and evil” in Suramar, you get to see more nuanced storylines of how their people have survived all this time, and the stakes that are involved feel real, bringing me closer to the world of Legion as a whole. It also sports some of the most fun quests in the game (one has you springing out a giant T-Rex from a pen, culminating in a drive-by buffet chomping session) and several minigames that are repeatable for Nightfallen reputation.
That whole “minigame” philosophy applies to the entire World of Warcraft experience now too, if you haven’t been playing the last several expansions. In Legion, I darted around temple traps and laser beams, Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible style, climbed mountains with a grappling gun like a 3D Zelda game, played a DDR-like session for a quest, shot a bunny-launcher weapon, and got to chill with big characters like Malfurion and Tyrande.
And that idea is taken up full-hog in Legion with “World Quests,” a post-level-110 extension of the campaign. The gist is that roughly 50 quests are active on the map at any time, with cycling timelines of several hours or several days. Much like Guild Wars 2, they can be completed by anyone regardless of party settings, and reward you with actual good gear that can be on par with pre-raid, or even raid-level properties. That’s because Blizzard made it possible to obtain Legendary items through regular questing, in addition to “Warforged” or “Titanforged” modifiers that can boost up the item level of a piece of gear randomly.
As much as I loathe the idea of adding more RNG to the game, I support the concept of making world questing viable — as it’s not only more fun than grinding out dailies for rep to buy a mount, but it’s also a way for people who are intimidated by dungeons to accomplish something. Plus, I’m seeing a lot more partying for world questing — more than I’ve ever witnessed before. I realized something after doing world quests for about 20 hours, in that they were funneling me into key leveling areas I had just done, creating a more active world throughout the entire expansion, and not just clutters of people huddled around town spamming chat for a high gearscore tank.
Order Halls make the endgame loop a little more enticing as well — at least more than Garrisons did in the last expansion. Sending out your NPCs on quests is fun, and having a little Shade of Akama following me around at all times with the companion mechanic is ace. You can opt to use the app too instead of babysitting your PC throughout the day, and your crew’s abilities remind me a bit of the crew system from Skies of Arcadia how they slot into different tasks like puzzle pieces.
But the slog isn’t entirely removed. If you want the best gear and there aren’t any good World Quests up, you will need to play tons of Heroic or Mythic dungeons until your gear drops. Yes it’s an MMO and Blizzard wants you to keep playing, so the tap isn’t completely turned on at full blast, even if there’s multiple bathrooms to choose from now. Plus, Mythic dungeons currently don’t have a matchmaking system like Heroics, so once you outgrow the latter, you still need to get involved and throw your weight around a bit instead of relying on matchmaking.
In that way WoW hasn’t really progressed as a fully casual-friendly game beyond the initial campaign string. Blizzard has the leveling thing down at this point (you could argue it did at Lich King), but many elements of the post-cap experience are just as daunting as ever. Again, having played it for over a decade, I’m okay with this hardcore tint. But Blizzard could really stand to prepare players for endgame scenarios with more tutorials or specialized solo trials that really help them understand a lot of advanced tactics so they don’t get yelled at in a public group and quit forever.
There are flashes of brilliance, like the opening Demon Hunter quest that takes you through the iconic Vault of the Wardens to battle several locked-up bosses in hamstrung form, only to lead you back into the vault on Heroic difficulty to seal them up once and for all with a greater challenge. It not only fits from a lore perspective but an educational one, yet that experience is only applicable to Demon Hunters and rarely replicated elsewhere.
For you PVP fiends (I was only really active in Vanilla and Burning Crusade myself), the entire system has been overhauled for the better. Now there’s another way to level up past 110 as PVP has its own honor ranks with player-versus-player-specific abilities, which creates a whole new meta-game for people who are into that scene (on top of a Prestige system). Don’t worry, there’s still old-school arenas and battlegrounds (BGs) afoot, it all just goes towards a common goal now.
In a more polarizing sequence of events, equipment is marginalized and normalized, so you don’t have to grind for hundreds of hours for “PVP gear,” you just get good gear — yet, you also won’t be granted major bonuses, so depending on your point of view gearing up might be pointless. As someone who hasn’t liked PVP in ages though, I appreciate the shakeup and I’ve actually been dabbling more as of late, so mission accomplished.
World of Warcraft: Legion does the greatest job so far of really connecting players to its world. Unlike the past several expansions, I really want to be a part of this universe and see this story through until its end. This is the best WoW has been since Wrath.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. The reviewer reached level 110 for the purposes of this assessment.]