For the last week or so I have lived and breathed World of Warcraft. It all started at ten minutes to midnight when my experience bar suddenly reappeared and the monsters I was killing for leather started giving me trickles of XP. A trip to see Khadgar gave me the quest to start the expansion. I couldn’t believe it. No restarting of the game. No crazy lag making it impossible to do things. No servers falling over. It was the smoothest expansion launch I have ever been part of, which made me forget that I had promised to not play after midnight and to rather wake up early when the servers would have a modicum of calm. Sadly the Burning Legion never sleeps, and it feels like I don’t either. Not anymore.
Welcome to World of Warcraft. The game hardly needs an introduction, considering its long history. The game has been going since 2004 and Legion is its sixth expansion, moving the story into new territory that will feel familiar if you played the RTS games. Gul’Dan’s masterstroke is in play, opening a rift to allow the demon army of Sargeras into Azeroth. This time there is no Guardian, no old guard to stop them. It is up to us, it is up to you as the transition from lowly character bossed around to do menial tasks finally sees you as leader of your class. The best, bravest or strongest of them all. You are the Farseer, or the Archdruid now and while that sounds amazing, your mission looks impossible. It looks insurmountable. If the biggest heroes of the Horde and Alliance failed against Gul’Dan and Sargeras, what hope do we have?
Weapons of myth and yore
All is not completely lost, thankfully. There are weapons so powerful, so terrible that they have been locked away and kept secret for centuries. Iconic weapons like Doomhammer and The Ashbringer. Blades forged from broken shards of Frostmourne and many more have been uncovered and these artifacts are at the core of Legion’s story and gameplay. They are the reason you lead your order hall and why you have any chance at all against innumerable demons. They level in power as you feed them a host of items that grant artifact power, becoming a second talent tree for your class. Each artifact [pullquote_left]I love my artifact weapons and I am slowly getting every one I can for my alts.[/pullquote_left]weapon has a special new active skill and the weapon will have a host of talents to improve that ability or your other skills. Between managing your artifact weapon and your order hall you have a lot to work for. Will you put everything into one artifact, or do you like switching specs? After level 13 the artifact power requirements of the weapons get pretty steep, which makes getting each of your specs up to scratch pretty feasible, while maxing out a weapon is going to take a serious investment of time and energy. Most of the artifacts give you powerful spells or abilities on a fairly long cooldown, making it interesting fitting them into the rotation. It also adds that feeling of the old talent trees back, with incremental power increases leading to shiny big passive boosts. You can even make the weapons more powerful by using relics, which act almost like gems. These give you an extra point in a artifact ‘talent’ (which can go over the normal maximum) and increase the artifact’s ilvl. I love my artifact weapons and I am slowly getting every one I can for my alts, the stories tied to them and their models are just too well-crafted to miss.
Speaking of well-crafted things, the new regions of Legion are some of the best in the game to date. Legion on the whole has stellar writing, with a lot more voice over work than any other expansion. Major events and artifact quests are all voiced, allowing you to listen to the story as you play, rather than pausing to read through hefty passages of text. It feels like story is front and centre of this expansion, with large events happening all over the world, some of which started just before Legion launched with the Broken Shore dual raid for Horde and Alliance. The overall tone of the writing in this expansion is sombre, sincere and so depressing. The wacky elements are around, the light-hearted moments with Murky and DEHTA, but they are few and far between. Things are too big, too terrible to spend time messing around. Though you might want to mess around. The levels are so beautiful and varied, so fun to traverse that you will find yourself climbing massive mountains to search for vistas and treasure, or exploring the massive city of Suramar, getting a glimpse at the majesty and culture of these enigmatic people. From the verdant groves and forests of Val’Sharah to the peaks of Highmountain and the harsh lands of the Vrykul there is somewhere that will make you just stand and bask in the vistas of the world around you.
Some of the events that unfold will make fans want to cry as atrocities unfold on their favourite heroes, and the demons just seem to be able to infiltrate or destroy anything. Every victory is hard-won and the fallout afterwards is monstrous. Yet we press on, hoping for answers and quite possibly, help. A growing feeling of desperation arrives as you venture forth, fighting through atrocities and helping where you can, like the Nightfallen of Suramar, who rely on you for sustenance. [pullquote_right]Legion on the whole has stellar writing, with a lot more voice over work than any other expansion.[/pullquote_right]Every region has felt the siren call of the demons, falling in some way to corruption or the promise of unimaginable power while the big enemies of the expansion playing with these new slaves like puppets in a large game that we are not yet privy to. This extends into the quests which spend less time bothering with collecting 17 objects from 42 kills in an area and more time taking the fight where we can, and evacuating where we can’t. You will flank the demons, cut off their portals, destroy their profane magics and save newfound allies to fight alongside you another day. It is the first expansion I didn’t care about hitting max level as quickly as possible. Levelling doesn’t feel as important anymore, the real star is completing the story, while powering up artifact weapons.
Playing with friends
Fighting against the demon host of Sargeras will take friends. Sure you can go at it alone but having someone to heal you when things get rough, or a few fireballs to make fights a bit quicker will always be helpful. For the first time in WoW the zones are scaling, allowing you to choose where you want to quest and when (except for Suramar). Monsters will level to be an appropriate challenge for your level and if you join a friend, it will dynamically level in their game so that you are both facing an enemy of equal challenge. It happens seamlessly and is a pleasure to see in action. You can do dungeons and quests together regardless of whether your friends are level 101 or 110, you will still get loot and XP appropriate to your level. There are some nasty creatures that don’t scale though, so be careful of roaming Ettins and the like turning you into a red smear in the world. It adds a lot of freedom to how you want to tackle the new zones and made the areas feel a lot less cluttered as not everyone was in the same starting zone after the exact same quest objective. It also means your alts won’t do the same things in the same order to get to the level cap, adding a bit of variety to your alt addiction.
Order hall business
When the order halls were first mentioned I was slightly worried about what that would mean for the game. The garrison of Warlords of Draenor was initially met with enthusiasm, until everyone realised they were slaves to a game that would easily find itself at home surrounded by free-to-play mobile games where you wait long periods of time for no reward to send people off for another long time period for a tiny reward. Order halls not only fit the power fantasy of each class, but they become a cool place to hang out. Demon hunters double jump and glide around the Fel Hammer, opening portals to the Twisting Nether and killing the brutish archdemons that arrive. Druids meditate in the Emerald Dream surrounded by all manner of fantastic creatures. NPCs of your class will help you find information on your enemies, improve your artifact weapons and outfit you for the dangerous trials ahead. It also involves 5 champions instead of 20 followers, meaning you will spend less time sending them off on missions and more time doing important things yourself.
The Demon Hunter
Besides the artifact weapons, the biggest new feature in Legion is the demon hunter. Ever since seeing Illidan Stormrage it has been a dream to play as a demon hunter eventually and it has taken so many years of waiting before the tortured group to become a class. The demon hunter is a master of close-range combat, using shadow, speed, fel-energy and warglaives to dispatch foes or to tank. Both specialisations are really fun, but Vengeance, the tanking spec, takes the win. You grow spikes from your back to parry attacks and become a large demon covered in stony scales to absorb large amounts of damage. Longevity in fights is assured thanks to your ability to shatter the souls of your enemies, which you use to heal yourself during the fight. Parries, fel-absorption, mobility and self-heal are the order of the day and it doesn’t take too much work to hit 2 million health before buffs and cooldowns at 110. Also you can double jump and glide. And you are a Demon Hunter. How can you say no to being one of Illidan’s students?
The new loot tables and hunting for relics
Dungeon loot tables admittedly look a bit bare without weapon drops, but now your time will be spent hunting for relics to put in your weapon instead of a new sword or shield. At least some professions can craft relics because relying on good luck on RNG tables is pretty rough. My tanking weapon has the best possible relics outside of heroic and better, but I have nothing for my dps spec thanks to the relics being different types. Some classes have it better, where holy or fire slots are common across all three weapons. It is something worth keeping in mind as you level, so before you hand that quest in with a relic reward, maybe change your loot to a specialisation you still need relics for or your artifact ilvl will start to lag behind.
Professions by quest, not skill
Professions have always been a love hate thing for me. If you remember the vanilla blacksmithing quests, it was a nightmare to level and get all the materials for good gear. You would sit crafting the same item again and again to improve skill to craft a new item again and again for skill to hopefully reach a recipe that is an improvement for you. This has all changed. Or at least, been streamlined and had a bunch of content thrown at it. Most skills have three ranks now, with extra ranks reducing the materials required to craft the item, or increasing the number made or the amount gathered from a node. Each profession now has a host of quests to increase ranks or learn new recipes, rather than everything being taught to you by a random trainer. It feels more like you earned the next rank or recipe now and having to skin a bunch of creatures for a quest feels a lot more satisfying than skinning a bunch of creatures because you don’t have enough mats for skill-ups. The lack of clutter is pretty refreshing and let’s face it, after level 100 who wants to be crafting green rubbish anyway?
The new end-game
Warlords of Draenor’s biggest failing was the lack of content for max level characters. Blizzard has provided so much to do at max level, besides finishing off the initial areas. My character is at close to 2 days played at max level and Suramar still holds many secrets in its nefarious depths. Two weeks from now the first raid opens and there are several areas on the map that look like they should have quests, but I haven’t spotted what they are for yet. In the meantime I am working on the first part of the achievement to unlock flying in the Broken Isles while working on my reputation and doing world quests. Instead of doing the exact same 15 dailies every day, flying a set path through an area to kill mobs, world quests spice things up and give you an excuse to revisit the earlier areas of Broken Isles. Artifact power, heroic dungeon level gear and reputation all wait as rewards for the various world quests, which are neatly tied into the narrative thanks to voice over instructions as you enter the world. It makes for a more varied way to grind up reputation for the factions you need, without feeling you have to dedicate several hours to it every day. The biggest rewards, caches for doing four quests for a specific faction only pop up once a day and you can stack up to three of these, so if you don’t play daily you won’t feel like you are being left behind the others.
I feel like I could go on for much longer on the intricacies of WoW, where the story will go and what this means for the game in general but I think for a review those things aren’t entirely necessary (also I think Ed is crying by this point due to the length). Let’s just say that as it stands now, Legion is a high-point in the history of World of Warcraft and I don’t see the new-found energy of enthusiasm wearing off any time soon for the players. If anyone needs me, I will be in Azeroth.