A new expansion for World of Warcraft?! Just months after a lukewarm-received movie comes word of life in the decade-plus old game we thought was on the outs. I hear you: I thought we’re all supposed to be tired of these games at this point and migrate to Darkfall…no, wait, that one shut down. I mean, WoW’s for kids now, so we should all go play WildStar…no, wait, that one went free-to-play from lack of revenue and is currently clinging to life. Really, the only competitor to the MMO Throne of Games continues to be Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, an underdog success story that’s absolutely worth checking out if you haven’t already.
Before you run off to play in Square-Enix’s growing online universe, however, you might want to take a quick peek at Blizzard’s latest effort to stop the player hemorrhage: World of Warcraft: Legion.
Legion offers the usual plethora of new content, of course. For instance, there’s the Broken Isles, a Legion-infested area comprised of several zones with multiple quest hubs. These are all fairly well designed and a pleasure to explore…with the exception of Stormheim, a mountainous area plagued with collision glitches and a buggy grappling hook gimmick. Expect to suicide or burn your Hearthstone charges multiple times as you get stuck on various parts of Stormheim. At least the other areas tend to be a little less…delicate, and collision bugs are as bad as Legion gets so that’s not a huge complaint.
There’s a new class, too, in the Demon Hunter, a Hero Class like the Death Knight that starts at a whopping level 90 and can only be played by either of the elven races. These guys are the epitome of what 15-year-old you thought was cool; they’ve got ridiculous-looking dual warglaives as weapons, they all dress in dumb edgy clothing, they’ve either got spooky glowing eyes or mysterious blindfolds and so on. The Demon Hunter has their own starter zone that ends with your character at level 100, ready to head to the Broken Isles and get to work; naturally, that zone is full of power trip moments where you tear apart giant demons, soar across huge chasms and sacrifice souls for power, so it suits the class pretty well.
They’re also fairly simple to play, making for an easy introduction to the new Legion areas and quests if you haven’t been playing WoW much lately. Their two specs, focused on tanking and damage respectively, boil their roles down to the basics. In particular the Havoc damage spec has very few buttons and mechanics relative to other damage classes like the Rogue or Mage, and I ended up returning to my Mage before long to play through the Legion campaign. Really, the best part of the Demon Hunter is their mobility; along with a useful dash or jump that can launch you around the battlefield with ease, Demon Hunters can also double jump and glide! I yearn for the day when those abilities are available to all classes.
Really, though, it feels like the big focus of Legion is on making your character feel like a badass, somebody that you enjoy controlling during your adventures in Azeroth. Blizzard’s term for this is “class fantasy” – ol’ Blue wants you to really feel like the archetypical master assassin, mighty warrior or powerful archmage. Toward this end there are a few systems included in Legion to really help your character stand out as a paragon of their class.
The first is the Order Hall, a class-specific hideout similar to the Garrisons found in Warlords of Draenor. These work much the same way and, as someone who skipped Draenor, I didn’t feel much need to mess around with my Garrison in favor of my Order Hall. This amounts to a sort of Farmville system where you, as the head of your Order, send out your follows to do missions completed over the course of real time in exchange for rewards. As a Mage, I spent my time in the Hall of the Guardian, an appropriately arcane location full of musty tomes, glowing orbs and mysterious artifacts.
It’s a minor distraction that can provide significant amounts of resources and loot for your character, including experience, so it’s a nice addition to the game and something you’ll find yourself coming back to repeatedly in Legion. It also addresses one of the most common complaints I saw about Garrisons; while your Garrison is a zone exclusive to your character, the Order Hall is full of other players of the same class, so you don’t feel quite as lonely while you’re there.
One of the first things you’ll do with your level 100 character, along with gaining access to your Order Hall, is going on a quest to obtain a mighty Artifact Weapon. There’s one of these per spec in each class, each with their own lore and associated quest to follow. Each of these feels like a piece of kit that any hero would love to own, from the mighty mageblade Felo’melorn for Fire Mages to the lightning-blasting shotgun Titanstrike for Beast Mastery Hunters, and their quests are all designed to make you feel like the sort of butt-kicker that deserves to own such a powerful item. What’s more, each has its own unique talent tree that can power up your character even further; you’ll advance through this by consuming Artifact Power obtained through items found in the Broken Isles, as well as pumping up the weapon itself using Relics.
I can see old-school players taking some issue with this concept; these items are as powerful as they’re claimed to be and they’re what you’re going to use throughout Legion, so the push to hunt for a legendary weapon isn’t present here. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of gear to raid for, though, as you’ve still got the rest of your equipment slots to worry about. You can also transmogrify your Artifact Weapon (within certain limitations) and there are several skins available for each as well, so it’s not like everyone of the same class and spec will look the same. Personally, I had a great time using Aluneth, an Arcane Mage staff that encouraged me via whispers to do all manner of power-crazed mage things, and I feel like many players are going to enjoy their Artifact Weapons just as much.
We’ve said nothing about the various instanced dungeons and goofy quests in this expansion, but the bottom line is that at its heart, World of Warcraft: Legion has felt like it really captures the essence of makes WoW fun to play. You can get a few friends together and be a butt-kicking fantasy hero for awhile, and Legion offers you the chance to do this without necessarily engaging in the fantasy hero pastime of scheduled weekly raids. Some may not care for that; there’s a good chance that many of those people left for WildStar, which tried to sell a game that was all about that experience and ended up on free-to-play life support. If you want to just grab a friend, smash some demons, look good doing it and maybe run dungeons when you hit max level to really pimp your hero out, then Legion is a great chance to get back into the Warcraft groove.