More than a decade after launch, World of Warcraft endures. Blizzard’s online phenomenon remains the most popular subscription-driven game around, and keeps pace with similar free-to-play titles (though, with publisher keeping numbers close to their vest, it’s hard to know for sure). If you haven’t played in a while, you might be surprised to learn the game isn’t winding down.
Its latest expansion, World of Warcraft: Legion, is proof of that. One look at the website makes Blizzard’s dedication plain. For those willing to cover its intimidating $50 price tag, the expansion gives players a new continent, class, raid, ten new levels, and a set of new dungeons to play through.
That’s a lot of stuff, but is it really enough to keep this 12-year-old game competitive with newer, more attractive games, many of which are free-to-play?
A story you’ll care about
Story has never been World of Warcraft’s strong suit. While players have always loved its lore, the never-ending game’s actual story is typically incomprehensible. The game’s previous expansion, Warlords of Draenor, took confusion to new heights with a convoluted tale of time travel that sent players chasing after a foe they’d just defeated.
Those years of perplexing plots make Legion’s direct narrative feel refreshingly simple, by comparison. There are plenty of sub-plots to geek out on, but the basics are a cinch. Demons are invading. You need to stop them. To do that, you’re sent to find five “pillars of creation,” lost somewhere in a new land called the Broken Isles.
While cliché, the plot is clear. It’s also brilliantly executed. Unlike previous expansions, the five new zones that make up the Broken Isles scale to your level, so they can be tackled in any order. Each zone has its own, unique sub-plot that mixes locations and characters Warcraft fans know with new faces that not only hold their own, but often feel more interesting than the franchise veterans they accompany.
Khadgar serves as your guide through the expansion’s set of short stories. Legion turns the already prominent mage into the story’s keystone, guiding your journey through the Broken Isles, keeping you on task. Thankfully, Khadgar also maintains WoW’s clever, lighthearted tone. He’s an absurdly powerful mage, but he doesn’t know everything, and isn’t above cracking a joke.
It helps that Legion does more than any other World of Warcraft expansion — arguably, more than any other MMORPG — to bring the story to life through voice acting and cinematics. Side quests are still text-based affairs, but the main story is often brought to life by spoken dialogue that adds flare to the tale.
A whole new you
If you haven’t played World of Warcraft for a few years, you may be worried that you’d never get to see the new content. Leveling through previous expansions can be slow — and boring. Blizzard has a solution, though: As in previous expansions, the expansions offers players the ability to automatically boost a character to level 100, giving new or lapsed adventurers a fast track to new content.
Legion is an expansion about killing demons. Demon Hunters do that, with style.
This may seem like jumping into the deep end, but Blizzard does its best to make sure your first swim doesn’t start with a belly flop. A new class trial system lets players test-drive characters before committing to a boost, so you aren’t picking blind.
The game also saw a huge class revamp just prior to Legion’s launch, aimed at simplifying class mechanics. Most classes have a basic rotation that consists of just three to five skills, instead of 10+ hotkeys. Mastering a class remains difficult, as each has its own resource system, along with numerous lesser-used skills. Figuring out how it all comes together marks the difference between new players from Mythic-tier raiders, but that level of depth isn’t required if you just want to level up, play the story, and do some dungeons.
These tweaks make World of Warcraft as accessible as ever. Most players will need around 30 hours to level from 100 to 110 – long enough to feel like a journey, but not so long that it becomes a slog. And there’s little chance you’ll lose track of where to go next, as the game directs you back to a map in your new home base, the Order Hall, whenever you complete the primary questline in a zone.
The Order Hall, Legion’s headline feature, is impressive because of its improbability. As the story almost immediately reveals, you – as in, your specific character – has become so powerful that you’re now the leader of your class. Every one of Legion’s twelve options has its own hall, complete with its own quests. These aren’t trivial spaces. They are large, intricate, and packed with content you’ll be accessing throughout the expansion.
Only the most hardcore will have time to see all the halls, never mind complete the quests. But that exclusivity makes the halls feel expansive and unique. Playing a Druid, we felt proud of our hall’s position in Val’sharah – one of the new zones — as well as its connection to The Emerald Dream, which is essentially Druid heaven.
At the same time, the notion that there are many other order halls to see make you a bit jealous of players using classes. Warriors, for example, receive an Order Hall that’s basically Valhalla. You may find yourself envying what others have, but that envy is only possible because each class feels awesome in its own way. The class you choose feels more meaningful than ever before.
Also new to Legion, every specialization in every class also receives it’s a unique weapon called an “Artifact.” Strangely, you receive it almost immediately after starting Legion: In most role-playing games an awesome weapon is the goal, not handed out for free. Earning your artifact, however,is only the beginning. Each weapon has 34 unique traits, which are unlocked by earning artifact power, a resource collected through quests, dungeons, raids, and more. Artifacts also have three “relic” slots. Combining a relic and an artifact weapon can increase the weapon’s base power and unlock additional traits.
Both features make a great first impression. In the past, World of Warcraft’s story and progression was linear, which meant everyone had the same experience. Now you can choose your own path, and enjoy unique quests and weapons based on your class. It provides a sense of exploration and discovery that’s rare in modern MMOs. Your character feels more like your character than ever before.
It’s unclear, though, how these features will have any impact on the game long-term. Garrisons were lauded when Warlords of Draenor launched, but quickly became tiring, as players had little reason to leave them. Blizzard has learned from that. Order Halls are not as self-sufficient, so you won’t be able to hole up inside. But they remain a requirement to unlock important upgrades, and returning time and time again just to click a few buttons may become annoying.
Artifacts, too, may lose their appeal in time. The complexity they introduce has raised concerns in the community, as some classes seem to be greatly out-performing others. Blizzard has already responded with balance changes, as of September 27, but it’s unclear if they will put all the classes on equal footing.
I heard you’ve got a demon problem
Speaking of classes, Legion has a new one, the Demon Hunter. Normally, a new class would be the most interesting addition to an expansion. But the wealth of content in Legion – including the Order Halls – gives veteran players some incentive to dig deeper into the class they already know.
Still, everyone will at least want to give the new guy a test drive. The Demon Hunters are among the game’s most mobile characters. They can double jump, glide, or dash across short distances. Yet the class isn’t a glass cannon. In fact, their two specializations – yes, only two, a first in World of Warcraft – consist of one focused on damage, and one on tanking. World of Warcraft is twelve years old, but Blizzard has yet again found a new angle that doesn’t feel redundant.
Mechanically, the class is a “builder-spender,” which means a resource (in this case, Fury) is built through certain attacks and actions, providing energy for big finishing moves. The classic tension between the need to build Fury, and the need to kill the bad guy, still works. But veterans to the game might’ve hoped see a more novel idea at the class’ foundation.
Still, you’re going to want to role a Demon Hunter and play through its introduction, even if you have no intention to level the character afterwards. The class which starts at level 98, is introduced through a fantastic two-hour quest that explains the backstory and gives players first-hand experience of events that happened during The Burning Crusade.
The Demon Hunter’s greatest strength is its theme. Legion is an expansion about killing demons. Demon Hunters do that, with style. They fire lasers of demonic energy from their eyes, temporarily turn into vengeful demons themselves, and fly from opponent to opponent with fierce grace. Everything about them looks awesome, even if the gameplay is not all that unique.
The end is the beginning
As mentioned, Legion’s leveling will consume around 30 hours of your life, but for many players, that’s just the start: MMOs live or die based on the quality of end-game content. The previous expansion, Warlords of Draenor, did surprisingly little to shake up the end-game, and players dropped it in droves after a few months. Legion, thankfully, is a breath of fresh air.
Unlocked completing the main questline, “world quests” start to appear automatically across various locations across the Broken Isles. Upon arriving in a zone with one, you will phase dynamically into an instance with players doing the same quest. Some are simple “collect ten bear butts” quests. Some, like a quest about repelling invasive squirrels, require no combat at all. And some will send you into dungeons or raids to kill specific monsters.
World of Warcraft is twelve years old, but Blizzard has yet again found a new angle that doesn’t feel redundant.
Online games have always struggled with giving players enough different tasks to keep them from sinking into a boring routine. World Quests help solve that problem. On their own, the quests are not astounding, but they provide great incentive to continue exploring the world and add variety to what players do once they’ve hit the level cap.
They also provide relevant rewards, like gear, crafting items, or order hall resources. They rotate regularly, and are tied together with Emissary rewards – chests full of bonus loot that provide a bonus for completing four world quests of a particular type within a time limit (don’t worry, the time limit is very generous – a couple days, usually). All the rewards scale with your progress, too.
World of Warcraft has always struggled with creating a relevant end-game content for solo players. Daily quests have provided that in the past, but they were static. Players logged in to find the same quests, in the same places, with the same rewards. World Quests shake up the stagnation. What you see on the map will never be exactly the same as the day before.
This isn’t the only feature Legion borrows from Diablo III. The expansion’s new “Mythic+” dungeon system comes straight from Diablo’s Rifts. Experienced players who’ve beat the Normal, Heroic, and Mythic dungeons can step into this system for a special challenge.
To enter, you must earn a Mythic Keystone from a regular Mythic Dungeon. You can then start a Mythic+ run. Each time you clear the dungeon within the time limit, the keystone levels up. As it levels up, the monsters become more difficult. At level 4, the dungeon will receive an “affix” – a special, random property that makes it even more difficult than normal. Raging, for example, causes all enemies to go berserk when their health dips below 30 percent. The goal is to reach the highest keystone rank possible, so you can cash out in the form sweet loot.
Like world quests, the Mythic+ dungeon creates new endgame opportunities for players who want to play alone or in small groups. For years, raids have been the last word in group content for the WoW endgame. They are fun and compelling, but require at least ten people, and generally take at least two to three hours. Mythic+ provides a new option for players who care about challenge, but don’t want to – or have time to – deal with raiding.
Author’s Note: We admittedly haven’t had a chance to try a Mythic+ run, as it just launched, and we haven’t gained the power to compete in such dungeons yet. We’ll update with our thoughts later.
Raids still exist, of course. This, too, is content we haven’t had much chance to experience (it also just went live, as of September 20). As always, it’ll take months to see how the raids stand up to repeat play. Blizzard has promised a vigorous schedule of new content, but there’s no way to know whether or not the developers can maintain the projected schedule. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Right now, though, Legion’s end game is the best in any World of Warcraft expansion. World Quests shake up the day-to-day of logging in. They add variety never seen before, whether you’re a raider, a crafter, a PVP enthusiast, or a casual player who only has time to play a few days each week.
Yes, there’s more
That just about covers the main points. But only the main points.
Legion is huge, even by the standards of an MMO expansion. Aside from what’s above it also includes new crafting recipes and system tweaks, a new transmogrification that makes it easier than ever to dress up your character, world bosses, a new player-versus-player prestige system, and new battle pets (there’s even World Quests for battle pets).
If you want to know everything, we suggest heading over to fan site Wowhead, which has a massive guide covering the new content. You could spend all day reading it.
Everything you want, and more
World of Warcraft, and the MMO genre has a whole, has fallen from grace. Once heralded as an unprecedented and engrossing gaming experience, it’s now viewed with prejudice. There’s a sense that people who play MMOs are different from the rest of gamerdom, and that the MMORPG is a dead genre.
Legion dispels that notion. The game engine feels tight, the classes are fun to play, and the story will lure you in. It is certainly the best incarnation of the MMO genre yet. Mixing the pacing, diversity, and enjoyment of a single-player game with the re-playability and social challenges only found in multiplayer titles, Legion is the best expansion yet for both veterans and newcomers. It offers a long buffet of things to do, ready for you to dine on as you choose – and each activity is delicious.