Release Date: August 30, 2016Platform: PCDeveloper/Publisher: Blizzard EntertainmentGenre: MMORPG
In the MMORPG world, there’s no other game that quite sets the precedent like World of Warcraft. It’s the game all other developers try and copy due to its popularity. It’s the MMO every MMO player loves or hates with a super strong passion. WoW certainly wasn’t the “first,” but it’s definitely the most important.
Critics and longtime fans look at WoW expansions with great scrutiny. We expect each expansion to raise the bar, giving us more features, cooler dungeons and raids, and amazing new content that impacts how “those other developers” make new games. We expect better, deeper stories. We hope that maybe—just maybe—Blizzard will make our beloved classes more fun with the inevitable mountain of class changes that comes with each expansion.
So, how did Legion stand up to our expectations? Let’s find out.
Play How You Want: World Quests and Endgame
After feeling a tad bit burnt by the end of Warlords of Draenor, I originally looked at Legion with a fair bit of trepidation. At the tail end of the beta, I was enthusiastically optimistic about how Legion’s features would pan out. Now, almost a month into Legion, I’m still rather optimistic. Legion delivers a whole lot of content—especially for endgame players.
Warlords of Draenor delivered interesting zones with no reason to go back to them. Legion delivers interesting zones with plenty of reasons to return at level 110. Whereas WoD was extremely light on endgame content, Legion seems to make up for that loss by bringing us the world quest system. World quests aren’t anything entirely innovative, but they’re fairly fun, differ a bit from day to day gameplay, and essentially allow players to progress their characters at their own pace.
This last bit is what makes world quests so great in my opinion. You reach 110, finish off some story content, and unlock world quests. These are dynamic, last anywhere from a few hours to multiple days, and include area objectives, tough named mobs to kill, pet battles, PvP objectives, dungeon quests, and crafting objectives. You just run into the area and the info automatically pops up. No muss, no fuss. Rewards include AP (artifact power—the “EXP” that lets players upgrade their artifact weapons), gear, crafting goodies, gold, and more.
You’re able to do as many as you like—wherever you like—but doing four world quests for whatever reputation faction gets a boost that particular day (these are called emissary quests), gives you extra reputation, AP, and a chest with potentially decent goodies. If you’re unable to do an emissary quest one day, no problem. The system saves up to four days so you can save them up and run all four in a day if you like.
The system, overall, has a ton more freedom than daily quests or even WoD’s daily objective system. For more casual players like myself and my guildmates, we’re able to hop on for a couple hours during the week, run a mythic dungeon or two, then log off without feeling guilty about losing out on daily quests or reputation. For players who have more time on their hands, they can run as many world quests as they like—as long as new ones keep popping up, of course.
One of the best things about world quests is the fact that the gear rewards all scale to your current item level (except for the chest rewards). This makes it simple to fill in crucial gear gaps while trying to gear up for dungeons or raids. All of the gear can upgrade into better pieces, too, which makes completing world quests beneficial even to raiders (the AP ones are worth doing as well, of course).
It’s very easy to gear up once you hit level 110 in Legion. With a little luck, you can literally be raid ready after a handful of world quests, a few heroic dungeons, and some mythic dungeons. With less luck, it can take slightly more time, but crafted items and class hall gear sets attempt to fill in this gap.
The speed of gearing up is both a pro and con about Legion. It’s great for casual raid groups like my own since guildmates can gear up on their own without too much effort. It also makes it easier to recruit new raiders or get alts ready for raids. On the flipside, gearing up so quickly makes world quests lose their luster rather quickly. Most are fairly challenging after you just hit 110, but after you get to 840 item level or so, most seem stupidly simple. For a system that will stick around all expansion, this admittedly is a bit of a shame.
The Finer Points of Endgame: Suramar and Raids/Dungeons
Legion’s endgame also consists of a new zone called Suramar, which opens after hitting 110. It’s a beautiful zone—and quite large—containing both wilderness areas and a gorgeous, confusing city to navigate that requires a bit of stealth via quest item. The zone’s story questline is rather long and satisfying lore-wise.
While some of Suramar’s areas can be a pain to navigate, story-wise, it’s one of the better parts of Legion. It also offers some fine rewards in the way of AP gain, world quests, and two new mythic dungeons to explore once you gain a certain amount of reputation. It’s been a long time since WoW’s offered any instanced content hidden behind reputation, and frankly, I’m rather satisfied with the idea.
For those curious, I don’t even have the dungeons unlocked yet (soon!), but I like the idea of having endgame goals that don’t necessarily have anything to do with raiding. Sometimes, dungeons provide fine sources of progression, and that definitely seems to be one theme Legion embraces.
That brings me to one of Legion’s new features—the mythic+ dungeon system. After completing your first mythic dungeon every week, you’re given a keystone that unlocks mythic+ difficulty. Using a keystone gives your group a timer and some enemy adjustments that make the run tougher. At the end, you’re rewarded with goodies whether your beat the timer or fail. And if you beat the timer, you’re given a new keystone with a higher difficulty level.
After dipping my toes into a few mythic+ runs this past weekend, I have to say—I’m impressed. The beginning difficulties are fun, fairly challenging for casual groups, and not overly difficult or group restrictive. Groups that prefer the higher difficulty of CMs will find a home in the higher difficulties of mythic+, of course, but the lower levels offer a true progressive path for dungeoneers of all skill levels/group compositions.
It’s a satisfying mix. My own group—consisting of three melee DPS and a DPS shaman using an offspec to heal—cleared the first timer on our 2nd try. It was challenging, but definitely doable for organized groups. Organization is key for some of these runs, and it’s good to see World of Warcraft going back to its roots of challenging group content that encourages cooperation. Organized group content doesn’t just need to exist in raids. It’s always been part of WoW—and it should always be.
There’s some argument in WoW circles right now about the fact that normal mythic dungeons and mythic+ dungeons can’t be accessed via the automatic group finder tool. Frankly, they don’t need to be. I feel Blizzard did the right thing by making them accessible via the manual group finder but not the automatic one. Let us make our own groups. Let us reach out to others. This is how we make new friends and learn how to work with each other. This is how we make WoW great again (sorry!).
Speaking of raids, it’s still far too early to judge the entire raid outlook of Legion, but the first raid is out. Emerald Nightmare is a little smaller in scale than I was anticipating, but the fights are just diverse enough to be interesting. I’m hoping Legion’s future raids are a bit more epic, immersive, and open for exploration, but for now, Emerald Nightmare and the mythic+ system will do just fine.
Some Loose Pieces and the Final Verdict
I focused on endgame in this review and almost completely sidestepped the 100-110 leveling process. I did this because a solid endgame is vital to World of Warcraft—more than in most MMORPGs—due to the fact that leveling from 1-110 is seen as more of a boring, repetitious chore than anything else these days. I don’t think it should be this way, mind you, but changing the way the playerbase feels about leveling is in Blizzard’s control.
That said, the process of leveling from 100-110 is quite fun. Most of the zone stories feel slightly watered down due to the fact that players can level in any zone at any level after they hit level 98, but the zone scaling technology that allows players to do this is well-created. The zones are gorgeous and more diverse than WoD’s. My favorite zone, by far, is Stormheim. I love its music and its tall peaks that let you bounce around with a grappling hook.
Legion’s class hall system is better designed than WoD’s garrison system and gives players ways to experience unique things about their classes. After you unlock your 3rd relic slot, you can pretty much ignore your missions if you so choose, and that’s the way WoD’s missions should have been. As an altaholic, I’ve personally been having a blast unlocking all the class halls on my alts and seeing all the familiar NPCs from eons ago making a reappearance. It’s good stuff.
I also didn’t touch on legendary items (Legion’s Diablo-like system of very rarely letting players obtain legendary items with spec-based bonuses) or Legion’s artifact weapon system. Both are positives for the game, although Blizzard’s mishap regarding legendary item drop rates (see Sept. 16 patch notes) resulted in a bit of an early balance skew, which is rather unfortunate for guilds aiming to compete for mythic progression.
Artifact weapons and the accompanying AP “grind” are great additions to World of Warcraft. They give players more options in regards to gearing and learning to play better. What trait routes should I take? What relics do I want? Should I level my main spec’s weapon all the way, or split AP between both weapons?
These are all questions players can ask themselves with this expansion, and having to make these types of decisions is good for the playerbase overall. Choices are excellent, and I feel Blizzard did a great job of balancing the merits of working on offspecs/getting a slower start with leveling with the natural catch-up mechanic of artifact research. Leveling alts is more of a burden than in past expansions, but frankly—that isn’t the end of the world. We should want to focus on our mains.
Overall, Legion is almost a throwback to some of World of Warcraft’s finer moments. Mythic+ dungeons require communication and forethought—just like the original heroic dungeons of The Burning Crusade. Legion’s zones, NPC races, and quests seem almost Wrath of the Lich King-like in many regards. This isn’t a bad thing. WotLK’s lore was top notch, after all. Finally, we have a bit of a grind again, thanks to artifact power, crafting, and gathering. This, again, isn’t a bad thing.
I’d say that without a doubt, Legion fixes most of the problems left behind by Warlords of Draenor. I personally don’t feel it ranks as highly as both TBC and WotLK in my book o’ favorite expansions, but it’s definitely closely behind those two. In fact, it’s an expansion WoW fans shouldn’t miss.
Laura Hardgrave is a staff writer.