Video Games Review: World of Warcraft: Legion (PC, 2016)

12 years. 12 years is a long time to carry an MMO, or any game at all. I should know, I’ve been playing the thing since launch. Having learnt from some of the mistakes made in Warlords of Draenor, Blizzard have ensured that expansion 6 of World of Warcraft takes the game in a very healthy  direction in a vast number of ways. Legion brings a new level cap of 110, the new Demon hunter class, a new continent, a whole new set of character animations and a great deal of gameplay improvements. Most importantly, the expansion is nicely front-loaded and content heavy. In short: Legion delivers.

After getting his arse kicked and thrown into the Twisting Nether at the conclusion of Warlords of Draenor, the Orcish warlock Gul’Dan is up to no good back on Azeroth. Ever driven in the service of his dark masters, Gul’dan has found a way to summon the demons of the Burning Legion to invade Azeroth for a third time. Ground zero? The fabled Tomb of Sargeras on the mysterious and ancient Broken Isles. The main story begins with an explosive D-Day scenario – storming the beach of the Broken Shore –  and not everyone makes it back alive. From there, players are directed to the Broken Isles to begin the hunt for the five Pillars of Creation: Titan relics with enough power to close the portal in the Tomb of Sargeras that the Burning Legion are using to invade Azeroth.

The new continent, the Broken Isles, is broken up into five very distinct zones. There’s Stormheim: home to the viking-esque vrykul, Val’sharah: birthplace of druidism and the Emerald Dream, Highmountain: the untamed land of the rugged Highmountain Tauren, the cursed Azsuna: haunted by the ghosts of High Elven victims of the great Sundering, and finally Suramar: the site of a war between the austere yet hostile Nightbourne, and the exiled Nightfallen. Each zone has a vastly different look, feel and associated lore, from each other, and remarkably distinct stories, great and small, lie within each. Suramar City is the crown jewel of it all; never has an MMO city been so engaging.

The Demon Hunter class is the new kids on the block. These tortured souls are wicked fast and absolutely deadly, nimbly moving about the battlefield with a new double-jump and glide mechanic, and slicing up anything in sight with their twin warglaives. Alternatively, they can harness the powers of demon metamorphosis, making them very capable tanks. Starting at level 98, new Demon Hunters go through a short leveling experience, explaining their class origins, story and abilities, and then depositing them on the Broken Isles at level 100, ready to level through the new Legion content.

The largest change to the leveling system comes in the form of zone scaling; quests and monsters in each of the zones of the Broken Isles will now scale to your level. The benefit to this is threefold: it ensures that you never out-level a zone before the storyline for that particular zone is completed, it keeps content relevant, and allows you to flit between one zone to the next without any jarring change in difficulty, and it makes playing with friends of a different level a breeze. Each enemy you fight will take and deal damage to each player different based upon their level, regardless of discrepancy in player progression. A fresh level 101 player can participate in the same quest as a level 109 player, and each will seamlessly progress at a similar rate and face the same level of difficulty. Adding to this ease is the new ability to trial a class. Now you can try out a class at max level to get a feel for it before committing to levelling it up or spending your free level 100 boost to play with your friends.

Aiding this is the long overdue change to mob tagging. Prior to Legion, only one player could tag a monster at a time, and that player alone would receive loot and kill credit towards a quest unless they were in a proper party. Now however, an enemy may be tagged by up to 5 ungrouped players, which in turn make questing a lot less about completion for mobs and a lot more about cooperating to bring down packs of enemies. The same goes for resource nodes; everyone sees their own version of the node, meaning you aren’t constantly scrambling and competing for ore veins and herbs with
other players.

Professions have been revamped; no longer do you purchase recipes from a trainer, instead you are granted them through a mixture of world quests, rare drops and unique profession quest-lines. Recipes have different tiers, with higher tiers allowing you to craft items using less materials. Frustratingly, crafting most items now requires purchasing expensive ingredients from profession vendors, meaning that you may have the raw materials, but unless you have these reagents on hand, crafting in the field is a no-go.

The new class order halls function like a much trimmer version of Draenor’s garrison system. Each order hall is extremely unique and packed with charm, and I feel compelled to max out a character of every class just to get a peek inside each one. My warrior makes his home in Skyhold, Azeroth’s version of Valhalla, where the Titan Watcher Odyn holds vigil over the immortal val’kyr – my warrior even had to “die” and be resurrected in the initial quest-line to ascend there. Order halls allow you to upgrade your artifact, manage a short roster of champions, send them on missions (sadly, time-gating has reared its ugly head here) renew work orders for soldiers and follower gear. Beyond that, they’re just a sweet place to hang out with other members of your class. Blizzard recently released a companion smart phone app, allowing you complete these tasks while you’re away from the game, and the addition of the world quest system offers tantalising incentives to actually go out into the Broken Isles to explore and quest – gone is the “World of Garrisoncraft” that plagued Draenor.

The artifact weapons themselves though are where the attention of this expansion truly lie; indeed no other weapons will drop for the entire expansion. Each specialisation of each class has their own unique artifact weapon to pursue, and these weapons level with you over the course of the expansion. Artifact power points are accrued via consumable items that apply anywhere from 10 to 1,000 points to your currently equipped artifact. These points function the same as experience points, and each level your weapon gains furnishes you with a point to spend in a detailed web of perks and talents. Similar to the old-school talent trees, a trait in each chain must be maxed out before moving on to the next, ending in more powerful abilities for your character. Additionally, up to three relics of certain types can be collected and slotted into each weapon, adding another layer of customisation and depth.

It’s a great mechanic that rewards focusing on a single spec and on a single character rather than hopping between alts – a welcome change from the alt fatigue many suffered during the dearth of meaningful content of Warlords of Draenor.

Each artifact also presents a great opportunity for establishing unique lore, flavour and mechanics to each specialisation. This is quite effectively demonstrated in the hidden effects of each. As a warrior, my Arms specialisation weapon is a greatsword: Strom’kar the Warbreaker. The blade was most famously used by a human king to end the Troll Wars that took place much earlier in Azeroth’s history. As such, wielding the weapon causes enemy Trolls to flee from the player in abject horror, yelling and screaming for their ancestors. Likewise, a Retribution paladin wielding the mighty Ashbringer has a chance to instantly kill demon or undead enemies with every swing of the sword. Fire mages leave flaming corpses in their wake, a giant eagle will come to the aid of a Survival Hunter when in danger, and so on. Secret abilities aren’t listed on the weapons themselves, and it’s these little hidden additions that make the game magnitudes more fun and engaging.

The novelty of being Azeroth’s champion, wielding a timeless artifact of immense power does however wear off quickly when you realise that you’re one of many. It breaks the immersion a little when you’re hanging out in your order hall and almost every Retribution paladin is carrying the Ashbringer. Currently, you can change the appearance your artifact weapon to look like any other weapon that you’ve collected in your travels to set yourself apart from the rest, and while there are four colour and four design variations for each the artifacts themselves, a great deal of these are locked behind either time-gated or extremely time-consuming achievements. This could have easily been rectified with higher levels of customisability; hopefully Blizzard release further weapon appearances in future content patches.

With only a few hiccups to mar it, Legion clearly demonstrates Blizzard’s commitment to revitalising World of Warcraft. They’ve taken steps to return to what made Vanilla WoW so great, while incorporating contemporary design elements – some borrowed, some new – to make the experience more engaging, entertaining and accessible than ever before. I’m nearly 40 hours in and I’ve barely scratched the surface. The vast improvements in multiple areas over Warlords of Draenor, the successful launch of the companion app and a hefty slate of content on the cards for the 7.1 patch bode well for Azeroth’s near future.

 

Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Demon Hunter; Class Halls > Garrisons; WoW still finding new things to bring to the table after all these years
Lowlights: Crafting in the field now much harder
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: August 30, 2016
Platforms: PC, Mac

Reviewed on PC.

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