Heroes die and kingdoms burn as The Burning Legion returns.
MMOs are difficult to review. They’re constantly changing, which means that an expansion or game that starts well could easily go off the rails, and one that starts poorly could redeem itself later on. How much post-release content is there? How many major patches? Do these new systems work long-term? These are the questions that end up defining how good an MMO is, and they’re almost impossible to answer at release. Even World of WarCraft, a game that has dominated its genre for more than a decade, has to deal with these questions each time a new expansion releases, which is probably why player reactions to a particular era of the game are so varied.
Ask a few fans of World of WarCraft what the best section the long running MMO is, and you’ll probably get a lot of different answers. The nostalgic old timers, likely long since departed from the game, will say it’s the original vanilla release. Players that came in a few years ago will likely point to Wrath of the Lich King, the height of the game’s commercial success, when it was pulling in excess of 12 million subscribers. Those who came in more recently will probably cite Mists of Pandaria, the game that began to rebuild player trust after Cataclysm’s disappointing second half.
"You don’t have to be familiar with WoW’s lore to understand Legion’s story; the game does a good job of explaining it to you. But this respect for previous aspects of WarCraft’s lore, and the ease with which it explains and builds on it, makes Legion a great place for new players to jump into the game."
But the ones who have been with the game since Vanilla, and still play, will likely tell you it was The Burning Crusade, and I admit, it’s my personal favorite period of the game. The Burning Crusade was a turning point in both MMO design and WoW’s history, expanding on the original release while also improving it. Blizzard threw out much of the original game’s mechanics and structures(40 man raids, faction exclusive classes) and brought in WarCraft’s varied lore, a greatly improved quest system, better zone structure, the 10 and 25 man raid, daily quests, and more complex encounter design. It also marked some of the best endgame content to ever grace the genre, and properly introduced fan-favorite character Illidan Stormrage and The Burning Legion, the most important of WarCraft’s perennial foes, to the MMO.
While the story of Legion could not have happened without the more recent expansions, especially Warlords of Draenor, it feels like a direct sequel to Burning Crusade: the Legion, a host of interdimensional demons bent on wiping out all life, are back, and the events of The Burning Crusade, especially Illidan’s death, are reframed and made incredibly important. What’s here is compelling: major characters die, the world changes, and you fail.
You don’t have to be familiar with WoW’s lore to understand Legion’s story; the game does a good job of explaining it to you. But this respect for previous aspects of WarCraft’s lore, and the ease with which it explains and builds on it, makes Legion a great place for new players to jump into the World of WarCraft and for lapsed players to return to it. It also allows Blizzard to make some core changes and additions to the game, many of which form the backbone of Legion.
"I’ve rarely had as much fun with another class as I have playing a Demon Hunter, and they’re a strong addition to the game."
The most obvious addition is the Demon Hunter class. Available to both night Elves and Blood Elves, the class is fast and powerful, equipped with damaging dashes and escapes, eye beams, quick glaive strikes and tosses, and the ability to transform into a full-blown demon. Unlike most classes, this limits what Demon Hunters can do, and as a result they only have two specs: Havoc (damage) and Vengeance (tanking), each with different resources, called Fury and Pain, respectively. Regardless, I’ve rarely had as much fun with another class as I have playing a Demon Hunter, and they’re a strong addition to the game.
You’ll learn to play the class in the Demon Hunter’s starting zone, which chronicles the struggles of a group of Demon Hunters as they assault a world controlled by The Burning Legion. In an interesting twist, the assault takes place during events in The Burning Crusade, as the Black Temple is being attacked by the raid group that ends up taking down Illidan, providing a race against time that remains engaging even if you know the outcome. The starting zone is extremely compelling and Blizzard uses it to teach you to play the class quite well, which is good because Demon Hunters start at level 98. By the end of the zone, you’ll be level 100, and dumped into Legion’s new content in the Broken Isles.
For all of its flaws, Warlords of Draenor had excellent questing and zones to do it in, so Legion had a lot to live up to. While Legion’s quest content doesn’t quite match up to the high bar Warlords set, it does feature some of the best quest content in the game. Every zone, from Azsuna to Suramar, is visually distinct and self-contained, offering its own storylines that remain specific to the zone but fold into the larger narrative, which requires players to obtain a number of powerful artifacts known as the Pillars of Creation to take down the Burning Legion.
"Every zone, from Azsuna to Suramar, is visually distinct and self-contained, offering its own storylines that remain specific to the zone but fold into the larger narrative."
Even better, the content each zone provides is genuinely satisfying and well-executed. Even the “worst” zone, Azsuna, suffers from more from having a series of fragmented storylines that don’t connect as well as they could, than from any serious issues with the individual stories or areas. In a new twist, the zones (save Suramar, which is locked until you hit 110) can be completed in any order as their difficulty scales to your level, so you can leveling multiple characters differently.
The storyline for most zones ends in one of Legion’s dungeons, which are fairly strong. Some are a little weaker than others (I’m looking at you, Eye of Azshara) but others, such as Maw of Souls, are extremely well-designed. Thankfully, Legion has 10 dungeons to choose from out of the gate, and the normal, Heroic, Mythic and new Mythic + difficulties mean that everyone should find at least a few dungeons they enjoy at the right level of challenge.
Like the zones, many dungeons can be completed at any level and will scale, ensuring that level 98 and 110 characters can run the normal versions together, and that each player is facing enemies that are appropriate for their individual levels. It’s a masterful bit of programming on Blizzard’s part, and I’m pleased to report that it works wonderfully.
"Part Garrison from Warlords, part hangout, Class Halls are your home away from home, and each is exclusive to a specific class."
All of this, the zones and group content, is held together by Class Halls. Part Garrison from Warlords, part hangout, Class Halls are your home away from home, and each is exclusive to a specific class. Demon Hunters, for instance, take control of a Burning Legion ship, while Mages reopen the Hall of Guardian, home of Azeroth’s most powerful spellcasters. Each is distinct, and well-themed, and the presence of other players means that, unlike Garrisons, you feel like you’re part of a community when you spend time in one.
Like Garrisons, Class Halls allow you to recruit class specific followers and send them on missions. This time, though, there’s far less of both, meaning you won’t be spending all of your time min-maxing the whole thing. They also allow you to upgrade your Artifacts, weapons stepped in lore and unique to certain classes.
Each class has one for each of their specializations, and each can be upgraded so that it matches your level. You acquire them by completing short questlines, many of which take you back to old areas and involve encounters with lore important figures. All of the ones I did were great fun and felt right for each class, and at the end of the day it’s cool to see your character running around with the Ashbringer, the Doomhammer, or shards from Frostmourne.
"Each class has an Artifact for each of their specializations, and each can be upgraded so that it matches your level. You acquire them by completing short questlines, many of which take you back to old areas and involve encounters with lore important figures."
The fact that they are upgradeable means that you won’t need to worry about getting more weapons once you acquire all of your artifacts, but it also gives you a level of customization regarding your spec that hasn’t been in the game since the talent system changed way back in Mists. Artifacts gain experience and levels, allowing you to invest in upgraded abilities, and attach gems that offer stat boosts. It’s a great system, and it brings back a level of nuance that the game was sorely missing.
World Quests are another interesting new feature. Upon hitting level 110 and reaching friendly with all of the game’s factions, you’ll have access to quests that appear around the world and allow you to gain reputation with said factions. These are generally short diversions designed to replace the rep grinds of daily quests and slaying mobs to gain rep. While it remains to be seen how well it will hold up in the long run, so far they are a welcome change that add diversity and brevity to one of WoW’s most grindy segments.
The last major overhaul is the new honor system. Gear has been normalized in Legion PVP, meaning you won’t be at a huge disadvantage if you enter a battleground because some guy on the other team has better gear than you. Instead, Honor gained from PVP now functions as a way to unlock PVP-specific talents. It will take some time for class balance to even out before we know how well the new system works, but it’s nice to see Blizzard being proactive about a problem that’s plagued the game for more than a decade, instead of trying to once again prop up a failing system.
"Legion is off to a strong start, with new mechanics, overhauled gameplay, and well-designed areas, dungeons, and quests."
It’s hard to review MMOs. I’ve spent more than 1500 words describing Legion, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the game has to offer. Heck, I haven’t even addressed the changes to professions, which are all tied to interesting questlines and offer items that get better the more you craft them, or Legion’s raid content, which just unlocked. I haven’t sampled Legion’s raids yet, but the rest of the expansion gives me hope. At the very least, having two at the start of the expansion means we’ll probably avoid the three raid debacle that Warlords suffered through.
And yet, none of that makes reviewing a MMO any easier. If you’d asked me if I thought Warlords was going to be a good expansion at launch, I would have said yes. In fact, I think most people would have, and we all know how that turned out. Despite that, I have high hopes for Legion. Right now, it’s shaping up to be one of WoW’s strongest eras. We don’t know how we’ll look back at Legion yet. But it is off to a strong start, with new mechanics, overhauled gameplay, and well-designed areas, dungeons, and quests. And Blizzard is promising much more content, having already released trailers and previews for the first of what appears to be many major patches. If nothing else, they won’t repeat the failures of Warlords of Draenor again.
Still, Legion isn’t a complete home run. Basic problems still persist: some classes are over and undertuned, and certain zones and dungeons aren’t as strong as others (though none are outright bad), but when compared to all the things Legion does right, they’re minor complaints. We may not know how this story ends, not yet, but there’s an air of finality to Legion that’s intriguing, and I haven’t been this excited to log into the game in a long time. WarCraft’s best bad guys have returned, and right now, so far, that’s enough.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Excellent quest content. Zones and dungeons scale with your level, and look distinct and attractive. Lots of dungeons, many of which are quite good. Artifacts are a great addition. Class Halls have the best aspects of Garrisons without the flaws. Demon Hunters are a fantastic new class. Fun story that builds off one of the best eras of the game. World Quests make earning reputation with factions less grindy. New profession quests work well and add story to a previously storyless part of the game.
Certain classes are overtuned, while others currently aren’t viable. Quest content isn’t quite as good as that of Warlords of Draenor. Dungeons are a bit hit and miss, even though most are good. New Honor system is still iffy.
Great zones and questing content, new additions like Demon Hunters, Artifacts, and Class Halls, solid group content, an engaging story, and the return of WarCraft’s best group of villains make Legion one of the best expansions WoW has had at launch. It’s hard to judge the final quality of an MMO on release, but right now, Legion is on the path to becoming one of WoW’s strongest expansions.