“A Legion review this far from launch? You high?” may be what you’re thinking right now, but hear me out…
Since its release, Legion has had a billion reviews on it already; from beta reviews to launch day reviews, you certainly won’t find a dearth of them online. While a lot of them have some great insight if you’re going to generally like a game or not, I learned from Warlords of Draenor (WoD) that a successful launch doesn’t necessarily make for a good MMO expansion. You see, Warlords of Draenor was touted to be the expansion that brought WoW back from the brink of obscurity that was supposedly caused by the stagnant end of Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria. Everybody was singing praises about WoD and about how amazing the new tech was. Overhauled graphics, the garrison gameplay mechanic, balanced classes, and a story filled with enough nostalgia, you could write a billion Throwback-Thursday articles about it, WoD had so much going for it but utterly failed to follow through due to lackluster content, repetitive gameplay, anti-social meta, short lifespan, and just an overall suckage of it as a WoW expansion. It was the first time I ever felt ripped off buying a WoW pre-order.
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Again, my point is that the initial success of Legion might not actually mean that it really is an amazing expansion. I simply had to delve deeper into it first before telling people how it’s the best thing since Wrath of the Lich King. I do not want to misinform readers with my blind Legion hype just like how other reviewers thoroughly missed the mark on how shallow WoD actually was. But, now, a month into Legion, I think I’ve garnered enough knowledge and experience in the game to give a very truthful review on how it really is, unburdened by the launch-day hype. And I’m here to tell you that World of Warcraft: Legion can be summed up in three words: Absolutely. Freaking. Awesome.
A Return to Glory Against a Backdrop of Mediocrity
Though the decline of World of Warcraft started near the end of Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor was the expansion that really put WoW to a new low despite the promises of returning to Warcraft roots of Orcs Vs. Humans or just Orcs Vs. anything, really. With a short lifespan and the claustrophobic reliance on Garrisons, WoD managed to repulse even the most fanatical fan from WoW entirely, myself included. But Blizzard started listening again to its playerbase and rectified many of the faults and shortcomings of WoD in Legion. In fact, Legion did a full 180, doing completely the opposite things WoD was hated for.
The highlight of WoD at the time of its release was the concept of personal Garrisons that were essentially semi-customizable player housing that finally made its way to WoW after years of players pining for it. Unfortunately, these Garrisons were instanced per character despite sharing the same space with the rest of the players of your faction. No one could get into your Garrison until you invited them into a party and only if they chose to zone into your Garrison. This wouldn’t be a problem in most MMOs, but the thing about Garrisons in WoD was that it was integral to the entire experience of the expansion. Garrisons were your headquarters where you basically did everything there was to do in the game. This made for a very claustrophobic game as it essentially cut out “Massively Multiplayer” from MMO. You didn’t need anybody; you could function all by yourself and sustain your characters’ well beings all on your lonesome. In fact, the only time you’d ever get out of your garrison was because you were joining a raid, a world boss kill, or catching animals for your Garrison’s barn. Other than those activities, you could go for days without seeing or speaking personally to another player.
Legion deviates from this by taking the player headquarters concept but treating them more like an actual, well, headquarters. Each class gets its own Class Order Hall; a Garrison-like area that serves as your class’ command center for the rest of the expansion. However, unlike Draenor’s Garrisons, Order Halls are shared with everybody on your server of the same class, both Alliance and Horde. Order Halls are far more simplified versions of Garrisons with much of the activity bloat cut out and this is especially noticeable with the lack of structures to build. There are, however, still followers and follower missions and a simple Order Hall upgrade system that is comprised of nothing more than talking to an NPC and picking an upgrade. While it all sounds generic for every class in the grand scheme of things, every class has its own shtick that comes along with the roleplay aesthetic of their Order Hall. A few notable examples would be Warriors that get Skyhold, the Valhalla equivalent of the World of Warcraft, gives them an amazing ability to fast travel anywhere in the broken isles and Monks get their Zen Pilgrimage updated and can access their Order Hall at any time without having to return to Dalaran as most other class have to do.
My only complaint with Order Halls, despite the visual awesomeness of each base, is that they can be pretty bland. There’s nothing to upgrade, nothing to build, and definitely nothing to customize. But it’s a good thing class campaigns exist or else Order Halls would be a complete waste of potential. Class campaigns are the personal stories of each class, all of which are unique and involve a lot of heavy lore. I’m obviously not going to mention any more details here because, you know, spoilers, but each class campaign will detail the story of each class on how they prepare the fight against the Burning Legion as they recruit a lot of familiar faces from expansions past and a whole lot of new ones. This is probably my most favorite feature of Legion because I haven’t felt this level of “togetherness” in WoW’s lore since Wrath of the Lich King.
Leveling and World Questing
Leveling has been made far easier in Legion unlike the experiences back in MoP and WoD where it took a considerable amount of time to do the same. With office work on my end, I get only about 4-5 hours of casual leveling before I need to get some sleep. I’ve leveled a total of seven characters now to 110 and each one only required 2-3 days, with the discrepancy being how easy it is to go kill things with your chosen class. On a pace like that, I remember MoP and WoD taking about a week to hi the level cap, so that’s a huge difference on its own.
Another cause for its ease is due to the feature that you can choose which zone in the Broken Isles you want to quest in. If you so happen to fancy Azsuna and its watery environment, you can definitely do so. If you want to start off exploring the new Vrykul lore then, by all means, head for Stormheim. Enemy levels don’t matter here; they scale to whatever level you are currently at as they do with every other player in the zone. It’s amazing how flexible Blizzard’s been able to make this and is the most comfortable leveling I’ve experienced in years.
One key mechanic in leveling in Legion is the Artifact weapon system – the first ever weapon progression system introduced into WoW. When a character starts off in Legion, they’ll be immediately approached by an NPC related to their class, urging them to start their Class campaign that involves establishing their Order Hall and acquiring their first Artifact weapon. These weapons will be used and upgraded by players throughout the entire expansion, meaning there won’t ever be anymore issues in try to get a weapon drop in a raid or dungeon. In fact, there aren’t any weapon drops AT ALL in Legion. Artifact weapons also serve as the legendary item for this expansion in contrast with the obscenely grindy legendary ring on WoD and legendary cloak in MoP.
To upgrade these weapons, players, while questing, dungeoneering, or raiding, can acquire items that provide their currently equipped Artifact weapon with artifact power (AP). AP is then used to unlock special skills and talents within the Artifact weapon’s personal skill tree, giving players more options to be much more badass. Apart from that, there are also relics that can be equipped on the weapons to upgrade its stats and item level. It initially might sound gimmicky, but the execution of the concept at present is so good because it provides another form of progression without being too tedious. AP items are virtually everywhere and will be easy enough for people to upgrade their weapons continuously.
While it is possible to obtain all artifact weapons for each spec of your class, the only downside to this system is that when you pick out your first weapon and start committing AP to its advancement, that’s pretty much it – you are committed. You can most definitely strengthen your other Artifact weapons if you so choose, but each skill and talent taken in the weapon’s skill tree has the AP requirement for the next one grow exponentially. The further you go along that talent tree, the more AP will be required to unlock the rest. This can be a pain for some players that want to switch freely between specs but find their off-spec significantly weaker due to the lack of AP talents and relics, unlike back in WoD or MoP where there is a generic weapon for most classes (Windwalkers/Brewmasters, Non-healer Druid specs, etc). Legion does have a catch up mechanic for that, however, through the Artifact knowledge work order that increases the amount of AP players gain from AP items. Up to a maximum of 24,900%, artifact knowledge will help players that want to have their off-spec catch up immediately to their main spec or for new players and alt characters to be able to compete as well. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, it’s still impossible to have that sort of Artifact knowledge and will be much more available down the road for Legion.
At end game, the fantastic new zones don’t go to waste like in previous expansions. Just because you’ve done your leveling doesn’t mean you’ll never return to the peaks of Highmountain or the lush forests of Val’sharah. Taking a cue from its contemporaries like Guild Wars 2 and FFXIV:ARR, WoW has introduced World Questing. This is a form of end game content that can only be accessed by reaching honored reputation with all the Broken Isles factions and serves as this expansion’s form of dailies. This is a huge thing because reputation grinds and dailies in previous expansions have always been a bone of contention between players and developers. In WoD, they took out dailies almost completely save for a few exceptions, instead going for boring and repetitive mob grinding as a replacement (Sha’tari Defense, anyone?). Naturally, a lot of players cried foul to this dailies-replacement, even though Blizzard had authentically thought people just disliked the previous rep grind system so much that they’ll take anything over it.
This time around, however, they’ve done it right. Not only does World Questing serve as the new form of rep grind, but it also does away with the repetitive nature of dailies due to the FATE-ish nature of them. Dozens of world quests pop up in the Broken Shore every few hours with each one lasting from 6 hours up to 2 days in duration, and each one has a random reward. World quest rewards vary and can range from crazy WoW gold rewards of up to 1k for a single quest, Mythic-level gear, and a bunch of other stuff. Players certainly won’t miss out on anything if they don’t do some of the other quests because, at certain intervals in the day, new ones pop up when the timers of existing ones run out. This way, players can pick and choose what they want to do without any fear or worry that they’re not optimizing the rep grind and can go on their own pace. The only real daily in world questing is the Emissary quest that requires players to finish 4 world quests related to the faction for that day. The beauty about this is that even if players don’t have time for that specific day to finish their Emissary quest, there won’t be a reason to rush it because it lasts up to 2 days and the next ones given on succeeding days can stack up to 3 times. I can’t praise this new system enough, to be honest. No longer will anyone feel like they’re missing out on anything in the game because of how flexible and convenient Legion has made it. The only reasons you’ll miss out on some of these activities are because your schedule keeps you away from the game for an entire week or you decided to quit WoW forever. It’s just that good.
In the past, as with most MMOs, PvP was centered around gear progression that could be achieved by turning in currency that could only be acquired in PvP. In WoW, rated gear was only obtainable by turning in rated PvP currency and was stronger than the regular PvP sets. This was one of the main reasons why WoW’s PvP, despite getting played by a lot of people, wasn’t popular enough to take off as an Esport. It became infinitely difficult to gear up in rated PvP gear if you were getting roflstomped by people who already were in said gear when playing arenas. It made the whole grind even more grindy, not to mention discouraging. PvP, at that point, was won primarily by the player that had the best min/maxed gear. Of course, skill still plays a big role in high level play, but it certainly wasn’t true for the rest of the population that wasn’t on the ladder.
PvP has received a huge overhaul in Legion with Blizzard making the competitive aspect of World of Warcraft more in line with their purely competitive games like Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. Stats are normalized across the board, varying only based on class and spec of each player. There’s PvP gear, sure, but their stats ultimately don’t matter as they serve more as filler gear for PvE. A fresh level 110 character can get into player combat without fear or worry that they’ll get one-shotted by some overgeared mook; WoW PvP is now skill-based.
To fill the void that gear progression left behind, Legion introduces an “Honor” system where players have a PvP level that is separate from their character level. Leveling up this new system simply requires you to do anything PvP related. Each level grants a talent usable only in player versus player combat and activates automatically once you are flagged for the activity. These talents can be outrageous new skills like a controllable Flying Serpent Kick or perma-flight and these still give advantages to players that have PvP’d more than others. Blizzard found a good middle ground in PvP that allows casual players to enter the activity comfortably and, all the while, rewarding hardcore players via the honor system at the same time. I’d have to say that WoW’s PvP is still stupidly imbalanced for certain classes, but they are getting close to achieving the perfect formula. Heck, as a player who has never liked this facet of WoW, I actually found myself participating in open-world conflicts with the opposing faction for the first time in my entire WoW career. And I love it because I can actually win now.
Dungeoneering and Raiding Like A Boss
Right off the bat, there’s already a crap-ton of content to be done in Legion from open world activities alone, but the true meat of any MMO that’s worth its salt is found in its end game PvE instances. Dungeons in Legion, while superbly interesting in visual aesthetics and combat mechanic design, are not particularly difficult. Legion dungeons carry over the Mythic difficulty that started mid-way in Warlords of Draenor that still serve as an alternative gearing path. This is due to the fact that Mythic dungeons drop gear comparable to those found in raids, making WoW so much more infinitely accessible to the guild or friend-impaired. Mythic dungeons also have a keystone function that can increase the difficulty level of these instances even further for those that want more gear and simply love challenging themselves further. This ensures an almost infinite supply of content instance-wise because using these Mythic keystones grant higher level keystones as groups finish them, making for a perpetually growing challenge.
Raids still operate in virtually the same way Warlords of Draenor raids were with a bit more tuning in the Flexible raid mechanics department. The recently released first raid tier of Legion, the Emerald Nightmare, is a gorgeous landscape of the corrupted Azerothian dreamworld replete with fun and unique fights like that of Cenarius and Ursoc. If there’s one thing Blizzard does well, it’s raiding and the Emerald Nightmare is proof of their continued expertise.
Warcraft Has Returned
With a fantastic personal story line for each class, a streamlined questing system in both leveling and end game, multiple choices for character progression via improvements in dungeons, and raids, competitively viable PvP, a wealth of PvE content, and the introduction of Artifact weapons, I daresay that Legion is one of the best, if not the best, expansion World of Warcraft has ever seen since Wrath of the Lich King.
If you’re a WoW veteran that was betrayed by the crapfest that was Warlords of Draenor, I assure you that picking up a Legion key is going to be the best thing you’ve ever done concerning this MMO. If you’re a new player interested in picking up WoW, then Legion is definitely something you shouldn’t miss out on because it has all the best things WoW has ever had on offer in its 12 years of existence in a neat little package.
Just when we thought WoW was down and out, it comes back as strong as it ever was.
P.S. I didn’t talk about Demon Hunters because their sheer awesomeness speaks for itself.