There’s nothing like a World of Warcraft expansion to instil feelings of both excitement and dread. My long and sordid history with the venerable MMORPG has been well chronicled here over the years and, whilst I very much enjoy revisiting this world, it’s always something of a bittersweet reunion. Thankfully these days I know my time with World of Warcraft is limited and thus I endeavour to make the most of it before I move onto greener pastures. The developers over at Blizzard seem to be well aware of this fact and every expansion seems to cater more and more for players like myself; the ones who want the full experience but rarely have the time to commit to it like they used to. Legion, the latest expansion for World of Warcraft, is no exception to this and the few weeks I’ve spent with it post launch have been some of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had.
That’s saying something for a game that’s now over 12 years old.
Legion takes place 2 years after the events of Warlords of Draenor and sees you returning to Azeroth. Guldan, after the defeat of Archimonde at Hellfire Citadel, has returned to the Broken Isles to open up yet another dark portal to allow the Legion to invade, this time at a scale to rival the War of the Ancients which raged some 1000 years prior. Your quest, as the champion of your chosen faction, is to travel to the Broken Isles and master the numerous artefacts of power that lay within there in order to defeat the Legion once again.
The graphics have definitely had a bump up from the previous expansion with the environments being far more detailed, the weather systems more varied and the number of graphical options available for you to tweak bumped up significantly. The engine is starting to show its age however, not being able to make use of the full amount of grunt my PC has available even when the frame rates start to drop. In the past this wouldn’t have been too noticeable but with my 144Hz, G-Sync enabled monitor any drop below 60fps is readily noticeable. I’ve managed to get it running reasonably well after tweaking numerous settings however when there’s no frame rate difference between 2xMSAA and 4xMSAA I know there’s some optimisation issues at play. There’s also a rather weird bug that sometimes creeps up whereby I can’t run in 144Hz mode in fullscreen windowed, usually necessitating a restart of the client to fix it. Overall though it’s still a great visual experience, even if I spent more time in the config menus than I thought was appropriate.
Legion takes many of the core ideals from Warlords of Draenor and streamlines them significantly whilst also adding in a few more changes of its own. The garrison system has been revamped and stripped down into the far more manageable class Order Hall which functions both as your base of operations and a good source of character progression. To replace what was lost by the garrison system Legion introduces World Quests, essentially randomly spawning quests that occur all over the Broken Isles that reward all sorts of loot, faction reputation and resources for your Order Hall. Weapons will no longer drop from any mobs in Legion, instead you are gifted with an artefact weapon to suit your character’s talent specialisation (in my case, the GODDAMN ASHBRINGER!!!!) which will grow with you as you play. Professions have also been given a revamp, now requiring much more investment in time completing quests rather than grinding out materials and items that will be destroyed or vendored. At its core though Legion remains true to its World of Warcraft roots and the fundamentals will be familiar to long time veterans of this game.
Combat, by and large, feels the same as it always has. Before I really got started with my Paladin I spent a good chunk of time researching which talents to go for, what the rotations are and what gear I should be looking out for. Upon logging in I was greeted with the usual cacophony of out of date interface add-ons, skills which no longer existed still hanging around on my action bars and all my macros no longer working. It didn’t take long to work everything out and the result was, once again, a very slimmed down action bar. Whilst I always enjoy levelling as Retribution it quickly becomes clear that it’s not a top tier spec anymore and so halfway through I switched to Protection. Since then I’ve quite enjoyed being able to pull numerous mobs, easily soloing up to half a dozen or more without having to break out one of my longer duration cooldowns. Tanking in dungeons feels largely the same too although it seems like I’ve lost some of the more medium-length cooldowns that I used to have, ones that would get used for those rotational boss abilities that would otherwise require a lot of healing to live through. Indeed I’m no longer the self-healing god I used to be which I think is good given the fact that I could sometimes go entire boss fights without needing a healer. All in all it feels much the same, just a little more streamlined.
The World Quest system is probably my favourite addition in Legion as it provides a relatively steady, predictable source of gear upgrades if you’re willing to put in an hour or so per day. I have to admit that initially I cracked and bought a few items from the auction house to step up my ilvls a couple notches only to quickly replace them over the next few days. After running only a couple heroics and a single mythic dungeon I find myself at a healthy 839 ilvl, more than enough to tank the upcoming raid. Casting my mind back to Draenor this was most certainly not the case, with a solid month of grinding just barely enough to get me ready for the LFR version of the raids. The upgrades have, of course, started to slow down but that’s allowed me to focus on other areas of advancement. Thankfully the potential month between gear upgrades that I faced back when I was playing Draenor seems to be a thing of the past although I am now placing my faith in RNGJesus to give me the upgrade quests I desire.
The Order Hall system is really quite fantastic, giving you meaningful and tangible progression at every stage through the levelling process and beyond. Gone are the days where I’d have to spend an hour or two getting my garrison affairs in order before I could step out into the wider world. Instead it’s a quick trip to make sure everything is chugging along (even using the app if I don’t want to login that day) before I head out to complete my world quests for the day. Even better is the fact that there’s catchup mechanisms in place if you decide to leave World of Warcraft for a while, meaning players like me could still be competitive even after taking an extended break. It’s a possibility I really hadn’t considered in any other expansion before and Legion may be the first to bring me back before another expansion comes out.
The artefact weapons are great, giving plebs like me the feeling that I really have something truly powerful that doesn’t require months of grinding raids hoping for that one damn drop. Indeed after I came back I realised that I was still sporting a blue shield despite the numerous raids and dungeons I had completed in the previous expansion. Now I have a well levelled Truthguard filled to the brim with relics that bolster my character even further. My Ashbringer might be sitting in my bags, horribly disused now, but I can’t tell you how damn cool it was to finally have such a legendary weapon in my hands after lusting after it for so long. Indeed it was one of the few reasons I kept playing through the torturous hell that was original Naxramas, hoping beyond hope that I might get a Corrupted Ashbringer that one day might turn into the venerable weapon of World of Warcraft lore.
Legion predictably suffers from launch day issues (although thankfully most are resolved now) but the game client does still have some perplexing issues that don’t have a clear solution in sight. For instance Legion seems to load most assets incredibly slowly, even on my RAID10 array which is capable of some pretty high bandwidth. This has led to some interesting situations where all I can see is the ground plane and nothing else, sometimes up to 10 minutes at a time. Crashes are thankfully few and far between however, although I would recommend against changing settings whilst something is happening on screen (like say riding a griffon to the next flight point). I mentioned the optimisation issues previously and I think they bear mentioning again as, really, a game like this should not struggle on my i7-5820K lavished with 32GB RAM and a GTX970 powering it. Perhaps there’s a setting or two I’ve missed which is causing my grief but it’s not obvious as to what it is.
Legion’s story is your typical World of Warcraft affair, great if you know much of the lore that proceeds it and downright confusing if you don’t. The trash quests are barely worth reading as they’re all some simple premise that will require you to do X thing Y times for a reward. The larger story arcs are more interesting, like the Paladin order hall campaign which sees you travel to Exodar and the Priests’ order hall, being engaging enough to keep you going but little beyond that. If you’re already deep into the World of Warcraft lore then there’s going to be a lot to love but otherwise there might not be much for you. Not that many of us need much motivation to go and grind relentlessly for purples, however.
World of Warcraft: Legion is everything I’ve come to expect from Blizzard’s expansions. The core game remains mostly the same, keeping the winning formula that has seen World of Warcraft remain the king of MMORPGs for so many years. The new Order Hall and World Quest mechanics completely pander to players like myself, giving us easy progression paths that don’t necessarily require the giant time sink that they used to. The biggest let downs are in the sub-par optimisation of the now decade+ old engine and the so-so story but neither of these things really comes as a surprise to a veteran player like myself. Still I’ve very much enjoyed my time with Legion and will likely hang around to complete the newly released dungeon a couple times before I call it quits once again.
World of Warcraft: Legion is available on PC right now for $69.95. Total play time was approximately 36 hours at 110 achieving an ilvl of 839.
Over the course of this blog’s life I’ve made references to the fact that I’m a long time World of Warcraft player. For the past 6 years I’ve been an on again, off again player frequently returning to Blizzard’s flagship MMORPG for a fix of their latest offerings. Having spent the last month or so playing through the latest Cataclysm expansion I was drafting up a review in my head when I realised that in order to do a proper review of the current content I needed to give a little background on my experience with this game. Today I want to take you through the last 6 years of my life with Blizzard’s iconic game in anticipation for tomorrow’s review of the Cataclysm expansion.
Going back 6 years puts me as a young university student who’s been keenly devouring any and every detail he could find about Blizzard’s upcoming game release. Although I was still at home out in the country with my only connection to the Internet being a share 56k dial-up I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game. As luck would have it I managed to win myself a spot in the coveted close beta and managed to convince my boss to download all the client patches for me. I spent a few good weeks smashing my way through the beta as a paladin called Arathar before it was closed down in preparation for the full release.
The day of the release was quite torturous for my friends and I as we’d been out quite late the night before and only managed to sneak in about 4 hours sleep before we hit up the local games store for our copies of the game. We hadn’t pre-ordered the game so getting in early was imperative and thankfully we were able to score a copy each before we all went our separate ways to begin playing. The experience that awaited us was, to put it bluntly, quite tragic as the servers caved under the load of thousands of people trying to login especially on the chosen Australian server Blackrock. We resigned ourselves to switch to another server (Gorgonnash) and began levelling in earnest, most of us hitting level 10 before calling it a night. This is where Nalafang was born and still resides today.
The next few months were an interesting time for our rag-tag bunch of MMORPGers. We spent many hours questing together, running what dungeons we could and basically just soaking up the world that Blizzard had created for us. Along the way many of my friends started dropping out, usually around the level 40~50 area where it really started to get a bit heavy on the time investment. I continued on and started gathering a group of friends with whom I’d run dungeons with almost daily. After a month or so of this my small team of dungeoneers reformed into a bigger and better guild, Aureus Dawn. A couple weeks later saw our GM drop out and had me assume the position giving me my first taste of what it meant to lead a group of people through a virtual world.
Things just kept getting better as my runs got a reputation for actually finishing content and magically dropping one world epic at least once a week. I started talking with other guild leaders and eventually managed to find another 3 to group with for our first attempt at the first ever raid in WoW: Molten Core. Our first run didn’t see any bosses down but it wasn’t long until we were smashing our way through content and our 4 guild tag team had to split into 2 separate raids to continue on. As time passed the lines between the two separate guilds blurred significantly and I was called into an IM meeting between my officers and the other guild. They proposed that we should merge under a single banner and go ahead with running our raid completely independently. The idea was met with resounding support and they then surprised me by nominating me as the guilds new GM, placing me at the top of the food chain in a 40 man strong raid team. I was elated and soon after Ascendance was formed and we began hitting Molten Core in earnest.
Soon after the new raid instance, Blackwing Lair, was released and our guild decided to have a crack at it. From memory we did end up making it past the first boss after a couple attempts but progress stalled after that. The same fate also hit us in Molten Core as we struggled to down the final boss, stymying our progress in other raids. Inevitably this began to wear on people and personality clashes began to escalate from small fights into guild sized dramas that threatened to tear the guild apart. Thanks to the piecemeal nature by which the guild was formed there were several loyal factions and once one of the faction leaders decided to go the rest of them would follow. This lead to the demise of Ascendance as a guild who ultimately merged in with another bigger guild to continue running. Times were good there until I developed a large amount of contempt for the leadership and ended up causing dramas of my own, eventually leaving them for one of my long time friends (and previous 4 guild raiding buddy) guild, Dark Ronin.
I found a good place there for the longest time, finding my niche as the Rogue class leader and spending many hours pouring over my DPS logs figuring out how to be the best I could be. Eventually however the same traits that made those people elect me to the position of leadership previously caused me to develop the same level of contempt for the leadership as I had previously. I hadn’t been enjoying the game and decided that I needed a fresh start on another server. I found myself a top raiding guild, repsecced my paladin to holy and transferred servers. This lasted for all of a month before I quit entirely, vowing to leave WoW behind forever and never giving it a second glance.
About a year passed before I even thought about WoW again when I saw that the first ever expansion was due to be released soon. Remembering the fond times I had had levelling I thought that it couldn’t hurt to give the game a go again. I spent a little time levelling my rogue in the new areas and enjoyed it for the most part. I even managed to meet up with an old friend, Scottdasmall, who was a long time guild member of mine. I eventually joined his guild and played casually for a couple months, getting both my characters to 70. After that however I just couldn’t get hooked like I did last time and resigned to put the game down again but not with the same disdain as I did before. It wasn’t long however until the next expansion was released and I started looking at WoW again.
This time however I had friends I had met outside of work to play with. Problem was they were Horde players and this was long before faction transfers were available. If I wanted to play with them I’d have to level another character. Thankfully this was just after the Refer-a-Friend scheme came out, making the journey to 60 much quicker. I rolled myself another toon and levelled up with them so that I could play alongside them. Wrath of the Lich King made it extremely easy to get into raids with almost anyone allowing me to gear up my character just like I had in days gone by. Eventually my new found guildies wanted to start raiding in earnest and I joined them, spending countless hours in Ulduar and eventually making it up to the final boss before the raid fell apart.
I dropped the game again at that point for a good 6 months although I kept a much closer eye on what was happening whilst I was away. I eventually came back for a few months to play through the Icecrown Citadel instance, even gearing myself up with an exceptional amount of loot from there, but when I saw that Catalcysm was on the horizon I gave it up once again figuring that anymore effort would be almost for naught very soon. About a month ago I reactivated my account after purchasing the collector’s edition of Cataclysm and have been playing it ever since.
There is of course so much more to this story but in the interests of berevity I’ll spare you the details, at least for now. Needless to say that World of Warcarft has been a very big part of my life for the better part of a decade and will continue to be as long as it’s around. This post was more to show you how I’ve been through almost every aspect of the game, from the high points of end game raiding, to the darkest times of guild dramas and finally ending up here today where I enjoy the game in a way that I’d never envisioned when I first set foot in this virtual world. I’ve tried nearly every other MMORPG out there but none of them has kept me coming back in the way that World of Warcraft does, and that’s a testament to just how good Blizzard is at creating a captivating and engaging world.