World of Warcraft: Legion: A Demon Hunter’s Tale

Demon Hunters do not mess around. Demon Hunters do not play fair. They’re one of the biggest new features in World of Warcraft: Legion [official site], and even in alpha, they’re a force to be reckoned with. They’re not finished, but they are Prepared. I’ve been taking one for a spin, and here’s how they’re going to kick all of the arse.

Without getting too bogged down in lore, Demon Hunters are Illidari – servants of Illidan Stormrage, the boss of the Burning Crusade expansion, and one of Blizzard’s few Fallen Tragic Heroes™ not yet to be redeemed. He’s actually had a pretty raw time of it compared to the others, being made an evil expansion boss for pretty weak reasons, and now mostly remembered for the most overused Warcraft lines since “You no take candle!” Blizzard’s been promising to go back and give him his due pretty much ever since, and Legion is set to be his return to either glory or descent to final damnation, depending on how things finally play out.

At the same time as finally killing off the “Leia Slave Bikini” fetish, apparently.

Brr. There’s a thing nobody needed to see.

For Illidan though, Legion kicks off just as his most recent fall begins, with a band of nameless heroes approaching the Black Temple, but his forces focused on taking out an incursion by the Burning Legion – an interdimensional demon army. You’re part of that defense force, acting as a one-elf (Blood or Night as you prefer) weapon of mass destruction. It’s closest in style to the Death Knight opening, with you starting as a Level 98 badass and quickly assembling an entire action bar of increasingly crazy abilities. Eye-beams that cut through anything in front of you, channelled so that you can turn and spread the love. Metamorphosis, where you leap into the air and crash down as a super-powered demon. Vengeful Retreat, where everything around you gets a stern clip around the ear and a few seconds slow-down while you vault away and make your escape. Hurling your warglaives so they ricochet off enemies. That’s just the Havoc skill-line, focused on DPS. The second, Vengeance, has yet to be added, but promises useful things like placeable Sigils that will dish out effects like Silence and Taunt to anything in the area, and replace the eye-beams with self-immolation.

Hmm. Yeah, I’ll stick with the eye-beams, cheers.

Immediately, the Demon Hunter feels a worthy successor to the Death Knight – a character type that doesn’t just offer powerful attacks, but shakes up the status quo. That’s not something I’d say for the Monk, the new Mists of Pandaria class that I never felt really earned its place in the line-up, and which Blizzard never seemed entirely comfortable with. Demon Hunters are on a whole new power level in lore, look and approach, regardless of how their skills are balanced – essentially, like superheroes have arrived in Azeroth, and they’re all a bunch of power-drinking dicks. With x-ray vision, brief invisibility, and the ability to become what they hate on command.

It’ll be interesting to see the effect of the Demon Hunters across the game. Despite the Vengeance tanking spec, they seem more like a solo-focused class than one designed to slot neatly into the dungeons and raiding system. That might be partly their aesthetics, but they have a definite vibe in a way that even Death Knights didn’t.

Practically, the big change is that their defining trait isn’t their new fancy attacks, but their mobility. Every Demon Hunter has three skills by default – charge, double-jump and glide. Charge dashes forwards hitting everything in the way, you can hold two uses of it, and after that, there’s only a 10 second recharge to deploy it again. Double-jump is exactly what it sounds like, letting the Demon Hunter get higher and vault over taller obstacles than any other class. What’s that? Yes, you can indeed combine them, double-jumping and Charging in the air. Finally, Glide… it’s the only somewhat disappointing one, since while it allows them to fall from any height without so much as wobbling their ludicrously oversized shoulder-pads (no doubt to be supplied by the dungeons), it’s at a very tight angle and really just a Slow Fall effect bound to the Space Bar. I was hoping for something a bit more swoopy than just falling with style.

Despite the cool factor of these skills though, and this may be tuned later on, it’s very obvious that the World of Warcraft engine isn’t designed for this kind of stuff. Think how it handles its vehicles – it’s been doing them for years, but you still feel the delay, the cooldowns, the general clunkiness that won’t be entirely swept under the rug. It’s similar with the Demon Hunters so far, especially after Guild Wars 2 and other more recent MMOs with more fluid traversal baked in from the start. You’ll get your double-jump, but it’s laggy. Sometimes Glide won’t fire as it’s meant to. The added mobility is a great addition, but it’s obvious that the designers are fighting tooth and claw with the engine to make it work instead of simply unlocking more power.

What I’ve played of the main expansion so far has been Blizzard much more in its comfort zone. Kill five of these, collect ten of those, you know the drill and shouldn’t be surprised to see it. There’s a few tweaks here and there, including characters now popping up on screen to deliver dialogue from far away instead of just yelling at the top of their voices, and a few minor interface changes, but nothing especially notable.

The biggest change is that the progression through the map now seems driven more by your character’s class than side, dialing down the ‘You are the Commander of the Horde, now get me five bear asses’ element of Warriors of Draenor for simply leading your faction from their base – for the Demon Hunters, that’s a personal spaceship called the Fel Hammer. I don’t know how it plays out with the other classes yet, but it works for them. During the tutorial you earn your place as their leader, seize the ship, and then prove yourself by retrieving one of Illidan’s lost weapons, at which point a battle table opens up and you’re invited to choose where you enter the new location, the Broken Isles, to begin the campaign against the Burning Legion.

I’m still a little mixed on the weapon system, where each class now has a choice of Artifacts for each specialisation that upgrade along with them. I’m not against the idea in principle, since everyone in a spec does tend to use the same weapon anyway and at least this time you get some control over it, though it does definitely feel more restrictive being essentially handed a specific Warglaive or whatever and told “You WILL use this weapon.” You will, incidentally, because it seems unlikely that anything else will come close. Each Artifact weapon unlocks more power as you progress, with slots to add additional power. For the Havoc Demon Hunter, there’s nothing too exciting on offer, with most upgrades smacking of the old Talent system that gave 5% to this and took a couple of seconds off that rather than giving cool new abilities.

On the flip-side, customisation is taking a massive jump with changes to the Transmogrification system. Any items you get now just go into a Wardrobe, similar to in DC Universe Online and other more customisation-driven MMOs, after which you can do what you want with the original and still make use of its look whenever you like. Ditched it before the change? I can’t test this myself because I’m not using my main character on the alpha server, but the plan is that your character will start Legion with anything they would have acquired from completed quests up to this point whether or not you actually chose it or not. (Somehow I suspect this is less generosity than nobody wanting to figure out a way to work out which everybody picked…) Oh, and everything you collect will be account-wide, with a browser that shows you what you’re missing and gives a nudge for how to get it, and the ability to try out anything on your character’s paperdoll regardless of whether you have it. This is a massive, massive improvement over the clunky and horrible transmog system of the past and should do wonders for breaking up the homogeneity that still plagues most WoW characters. You can also now hide your character’s shoulder armour, set hidden slots for each outfit, share Outfits, and transmog weapon enchantments, shirts and tabards.

I like the Demon Hunter class, though I suspect when Legion comes around, I’ll be sticking with my mage. I love World of Warcraft’s mages, and we’ve been together on various servers and a couple of side changes for too many years to jump at the first hussy who can summon Fel powers. They’re a good example though of why World of Warcraft remains so interesting – that while the core of the game may be following the rules laid down back at launch, the details and spins on it can still surprise and amuse with every new expansion pack. It’s showing its age, and increasingly content to cater for existing fans than hope for a return to its once-glory. If it keeps doing it like this though, it’s got many good years of life and angry forum comments left in it.

World of Warcraft: Legion is due out next Summer.

23 Comments

  1. Flatley says:

    That’s it, I’m re-installing Warcraft III and playing through the campaign over the holiday. For Illidan Stormrage, who will always be a Real Hero in my book.

    • dontnormally says:

      Wouldn’t it be cool if they hadn’t abandoned their core like of RTS products, forcing us to wait well over a decade for Warcraft IV?

      • dontnormally says:

        line*

      • Flatley says:

        Blizzard probably won’t make a Warcraft IV unless it can be e-sported, community-marketplaced, or somehow otherwise ruined (maybe it’ll be required that you Twitch Plays your way through the campaign), so there’s really no use in even hoping for it anyways. We’ll just have to gaze wistfully at DotA and long for the days when it was a custom map rather than an entire market sector.

    • frenz0rz says:

      If you fancy something a tad more recent and don’t mind indulging in a spot of multiplayer, he’s particularly fun to play as in Heroes of the Storm.

      This is helped in no short amount by his wonderful voiceovers. (e.g. On dying: “I hate to admit it, but you were… erhm.. kind of prepared…”)

      • Flatley says:

        HotS is what Blizz made when they should have been working on WCIV so that’s just one more sore spot amongst many.

        Can you believe they lost the rights to the name of a mod that came from their own damn game? lol.

  2. Rizlar says:

    Installed WoW for the first time since Cataclysm and yes, it’s age is really showing, particularly the movement. It felt unbearably clunky to play, in stark contrast to all the gorgeous design work and cool new features in the latest expansions.

    Think I am beyond paying a subscription for any game but if they were to release WoW2 it would be extremely tempting.

    • Distec says:

      It’s definitely aged, but I always thought movement in WoW was clean and snappy compared to most other MMOs I’ve tried. Combat itself certainly gets clunky if you have a friggamajillion abilities scattered across your UI, but the game’s cut back on some of that.

      I’ve taken breaks from WoW for years at a time. Whenever I come back (if only for a brief visit), the feeling of moving or looking around my character is one of several triggers that get my juices flowin’.

      • Rizlar says:

        Really? It felt like after playing GW2 and Wildstar character movement in WoW seemed slow and awkward. Sprint, dodge and double jumps have spoiled me.

        I suppose once you unlock mounts you just use them constantly and last time I played regularly it was with a perma-charging prot warrior. Nonetheless the underlying movement feels really outdated and clunky. Same with some of the user interface and menus, even after installing some practically mandatory addons they felt more awkward than I remembered. The game is 10 years old for grom’s sake, it’s hardly surprising that some of it feels a bit outdated.

        • Hawks says:

          I admit I reach for my dodge key all the time after playing GW2, but WoW is very snappy in terms of stuff happening when you press stuff. It feels more modern if you play a high mobility class like a Monk (who can dodge roll!) or Hunter.

    • Assirra says:

      What? In terms of movements WoW is still one of the if not the very top compared to other mmo’s.
      If you think wow movement is clunky never try another mmo.

    • LacSlyer says:

      As others have noted, I have no clue as to how you’re of the opinion that the movement is clunky when it’s still one of the best in any MMO. The only reason it would feel clunky is if your computer couldn’t handle running it. The movement and combat hasn’t changed in 10 years and it’s still one of the most fluid games in that department.

  3. int says:

    I want the wardrobe. Now.

  4. Distec says:

    Bring back Zul’jin or GTFO, Blizz.

    You know what the people want. :|

    • Arcanon says:

      Zul Aman was merely a setback and so on and so forth……hell no xD

  5. Hawks says:

    With the Transmog you only get stuff for your armor class. Like a Priest unlocks cloth stuff, they wont unlock leather or mail that drops for transmog.

    Also you can transmog artifact weapons into other things if you want.

  6. malkav11 says:

    So, a few things: Demon Hunters will kick all kinds of ass until Blizzard’s balancing team catch up with them and then they’ll just be kind of all right. Death Knights when I first rolled one could solo group bosses without breaking a sweat and were stupid hard to kill. And then they got nerfed, and nerfed, and nerfed… I mean, my main is still a DK and I appreciate the lack of cast timers and very limited resource management component to their attacks, but they sure ain’t what they used to be. And to be fair, what they used to be was overpowered. So, oh well.

    Secondly, holy shit is GW2’s movement not fluid. I like the design of some of their jumping puzzles but actually attempting them is one of the sweariest activities in gaming for me. WoW is certainly clunky as well, but…yeah, that’s kind of a silly comparison.

    Thirdly, I completely ignored the old transmog system as putting a cool appearance on a piece of gear to be immediately discarded as the power curve climbs seemed like a huge waste of time, and I’ve been pointing out the infinitely superior cosmetics systems in other MMOs for years, but I was told that the creaky old WoW engine simply wouldn’t permit a better take on it. I guess they figured out a way! I might actually have to start using it.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      “I like the design of some of their jumping puzzles but actually attempting them is one of the sweariest activities in gaming for me.”

      Really? For me it’s trying to get Geralt up a set of stairs without running into the wall for five minutes or somehow falling to my death.

  7. TheAngriestHobo says:

    LOTRO tried the whole artifact weapon thing too, and I never enjoyed it. Replacing the excitement of gambling on a sparkly new weapon drop with a slow grind towards a 3% bonus to fire damage never felt like a sound decision to me. I get it, of course – you can only tack so many extra levels onto the cap before it becomes a joke (and an insurmountable obstacle for new players). Nevertheless, starting fresh on an alt seems like more fun than losing the ability to select your weapon, which is arguably a significant aspect of personalization in a lot of MMORPGs.

  8. Fnord73 says:

    Just one thing to say: Teddy Floppy Ear is on sale at just 50 cents. Or a half-farthing, for you british folks.