Like many, my relationship to World of Warcraft [official site] has shifted over the years, from second home (though never second job, unlike many) to an occasional jaunt to go catch up with my Undead Mage and see the latest fun stuff and twists and turns in Blizzard’s ongoing demonic soap opera. Sure, it’s a theme park, but so’s Disneyworld. I like making return trips to The Haunted Mansion too. And, with Legion, Blizzard’s done a much better job than its previous expansions of providing reasons to either stick around or come back. With Patch 7.2, Tomb of Sargeras, I decided to check back in on the battle against both The Burning Legion and the six-month content drought. From my perspective as a casual soloer, sure, but there’s quite a few of us.
Legion really is a spectacular expansion. As cool as it is to bash World of Warcraft as a whole or just specific bits of it, the only thing more impressive than the sheer amount of Stuff on offer is how much imagination there is in it, even after all these years. I don’t play enough or deeply enough to give even the faintest crap about details like class balancing, but the experience of just wandering around and adventuring really was fantastic. The Class Campaign, upgrading the old Garrison system to something that felt vaguely meaningful. The addition of World Quests around the map to provide something to do at any point. The very different feel of Suramar, the city where you spend most of your time sneaking around in costume, or the verticality of Stormheim and its grappling hook. It’s not like there’s ever been much argument that Blizzard are exceptional at what they do, but Legion really is a reminder of… well… that.
This is the point where lots of comments will tell me all the myriad reasons the game sucks, to which I’ll just sum up my response: I don’t care, I like this world, I like its characters, and while I don’t play regularly, I like knowing it’s there, much like assorted games that no longer are. Ah, City of Heroes. (pours out bottle of health potion.)
Is it an unqualified success? Nah. The Artifact upgrading system quickly loses its appeal when you put in a few points, with the new abilities just not packing the same oomph as climbing up a level, especially in a world where everything levels and so reduces your sense of progress. Gathering ancient mana for junkie elves gets old fast. Things like the Legendaries system aren’t the greatest bit of ludopsychology Blizzard’s ever come up with – and no, I don’t think that is a word. Beating up big baddies in Scenarios and the like isn’t exciting when you know they can’t kill you. Oh, and I’m still convinced the whole expansion is just leading up to someone at Blizzard cackling as they name the final push against the Legion “One Fel Swoop”.
Patch 7.2 adds a ton of new content to the game, including a new questing zone (albeit a small and mostly not very interesting one called Broken Shore) and its titular Tomb of Sargeras, though that’s not going to be accessible for a while, along with the next step in many of the game’s systems, including the ability to unlock flying mounts, perform higher iLvl upgrades, and generally get more powerful. What’s cool though is that even if you’ve been out of the game for the last few months, you can catch up to at least a reasonable level pretty quickly. World Quests for instance now drop higher rated goods for very little work, the dungeons have better gear, and it really doesn’t take long to get to the point where you can queue for basically any of the big group content if you don’t have a guild or group to play along with. Content-wise, sure, it’s on easy mode – you can’t Look For Group the new harder Mythic dungeons, which mix higher base difficulty with additional modifiers like everyone taking damage all the time – but you can at least see just about everything. That includes Karazhan, now available to all as a Heroic dungeon – Heroic translating to ‘the healer probably shouldn’t go to the toilet mid-boss fight’, versus regular mode’s ‘the tank could probably be a stuffed Max plushie.
I’ve really enjoyed the bulk of this stuff, both then and coming back. The World Quests aren’t deep, but they’re a good time-killer and with some fun thrown-in-minigames, like playing Find The Lady with barrels of booze, seeing off a fallen Jarl by creating as much havoc as possible, and annihilating an army of the dead in a not-Viking longboat. In particular, and yes, I know this is a controversial stance, I like how easy it’s been to catch up with other players and actually unlock all of the new stuff by doing a few World Quests and upgrading class gear. I know some players chafe at this, but speaking as someone who was saying that players should get Level 60 boosts as far back as The Burning Crusade, I entirely approve. It’s not like playing the solo PvE content teaches you a vast amount, and I’ll always vote getting players to where the actual action is than decreeing that they must first Do Their Time.
That’s especially important in Legion, where much of the dungeon and raiding and so on is mandatory. Speaking of which, that remains my big bugbear of this expansion – the insistence on dungeons and raids like never before. I’ve always hated people who talk about MMOs in terms of ‘the real game’, when what they actually mean is ‘the bit I like’. Personally, ‘the real game’ tends to be levelling a single character, exploring the world, chatting to characters, occasionally doing social stuff, but mostly just kicking back and relaxing, rather than even thinking of raids and dungeons and the like. That’s often led to annoyances when working through single-player storylines and kicking vast amount of many colours of asses, only to reach the end and be told “Sorry, get a group.” That’s maybe one thing if the next step is to challenge Sauron to fisty-cuffs, but pretty annoying when it’s something like clearing out a haunted brewery.
Warlords of Draenor largely backed down on this, with the dungeons as their own ring-fenced content to play if you wanted while levelling, but with their own stories that didn’t get in the way if you wanted to save them for later or not do them at all. Legion however is obsessed with sending you into both dungeons and raids, whether you want to, or would rather rip out your own toenails. And frankly, I would. I find dungeons and raids boring, and especially with PUGs. Once, to see what’s there, cool. After that, no. Repeating the same boss fights that are usually next to impossible to lose at PUG-friendly difficulty levels just have so little to do with the 90% of the game I enjoy.
Forward momentum. Exploring a world. Meeting crazy characters. This is fun to me. Everyone standing in a circle and pounding on something with a frankly comical number of hitpoints… no. The only part I really enjoy about any of this stuff is that it being showpiece content means that the actual settings are usually really cool, from the glowing Halls of Valor to more gimmicky stuff, like the fight with Xevious in the Emerald Nightmare, which takes place almost entirely in a whooshy void, before exploding into light and colour as you return to the Dream. Or the imagination of Karazhan, taking you from the familiar halls of one of the game’s most beloved instances to a whole new type of setting involving spaceships and more recent story beats. I get why Blizzard wants everyone to see this stuff and replay it a million times. Really, I do. But oh, god is it boring, at least as a regular DPS character. My heart sinks every time I either click the LFG/LFR button or a character announces that whatever’s next requires yet another bottle of some magical poop from some final boss.
The irony is that the reason these sequences are boring to a casual player is one half of a bad coin. Right now, with most people tooled up well past their item level range, is nothing short of a joke, with mute teams of silent loot-hounds just marching around trying to get assorted levels of Gubbins that often doesn’t even make sense. At the moment for instance, I’m tasked with collecting roughly a billion shards from boss monsters that I’ve come to the conclusion never fucking drop and I could only collect 10 of a week if I wanted to, in order to raise and chat with Illidan “Insert Your Own You Are Not Prepared Joke” Stormrage. Or, y’know, I could just go and say hello to him on the Broken Shore. Where he, y’know, is. Look. The dude with the blindfold.
But what’s the alternative? Make them harder? The only way this kind of content is remotely fun is when you’ve got a group of friends, or at least friendly guildies, trying to work out the details and nail the difficulties. PUGs have no camaraderie and no mercy, and, like a book reviewer faced with the seventh volume of some overwritten fantasy epic with the word ‘Chronicles’ in its name, just want to get the tedious thing over and be paid. Of the two, yes, I’d rather have this content as a speed-bump than an all-out roadblock. But wow, pun not intended, do I wish there was less of it. At least as an endgame thing, it’s more content rather than an irksome interruption.
On the plus side again though, again speaking as a more solo-focused player, the amount you can level up gear just by doing the easy stuff and world quests does mean you can skip pretty quickly to the new stuff and not have all progress based on looking for group systems that might take anything from five minutes to an hour to give you a chance of getting a worthwhile drop or two. It’s not quite the ‘tourist’ mode I’ve always wanted from WoW’s endgame content, where you can play the whole campaign and save the day solo if you want to, but hey, if the rest of the instance group doesn’t want to go and look round the scenery after boshing all of the bosses, at least I can go back and go it once they’ve gone, usually wondering why the likes of, say, Tichondrius ever wonders if his talents aren’t being used to their full by just standing around the Nighthold, or if Ilidan Stormrage back in The Burning Crusade ever sat down and wept at the thought that all his cursed power would be as nothing in a one-on-one with a single flower from High Botanist Tel’arn’s garden. Not even an angry flower.
Is it enough to keep me playing until the next expansion? Nah. Too many other games to devote to footling around one single MMO. But it’s still great to see that what Legion started last year, Blizzard is continuing – and with more stuff coming, including a trip to another world entirely and renewed demon attacks on Azeroth. It’s the kind of ongoing content that the game needs, both to keep the momentum going, and to justify the high-scales and inevitable back-and-forth of fighting an army like the Burning Legion, even when most of their lieutenants are now somewhere between peas and carrots on the “100 Most Farmable” list. It’s further proof of how much life there still is in the old thing, even so many years on, and after seeing off so much competition. I entirely approve. Or at the very least, look forward to continuing to approve when the next expansion shows up for the next really big reason to log back in.