Copy was paid for by the reviewer, who has over 70 hours at max level in the current expansion, as well as a full pre-raid PVE clear, class hall quest chain clear and experience with the beta raid and mythic+.
It’s almost impossible, looking ahead as we were one year ago, to see this coming amid the disaster that was Warlords of Draenor. News from Legion’s beta was promising, but with the taste of the disaster that were Garrisons and Apexis dailies still fresh, it’s understandable to expect the worst. Warcraft was dying, plain and simple, and with games that you can play for free like Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone raking in money, Blizzard seemed likely to stick to the development skeleton crew that was leading Warlords towards the end and let the game die a slow death.
So when Legion launched, players had one question on their lips: Is this the end of World of Warcraft?
At the stroke of midnight August 30th, Blizzard’s answer came as clear as day: No, not even close.
Where to even start? Legion is the most content-rich expansion Warcraft has ever launched. From world quests to Mythic+ to Artifacts, the amount of content available to level 110 players is almost without end.
With four dungeon difficulties (if you count Mythic and Mythic+ as 2) as well as the four raid strengths, world quests, PvP leveling and at last the “Call of Duty” prestige system (it’s addictive, trust me) and the ever expanding Suramar and class campaigns, the content unlocked at max level is endless.
But, for the first time, Blizzard have nailed one important aspect. Players can truly set their own pace and be rewarded in kind. Never before have I felt like I wasn’t forced into playing to keep up or indeed run flat out of content for a day. World quests can be farmed, finishing zone after zone in a flurry of activity or they can be picked apart slowly, doing only the bare minimum. It never feels like the game is going to take your toys away if you don’t play it. You can go days without logging in, only to find a load of stuff still waiting for you. You can play Legion for an hour a day and still feel like you’re keeping up, or you can delve fully into it and have more and more content show up, though none of it feeling mandatory (outside, admittedly, the Order Hall quest chain and Artifact knowledge cooldowns). WoW is, at last, a game for everyone, catering fully to the most casual and hardcore audiences without feeling the need to snub one to appease the other.
Legion’s gameplay, from its’ new Mythic+ to its’ addition of the prestige system, is a combination of the almost perfect mirror shine of a decade of building on its most basic aspects along with finally making the world feel as full and alive as it has been since the halcyon world PVP days of classic WoW. It’s so fun that even when playing as a Ret Paladin, probably the most boring one note class at the moment, I’m still having fun with a myriad of reasons to log on day after day and play.
The Warcraft community has always had its problems. I won’t sugar coat it, it has its share of trolls and screaming idiots. I won’t pretend that this is a WoW exclusive problem, but it is one that exists and it is also one that can be ignored by finding the right guild or playerbase to submerge yourself in.
However, some of the fundamental changes to the way players can interact with one another has lead to a notable improvement in play. Being able to attack and loot the same monsters, gathering nodes and quest items as other players has lead to a much more accommodating time for players out in the wild, rather than a mad dash for these things. Small groups of players will stick together, even if ungrouped, and work through quests in packs, rare ore deposits will now illicit yells to its location, world quests lead to players working together and helping one another rather than just sitting in silence tab DoTing everything. More than once I have seen healers standing about just healing other players they are not grouped with or tanks rushing in to save a low health DPS from death.
This is also compounded by forcing players into the world as much as possible. Rather than sitting in their class halls (like Garrisons, only good now), players are sent out all around the Broken Isles to do most of the heavy lifting themselves. The world quests that require small groups to complete have lead myself to more player interaction than anything I can remember, having a reason to go out and communicate with other players this way has been a real boon. It feels like a living world, full of people working together (at least from the safety of my PVE server) to fight back, rather than the empty lands outside the Garrison that littered Draenor.
Wizards. That is the only thing I can possibly believe it to be. World of Warcraft is a game still running on a more than 13-year-old engine, and it looks amazing. With Legion, the graphics that run the game have taken yet another step forward. The inclusion of new, much higher graphical settings, as well as an insane draw distance, means that the game has never looked better than it does today. Zones once again ripple with colors as the gray browns and spiked buildings of Warlords of Draenor dissolve from memory.
The zones themselves are the real stand-outs, all four have a distinctive look and feel to them, with Val’sharah and its lush greens to black and red nightmare infection being the almost winner. But it is the fallen Nightborne capital of Suramar that takes home the award for best-looking zone. Suramar is a level 110 exclusive zone and is simply stunning. A mix of ruins, lush forests, and for the first time, a fully alive and complete Night Elven city that puts the old world to shame.
But as it’s a Blizzard game, it still manages to somehow run on most common household smart fridges. The minimum system requirements and lower graphical settings meant that it ran on one of our 3GB DDR3 RAM, Intel onboard graphics laptops at about 10-14 FPS, 20-30 after some considerable messing with console commands (which admittedly did lower the quality of graphics and draw distance to something close to the late PS1/start of the PS2).
With the new sizable upgrades, the look of the old world zones comes more and more into focus, and with Artifacts sending you all around the world, the low-poly models of expansions past really slap the player in the face. Any player who has had an Artifact send them to Darkshire will know instantly what mean, as going from the forests of Val’sharah to Darkshire is similar to when Metal Gear Solid 4 suddenly makes you replay the start of MGS1 in all its PS1 glory. Triangles, triangles everywhere.
Oh, the cut-scenes are still amazing. Blizzard are second only to Valve in using their own models and engine to dance in a way that puts even the best of other games’ pre-rendered CG projects to shame.
The sound design is also a key point, and to be frank, if you play without music, you are missing out on so much. The score for Legion is breathtaking, from the quiet grace of Anduin’s theme to the mad little ditties of Dalaran, this is the best the game has sounded in a long time, and that is not, unlike other parts of this review, due to failings of past expansions as whatever faults they have had, the soundtrack has always been amazing.
One issue, however, carries forward; the voice acting. While mostly good… (fire whoever voiced Malfurion) it is still random and slapdash at times, scenes and quests gain and lose voice acting on a dime, one moment a fully voiced scene will take place then without warning switch to silent text only conversations only to skip back to voice, which can take you out of it somewhat, especially when the story beats are starting to ramp up. A smaller but noticeable problem lies when it’s clear a character’s voice actor has either changed how they play the role or has just changed voice actor altogether in the time since some of the older dialog was recorded. Prophet Velen is the biggest culprit of this.
While still costing £9.99 to play, the addition of both Warlords of Draenor to the base game pack, and WoW tokens allowing you to pay in-game currency for game time, have greatly reduced both the price of entry (with only the base game and Legion needed to unlock everything the game has to offer) as well as lowering the price to play the game, with the 40-70k gold needed to purchase a WoW token being, while not exactly easy, more than accessible enough to even the most casual of players.
The downside comes with the extra functions still being locked behind a paywall. Transferring servers, changing your race, and renaming your character are still ludicrously expensive, with a full faction and server transfer costing $55 per character, meaning anyone wishing to transfer multiple alts can see costs rising into the hundreds. While these are by no means necessary functionalities, the high price needed can put people off wanting to move to more popular servers and lead to players feeling stuck on servers they have no real want to be on. In a game already charging you both for the expansion and to even play, these costs are a major setback for WoW players.
Legion doesn’t innovate in a loud way. The innovations are seemingly small but leave massive footprints. Artifacts, rather than being boring, still instill the same sense of progress and conclusion that hunting for that one random drop weapon never could. Hunting for relics and rare appearances feels more engaging than anything before it. Even after leveling to 110, the sense of progression past the item level of your gear still lingers with you, the joy of leveling up remaining as each new trait in your weapon unlocks.
But the real innovation to World of Warcraft is the simple scaling system. Suddenly being forced out of a zone because you out-level it is gone. Players are truly free to pick their own paths for the first time, not only while leveling but also while adventuring at max level. No 5-man or starting area can be out-leveled, even at higher item levels players need to be careful in overpulling or running into monsters they cannot handle alone. Suddenly the full Broken Isles is as relevant as anything, not just a small selection of max level areas.
Other games have done these things before it, but the endless list of quality of life changes made in Legion are a death by a thousand paper cuts to the problems bred since Cataclysm, those that sprouted fully in Warlords. The world now brims with players and life.
World of Warcraft: Legion was the answer to the question fans had long been asking; if WoW is truly in decline. While all signs seemed to point towards it, with one single movement, Blizzard have answered so firmly that it could almost be gospel. No, no it is not. Legion is everything it was promised to be and more; a part apology letter, part defiant challenge to any other games in the market thinking the old wolf was weakening. It is a love letter to its playerbase, to its most committed players, as well as the most approachable welcome to anybody coming back or starting fresh. It is the anti-Warlords of Draenor and, with the exception of FFXIV, the greatest comeback possibly in gaming history.
If Legion is the true taste of the future of Warcraft, then it is a steady future indeed.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Expansion, Legion, MMORPG, Review, World of Warcraft