Last time we spoke about the Alpha Client I only had Demon Hunters to play with. A week is a long time in gaming development, and I come to you today with a whole load of new things to talk about, and some already quite revelatory insights into what you can expect from Legion when it releases in 2016. Even though this is Alpha there’s a surprising amount of content not simply complete but playable, and with this comes the understanding that Blizzard understands, after over a decade, that a levelling process strictly regimented is not really a life at all. That’s however not nearly as important to me as the first item on our 5 Awesome Things from the Legion Alpha. There is no character copy as yet on the client, so I had to improvise. Everybody, I’d like you to meet Bang.
Gnome Hunters are Messing With your Canon
There’s been a fair amount of criticism from certain quarters at the introduction of Gnome to the races that can be Hunters, mostly because there is no authentic Lore justification for the decision. What has become abundantly apparent in my time playing Alpha is that ‘enjoyment’ has been subtly moved above the headers for ‘strictly canon’ and ‘inflexible lore’ for the entire modus operandi of the Broken Isles, and I for one am fully behind these changes. I’ve wanted a Gnome Hunter for a VERY long time, and as it happens their short stature and grim determination fit the Hunter ethos very well indeed. I’m not going to lie: I’m having a whale of a time playing Bang, and she’s become a real favourite. So much is my love for this character that will only exist in testing I’m hoping I can reproduce her on my home server come Expansion time.
Melee Hunter is a Truly Viable and Worthy Spec
At present on the testing realms most classes only have access to one of the various Artefact Weapon paths: in the case of Hunters that means Survival. This is, for those unaware, the much-anticipated melee spec, and although there are many hunters who don’t feel comfortable with a massive change, I’m most definitely not one of them. In fact, I’m having so much fun playing up close DPS that there’s a part of me that might yet adopt this as my main spec come release. Most fun of all however is the Harpoon ability, which means I can pull myself to a mob from up to 45 yards away. Yes, I’ll admit it, as I do this I will be thinking Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! pretty much every time and no, as yet this is not getting old. The rotation is simple and intuitive, and my only complaint is my pet keeping up with my murderous rampage. You wanna fix that, Blizzard? Give Survival Hunters Blink Strikes as a basic talent, and away we go.
The place I find myself in to test is probably the most beautiful of any Expansion: this genuinely beats both Pandaria and Draenor. The trick, it seems to me, is to find a way to combine the familiar and the new to create something people will have an affinity with if playing for the first time and yet feels comforting for the long-term aficionado. This has everything in spades: new water effects, a ton of updated models, and a selection of short cuts, secret passageways and hidden paths that should keep the most keen of treasure hunters and explorers happy for many, many weeks. Word to the wise for this Expansion? Caves. A phenomenal amount of really interesting and enjoyable stuff is hidden underground. If you can’t find a quest giver or are looking for a way to get over a rock ledge? Under or through are your friends in the Broken Isles. Also, learning to read your maps carefully and using the zoom function will become an absolute boon. You heard it here first.
Wrath called, they want their Stories back
Pulling up The Burning Crusade as the basis for the throwback in Warlords was great, up to a point. That was normally Orcs for most people and you’ll be please to know that I’ve only encountered one in my entire travels thus far, and I had to kill him almost instantly when he appeared. However, if you want an idea of where your story lines will be influenced from? Go look at Wrath of the Lich King for some fairly solid pointers. I’m not going to spoil you with any details, but I will tell you that a piece of already freely available information for Legion will play an absolutely key role in a quest-line that unfolds in Frostheim. After that, you’re on your own, because I was stunned when I discovered the quest area for myself whilst exploring. Needless to say, kudos to Blizzard for becoming more and more adept at combining different forms of media into their gaming experience.
Questing FINALLY comes off the Rails
Perhaps the biggest and most significant change I’ve seen in Legion is Blizzard’s approach to the issue of questing to max level. Traditionally the path that’s been followed has been strictly regimented, with players forced to complete particular zones in a certain order before being funnelled into end game. Not any more: with the exception of a number of L110 incursion zones already live, the entire world scales to the level of the player. That mean no more easy fights when you’re maxxed, no sneaking to a starting area to round up piles of mobs to kill… because there are no starting areas either. All the four main zones on the Broken Isles can be completed in any order, without any penalty or restrictions. However, you will need to complete them all to gather the Titan Artefacts hidden within the quartet of story arcs that will be needed to help you defeat the Legion once you finally arrive in Suramar.
But it’s not just the stories of Legion that are getting me excited: Professions were promised a massive overhaul in the Expansion. They’re getting this and so much more besides: never has so much fun been had in game with, of all things, SKINNING. If this is the template by which all the Professions will be retooled? This is probably the best thing that’s happened in my version of the game since… well, Vanilla. Add to this an abundance of the stuff that I’d actually vote to keep from Draenor: treasures to hunt, rares to kill, and amazing places to explore and conquer. The environmental people really have outdone themselves with the Broken Isles. This Expansion truly evokes a sense of what like was like before Flying negated everything, and uses the terrain itself to challenge a player into thinking outside their comfort zones. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time in Alpha throwing myself off high places and then working out how to get back to where I began. I’m really having the most amazing time being dead.
There is an awful lot more to it than this, of course, but a vast amount of that is wrapped up in SPOILERS that I don’t want to mention and so we’ll focus simply on mechanics. Your Artefact Weapon quest is likely to evoke some very strong emotional responses, and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll either love or hate your Class Hall, but you certainly won’t be indifferent as time goes on. From this foundation you’ll be able to roam pretty much an entire continent without penalty, and this alone makes Legion already a massive success in my mind. Once upon a time I’d worry about how to level, now I just have to do it. If I wished I could avoid all the organised content and do so skinning beasts and hunting rares, and that suits me completely and utterly down to the ground. It will mean raiders can find the most efficient path and then come back to dip their toes in stuff once they’re established in formal content. It allows casual players a couple of hours a day or even a week to just move into the storyline at their own pace. The only part of the puzzle I don’t yet possess is what happens when you hit 110, and with Suramar still very much under construction? That’s something for another day and a different blog post.
What I can tell you is this. I can occasionally be prone to hyperbole as a writer, but this time I cannot be anything other than brutally honest. Blizzard have not simply listened to criticism, but are making good on every single promise they made at Blizzcon. The plan was simple: if they couldn’t build it? It wouldn’t be announced. Everything I have here is testament to a sense of realism, the understanding people enjoy playing the game in their own way and on their own time, without unnecessary restrictions. This new World of Warcraft is free, relaxed and ultimately brilliant, just because Blizzard aren’t being unreasonable. There are no wild claims or extravagant visions, just a practical understanding of the subject matter and the key omissions from the Expansion before.
Plot’s back, storyline matters, and the future is very much yours to dictate.Related: Alpha, Blizzard Entertainment, Legion, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday