I’ll admit, I wasn’t confident sitting down to watch this panel after the events of the last 24 hours (but more on that in next week’s scheduled column). I knew there was going to be a lot that Blizzard would need to show and prove to make me believe that Legion could bring an improvement on the experience in Warlords of Draenor, especially after it was apparent we were only going to get a cinematic in the Opening Ceremony. Having just sat through this presentation? Rumors of Warcraft’s demise by certain people might be considered as hasty. Before I say my piece, let’s go through the basic details both you and I need to now commit to memory.
The Backdrop to Legion: Interactive Storytelling
The cinematic for this expansion marks a departure for the design team, as it shows events immediately before players begin their adventures on the Broken Isle. In a move that will be welcomed by many you’ll be working in a 40 man scenario (20 Horde, 20 Alliance) at the start of your time on the Broken Shore, which will be a precursor to your time in Legion. This will culminate in your Artifact Weapon being started and the process of you gathering the Pillars of Creation, the basis of which is integral to the storytelling aspect of the expansion itself. Blizzard showed a brief section of gameplay, stressing this was very much a work in progress.
Demon Hunter Lowdown
You’ll start your Demon Hunter at level 98, and your starting zone will eventually also become the location where you create the Demon Hunter Class Hall. Mardum is a brand new area (similar to the Death Knight area in terms of being separate from existing action) where you’ll learn your craft, literally ripping the abilities you need to learn from the corpses of your dead foes. Mardum is also where a vital keystone exists that you’ll need to establish yourself and your peers, and as you search you’ll learn gradually over time how to play your class. You’ll also spend some time as a prisoner in the Black Temple before the events of Legion bring you front and center to the action. Oh yes, and you get a cool new mount, the Fel Saber, as well as battling a selection of brand new demons.
New Zones for Legion
There were detailed art presentations for each of the new zones you’ll be visiting whilst on the Broken Isles:
Val’sharah: Home of the Emerald Nightmare, where Malfurion met Cenarius for the last time, it’s also the site of one of the oldest trees on Azeroth, Shaladrassil. The entire area has been tainted by the Nightmare including corrupted Emerald Dragons, and you’ll be meeting Archdruids in tree forms to help you with your task. As this is the oldest center of Druidic lore on Azeroth, it was the perfect spot for Blizzard to announce updated models both for Aquatic and Moonkin forms.
Stormheim: This is a zone very similar in feel and design to the Howling Fjord, and this is unsurprising when you realise that this is an area where we’ll be discovering the history behind the Val’kyr, including the races’ various origins. This zone also introduces a new dragonflight: the Stormdragons.
Aszuna: Blizzard will be introducing high quality Naga skins into this zone, which is based around Greek architecture with an emphasis on undersea and spectral elements. You’ll find a new mob here too, the Wrath of Azshara. In an interesting tidbit, Blizzard revealed some key changes to the rendering abilities in the expansion’s UI, allowing players to three times further than previously.
Highmountain: Inspired jointly by the Swiss Mountains and Yosemite, Highmountain is the home to the original three Tauren races: the Rivermane, Skyhorn and Bloodtotems. There’s also new races here like the Drogbar, while the indigenous Taurens see significant changes to horns, with both inscription and definition. There’s also Moose here (and yes, baby moose too) which undoubtedly you can expect to see as Vanity Pets at some point in the future.
Suramar is the last zone of the expansion, the home of max level content and a race of arcane Night Elves who have guarded the nightwell that has protected the city for so long. They allow Gul’dan to disable this shield in order to access the Tomb of Sargeras. The energy has wrought a terrible price on these guardians, and can eventually reduce them to feral shells of their former selves. It’s also home to one of the two end game raids for the expansion, the Palace of Suramar, and two dungeons, one of which might need to be completed in order to make other things happen…
However, what was most interesting in this whole presentation was the gameplay explanations, which see Blizzard abandoning a strict leveling format and making the world scale to fit the level of the player. This will mean it will not matter what order players complete zones in: Val’sharah, Stormheim, Aszuna and Highmountain can be tackled in any order, with itemization also scaling as players progress. Once players reach 110 and arrive at Suramar, their end game content will be of a type very similar to that currently found in Diablo. The Bounty/Adventure system basically means a series of world quests with no daily schedule, that players can dip into as and when they have the time. Players will also see quest givers in their Class Order Hall who will not immediately vanish/cycle on a daily basis, giving more time for players to complete what they want. You can also expect PvP themed quests, World Bosses to dispatch and even profession quests to complete.
Legion will have a total of 2 raid and 10 dungeons
Emerald Nightmare is the first raid of the expansion, with seven bosses including a corrupted version of Cenarius and the Satyr Xavius. Players will actually need to scale the World Tree of Shaladrassil to enter the Nightmare, which will contain familiar places from Azeroth itself. The first boss is a dragon called the Pestilence Wyrm, who has been completely corrupted and warped by Nightmare energy.
The second raid is the Palace of Suramar, which is effectively Gul’dan’s base of operations, and it will be him that you face as the final boss of the instance. Amongst the ten bosses you’ll encounter the Magistrix of the Nightborne, all while hunting demons of the Legion and Nightborne who have betrayed their own kind.
There are also five dungeons while leveling: Eye of Azshara, Neltharian’s Lair, Halls of Valor, Dark Heart Thicket and the new Violet Hold in Dalaran. The five at max level are the Vault of the Wardens, Black Rook Hold, Hellheim, the Suramar Noble District and Suramar Catacombs. However the latter five will still work with the level scaling you’ll find in open world and therefore can be completed in any order. More importantly, in response to numerous player requests, dungeons will be scalable with flexible rewards and levels of difficulty. Think Greater Rifts in Diablo coupled with unique modifiers which should allow anyone who’s not raiding to have a satisfying and unique experience simply playing five man content.
Most importantly of all, at least for this writer, you can expect to see some kind of Beta experience happening in early December, possibly earlier.
I’ll be honest, after the complete lack of new information in the Opening Ceremony and the fact the Legion cinematic actually left me quite cold, I was hoping for something that told me there’d be more to this expansion than simply more of the same that we’ve had from Warlords of Draenor. As it transpires, there’s a lot here to be genuinely encouraged about, including the understanding that Blizzard finally grasped that there’s more to endgame than just raiding. In fact, if half of the game-play stuff makes it to the live game, I think people will be happy with what they have. Visually it is easy to see the evolution of this expansion from previous iterations, and there is a genuine sense of both belief and confidence in the direction the art design and zone construction have taken. Mostly, it is more than abundantly apparent that player concerns have been taken to heart and Blizzard are genuinely attempting to address them.
However there are still concerns: some aspects of the Demon Hunter starting zone is clearly not complete, including the entire second section inside the Black Temple which was only provided as a storyboard. The final zone is clearly being worked on and teasers from each of the zones were depressingly short. In fact, an hour and a bit really wasn’t anywhere near enough to do this expansion justice at somewhere like BlizzCon, where you would hope there’d be far more on offer in terms of both detail and exposition. However the cinematic appears to have done the job it was placed in the Opening Ceremony for, to encourage people to sign up for a pre-order of a product that as yet is quite some way from completion. I’m still yet to be fully convinced however, and I’ll be watching the WoW Games Systems panel tomorrow with an eager eye to see how Blizzard intend to tackle some of the most problematic aspects of current Warlords game-play, including professions.
For now, I’d say there’s a lot to be encouraged by in what we saw this morning/evening, depending on where you were watching.Related: Article, Blizzard Entertainment, BlizzCon 2015, Legion, MMORPG, News, World of Warcraft