Normally I would have written this column on a Sunday, but this week that would have been both inopportune and frankly pointless. All most people care about right now is that it’s Wednesday and Legion went live in the EU on Monday night. Unsurprisingly, I was there, pretty much from teatime onwards, in what has become something of a pre-launch ritual. Prepare my characters that are going to level first, then make sure bags are clear… and then there’s the wait with everyone else on the server for the clock to click around to Midnight CEST (or 11pm BST for those of us living in the UK.)
The first day of Legion was coming… and I was, rather surprisingly, prepared.
I’m not going to lie, this time around something was different. This expansion’s launch happened without fanfare (plus about 15 minutes early for me, others had to wait) and instead of a mass event has been transformed into something deeply personal and, as a result, immensely satisfying.
Your first two hours in Legion are unlike anything else you will have experienced in Azeroth, and that might be the most brilliant master-stoke in all of this. You see, we’ve known since last August that everyone would be wielding (effectively) the same small subset of Artifact weaponry. The thing is, nobody really grasped just how deeply personal the journey could be when it is the first task you complete once Dalaran gets shifted to the Broken Isles.
On that front? Nice work Khadgar. You never needed Jaina anyway, getting back with the Dragons was a sound move both for lore and convenience… but I digress.
I’m going to tell you the story of my Beast Mastery weapon: Titanstrike. I can do this spoiler free on the first day of Legion, as I could with any of the other weapons you get to seek out at the start of proceedings. What is inherently very clever indeed about this process is the antithesis of the worry many players had once this change in game play was announced at Gamescom in 2015. Wouldn’t it be, some people said, that all these people would just be wielding the same weapon and it would all devalue some of the process?
The point is, I now realize, that it doesn’t matter how many Ashbringers there are in the game. Only one of them is yours. That personal and insoluble link that is made between player and weapon from the get-go is the key to how all this is now playing out across the World.
I had to go to Stormheim and do business with a Dwarf and a Vrykul, then I ended up in Ulduar, and finally I’m in the Storm Peaks to finish the process. That’s basically how it pans out for everyone: go to somewhere, then link that in with a classic zone or place, shove a large fight on top and BOOM, Artifact weapon.
The simplicity of the process from a plot standpoint makes this a great way to start, with characters (in my case) that I loved, all of whom had voice actors. That’s a key bonus here, that you can hear the people as well as read/see their actions. There were basic puzzles to negotiate, some comedy, and (for me at least) a rather clever upgrade of a Legacy instance for added flavour. All of this was for one purpose: me. No big events, we did that at the Broken Shore. Now, I’m the one who matters and this ‘path’ is far more logical than calling me Commander and sticking me in a Garrison.
More importantly, this time there’s no Khadgar saving the day and you running behind. Power has been singularly and decisively shoved into the player’s hands. YOU are the one with the task to complete. Sure, you can slope off as soon as you have your weapon and just level using pet battles, Fishing and Skinning. The Pillars of Creation ‘storyline’ won’t go anywhere for a while, at least until the serious people start raiding. That means you can get the tools, and then stow them in your backpack for later. The key however this time is very much not making players believe there is absolutely no strict progression to be followed. You play this game as YOU see fit, not how a plan dictates. That’s the best part of all: once that stuff’s presented? You make the big choices, and the power that returns to an individual’s hands is sizeable indeed.
Last time, and probably the time before, Draenor and Pandaria assumed that the only way players would be happy was if it was all planned out for them in advance. I’m not saying there’s no structure in this Expansion, anything but. What happens here is that you are the one to prioritize what matters. In my case on the first day of Legion that meant at least 30 minutes fishing in the Dalaran Fountain (yup the coins are back) and then a lot of skinning other people’s mobs in Highmountain to get the raw materials required to ensure all my Professions quests are covered from the word go. Then there may have been a bit of exploring, the discovery of the new Archaeology trainer in Dalaran, before getting First Aid and Cookery off the mark. Not once did I think of a dungeon or an organised 5 man: that happens tonight when my husband’s around to play too. Tuesday morning was very much Niche Minority Interests and you know what? It was beyond glorious.
There is also an innate sense that this Expansion has simply been designed a different way to those that have come before. Sure there are rep rewards and things to collect and already there are countless Guides on how to do that ‘properly’ but honestly I do not think I’m going to be punished or penalised if that doesn’t happen. This time around I don’t need a Guide to tell me what to go and kill, the Mini map tells me that. I can just wander around for ages and still get XP and because the content scales to me? It never stops being a challenge. Then there is the moment when you are fishing and a small raft with coins on it floats past and suddenly you’ve dived into the water to retrieve them. Except in this Expansion? Water has flow mechanics, and before you get to action the chest you’ve been swept off a waterfall.
That’s the metaphor for this Expansion, I’ve decided: anything goes. You can level capturing pets, or skinning bears, or just cook and dig your way to victory. The only key here is needed for endgame: if you want to unlock the last major zone, and Daily World Quests and the wonder that is Obliterum? You will need to do the ‘formal’ quests in each of the four zones to unlock access to Suramar. You wanna go there too: the last time I saw it the place had not been rendered. Now, it is perhaps Blizzard’s biggest creative triumph. In fact, pretty much everywhere on the Broken isles will make you wish that you lived there and you possessed a better graphics card, quite possibly both.
We are, at time of writing, less than twenty four hours into the Expansion. I will have a lot to talk about in the weeks and months that follow, and hope the times of content droughts and having to come up with a ’10 Things’ post to fill column inches are now far behind me. What I’m really wishing for however, more than anything else, is that the detractors of this game will finally be unable to find a foothold for their issues. Sure, if something is genuinely broken or wrong, I’ll complain with the best of them. However, this almost persistent ‘stream of disquiet’ that has come from certain sectors of the player base (and is already happening now, I’ve seen it) will finally dry up. Finding things that are wrong with something that is so obviously made just to enjoy? You have to wonder about the motivation of players to begin with.
The biggest problem of course may come with the PvP ‘reboot’ and I will dedicate some time going forward not only to leveling using that system, but looking long and hard at whether Blizzard can use this as the basis for eSports going forward. I won’t have a toon in organised raiding, but enough people I know well to trust their judgement on that side of things for reports and assessment will be doing that. Though bear in mind that it will be three weeks before any of that content’s freely available to begin with.
Even if I can’t cover all the bases going forward myself, I trust people in the Community to tell me how it is. Watching more and more of them joyfully obtaining artifacts and going onto max level will not get old, because people having fun never does if you’re prepared to open your heart to the same.
To the bitter, hardened veterans who are already decrying a super-smooth launch; I know, you hate the happy subscribers on the first day of Legion filling your social media timelines with joy. It’s okay, I understand. If that’s simply easier than amending your world view and joining the fun on the Broken Isles? I’ll be quietly and efficiently removing you from my eyeline and earshot in the weeks that follow.
It’s not that I don’t want to hear criticism, far from it. When someone’s done this much work and put the amount of effort Blizzard have into not only learning from mistakes but improving their product? Maybe they did truly learn the lessons, and not just the ones over content droughts and difficulty curves. Perhaps this time, in the end, what matters more is making a product that players can enjoy on their own terms and in a timescale not dictated by social media.
Perhaps Legion can prove that Warcraft’s death has been over-exaggerated.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Launch, Legion, MMO, MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday