Late Monday night, with the minimum of fuss, my Battle.net launcher quietly informed me I could download the Legion Alpha. Approximately 36 GB of data later, I spent a couple of hours early on Tuesday morning playing a Demon Hunter for the first time. I’m here this morning to tell you about this, but before I begin, I think we need to have a word about my personal Spoiler Policy on the upcoming Expansion. Since the client became data-mineable last Friday morning an awful lot of stuff tumbled into the public domain. However, once the Alpha went live? A lot of far more controversial stuff became public knowledge, including some pretty honking huge plot and exposition spoilers. You won’t find me discussing these here: if my colleagues wish to do so, then that’s entirely their right. I won’t consider anything of that ilk until it goes live, and I hope you’ll understand my intention isn’t to ruin your enjoyment of the upcoming Expansion.
In fact, I’m here to do quite the opposite.
I’ll admit, under normal circumstances I’d have no interest whatsoever in a Demon Hunter, but at present in Alpha (which is what the Launcher marks this as and therefore how I’ll refer to it) that’s all you can play. I’d expect that not to change until after Thanksgiving Weekend in the US (which may be celebrated on Thursday but starts for many today) and so, all this stuff will be streamed and discussed to death in lots of other places. For me, when it became clear I had only one choice, I decided this would be a good acid test for someone who’d not played this game for a while and might well come into Legion cold: would I want to play the new Hero Class? Is there enough of interest to ensure that I’m wanting to come back?
So, before we begin, I needed to create a character. Say hello to Buffy the Demon Hunter:
The name was my husband’s idea, I’ll admit, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Character creation is as it has always been in Warcraft, but in this case you can only pick Blood Elf and Night Elf to become part of Illidan’s army. Once you do, there’s no pre-amble as yet (cinematic is not yet in game) and you’re straight into Mardum, the Shattered Abyss, which is the first of two locations where you’ll train and learn your skills. The first thing that struck me was the level of detail encountered, and the high-definition skins of the new mobs you fight. We were promised that you’d rip the skills you’ll require from the corpses of the Demons slain and although this is not strictly the case, the general idea is there. Without breaking my own rules? There’s some familiar races you’ll also run into on the way, and at least one interesting quandary that you’ll be presented with before you’re done in this zone.
This opening area also answers the question of how the Legion travel from place to place: yes, there are spaceships. There’s also a range of familiar mechanics that players in Warlords will be used to: Objectives exist, for instance and completing them will earn you extra gold. You’re presented with each new ability in a manner that will be familiar to anyone’s who’s rolled a Death Knight or played the L90 Starting Area sequence in Tanaan Jungle. There are some changes however that indicate that the more general game experience has been refined: rares are marked on your minimap by a star, for instance, which is clearer to see. You’ll also see a percentage total for certain objective completions. However, the biggest single addition is the addition of NPC ‘dialogue’ boxes which appear as notable plot points and exposition is revealed.
These are going to play havoc with my custom UI.
Playing through Mardum is remarkably easy: I didn’t die from damage once, the respawn rates were consistent, people helped out with hard mobs and everything was as I would expect from a Blizzard title. My only complaint is simple at this stage: there is nothing else. I reach the end of the first part of the journey, get a quest to go to part two and that’s it, my character is effectively stranded. If I want to explore I’m forced to make a new Demon Hunter and start again. And so I have to wait for my expectations to catch up with the designers. Looking at the amount of data now seeded in the client I would hope there won’t be long to wait: there’s a lot of detail for the pre-Expansion event already placed, for instance. There’s also a fairly desperate need to start playing with the sequence that allows me to pick up an Artefact weapon for the first time. Class Halls are slowly being discovered and pictures of many can now be found on social media hubs such as Reddit. Remember, as this is still very early days, your experience will vary.
I’d also be personally remiss if I didn’t admit that a large proportion of my time with the client has involved poking around the new Transmog Wardrobe. It’s nowhere near complete, but the initial indicators are decent enough: shoulders have indeed been given a hide ability, Tabards are included, plus if this initial iteration is any indicator? We could see seasonal items also being used as potential mogging items. Until I can own more than one demon hunter with the same gear its impossible to work out how functional the system is: I’ve been able to create an outfit that removes shoulders, but there appears to be no means of transforming that to my character. Still, the excitement when I saw that both vendor greys and Hallows End Masks seem to have been included in the databases? I hope these both remain as mogging options going forward.
So, what do I actually think? In terms of previous testing experiences, this one is undoubtedly smoother and more polished than anything that’s preceded it. Of course, as you’re in a rough client there are errors, but I’m sensing some new code at play and better ways of reporting issues in this new world. How that translates when it gets shoved on top of the old world is another story, of course, and I’ll have to wait and see how Legion copes when it’s translated to existing Azeroth. Mostly, I’ll not deny there is an excitement present that didn’t exist either in Pandaria or Draenor. This is Blizzard finally admitting that certain things needed to change for good, and making a real effort to show that they’ve learnt lessons from previous failures. From what I’ve been presented, they know what’s at stake and are making good on the promise that Legion will present something both dramatic and exciting.
Here I stop and consider the spoilers I was presented with on Monday night, and the understanding that some quite serious and far-reaching decisions have been made in terms of where narrative is now being taken. I’m a big advocate of change, and the decisions I know have been made will readjust many people’s world view. Honestly? This is can only be a good thing. For a long time Blizzard’s been accused of not producing compelling and realistic narratives: what I have in Mardum is both in terms of the Warcraft Universe. I’ve had my world view adjusted, enemies I thought were as such are now being painted in a different light, and the consequences of this are potentially far reaching indeed. Mostly, what we now have is two factions working as an effective single force with a portion of what was our enemy, against the single biggest assault Azeroth has ever seen. The key is, of course, we will see them close up, pouring through Portals opened by Gul’dan.
Then it’s up to us to try and stop them, whilst at the same time building a personal weapon worthy of defending our world. Here is where I think a lot of players are simply going to have to decide whether Azeroth is a setting they wish to inhabit going forward or not: I am sensing a genuine desire from the designers to present something different this time around, not simply a rehash of previous expansion’s attempts to just paper over cracks and pretend everything is fine.
From not wanting to roll a Demon Hunter when I started I’d actually like to try one of these as DPS or (gasp!) maybe a Tank as time goes on and to say I’m itching to see what the new zones have to offer is probably the mother of all understatements. The biggest problem Blizzard has, at least in my mind, is now how they manage expectations against the time it will take to produce a UI that’s deemed worthy enough to release as an Expansion to begin with. Needless to say, they know what’s at stake, and I am sure the company more than grasps they let a brilliant start in Warlords literally reduce by a half in the year after release. What we have here is a solid start to the journey, and I for one can’t wait to see what’s next.Related: Alpha, Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Expansion, Legion, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday