I had intended today to do a write-up on the new Zones to be explored on the Broken Isles, but it seems unfair to try and make out like I know about a place I won’t get to visit full time for at least a week and as Activision Blizzard is doing a decent list of that itself. Just let that sink in for a second: as your read this, it’ll be less than seven days before we’ll already be playing Legion live. I know there are some of you not as organized as I am, and who might be at a loss in the last days of Draenor as to what they could be doing to make the time pass faster.
Well, I have an answer for you: go repel the Demon threat. The pre-expansion events have been going on for a couple of weeks now, but because I was away on holiday I didn’t get to experience them until this last weekend. Now, I can’t get enough of that hot invasion action. The genius of World of Warcraft’s pre-expansion Invasions is many fold, and I’m here to explain why these little nuggets of awesome aren’t simply a one-shot deal. In fact, if I read this right, they could have significant consequences for the entirety of Azeroth going forward.
Right here, Right now
The first and most significant part of the brilliance to these events is the timing. It transpires that your average Demon loves a timetable: they’ll attack in short bursts, for ninety minutes every two hours, regular as clockwork. I can’t fault their precision, and to make things even simpler to repel those locations are restricted to old World Azeroth: finding them in Hillsbrad Foothills, Kharanos, Westfall, Azshara, the Northern Barrens and Tanaris. The concept’s brilliantly simple: a bunch of demons attack the area, and you’re rallied by a notable Zone NPC against a named Legion baddie. This utilizes the new ‘talking head’ quest text and audio dialogue that will become commonplace when Legion launches.
Stage One: everyone clears the town of demons before some named bad guys turn up in Stage Two to cause trouble. Stage Three will send players outside the base of operations to dispatch baddies in the wild, until returning for Stage Four and ensuring the named baddie’s ultimate demise. You just hit stuff, rinse and repeat. It really is that simple.
The rewards are sizeable and have undergone a number of amendments on the fly over the last two weeks. Nethershards are the currency used to buy items not provided by the rewards for completing Stages Two and Four: chests that contain a set of iLevel 700 gear appropriate for your armor type, plus the chance of a L700 weapon that can be upgraded with another drop (Coalesced Fel) to a maximum iLevel of 725.
It is familiar territory for anyone who used crafted weapons in Warlords or spent any kind of meaningful time grinding in Tanaan, but that’s not nearly the whole story. As these events grant considerable amounts of XP, I was able to level a Shaman in 24 hours from 91-100 without breaking sweat. I’m hearing stories of players managing to level six or more L100’s over the course of the weekend and of ‘tips’ to maximize rewards wherever possible. I will tell you not to open your chest rewards until you hit max level as my free tip for the week: that gave me a complete set of mail items and an almost 100 iLevel boost when I hit the end of my 24 hour kill fest.
The Same Old Song?
However, it isn’t just the rewards you should be paying attention to in all of this. As I detail in a personal blog post from Monday, I sense there’s more to these Invasions that meets the eye, and that the hard coding of Azeroth itself has altered not simply to accommodate the Invasions but to lay the groundwork for more of the same in the future. The unbridled joy I experienced as a 91 alt when I grasped that the mobs were only two levels higher than I was yet still registered as 100 to max level players has yet to diminish. Many players have pushed hard for this level scaling tech in the Old World since it was apparent it was feasible. There is now the possibility that Azeroth can become a series of multiply-instanced static locations that can be built upon as Blizzard sees fit. The sky really is the limit for practical applications..
But that’s granting the actual mechanics of the Event a massive disservice: this isn’t just about flying around and killing Elites. Anything but. All manner of differing encounters are scattered across the landscape of the Invasion zones, to be discovered on foot as well as in the air. Ideas are stolen from your Garrison Invasions, there’s nods to all sorts of differing encounters, and one hopes that this kind of variety will be front and center in the World Quests that are due to be introduced next week (gives me a thrill writing that even now.) Add to this the voice acting of the Horde/Alliance NPC’s, plus nods to a number of other notable supporting players in leveling zones you have passed through (looking at you, Maximilian of Northshire) and there is very little not to love about what’s been served up by the Warcraft developers.
The Future’s So Bright…
There’s already been calls on Reddit by some players to make Invasions a weekly event when Legion goes live, in the style of Timewalking and pet battling, presumably with appropriately leveled gear as rewards. With the tech established and operational, this makes a great deal of sense, and for someone like me with multiple alts and limited playtime it would be a brilliant way of catching up as the Expansion goes on. It doesn’t have to stop there, of course: this format will be robust enough to replace the Tanaan Jungle/Timeless Isle ‘model’ for gear upgrades moving forward too. You just add differing levels of interaction with the locations involved. It doesn’t have to be the Broken Isles, either. In fact, I can see the whole of the old world, plus Outland, Pandaria and Northrend also becoming potential destinations for legions of players. Suddenly, there’s nowhere we can’t be sent to farm max level content.
These are exciting times ahead for players of all levels too, not simply those at 110. Activision Blizzard has made quite a big deal of the understanding that many people enjoy leveling the old fashioned way and with the introduction of character boosts, Heirlooms and Recruit-a-Friend that the trip is inherently broken. In order to fix it, leveling the field is a rather big deal. These Invasion changes mean, effectively, that a Level 1 could play with a L100 and both could kill the same mobs without it significantly impacting either’s gameplay experience. That might yet herald a significant revamp of the entire Starting Area/Zone experience going forward, and if that were to take place in tandem with new content over the period of the next couple of Expansions? I doubt anyone would be complaining.
What the Invasions show us is a glimpse into what has happened behind the scenes since the disaster that was Warlord’s first six months. It is a long way from the days of hemorrhaging users and complaints over stale content and players stuck in Garrisons: lessons have been learned about not only over what constitutes good MMO practice but more importantly that story and motivation matter far more than simply the loot at the end.
Yes, I’ll grant you, the rewards for this effort are sizeable indeed, but they’ll all be negated in a week or so. Why, therefore, are so many people throwing themselves into the process? In the end, it’s huge fun and recreates a period of time that many players have never experienced, or may have forgotten. Once upon a time, playing in the gaming world mattered as much as instance time, but that situation changed once raiding became the be all and end all of the experience. Now that has changed. Suddenly, everything has become viable as a means to the end.
What this game boils down to is being able to participate without feeling as if you’re not fully prepared. Illidan says himself: this isn’t just knowing a rotation or doing the most damage, the stuff you wear does matter, whether you like it or not. Allowing everyone a chance to nab pretty much free items in the last days before everyone’s gear changes forever is sound in terms of both motivation and inspiration: you prepare who you wish, with the minimum of fuss, and nobody loses out because in a week, it’ll all be gone anyway and you’ll only have the Feats of Strength as testament that the things ever existed. Then it’s on to the next event, and that means revisiting Karazhan. If the potential of that isn’t making you vibrate with excitement, you really don’t possess a soul in this game to begin with.
If you’re lost for something to do this weekend then go do an Invasion or twelve, I dare you. You might end up having more fun than you ever remember in Warcraft, and that can only be a good thing.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Legion, MMO, MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday