BlizzCon 2015: World of Warcraft Legion Hands-On Preview – Worth the Wait

Before I got hands-on time with World of Warcraft: Legion, something didn’t feel quite right. It all began with Chris Metzen’s Opening Ceremony presentation, which lacking the heartfelt enthusiasm of past years. For the following hours, buzz around BlizzCon was primarily focused on Overwatch and the upcoming Hearthstone Adventure cards. Even when I headed to the Press Lounge I noticed that it was easy to find an open spot to play Legion while all the other games with shorter demo lengths had lines forming to the door.

As a deeply-invested player of World of Warcraft since early 2005, I’ve spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out why this was the case.

A part of me thinks it has to do with Warlords of Draenor woes. While a great expansion in its own ways, design issues with Garrisons, the lackluster quantity of enemy types in Draenor, and repetitive daily/weekly quests have put a lot of Blizzard fans on edge. And then there was the release window announcement: Summer 2016. Here we are in the middle of a six month content drought and we’re being asked to wait up to 10 more.

Although talk of Legion has been drowned out by all the other exciting things Blizzard is working on, I have every reason to believe it will be an amazing product if my hands-on time with it was any indication.

I began my 45 minute long Legion journey at the character creation screen, designing a Demon Hunter after years of only dreaming about them. Being a Horde player, I chose a Male Blood Elf, and immediately got thrust into Mardum, the Shattered Abyss.

The best way to explain how my first 20 minutes questing in Mardum felt is to point at Burning Crusade. Do you remember what it was like walking through the portal? Remember being greeted by an epic and chaotic landscape rich with flavorful quests and fantastic music? Mardum is reminiscent of that unforgettable moment in time.

Mardum, the Shattered Abyss is the leveling zone exclusive to Demon Hunter. While it might not be set in the Shattered Isles where players will spend 99.9% of their time in Legion, it incorporates the design philosophy that Blizzard is employing for its next expansion. Quests are well balanced between length, story delivery, gameplay mechanics, and climax. Even with only a small handful of skills to play around with, I found myself enjoying leveling for my first time in years. The lively atmosphere of this shattered world made by Sargeras made it an immersive place to explore.

Playing as the Demon Hunter was a real treat. At first its double jump, glide, and dash wooed my strong taste for mobility. Simply getting from point A to point B was fun as there are so many intuitive options that the class has for moving around. I can see myself spending way too much time doing parkour around cities while waiting for queues to pop.

The combat style of Demon Hunter isn’t too unfamiliar to anyone who has played a Fury Warrior before. I found myself spamming Demon’s Bite to build Fury, and then smashing the enemy with a couple Chaos Strikes, which cost Fury. While there wasn’t much in the way of variety early on since I hadn’t unlocked all my abilities, the sound effects, animations, and skill design resulted in exciting battle scenarios between myself and the demons of Mardum. I even found myself assisting other players if only to hear my Chaos Strike eviscerate the enemy into non-existence.

Although it isn’t as radical of a departure from the other classes as Dark Knight was when it entered World of Warcraft, there’s something special about Demon Hunter that is hard to explain. Part of it is the glaives, which are a radical weapon that you don’t often get to use in video games. Another part of it are the mobility skills, which are unlike the toolkits of any other class. But part of it is also the unique take on classic skill design that makes it feel like it isn’t just another leather-wearer.

Take for example Eye Beam, which for all intents and purposes is just another channeled melee ability. However, rising into the air, and gazing deep into the soul of the enemy while their health drains away is one heck of a way to deal damage. Meanwhile, Metamorphosis is really just a fancy Heroic Leap, but you transform into a demon after landing. The satisfaction of using Demon Hunter abilities tells the story of how far World of Warcraft has come during the past decade.

Featuring the Demon Hunter, Legion will include a variety of other additions including artifact weapons, Class Halls, and scaling zones that allow you to level where you want. It’s all very ambitious, and exactly the sort of frontier that World of Warcraft needs to embark on to not only bring back veteran players, but hold their attention for more than a month.

It’s going to be a painful wait until this expansion releases, and I fully expect subscriber numbers to drop along the way. But in the end I believe the wait will be worth it.