My experience with World of Warcraft dates back to 2004 when I rolled a Rogue on Tichondrius. It only took me a few hours to realize that what I was playing was something very special, and one that I had a particular interest in. Even then, I wouldn't have guessed that within the next 12 years I would log more than 10,000 hours of playtime across 15 characters. It goes without saying that World of Warcraft is my most played game of all-time.
I feel it's important to share my level of experience with the game because, well, most of the reviews for MMO expansions are written by individuals with little familiarity with the game. In the case of World of Warcaft: Legion, there are several professional reviews up on Metacritic written by people who didn't even hit level 110 before publishing their review. I wanted to do things a bit differently, so in the past 10 days I leveled up both a Priest and Demon Hunter to level 110, participated in every type of content, on top of having over 60 hours logged in the Legion Beta. What I learned during that time is Legion has the potential to become one of World of Warcraft's greatest expansions.
A Strong Start
World of Warcraft: Legion starts off strong by allowing you to dive into a class exclusive quest. This quest results in you obtaining an artifact weapon for one of your specs, and is rich with class lore. For example, Frost Death Knights are sent to Icecrown Citadel to retrieve the infamous Frostmourne, while Retribution Paladins head into battle alongside the Argent Crusade to retrieve the Ashbringer. These quests, along with the Order Hall system, do a fantastic job of improving class identity in Legion.
The artifact quests are just one example of how Legion references older content from what many players consider to be the "golden days" of World of Warcraft. You'll come across some of the most memorable themes from Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, including the presence of certain characters (i.e. Illidan), races and world design—you'll even be sent back to Karazhan in the next major update. This might go unnoticed by new players who simply find the world tasteful, but veterans will spot these elements that make it abundantly clear that Blizzard has taken steps to invoke the classic feel of World of Warcraft, albeit with modern game design and content.
The presence of class identity is perhaps Legion's greatest success. What's here most closely resembles the early days of Vanilla World of Warcraft where classes such as the Warlock and Paladin had class exclusive quests that rewarded attractive items. But it goes well beyond those days by providing something for every class. This is offered not only at level cap, but during the leveling experience where you regularly interact with major characters related to your class, and spend time in a location designated specifically for your class called the Order Hall. Just a few hours in you feel like you're a Death Knight or Paladin, and that you're doing something meaningful in the Warcraft universe.
Leveling up to the new 110 level cap in Legion is a memorable affair. While most of the quests are rooted in familiar systems that have been routine for more than a decade, such as kill and fetch quests, there are some new concepts that help breathe diversity to the questing climate. Where Legion particularly succeeds when it comes to leveling is by introducing compelling storytelling through the 20 to 30 hour process. There are four zones to level in, and each of them have a story arch to engage in, with climactic moments and presence of high profile characters. The events that unfold before you ever even hit level 110 have serious consequences, selling the point that Legion's timeline will be one of great importance.
PvE Reaches New Heights
Legion's storytelling helps immensely in driving players forward through content. As part of this, every zone caps off with a final dungeon quest that provides context to four of the expansion's dungeons. These dungeons offer great experiences, especially the first time through. There's a distinct atmosphere in each related to the four leveling zones. In effect, they serve as a moment of climax during the story arch.
Although only four dungeons are made part of the primary questing experience to level 110, there are a total of eight available at level 110. For the most part they are exemplary, with varied boss mechanics and immersive atmosphere. In terms of difficulty, they feel like they sit in the middle of the spectrum, deviating from the simplicity of Warlords of Draenor but not treading into the sincere challenge of Cataclysm's early days. This is particularly important in the case of Mythic Dungeons, which have been crafted to serve as not an entree, but a main course for players looking for high level progression. They succeed in their mission to providing a top-tier option for obtaining the best gear in the game, although they are unlikely to replace raids for most hardcore players since they aren't quite as fulfilling.
Enemy scaling is one of the boldest elements of the Legion expansion. Essentially, outdoor enemies scale to your level allowing you to battle the same mobs as someone that isn't within your level range. This has allowed Blizzard to let you decide what zones to level in first and in which order. This sense of choice is welcomed, although it's mildly deceiving.
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It is pivotal that you complete all four zones, and you likely will during your journey to 110. This isn't much to ask given the sheer beauty of the zones, as well as the entertainment delivered by their best quests. However, the design has negative implications on leveling alts as you'll end up doing all the same content across all your characters, which is less preferable than the dual-zone systems of expansions such as Wrath of the Lich King where you could skip several zones without necessarily having to revisit them.
A World You'll Want To Explore
The perks of this scaling system outweigh the negatives. At level cap, you will be incentivized to head out into each of the zones, and unlike at virtually any other time in World of Warcraft's history, you will be able to consume content throughout the entire map of each zone. You are no longer sent into small, focused areas intended for high level players, the entirety of The Broken Isles are your playground at level cap. Made better, there are rare mobs and treasure—similar to Mists of Pandaria's Timeless Isle—scattered across all zones, encouraging exploration in the process.
Heading out into the world at level 110 is further encouraged by a new World Quest system. How this functions is random quests will pop up across each of the zones. In terms of gameplay, they are undeniably similar to Bonus Objectives, although there is far greater diversity in terms of the scope of content. These World Quests are a huge part of why Legion feels so great to play at level cap. You're no longer going to succeed at level cap by sitting in town all day queuing for dungeons and PvP, you need to head out into the world to complete these quests, and in the process engage with other players—sometimes in world PvP.
Gear is upgraded by participating in any of Legion's forms of content. The idea is that you are encouraged to go out and enjoy the game how you desire. There are even legendaries you may find, which have been constructed within a system that is remarkably similar to what Diablo 3 offers—not necessarily a bad thing. While the system works in concept, the balance is currently very poor. PvP players acquire gear and items at a significantly slower rate, and World Quests provide more reward per minute invested than anything else in the game. This leads to some frustration if you happen to enjoy content that currently has a poor drop rate.
It's become clear to me during the past week that being at level cap in Legion is much more fulfilling than the previous handful of expansions. There is such a great wealth of content that it's initially overwhelming. You'll be asked by your Order Hall to complete a series of objectives, while your map populates with World Quests, and you are asked by friends to queue up for the new dungeons or level up in PvP.
Behold, Your Artifact
There's always something compelling to work toward at level 110 thanks to the new Artifact system. Each class spec Artifact has its own tree full of traits that can only be unlocked through the acquisition of Artifact Power. Artifact Power is obtained by participating in every type of content, from PvE to PvP. It will take several months to unlock all of the traits, but each spec has its small handful of milestone unlocks that have dramatic implications for the performance of the spec, making them perhaps an even more attractive object of progression than finding new weapons. If you prefer to find new weapons because you enjoy increasing the power of your weapon, you may be glad to hear that there are relics to find that will increase the item level of your artifact.
The system also provides new means of collection. There are more than 30 artifact skin/color combinations that are earned through milestones, including completing your class Order Hall. Earning these is a way to not only customize the look of your character, but show off your accomplishments. There is even a hidden artifact appearance for each spec, as well as a unique trait associated with them, further increasing the number of activities to participate in at 110.
The Artifact system has done a number on dual speccing, though. Due to the great length of time required to progress through the tree, in combination with how impactful each trait is, off-specs perform far worse than they ever have before. As such, players need to commit to a single spec if they want to be most effective, which seems to have made healers and tanks even more rare. However, this will be partially remedied by the Artifact Knowledge system, which allows the rate of Artifact Power acquisition to effectively increase over the course of the expansion.
A Change of Class
The endgame climate has been further expanded with the introduction of the Demon Hunter class. Although it's equipped with only two specs, both are exhilarating to play. Havoc is a master of AoE burst, while Vengeance uses fel flames and demonic armor to tank enemies. Both have beautiful animations, visually elevating the class to sheer spectacle. The class fits well into the current endgame, providing competitive dungeon tanking and PvP options that increase the number of variables that players need to consider, a welcomed addition to World of Warcraft as it increases in age.
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Class balance is of great concern among many players during the first weeks of Legion. Despite providing a remarkable amount of feedback during the Beta process, the endgame class landscape is completely unfair in its current iteration. Melee classes dominate damage charts in both PvE and PvP, healers get drowned when pressured, and casters lack a lot of the tools they have become used to having access to. It's an unnecessary cause for frustration when consuming content that is as enjoyable as what Legion offers. Thankfully, this can be resolved in time with patches.
PvP does suffer greatly from the lack of class balance, but once classes are on a more equal playing field it'll be a much more consistently rewarding environment than in its previous implementation. PvP honor talents provide player choice, while also providing something to work toward. Prestige levels are an attractive option for the most hardcore players who find themselves running arenas and battlegrounds for months on end.
For players who don't desire PvP, progressing through Artifact traits, obtaining new relics, and crossing fingers for legendary drops will be a several month long endeavor. These systems broaden the dimensions of progression,making it feel as though you are constantly working toward something of importance. Combined with Legion's epic storyline and compelling themes, it's a recipe for long-term success that will likely increase player retention.
World of Warcraft: Legion has learned and acted upon mistakes made by previous expansions to deliver an experience that offers nostalgia alongside compelling new gameplay experiences. The Broken Isles are a special place where powerful storytelling unfolds, featuring some of Warcraft's most iconic characters. Barring class and loot system imbalances, in its first weeks Legion is in a position to become one of World of Warcraft's greatest eras, standing alongside the coveted Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. The true outcome will be determined by post-launch content and how well it integrates into the already thoroughly satisfying experience, but for now the Burning Legion's invasion of Azeroth has inspired a landscape of greatness.