The World of Warcraft has seen better days, both in-game and in subscriber numbers. With a year between content patches in WoW‘s last expansion, Warlords of Draenor, players left in droves and many wondered if the once great game had jumped the shark. Now we’re here, twelve years after launch and the warlocks, death knights and demon hunters of Azeroth are in the best shape they’ve ever been in. Except, the world is about to end again. Demons are here, and more major characters get killed off than in a George R.R. Martin wet dream.
WoW has never been a graphical marvel. Blizzard opted for the game to run on as many systems as possible twelve years ago, and in that time there’s been a major leap in basic minimum hardware. With this in mind, the new, minor, improvements, including revamped animations and a higher polygon count in character models, which do wonders to make this game look like it deserves to exist in 2016.
The scale of the world, the environments, the character models and armor look beautiful. Without a doubt, this is the best World of Warcraft has ever looked. A lot of this has to do with video cards allowing for more wiggle room when it comes to lighting effects, smoke, fog and shadows. Most impressively, the new draw distance changes the way you look at the Broken Isles as well as old content throughout the world.
Does Legion innovate, or does it refine its systems to a smooth polish? A little of both. There’s no doubt that it borrows liberally from other MMOs like Elder Scrolls Online, RIFT, FFXIV and others, but it takes the features considered a hallmark of those titles and expertly employs them into the World of Warcraft. Scaling enemies in the world and dungeons works well, with gear specific to you and your level dropping, rather than having “pointless” drops when running a “lower level” dungeon with friends. And Legion‘s companion app to send your followers on missions has definitely saved me a few logins. It’s fun to send my Death Knights out on missions via my phone!
Most importantly, the app has made playing the game a joy in a way I’d never expect in the game. One evening I opened the app to check on my follower missions (a more cohesive play on Draenor‘s follower missions). I sent out my death knight buddies to do work, then noticed a world quest on my map that was giving a needed piece of gear on my map. The quest closed in six hours, so I hopped on and got it done. Not having to be plopped in front of my PC is welcome, and definitely fun.
Class Halls also bring a new sense of community to the game, and they’re damn pretty. Some are better than others (I’m looking at you, Demon Hunter and Warlock Class Halls), but all are worthy of your character class. I love them. Just look at the Paladin hall underneath Light’s Hope Chapel:
Blizzard does miss the mark with the new artifact weapons, however. Not only are they immersion breaking (everyone has them!), they remove one of the best parts of any MMO — getting cool new gear. Sure, it essentially gets you back on an XP treadmill of a different variety, now you’re leveling your weapon, but it’s just another talent tree and just another XP bar. Also, the shark is pretty much jumped when everyone is running around with the best weapons in WoW‘s lore. What’s going to happen in the next expansion? Are we keeping these weapons? Kinda lame.