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, 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 I 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 all day 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?
Blizzard has a fantastic pedigree when it comes to polishing their games, but some WoW launches have been less-than-stellar, mired by technical issues and bugs. This launch was as smooth as butter. This launch, which has been full of content and encourages players to try out the new, single player RPG-level questing is extremely well done.
Considering there are roughly 23 months until the next expansion, it’s easy to get ahead of oneself, but I’ve lived every expansion. Yes, Draenor started out great, but it sputtered out quickly. The way the questing system is executed here, and how a plethora of content opens to players at the max level of 110, says to me that this game will be around for a while, being damn fun.
Regarding everything else, it’s Blizzard. It’s clean. It works. The UI is a deliciously plated meal that you can refine when you talk to your waiter named “Mods.” The polish of the Blizzard of old is on display here.
Most importantly: the game is less boring throughout.
Typically, a WoW expansion will launch, players will race to get their alt characters and mains to the max level, then get their item level to where they can run heroics and raids. They’ll possibly clear that content, then unsubscribe for months until the next content patch comes out. Or, unsubscribe for a year, so when you come back, there’s a bunch of stuff to do. Over the last few expansions, Blizzard has neglected players with a relatively finite amount of content patches. Yes, there’s tons of stuff to do, but over years, it gets stale.
Legion fixes a lot of these issues. Rather than the same old same old, Legion has World Quests, which act like the Bounty system from Diablo 3. I can see myself hunting monsters and doing quests rather than the usual slog of dailies for months to come. This is what WoW needed, and the next patch is already on deck and looking good.
It’s still an MMO, there is a grind, but it’s also well done and it doesn’t always feel like a grind (it just feels like a good RPG). I would say the only bullsh*t here is the extremely expensive character transfer system. I have a full slot of toons that I want to switch around from realm to realm or faction to faction. $30? Really? C’mon, Blizz.
The last four years of WoW have been fine in small doses, but the lack of patches definitely raised a level of cynicism never before seen in the player base. Legion, thankfully, gets everything back on track. There’s a real sense of wonder and accomplishment in the game now. It’s not just an XP treadmill. This is the most complete and fully-realized version of World of Warcraft since perhaps Burning Crusade or Wrath of The Lich King, and it’s truly wonderful. If you’re an old player, hop back into the Azeroth. You’ll be happy.