WoW Factor: Analyzing Legion with a critical eye
All right, let me just say for the record that when it comes to this expansion, my speculation last week was meant as just that. But it turns out that I was right on the money, that this was all ramping up as a reminder that the Legion exists, and now we're going to be storming the beaches quite literally with our new Demon Hunter pals to kick some demons up and down the block like an old, familiar can.
Or whatever you kick up and down the block. I don't know what your deal is. You do your thing, my friends; I do not judge you in the least.
I said last time that I was rather doubtful of what we'd see with this expansion announcement, and now we've seen what World of Warcraft has to offer. So now we get to analyze, speculate, and think about what this means for the next several months. Let's get on that, shall we?
World of Warcraft: Legion, in a vacuum, is a really good announcement. Unfortunately, it wasn't announced in a vacuum; it was announced in a real environment where Blizzard has a track record that is... let's be generous and say "not great" at the moment. And it's here that we run into a problem because no one is going to be asking whether or not it's good so much as whether or not it's an improvement.
Don't get me wrong; Mists of Pandaria was not a bad expansion on the whole. But it was a problematic one in many aspects. There was stuff in there that didn't exactly help the game in the long run, such as the horrible daily unlock systems, issues with reputations in general, huge content gaps, overemphasis on the top tier of raid difficulties, and so forth. And neither Warlords of Draenor nor Cataclysm needs to take a fresh drubbing for being awful; it's an established fact, so hopefully we can all move on and so forth.
In other words, this expansion is delivering a lot of things that players have said they want for quite some time, but it's also doing so at a time when player confidence in the development team is at a pretty low pulse. It reads less like "here's a set of great ideas for we have for the game" and more like "oh no, come on, we've got to fix this mess."
The announcement had a good launch. But so did most of Warlords of Draenor, and look how that turned out.
There is a major hope spot here, though, insofar as many of the aspects announced thus far cannot possibly be made worse than they sound. I don't know whether the developers are actually going to give dungeons more relevance in Legion than they have in recent expansions (although I have a hope, as I will discuss momentarily), but it's not possible to give them worse service. Whether or not class orders will be massively better than Garrisons or not, they're not going to be scaled back from an announcement of housing because that's not what they're sold as, and we know what their worst possible incarnation could be.
And thank any deity, no orcs. We didn't even hear the word to my memory. Gul'dan is one, sure, but he's not exactly taking us on a magical orc tour, and he'll be dead soon anyhow. I realize that not everyone is on board with the Legion as an enemy, but I like it; much like the Scourge, the Legion has a distinct visual feel on the whole, and I think WoW does its best work when it's not focusing on individual characters so much on as massive forces that serve as backdrops. Only when we're mired in NPCs does the storytelling become draining and sub-par.
Yes, I say this even though I do rather like Yrel.
I would be lying if I said I didn't get a strong feeling of the developers following hard on the heels of Final Fantasy XIV with this expansion, as well. There's a renewed focus on class identity, the whole idea of artifact weapons, and a revamped PvP system that is almost exactly the one from that game don't strike me as a coincidence. I see this as a good thing; FFXIV has been a huge success story, and taking ideas from it is something WoW could stand to do more often. I'd roll my eyes if we were trading in Alien Tombstones for gear, but I wouldn't complain.
And the part of my brain and heart that has so much of my energy devoted to this stuff is very excited. I've never been a main fan of Demon Hunters, but the idea of them as a hero class specifically spun off of the Illidari? Yeah, I can get behind that. New sub-races of Tauren? You bet. More Vrykul? I'll take it. Bringing back the old talent trees, but on weapons? This is a laundry list of cool ideas.
I'm also in the boat that we were never going to get an Emerald Dream expansion anyway. It's Azeroth but with fewer buildings.
What's going to have a big impact is when we stop talking about concepts and start examining the meat. Legion, at this point, is inheriting a mess. Crafting is so far beyond damaged that the expansion would almost benefit from wiping the slate and starting over altogether because Garrisons made things so much worse than they had been before while also being integral to leveling a craft. Endgame for non-raiders is an unpleasant punchline, even more so if you consider LFR as non-raiding (which Blizzard certainly seems to). The main narrative thread has been bashed badly. Players are burned and burned hard.
Many people watching the stream noted that the crowd just didn't seem particularly hyped up, and to be honest I would agree, because I think everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was like watching an hour and a half of everyone terrified every single time another feature was brought up. There was a fear there, borne out of people who have watched the game make several missteps over the past several years being told a bunch of things that sound really cool.
What we need now are details. Or, more accurately, what we need in the next few months are details. I fully imagine at this point that beta is planned to start near BlizzCon, as there's not a lot of "this year" left for wiggle room; while there was a lot of talk that this expansion has been in the works for a while now, I don't think it's realistic to expect things to move much faster than that. I think June of next year is already very, very accelerated.
But the details are where this expansion is either going to sink or swim. What the endgame looks like, what players can look forward to for rewards and content, what the game is doing with systems that have really taken a beating like crafting. We'll find out soon enough, and the more we know, the more we can decide whether this is reversing the trend of the last three expansions or another step down.
Feedback is welcome in the comments below or by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, as it always has been. Next time around, I want to talk about Demon Hunters some more, speculate wildly, and probably find out I'm totally wrong in a few months.