I’ve now made my way through all of the zones in World of Warcraft: Legion twice. There’s something to be written about that, which I think is at once a success and a failing of design. Zones never become irrelevant or boring, but alts never get to bypass zones or do things differently, just in a different order. And it’s always ending with Suramar. But as relevant as all of that may be, it’s not what I want to talk about this week.
Whenever I’m in a new expansion, part of what I think about are the individual zones. Especially for this expansion, the individual zones matter a lot. You’re going back to them regularly, exploring, taking on new world quests, exploring more lore, and so forth. We’ve got only five new zones in this expansion, but they’re large and they’re important. So let’s step back and look at the zones of the Broken Isles, moving around in a logical and vaguely clockwork fashion. It makes sense to me, anyhow.
All right, so it’s actually closer to a week and a half. I’m torn between an eye-rolling “it’s only been a week and a half” and a sort of disbelieving “it’s only been a week and a half?” on this expansion; I’d say I can’t recall the last time I was this invested in an expansion for this game, but I can, and it was a long time ago. It certainly hasn’t happened recently; that’s the important takeaway.
So World of Warcraft: Legion is here. It’s out right now, and if you read this column you’ve probably either been knee-deep in it or you’re wondering if this is the time to finally break your Cal Ripken-like streak of not caring about WoW. (Yes, it is.) I’ve hit the level cap, I’m well on my way with my second character, I’ve been doing world quests, I don’t have a fox yet. So let’s talk about the expansion a bit now that it’s live and shaking down.
Next week, folks, it’s go time. The expansion arrives, and so forth. My impressions of the expansion will start going out on Monday, but odds are high that you already know what they’re going to be, at least in broad strokes. For those of you who need a spoiler: I quite like Legion so far. But World of Warcraft needs to do better than Legion if it wants to shed the unpleasant image it’s accumulated over the past few years.
We already know a little bit about patch 7.1, of course, which is a good start. But what’s going to ultimately make or break Legion is the same thing that ultimately broke even those who did initially have praise for Warlords of Draenor: whether or not it sticks the landing. A great opening act is, well, great, but it doesn’t count for much if you can’t deliver on the promise of those first few moments, after all.
I honestly don’t know what the Burning Legion’s strategy is in World of Warcraft right now when it comes to picking places to invade. Azshara, sure, that makes sense. Tanaris, all right, it’s near a bunch of important ruins; I can sort of understand it. But Hillsbrad? Westfall? Some of this stuff just plain doesn’t make sense, people. Then again, perhaps there’s a reason I don’t understand the motivation of immortal and nigh-on limitless forces from beyond the reaches of reality.
The invasions running right now are obviously meant to presage our efforts against the Burning Legion in World of Warcraft: Legion, and it’s crazy to think that the expansion is less than two weeks away. We’ve been waiting for so long that it’s felt as if it’s just always going to be off on the horizon, after all. I’ve been digging pretty deeply into the invasions, and while last week I was all about the lore, this week I want to talk about the actual acts of shuttling back and forth and taking on the Legion as it hits the ground.
I sometimes get asked why I don’t do more stuff within betas when I have access to them. To answer that, all I can really do is point to the experience of the Broken Shore scenario and the cinematics that follow. I had somehow managed to remain totally isolated from some of the story revelations therein, and as a result, they also wound up affecting me in a way that you can only be affected with a decade of history behind certain interactions. You get so accustomed to characters and lineups being static, and then.. well, this happens.
Yes, World of Warcraft now has its Demon Hunters and its first stages of the Legion’s invasion live, and they’ve been delivered with panache and power — far more so than was the case in Warlords of Draenor, to boot. So let’s talk a bit about these events and the lore swirling around them… and why this works so well when its predecessor really, really didn’t.
On some level, it honestly feels weird to be excited by this patch in World of Warcraft. There’s no new stuff to actually do, and I’m running up against that a fair bit myself. It’s still Warlords of Draenor, and that means it’s still kind of the same old mess with the same old issues. All that’s really new is our abilities and our wardrobe. That’s not all that much.
On the other level… it means something. Not just that this is a thing that is actually happening now, but that this is something happening soon, that we’re going to be into the next expansion in the near future, and the game now has more motivations for players to go out and take care of various bits of content. And all of those ability changes are pretty cool on their own, to boot. We’re into the almost-Legion period of the game, and even though the pre-launch events haven’t started yet, it feels like the clouds have gathered.
If you’ve missed discussion of it elsewhere (including on this here site, even), World of Warcraft is rolling out a new system for item upgrades in Legion. Item drops from any given source can “explode” upwards, so rather than having a flat chance for a set upgrade, such as a 10% shot at a 5-level upgrade, any item can just keep getting upgrades until it hits the item level ceiling for a given content tier. That level 800 drop can get an upgrade to 805, then 810, and so on – it’s possible for you to be in content that drops level 850 gear and get a level 895 item out of it.
This is, honestly, pretty great.
There’s a lot of stuff to unpack about the whole idea of titanforged items, what they mean for the game, and how they’re at once a really good idea and a solution to a problem that was already solved back in the day. So let’s start walking through the items, complaints, and what the system could do in the future to make content and play more rewarding on down the line.
Every week, in Final Fantasy XI, the three main player nations are competing in a form of passive PvP known as conquest. The nation with the most influence in a given region (achieved primarily by killing stuff within that region) gains control of it; the nation with influence in the largest number of regions gets the first-place slot in the weekly conquest tally. Guards will have different lines to you depending on the nation’s standing, and if your nation is third, before you head out to make with the killing, the guard will tell you, “We’re hoping you can help us out of this hole we’ve dug ourselves into.”
Why am I bringing this up? Because that’s how I feel when I look at Legion at this point. World of Warcraft has dug itself into a hole, and at the end of the day that hole isn’t just about inexcusable content gaps or lore mangling or whatever. Those are symptoms of a larger problem, and I get the sense that Legion is trying to address that, even if it’s doing so in a roundabout way. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to work, but it does mean that at least there’s the glimmer of comprehension in place just the same.
As of the time that I’m writing this, we don’t know when the Legion pre-patch will hit World of Warcraft. I had to double-check that; these days, I’m never sure any longer. You would think that wasn’t information that could somehow slip through my notice, but with the release schedule and announcements around this expansion, it could theoretically happen. You could almost believe that it would be sandwiched in there without fanfare.
But even if we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, we have some idea. So now it’s time to start getting ready for the pre-path, getting all of our characters primed and ready for when the patch actually hits World of Warcraft. There might not be much new content with that pre-patch, but boy will there ever be a plethora of stuff to deal with just the same. So whenever it hits, let’s get ourselves all ready to go, and we’ll start with… shopping.
It has been noted in the past that I am a big fan of having big, show-stopping expansions released for games. I will not deny it; I don’t want to deny it. I like a good meaty expansion. But lately, World of Warcraft‘s expansions have stopped feeling… well… expansive. They’ve somehow become narrower, completely lopping off all of the game-that-was in favor of a new world entirely. One of the reasons I’m hopeful about Legion in the long run is that there are already signs of things taking place in the game world aside from just the new expansion areas, remembering that we already have three different worlds and four separate continents available on Azeroth.
Combine all of that with the fact that these expansions just keep coming out more and more slowly, and one starts to wonder what WoW would look like if this weren’t the case. What sort of content models would work for the game? What sort of new deployments could we see? Is there a better option out there for Blizzard’s big game aside from the content droughts and big expansions?
The past few weeks have been pretty well packed, both in a personal and in a professional sense, so it’s easy to sort of overlook the fact that Legion finally has an official launch date. Which also means that we’re looking at around a 14-month content gap for World of Warcraft this time around, and a content gap which is going to continue for at least the next few months. So much for faster releases, then, although we’ve all more or less burned that bridge of our expectations, I imagine.
I’ve been doing my best to stay relatively pure during the lengthy test cycle; I’ve been playing enough to get a sense of the game, but I don’t like playing until my eyes bleed on a beta when I’m going to need to do the whole thing over again when the expansion actually launches. So let’s take a look at the state of the beta, the launch date, and what we can expect for the game as we move forward from here.
If you haven’t been following the latest Legion testing – which, at the end of the day, is just a series of iterative updates to the experience that we’ve been dealing with all along – then the big news this week in the World of Warcraft community was the shutdown of the Nostalrius server. Yes, it was another vanilla-only private server, yes, it was player-supported, and yes, it got shut down before it ever went to court. And thus we’re knee-deep in another back-and-forth argument about whether or not people want official vanilla servers.
If I have the air of someone who is a wee bit tired of this particular discussion, that’s because I am. It’s something that has been debated on and off for a long while, ironically dating back to just after The Burning Crusade released, and it’s always taken the form of “these illegal servers are popular, so make one legal!” But there’s no real way to ignore it, and it deserves a bit of discussion here.
Editor’s note: We’re sorry to report that Eliot appears to have fallen through some sort of wormhole when this column was due. Maybe a portal; it’s hard to be sure. We would go look for him, but he’s a big guy and can probably take care of himself. Heck, he’s probably back already as if nothing ever happened by the time you’re reading this, and even if he’s not, we’re pretty sure it’s fine.
His unexpected portal trip did leave us without a column today, but fortunately, due to convoluted events that don’t make a whole lot of sense, we were able to use the same portal-thingy to steal an alternate Eliot’s column about the history of World of Warcraft that is probably very similar to our own history. Or not. The point is that it’s legible and we’ve got something to read. Have fun!