Tuesday brought along a big surprise for me in the form of access to the Legion alpha test. I had pretty much resigned myself to living off of datamined information, so you can imagine that this came as something of a shock. Since then, I’ve spent as much time as possible (which is probably less than you think) working my way through the alpha, killing various enemies, playing with artifact weapons, and loving the heck out of Demon Hunter.
Spoiler warning: I like Demon Hunters. Who’d have guessed? Not me, that’s for sure.
I have not, unfortunately, had time to do a deep dive into everything available in the current test build. I’ll be doing my best to do exactly that over the days, weeks, and months to come, so look forward to that, but I don’t have it all ready to go right this moment. That having been said, and considering that this is the big thing to talk about for World of Warcraft fans at the moment… what’s it like?
Demon Hunters are cooler than you think
Despite my best efforts, I don’t think I’m ever going to understand why people have nice things to say about Illidan Stormrage. The guy’s a jerk, he looks like a tool, he acts like a tool, and he’s just plain boring. That’s part of the reason I had never had much need for Demon Hunters as a class: It was being built on the foundation of a particularly boring lore character, so what did I care about the its presence or lack thereof?
Turns out I really like Demon Hunters, though. And it’s not just the double-jump-glide maneuvering, although that in and of itself is pretty fun to do. I’m a sucker for happy mobility tricks like that.
Each of the new classes added to World of Warcraft after launch has demonstrated an understanding of the game’s systems and found new niches to build into. Demon Hunters, in some ways, feel like a throwback to earlier class designs, with no reliable methods for healing and an unrelenting focus on breaking things down; they also feel very novel with their movement skills. There’s a real sense of abandon with playing one, which is thematically appropriate.
Their talents do feel a wee bit lackluster at the moment, but that’s kind of to be expected; they’re the new kids, after all. On the whole, I’m very fond of the class and look forward to its final version.
The redone classes are remarkably solid
Of course, it’s easy to make the totally new class feel really cool and novel. It’s harder to make old standbys feel equally new. And there are a lot of changes being leveled at the specs in the game, with the new Artifacts, the mechanical changes, the talent changes, and so forth.
I’m happy to report that at the very least, the classes that I’ve played so far have weathered the change wonderfully. I cannot speak universally, but I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that it’s not just limited to my favorites, like the Shaman. Enhancement in particular still feels very much like Enhancement – more than it has in a while, I’d argue – while at the same time being refocused to have a new set of abilities and a renewed focus upon the core ideal.
A lot of this feels like the payoff for the haphazard work done in Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor; all of the foundational aspects and alterations from those expansions are finally brought to the forefront of class design. That’s kind of unpleasant to think about – no one should be waiting through two expansions to get to one where that work finally pays off – but I do feel as if some of the paring down was meant as a preamble.
Or perhaps the state of classes in those expansions just makes me very appreciative of how they feel now. I don’t know.
I need more time to explore for sure, never mind the specs that aren’t even playable in the game just yet. But while I’ve been on-board with the redesigns since before the class previews, seeing them in play confirms that this worked out pretty well. Moment-to-moment play is fun and engaging, and that’s the most important part, isn’t it?
It’s still indisputably World of Warcraft (and kind of slow)
Playing around in the new areas, I haven’t really had a chance to notice the level scaling in earnest yet. Part of that, though, is just because the leveling is not exactly swift. One might even call it gradual. If I had to pick a point of comparison, I’d point to leveling in Cataclysm… despite the fact that this expansion is adding a full 10 levels to the cap.
The designers have really fallen in love with the open-world style of questing that Warlords of Draenor used, with various objectives contributing to overall progress. This is a good thing, but the quests still seem a bit oddly tuned: It feels like they’re meant to be things you grind out as endgame activities, not something to hammer through as you’re working your way through another set of objectives. Hopefully, they’ll be further tuned.
Thus far I haven’t encountered much in the way of quest design that really makes me sit up and take notice, for good or bad. While the open-world-ish questing is a bit more novel, the overall feel is not too dissimilar from Warlords. That’s not a bad thing, considering that Warlords had great leveling flow, but when combined with the slow speed, it does feel a bit like things are getting overly padded. Certainly leveling feels slower than it does in the current expansion, even when disregarding things like heirlooms.
Of course, that can be trimmed up. And I suspect the designers have the time.
This is totally an alpha
Yep, it’s an alpha. A real alpha. Textures are missing. Construction signs are rampant. Several major cutscenes are not in place. Talents are not in place. Ability descriptions are not in place. Music is missing from several maps. The minimap and continental map are not yet working in various locales. Things are clearly listed as placeholders. That’s not even counting elements like the missing specs or the lack of the top level, which is already well-known.
Just last week I was talking about how there’s reason to give careful consideration to the semantics of this test. That is still important, especially when one considers that the semantics over “well, this might as well be beta” are misplaced. This really does constitute either a late alpha build or a very early beta build. “Feature-complete” would be an inaccurate description for the expansion as it exists now.
Frankly, if you asked me how long the expansion was going to take based on its current state, I would say that September was being a bit aggressive. So take that with the obligatory grains of salt.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to email@example.com. Next time around, I have a column planned discussing positivity, affection, reality, and all of that stuff; after that, I’m going to be continuing to discuss the state of the test in more detail.