WoW Factor: The World of Warcraft expansion tour – Legion

Herp to the derp.

Ah, good. This one is more fun than last week. As much as the latter half of World of Warcraft expansions heads into more bad than good territory, Legion is a fun expansion to talk about, even if… well, to a certain extent it feels unfair talking about it right now because it’s just too fresh.

The thing about retrospectives is that the more you move up to the present, the less retrospective space you actually have. People are looking back at Legion plenty right now because it’s literally the last expansion before our current trash fire, and so if you want to explain how and why the game is currently a clown car full of farts, there’s no better reference point than what it was like when things were good. It’s compounded because, well… who in the world is playing now who wasn’t playing when Legion was current?

But that doesn’t change the format I decided on for this series, and frankly it shouldn’t anyhow. So let’s dive into the last expansion that people actually liked, huh?

It's the final showdown.

Premise & setting

It’s time for the main event. Azeroth vs. the Burning Legion, one round, no decisions. One side will win and the other side will be dead.

Let’s face it, in the grand scheme of crowd-pleasing expansion ideas, this one was an obvious time bomb that could have been thrown it at any point. It could have been the first expansion. It could have replaced any existing expansion. It could have gone unused for another several expansions. The history of every single game in the franchise that had a plot worth caring about was literally with this plot humming in the background, the question of what happens when the demons stop using pawns and just invade outright.

And here’s the moment when it happened. Although that is, perhaps, a point of oddity because all of your questing and most of the actual fighting of the Legion was focused around the Broken Isles, when at least theoretically this would seem like a worldwide thing. That’s ultimately a minor problem, though; there’s enough familiar elements stuffed into the Broken Isles and enough peripheral worldhopping that it’s more like the traditional Blizzard problem than some failing of this particular expansion.

It's all gone to hell!

Major changes

Every single spec in the game redesigned. Another new class. And Artifacts. Yeah, this one had some big stuff right out of the gate.

After having been teased for years, Legion finally brought us the long-awaited Demon Hunters as the game’s first new Hero class since Death Knights were introduced, also cementing that Hero classes are like states of being more than just classes. Demon Hunters are the first class to have just two specializations, one for damage and one for tanking, and their kit was largely familiar to the abilities displayed by Illidan Stormrage and various other hunters across the game. Turn into a demon, glide on big wings, spin around and hack things, fire those stupid sexy eye beams.

Of course, Demon Hunters also had the advantage of slotting in when every spec got a major redesign. This prompted some controversy, but several specs like Enhancement Shaman and Subtlety Rogue had long been only half-functional for a long while, with an identity that no longer resembled the original conception. Other specs either had defining abilities that the developers wanted to move elsewhere (Demonology Warlock) or were just not differentiated enough in playstyle (Survival Hunter), prompting a top-down redesign of everything.

This was a controversial change even before the expansion released because… well, more changes. Suddenly your Survival Hunter was a melee combatant. Suddenly Enhancement didn’t really care about mana. Suddenly Combat Rogue was Outlaw Rogue and you had a whole pirate theme. A lot of these controversies were toned down once people actually played with the specs and found them to be lots of fun, but there was still that consternation.

Still, it also tied in with the game’s addition of artifacts, legendary weapons tied to each individual spec and providing a new form of customized talent tree for that particular spec. As you completed quests, hunted treasures, and killed elites, your artifact would level separately. (In fact, your artifact was the only thing that gained new abilities as you leveled, except for Demon Hunters.) While you would eventually unlock all of your artifact abilities, you had a choice of the route you took getting there, with a scaling boost to ensure that you could reach higher levels faster if you fell behind.

World Quests also served as the new form of daily content. Instead of just having daily quests to pick up and bring back, you would see quests across the map, with each day bringing a new Emissary that rewarded you for taking on several quests in a given zone. Each world quest offered useful rewards, and as a result you could get a lot of mileage out of just wandering and doing those even without an Emissary quest… but you got a lot more with emissaries.

Add in the Class Halls with their distinct storylines and a refinement of the Garrison follower system and the crafting streamline changes, and ultimately Legion had a big dose of fresh mechanics that addressed lots of the big problems Warlords of Draenor had right off the start.


Playerbase consensus

Everyone had something to complain about with Legion. I personally had lots to complain about with Legion. But it was generally more of the complaints with things that had long been problems with the game since, oh, around Cataclysm. Most of the complaints were not problems with the expansion itself, and when you actually got into the expansion that became pretty immediately clear.

The expansion had charming zone stories. It made Artifacts feel vital and fun, especially with random little specialized traits to individual weapons (like how Ashbringer would sometimes just instantly kill undead). It had a good aesthetic. It delivered on a fun celebration of the game’s history, with callbacks and improvements and stuff to reminisce about. It was, above all else, fun.

Yes, it could have been better. But unlike Mists of Pandaria, it didn’t have to win people over from a premise that alienated anyone. Instead, people were all in from the start, and the result was that a lot of people were happy and enjoying it right form the start. It had also shed the old design elements that Mists seemed to have kept around largely out of momentum, leaving you with an expansion that felt more sure of its identity instead of being an apology for the last expansion underperforming.

That’s not to imply it was without controversy or was an unreserved slam dunk. Heck, the spec controversies alone were an issue; even if Demonology players ultimately had fun with the new playstyle, there was always going to be that faint frustration about losing Metamorphosis. And even if the argument for that change was correct, it was something being changed long after people had gotten used to the weirdness at play.

But ultimately, people really liked Legion. Some people even liked it more than Wrath of the Lich King. That’s not a sentiment I agree with, but it at least makes sense.

Also, this stuff.

A wanted Classic experience?

It is… kind of too early to be sure about this. After all, we wouldn’t be getting a Classic server for this until 2029 at the earliest based on those old predictions, and that’s assuming that no one even bothered with a server for Warlords. This would be the sensible choice because Warlords is the worst expansion save… uh… gosh, this is going to be depressing next week, huh? It’s going to be depressing.

Anyhow, Legion is another one where I wonder if by the time it would come up, we won’t either be living in the game’s twilight or have seen all of its best elements subsumed into newer improvements. Unlike earlier expansions, most of the game mechanics from here are not major sea changes, and so it feels less… vital as a Classic experience.

Yet at the same time… some of that is proximity. I’m willing to bet that if we stop getting followers for missions and reputation grinds and such, people would be more inclined to look back at Legion fondly. And even beyond that, there were a lot of things about the experience of going through Legion for the first time that were delightful, that people would be happy to take back once again.

So let’s stick this one in the definite maybe pile. But if the answer is no, it’s certainly not for lack of love.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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