The Road to the Emerald Nightmare: Questing, Leveling, and Gearing Before Legion’s First Raid
A great deal has happened since Blizzard Entertainment launched the 6th expansion to their perennial hit MMO, World of Warcraft titled Legion, on August 30, 2016. As someone who began her journey through Azeroth back in the ancient days of 2004, this has been a reawakening and revitalization of the online game’s content and gameplay and frankly I have not had this much fun in this game since Wrath of the Lich King sat on my desk in 2010. EVERYTHING has changed in this game in some manner or another, breathing new life into virtually every facet of the experience with the introduction of artifact weapons, a refined leveling experience, overhauls of basic game mechanics, a fantastic difficulty curve within its instances, the debut of their second hero class, the Demon Hunter, and many more appealing features (not to mention the best soundtrack since Lich King). Better yet, very little of it is a step backward as often happens with veteran MMO’s like WoW.
The first raid instance of the expansion is now live and I’m actively participating in the raid with my guild on Stormrage-US (Shout out to my “The Force” family!) as we try to be the first raid group on the server to conquer it, and it has been a heck of a journey thus far. I noticed a fair bit about what it is like to get my gear to the point where I won’t be a blue smear at the feet of Xavius and most of it is excellent, with a couple notable exceptions.
First off, leveling is a wonderfully engaging and enjoyable experience and not once did it feel like a burden, unlike previous expansions. Playing on a tradition started back in 2010, you are able to effectively choose where you start but unlike previous expansions, the entirety of the Broken Isles (with the exception of Suramar) is actually scaled to your level and item level as to avoid time-honored traditions like accidentally strolling through a zone 20 levels ahead of you and making many unfortunate treks back to your corpse as a direct result. Because of the tuning (which syncs with the lowest level member of your party), you have a greater degree of freedom in choosing your journey to level 110. What this means is that the narrative takes a surprisingly different turn as pieces of the greater plot weave together in a different pattern. This alone made it worth it for me to level my two alternative characters (“adults”) without groaning at the repetition—this is absolutely revolutionary for WoW as it encourages creating all the different classes and playing something you are not entirely familiar with.
In this vein, Blizzard managed to introduce a clever and effective means of bringing new players (or veterans trying a new class) up to speed without expecting 100 levels of suffering—you now get an option to make a “Class Trial” to which you are put in possession of a character at level 100 (the starting level for new content) and are thrust into a simple yet effective tutorial which teaches the basic dynamics of the class and specialization without sounding like a generic tutorial with no point—to sweeten the deal, you are given the opportunity to actually try out some of the new content with your freshly leveled character before committing to a class for the actual 100 levels. Sorry, folks, the grind is a pain, but with the new designs of everything from the landscape to the character models, it is a bit less tedious. I learned a thing or two about tanking from the tutorial when I gave it a try such as new approaches to my skill rotation, which skill works best for which situation and refreshed me on the basics—something that deeply surprised me and transferred to my existing tank character with better performance. That said, it would be nice to reward testers of new classes some kind of boost that does not cost 50 USD to purchase.
Once you hit 110, however, prepare to die a LOT. Suramar as it stands right now is extremely hostile to fresh 110’s who did not have the privilege of gearing up a bit prior to entering it. There is a quirk in the mobs in that area that live up to their nickname—you may aggro one enemy but rest assured all of his or her friends and relatives will back them up in the blink of an eye. It certainly informs you that you may have leveled, but you need to level up your skills in playing your class to survive. The game progression in Suramar is unique in that it is full of gatekeeping via reputation requirements and the general difficulty of the enemies—all of which serve to slow down the game to ensure that people like me are spared the burnout that comes with maxing things out and playing the waiting game for new content. Sometimes it feels as if there is too much to do, in fact, which is wildly different for me—I was honestly expecting to be twiddling my thumbs and gearing out of boredom. I was VERY pleasantly surprised to realize I was enjoying the endgame content thoroughly and enthusiastically.
One of the reasons the leveling and endgame content so engaging is the story is the finest Blizzard has written and performed to date. I often jokingly say this expansion was co-written by George R.R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) because of the incredible amount of tragedy that befalls the main characters (and the player) and the heart-wrenching performances augmented by the hands-down BEST score of World of Warcraft. The two elements merge into the emotional equivalent of an episode of Supernatural merged with a season finale of Game of Thrones—in fact, any time the game switches into a cut scene, do yourselves a favor and keep a box of tissues handy. The emotional investment I made in the game is on par with a Final Fantasy title to the point where I frequently cheered, laughed, cried and screamed in rage—something that never happened before in any of the thousands of games I have played over my career. Bravo, Blizzard, you made a grown woman cry like a teenager.
The soundtrack is something I often remark on but its role in the game’s atmosphere is undeniable and powerful. Whether it is a race to save an ally, mourning over an NPC’s death, or simply riding through the countryside on your mount of choice, the soundtrack will set the mood perfectly. Without these songs, WoW wouldn’t be, well, WoW—Legion is no different. Many songs have fallen flat over the years or have just gotten stale (I’m looking at you, Ironforge…) but I have a feeling the Legion soundtrack will be among the timeless classics in-game. My current favorite song in the score has to be “Anduin”—it is a medley of thrilling rallying cries and funerary dirges with this distinct attitude of facing impossible odds, much as “Arthas, My Son” has become a fan favorite owing to its dirge-like, haunting melody that bursts into a relentless symphonic onslaught much as the Scourge was relentless and struck without warning.
The Demon Hunter is one of the most fun classes to play and fully deserves an article of its own—I plan to do a detailed analysis of the Demon Hunter in a separate article however I must speak on a few points. Currently, both specs (Havoc and Vengeance) are predictably overpowered—the tank spec virtually eliminates the need for a healer as the self-heals are ridiculous. PVPers now dread the presence of warglaives on the opposing side as the damage output is heads and shoulders above most others. That said, the feeling of invincibility is quite thrilling—being able to solo elite mobs with little more than paying attention to your rotation is fun but the luster fades after a bit. I would like to see Havoc Demon Hunters, in particular, to get nerfed as their damage output and tactical skills like stuns and interrupts makes for a less than pleasant PVP experience and unfortunately attracts a lot of people in it for the power trip, rendering dungeon instances of any measurable difficulty a crap shoot. Sometimes the DH knows what the -bleep- they’re doing, and sometimes they do the infamous noob faux-pas of standing in the fire without realizing they’re doing it at all. Mind you, this applies to many classes that are not quite so “idiot proof” but it is most glaringly obvious when someone who is in the highest gear category doesn’t know adds from aggro on a fight and proceeds to blame everyone else.
On that note, one thing has made life better for all of us thanks to Blizzard. They instituted a new silencing policy wherein if someone gets above a certain number of complaints on the grounds of harassment, language, inappropriate content or spam, they silence that character for a day. As an advocate in the LGBT+ community, this reminds me of the practice of “zucking” or falsely reporting with the intent to trigger an automatic ban. I foresee much of this occurring on the more politically charged servers, but it is at the moment doing its job and the 4chan-level trolls have been muzzled. Now if we could do the same with the Thunderfury and Harambe jokes, I’ll be a happy girl.
The endgame content is split up into several categories, most of the content being in major questlines such as your class hall (I’ll get to that in a moment) and the general campaign but a new spin on daily quests called “world quests” where you have the means to do certain tasks ranging from picking more of a herb to downing a world boss which are surprisingly fun and addictive. The added bonus is that on a daily structure (provided you unlock world quests by attaining friendly status with the primary factions within the Broken Isles) you can get an emissary chest and an artifact boosting consumable. Now, this may not seem like much, but I have had several guild members obtain legendary items from these chests. The rep boost is also very, very enjoyable and useful as the rep rewards ARE WORTH SOMETHING FOR ONCE!
Blizzard clearly put a great deal of thought and work into the latest addition to player characters—Artifact weapons. These weapons are often grounded considerably in the existing lore, such as Tirion Fordring’s legendary sword, Ashbringer or my favorite, Thrall’s own Doomhammer. What sets these weapons apart aside from looking INCREDIBLE is that they grow with you, using artifact power as a new leveling currency of sorts, with increasing minimum levels as you upgrade your weapon. As of right now, I do not have any of my artifact weapons fully upgraded but I have seen the devastation wrought by these fabled arms. In order to acquire an artifact weapon, you must first complete the Broken Shore scenario at level 100, then proceed on a breadcrumb quest chain opening up a sanctuary specifically for your class in some fantastical place, ranging from Valhalla (or as they call it, Halls of Valor) to the very heart of Northrend courtesy of the new Lich King, Bolvar Fordragon. The chain will surprise you as it puts YOU in the driver seat of the quest.
For the first time, I felt like a protagonist in-game with a lot of the tailored random lines spoken at me in major cities like Dalaran or Stormwind (or Orgrimmar/Undercity for you Horde folks) and something that made me extremely excited. Blizzard has been hounded for over a decade about revisiting old zones and instances to make them fresh. As a shaman, I am associated with the legendary Earthen Ring (the shamanic faction that has been around as long as the game has) and get the profound pleasure of not only revisiting Vashj’ir (which I originally detested but on the second pass began to grow on me), but Firelands, Deepholm and even the oft-neglected Throne of the Four Winds raid with the mission to bring about a union of the Elemental Lords in order to defend Azeroth to the best of their abilities. I will not go into detail in this article, but I could go on and on about how lovingly crafted the quests turn out to be. You are no longer a nameless hero or champion—you ARE the last hope of Azeroth and your actions dictate so much. It is refreshing to authentically feel a narrative in a game like this and Blizzard hits the mark.
Many asked me to sum up my opinion of Legion thus far. I am ecstatic to announce that Blizzard has finally gotten it right. After 3 successive “failures” as far as striking a chord with the 12 million subscribers, World of Warcraft has made a triumphant return to top form. With so much available to enjoy in just the first few weeks, Blizzard has finally hit that sweet spot in reviving their storied franchise. What a farewell gift from Chris Metzen—his finest performances and work.