The Road to the Emerald Nightmare

Posted on September 24, 2016 by Kaylan Heineman

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.

Image result for Emerald Nightmare raid

Screenshot courtesy of

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.

Image result for class trial pic world of warcraft

Screenshot courtesy of


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.

This happens entirely too often in Suramar...

This happens entirely too often in Suramar…

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!wowscrnshot_092316_153046

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.


Demon Hunters—Going Back to the Future

Posted on August 16, 2016 by Kaylan Heineman

Alright, before we get to my analysis let me make something super clear—I went into playing the new World of Warcraft Hero class, the Demon Hunter, with the expectations and excitement of a girl who grew up playing the game since Vanilla (The years of the game between its debut in 2004 to the advent of its first expansion, The Burning Crusade, for those not necessarily super WoW-savvy) and its prior games, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/Frozen Throne, rendering me something of a Lore Queen, if you will.

In simpler terms, I had VERY high expectations from Blizzard Entertainment’s development team to treat the perspective and lore of the Illidari, Illidan Stormrage’s clan of Demon Hunters who have harnessed the fel energies of the Twisting Nether with delicate, respectful care. These are heroes who sacrificed everything they hold dear to harness the power of the Fallen Titan Sargeras’ army – the Burning Legion – with the express intent to destroy their forces. As such, Demon Hunters deserve to be treated with the grace, fire, determination, and noble sense of sacrifice for the greater good that they have demonstrated countless times.WoWScrnShot_081616_012247


Exposition aside, I have decided to outline the tone I got from WoW’s upcoming expansion, Legion, seen from the eyes (well, not really—look up Demon Hunters. You’ll see what I mean) with the noble attempt of preventing as many spoilers as conceivably possible. That said, I am going to put a mild spoiler warning for this article. If you want to preserve the many surprises and shocks this content contains, thank you for your time, but this article is not for you.

For those of you big on the nitty gritty of its functionality, you are in for a treat. The Demon Hunter is a fantastic class—it is a robust tank/melee-DPS hybrid class with oodles of health but a fast-paced, frenetic style of gameplay. It is very much a class that demands quick reaction and prioritization skills as the rotation itself can be demanding and with little “wiggle room”.

Those of you used to playing Rogues and Warriors will feel right at home with the Demon Hunter with the up-front-and-personal style of attacks and some devastating AoE damage as the grand finale.  The class is a surprisingly good introduction to melee DPS and tanking, for those of us who prefer the “squishier” classes, namely the spellcasters who are often referred to as “glass cannons” that require a more composed, distant strategy of combat.  Personally, I have always played a Warlock as my main, so it was definitely a culture shock, so to speak. At first, I felt it was fresh and new but it seemed eerily familiar. After a little raid into my memory banks, if you would pardon the awful in-joke, I realized that the Demon Hunter, with a few tweaks, is just like the Fury spec Warrior from times long past with a certain Rogue-ish flair that leads to a relentless kind of agility (fitting as it is the DH’s primary stat) which will bring a smile to the faces of gamers who want a more League of Legends-styled pace in their rotation.


Perhaps the hallmark of the Demon Hunter is the mobility—the DH is officially THE most mobile class in the game, outstripping the vaunted Warriors by a fair margin on all fronts. It introduces an age-old game mechanic those of us raised in the 90’s fondly remember: the double jump. Because of the demon wings, this class is able to make an easily-controlled second jump and even glide without any external assistance for quite some time. This alone fundamentally alters how you play a character in World of Warcraft; where you once had to frustratedly attack your space bar to inch your way up Azeroth’s many slopes, you are now easily able to scale virtually any surface. It felt to me much like the first time using a flying mount during The Burning Crusade in that the world truly opens up. Side-note—take care where you decide to glide, lest you float lazily and inexorably toward a World Boss or an instant-kill off the map. Many embarrassing treks to my corpse came from comprehensively exploring the new mobility.WoWScrnShot_081616_010355

Furthermore, part of your rotation involves rushing in and dashing away in a hit-and-run style, never sticking to one enemy for very long. This makes Demon Hunters invaluable to add-heavy situations within the dungeons and raids for crowd-control and damage mitigation to the tank and the casters. I often referred to Demon Hunters as the guardian angels of the squishy classes because of the wealth of interrupts and counters you wield and the ability to save them at the last second. Many healers have praised me quite vocally for saving their hides with a quick intervention. Veterans, take note—The Shrine of the Fallen Warrior is now easy as pie to get to should you wish to make a pilgrimage to this hidden gem in the Barrens.

Owing to my limited experience with melee DPS classes, I had a tiny learning curve which was soon resolved by the excellent pacing of the starter zone; a miserable, shattered world called Mardum, which holds a certain artifact essential to Illidan’s greater plans. You are one of his most trusted lieutenants charged with the recovery of this artifact while Illidan himself dealt with the “pests” storming his stronghold, the Black Temple. Without revealing too much, you will rethink the noble stand against Illidan heroes made back in 2007 and question its repercussions. The mood alone of the area is bleak, desperate and full of adrenaline, mixed with slack-jawed wonder at the gorgeous vistas of this broken world. Once again, it is definitely a throwback to The Burning Crusade in giving players expansive, alien worlds to just observe and get lost in. With the exception of the first hour of breaking in the character, there will be very few unnecessary trips to the Spirit Healer as the difficulty scaling is spot-on in the entire starting zone. You will feel pulled along with the plot and will feel like you just blinked and you were already thrust into the Broken Isles while simultaneously feeling confident in your abilities for the more difficult content ahead. Bravo, Blizzard—you finally made a “just right” intro zone for a class and race.

Screenshot by Tamsin Skye Heineman on Legion Beta Server 1

Screenshot by Tamsin Skye Heineman on Legion Beta Server 1

In this vein, I feel that the Demon Hunter is a symbol for the overall theme of the expansion—relentlessness in the face of an infinite enemy and impossible odds—with an additional, far subtler message to its legion (pardon the pun) of roughly 11 million subscribers worldwide. That message is this—Blizzard has heard the cries from its veteran, hardcore players for a return to the more complex, nuanced gameplay that had a much stiffer difficulty curve. At the same time, however, they also acknowledge the many newcomers to the world of Azeroth in the wake of Lionsgate Entertainment’s feature film, Warcraft, based on the events of the First War in Azeroth’s past (telling the events of Blizzard’s first installment, Warcraft: Orcs and Humans).

They heavily streamlined the once-clunky and cluttered interface and simplified the skills, talents, and general gameplay to improve its accessibility. Hardcore players seeking a challenge, fret not. In the vein of the classic board game, Stratego, it is easy to learn, but difficult to master. You will find surprisingly nuanced rotations and stat work that will keep you experimenting to maximize your effectiveness against Azeroth’s many challenging enemies. In that same topic, the many dungeons and raids in this expansion WILL test your mettle. Veterans will find the return of crowd control, interrupts, area denial, and many more classic elements that we all missed a welcome addition. Newcomers, worry not—it is a very accessible, easy to pick up the game now. You will be sucked in and challenged at every turn, but believe me, you’ll be too busy having a blast to care.WoWScrnShot_081616_011348

Returning to the Demon Hunters, you will find many nods to the rich history in game and out of the gold standard for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs or MMO’s for short) rewarding and a distinct sense of nostalgia and they will still be surprised at the many twists that will revisit some old assumptions that may not necessarily be all correct. The Demon Hunters, much like the previous Hero Class, the Death Knight, are treated at arm’s length at first, but their perspective and skills quickly prove the Illidari’s worth in surplus as hidden threats are revealed and dealt with. Looking to the past for lessons becomes the Illidari’s first mission as they seek to gain the good will of the rest of Azeroth during the Burning Legion’s massive assault on the Broken Isles. From there, unlike with the Death Knights, these fel-infused warriors are granted a surprisingly warm reception by the general Azerothian populace. This means fewer nasty stares and emotes over the course of the expansion and an altogether better integration into the overarching plot. This was something that was only made just right in the last patch of Wrath of the Lich King as far as making the DK’s key players in the plot.

Keeping with the continued theme of revisiting the past to secure the future, the entire path of the core plots (Yes, multiple major plots go down simultaneously in this expansion.) is a constant revisit to areas of the past with keys to saving Azeroth. The Broken Isles—the last remnants of the vast Highborne civilization after the Sundering, which broke Azeroth from a Pangaea-like continent named Kalimdor into the familiar continents of today—offer keys to the true destruction of the infinite Legion and a lasting security of the peoples of Azeroth. As a Demon Hunter, you become intimately immersed in the rich lore of the starkly different regions of the Isles and serve as the lynchpin and the silent protectors of the other forces seeking Azeroth’s deliverance. While helping all the different people suffering under the thumb of the Legion, your true aim never wavers—the destruction of the Legion and the rescue of the Illidari’s leader and namesake, Illidan Stormrage. I will not spoil any of the details but I will leave it at this: the Illidari’s quest against the Legion will expand your view of Blizzard’s Warcraft universe beyond anything you imagined.WoWScrnShot_081616_005859

Many of the characters long left behind will get new life (and death) as they return with their unique talents and experiences. Iconic characters such as Thrall, Malfurion Stormrage, the Demigod Cenarius, and indeed the remnants of the legendary Highborne will demonstrate just how insidious their enemy is and how their experience is our only real hope.  As they clung to life after the Sundering, the Highborne now serve the Legion under the new name the Nightborne. Whether or not their service to the Legion is authentic or not remains to be seen, but their society bears the last of the mysterious Titan artifacts the Shards of Creation which we are told bear the key to victory against the Legion. We will delve into the bloody history of Azeroth and face the lessons learned as we stand valiantly before an unending, sickly green inferno.

Perhaps my single favorite part of my investigation into the beta of Legion is the music. For the longest time, players have agreed that the gold standard for the expansion score has been its most successful expansion, The Wrath of the Lich King, for its soulful, dark, emotional score that near-perfectly captured the diverse continent of Northrend. That said, Lich King just got outdone—Legion has far and away the best soundtrack Blizzard Entertainment has EVER made. Better than Starcraft and Diablo and virtually all of the prior scores. I will admit, tears flowed at some of the pieces (in particular “Anduin” part 1 and 2) and I could not find a piece I didn’t adore and put on replay at least a few times. Back in Lich King, I would often fly up to the top of a peak in Dragonblight and sit there listening to the score because I loved it so much and the same thing has happened in several of the areas, particularly Suramar (once again, resisting the temptation to spoil things) and it reinforces the overall theme of the expansion. Going back to my original argument, it recycles some general themes from the previous several expansions (not to mention a healthy dose of Vanilla) and makes them brand new and engaging. To paraphrase one Jeff Lebowski, it ties the whole expansion together.

Legion is demonstrating just how rich, diverse and organic the lore of the Warcraft universe really is and telling the 11-million strong citizens of Azeroth that only by going back to the future can we secure a future for our world and indeed many more. My final judgment on the expansion from my experiences in the beta? Whether you are a newcomer or a hardcore veteran, you NEED to buy Legion and immediately roll a Demon Hunter. Trust me, you won’t regret it for a moment.


Get the latest articles and news from BrokenJoysticks and a selection of excellent articles from other sources.

Simply fill out the form below and you’ll be on your way to getting our upcoming newsletter.