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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.