Well, here we are again. A half opened packet of chips. One and a half empty beers, and the demonic green glow of my screen displaying my very own dark portal. Streams of fel energy swirling hypnotically into an endless void. Enticing me. Seducing me. Faintly whispering into my ear, begging me to come back. It is an unfortunately memorable sight. One I know all too well. One I tried so hard to forget. But, like all good addicts, here we are again.
The newest World of Warcraft expansion is upon us, this time entitled Legion. In this chapter, the Burning Legion is back with a vengeance. We first met the Burning Legion back in Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos in 2002 where, like all good bad guys, they invaded the lands of Azeroth trying to destroy every living, breathing entity in existence. In particular, an incredibly tall tree. We met them again in 2007 during the first World of Warcraft expansion aptly titled The Burning Crusade, alongside another long time protagonist in the World of Warcraft universe, the Demon Hunter Illidan Stormrage. The heroes of Azeroth take the fight to them in a realm called Outland to defeat the Burning Legion along with Illidan Stormrage, and claim ownership of their lands and resources. Sound familiar?
Now it’s 2016, and in true Dragon Ball Z fashion, the Legion are back and stronger than ever. The heroes of Azeroth deem the strength of the Burning Legion too great and have brought back a new anti-hero into the mix, the Demon Hunter. The class is based directly on Illidan Stormrage, whom happens to be the very first Demon Hunter. At the end of the Burning Crusade expansion, we left Illidan and his army of Demon Hunters for dead in whatever the Warcraft equivalent is for Azkaban. But this wouldn’t be a Blizzard game if the protagonist didn’t have a damn good back story, and this is exactly where you begin your journey as a Demon Hunter.
Starting with a flashback (and spoilers), the Demon Hunter’s tutorial quests are quite compelling. You’re a part of an elite squad of Demon Hunters sent on a suicide mission to a Legion prison world, called Mardum, in search of the Sargerite Keystone. Illidan believes this is the key (ha) to bringing an end to the Burning Legion. Eventually you successfully return, Sargerite Keystone in hand, only to be met by Azeroth’s inter dimensional police, The Watchers, and you are imprisoned for all eternity. This is where the flashback ends. So, the bad guys were secretly the good guys, but were imprisoned before they could be good guys. Fast forward to the present and the tutorial continues and concludes with you being released from Azkaban and begged to live up to your namesake (e.g. hunting demons). Unlike the unfortunate majority of the WoW questing model of ‘murder 15 demons and bring me their arms’, the tutorial quests flow quite well and are filled with more directional content. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still be murdering demons for their arms, but it never felt like a grind and you get to the point of your quests much faster.
You eventually end up back at your main faction city (in my case as a Blood Elf, Orgrimmar) and there you are greeted by a cut scene depicting the induction of the first female Warchief, Sylvanas Windrunner. Quite a nice progressive touch in a world so heavily dominated by Kings.
By the time I had finished the tutorial, I was in the last week of the pre-expansion event. Scattered throughout the continents of Azeroth, the Legion was invading, and boy was it fun!
The invasion transformed some of the original lower level areas into absolute warzones, replacing lions and boars with hundreds of demons. It was intense, and created an incredible experience, one that, unfortunately, doesn’t really translate the same way when experiencing World of Warcraft’s more structured group content. You see, the only way to counter hundreds of demons is with hundreds of players, and that’s exactly what happened. Hordes of players moved from point to point, annihilating the invading forces, completely ungrouped from one another, with next to no direction, in perfect harmony. It was beautiful.
I got sucked along for the ride and followed suit, participating wherever I could, pretending I knew where to go next but secretly just following the Orc in front of me. This went on for hours. It was refreshing. It was a rare moment where WOW truly shines; the ability to bring an absurd amount of people together to defeat something bigger than themselves.
But sadly, the invasion came to an end, the expansion began, and I immediately discovered something extremely damning that I was not prepared for. Nothing has changed.
The expansion begins quite dramatically. You’re sent on a bit of a wild goose chase across Azeroth with Warcraft’s very own Gandalf, Archmage Khadgar, in search of information to help gain an edge over the seemingly hopeless situation you have found yourself in. Eventually you end up meeting a dwarf made of diamond who informs you that the planet you inhabit is in fact a titan (an old god) and the only way to stop impending doom is to acquire the Pillars of Creation. You know, just another day in Azeroth. The diamond dwarf tells us these Pillars of Creation are on a newly discovered continent, The Broken Isles, situated oddly in the middle of the four currently discovered continents in Azeroth. It always fascinates me how advanced the people of Azeroth are with magic and engineering, but they can’t seem to save themselves when it comes to geography and cartography. But I digress. With information in hand, Archmage Khadgar and a few other unmemorable mages combine their power and transport their floating city to the Broken Isles. Because, why not?
The most obvious new feature of the Legion expansion comes in the form of Artifact Weapons. You earn your weapon from a string of quests that really make you feel like you worked for it. These weapons are unique to the expansion and evolve with your character, powering them up with consumables earned predominantly through quest rewards. Each class has access to three Artifact Weapons, one for each specialisation of that class (excluding the Demon Hunter who only has two specialisations). Now initially, this seems wonderful. The moment you walk in, you’re given the best weapon you’ll ever have, or ever need. If this were a single player RPG, then I would agree and say, it’s wonderful. But once you add MMO in front of RPG, things change. When you see every Demon Hunter in the game wielding the same weapon, your weapon, it loses its value very quickly.
That’s something that has always existed in WoW, but not on a scale like this. In previous generations of World of Warcraft, what weapon you wielded truly indicated how big and bad of a mother fucker you had killed to get it. Seeing a Warrior walking around with an original Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros or Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker or a Rogue with a Predition’s Blade, you knew the magnitude of that achievement. Now, if my warglaives are a different colour to your warglaives, it just means I’ve spent less time on Tinder than you. And to top it off, these are the only weapons you can get in the expansion. As special as these Artifact Weapons are, they don’t actually feel special.
What feels equally unspecial is the questing. Now don’t get me wrong, the narrative is strong with this one, but the questing hasn’t changed. About half way through the third zone of High Mountain, the pattern became clear. Breadcrumb quest leading to a new area. Hand in that quest to be rewarded with three more quests. Then complete those three quests to be rewarded with more breadcrumbs. Rinse and repeat. As soon as the veil had been lifted, it became painfully noticeable.
Another issue I had was the tail end of the main story arc. At max level you start to help a faction called the Nightfallen. They are a group of elves who have been outcast by their brethren, the Nightborn, for disagreeing to an alliance with the Burning Legion. The Nightborn have become dependent on the energy of a device called the Nightwell, and the outcast Nightfallen no longer have access to the well. If the Nightborn don’t get a taste of arcane energy from the Nightwell, they eventually regress into taller, mindless versions of Gollum, called Withered. But this is where you intervene, and become Azeroth’s first drug dealer. All of the quests related to the Nightfallen are about covertly smuggling wine and crystal to the Nightfallen to not only fuel themselves, but also their civil war. Certain NPCs at the Nightfallen base won’t communicate with you unless you literally give them a hit of arcane.
But for all of the niceties that tend to come with being a drug dealer, your progression with the Nightfallen is painfully slow. So much so, that the main story can’t progress until you’ve hit a certain reputation level to unlock the next array of quests. And the quests that you need to level up your reputation are time locked anywhere between one to three days. One of the main quests to level your reputation is called Withered Army Training where you command a group of Withered (four to twenty) to roam around and fight for you, while recruiting more Withered along the way. So not only are you a drug dealer, you’re also a gang leader ordering addicts who have lost their minds to throw rocks at your enemies.
And here’s the clincher. All of that aside, it’s just a wonderful, beautiful, immersive game. Sure it was repetitive, but that’s what World of Warcraft is. When you realise Blizzard have spent 12 years refining this game, you can’t help but appreciate how polished it is. Even adding time locking quests to increase the longevity of the end game, as much as I hate it, is genius. It’s something you can only get away with by having 12 years of content and updates behind you to fill in the gaps. I have clocked over an embarrassing 3000 hours total play time in WoW, and although most of that was a long, long time ago, I still come back for every expansion, to chase that feeling of being a part of this universe. Blizzard is my drug dealer, and as much as I hate to say it, I’m hooked.