Why World of Warcraft: Legion might mark a triumphant return to form

Could Legion be the expansion that World of Warcraft needs to get back on track?

Blizzcon is here once again, meaning hype, hype, and more hype for Blizzard fans, especially with the new World of Warcraft expansion Legion on the way, with hordes (pun intended) of old faces in a new, yet familiar, world. 

Just recently, Blizzcon hosted a content overview panel, where Blizzard discussed some of the core features and details in their latest expansion. And from the looks of it? This is one to look forward to.

Of course, Blizzard is great at drumming up excitement - they have an entire convention dedicated to it each year. But there are a number of reasons why Legion might be a sign of Blizzard stepping up its game after the subscription crash that came with Warlords of Draenor.

Here are some of the reasons Legion has a chance to bring Warcraft back in a big way.

The Graphical Overhaul from Warlords is here to stay.

This was actually one of the key points of Warlords of Draenor: new models, new assets, new everything from an aesthetic standpoint, particularly on the part of characters, making them more expressive and detailed. 

Unfortunately for Warlords of Draenor, it seems a few too many resources were sunk into these graphic overhauls, and the rest of the expansion may have seen some content cuts because of it.

However, now that Blizzard has the new models, they're there forever, and that means more time to spend on actual content creation with stunning new assets that make World of Warcraft a far more graphically appealing game.

The Setting

The last two World of Warcraft expansions have been a little, well, weird. Mists of Pandaria was refreshing in a way, as exploring the foreign continent of Pandaria offered a totally new world within the Warcraft universe. But at the same time, a lot of the areas and characters were too new, and were obviously never going to be revisited. (Whatever happened to Chen Stormstout?)

Mists created a bit of a disconnect in World of Warcraft. The first three expansions had iconic foes: the Burning Legion, the Lich King, and Deathwing. The shift to Pandaria was a little strange after Blizzard let us tear through some of Warcraft's most significant villains. And then, to move from Pandaria to an alternate timeline of a world we had already visited? Warlords of Draenor seemed like a downright bizarre choice.

Now, however, we are seeing a bit of a return-to-form: a familiar foe in an unfamiliar setting. And that's the best of both worlds.

The return of the Legion means Blizzard can keep foes fresh by adding new demons to their monstrous menagerie while at the same time giving players a familiar enemy to face. 

And the new zone in which the story of Legion takes place, The Broken Isles, is part new, part old. A place explored in World of Warcraft only in name, but there is a familiarity to the foes that populate this place: the Burning Legion, the Emerald Nightmare, Queen Azshara, all names and faces that any Warcraft player worth his salt is familiar with. And this is what Mists of Pandaria and the first half of Warlords of Draenor were lacking: direction and familiarity. 

Now, though, we're going to see the lore-rich Suramar, the ancient night elf capital city, referenced in both the Warcraft novels and visited in Warcraft III, and surrounding, unexplored areas like Highmountain, Stormheim, and Val'Sharah. These areas, combined with returning contenders like Gul'Dan and fan-favorite Illidan Stormrage, provide players with a little of the new and a little of the old, creating the perfect blend that keeps the world (of Warcraft) fresh while at the same time distinctly Warcraftian. 

The Mechanics

All of this might be for naught if not for the mechanics, the crunch of the game, but what Blizzard is offering in Legion makes it seem like one of the most promising expansions yet. 

For one: Demon HuntersFinally

One of the tricks Blizzard has had up their sleeves for the longest time. Just like Death Knights, Warcraft players have always wanted to be bat-winged, blindfold-wearing, warglaive-wielding demon killers. And now, Blizzard is letting Legion players begin their demon hunter journey on the Legion-infested prison world of Mardum, where they will go on to "steal power" from the Legion before joining the Alliance or Horde.

Artifacts, too, are offering players a new form of progression, and that's great. Once you hit the post-leveling wall in World of Warcraft, the world starts to feel a little empty, and exploring is quickly superseded by queuing for dungeons and joining up for raids. With story quest chains being the new norm in each zone, once those are completed, it feels as if the world has been put on pause until the next patch, with your character's power level being only directly related to how good your gear is.

While that's still going to be the case for the most part (this is World of Warcraft after all), having a post level-cap progression system tied directly to your weapon is a great idea, and unlike the infamous garrison system of Warlords, this is something that gets you out into the world. You need to get out there and complete objectives to earn "artifact power," which will make your weapon stronger so your character can become more powerful - and that is definitely compelling in an MMO, even if it is a little strange that every other paladin you meet will be wielding The Ashbringer.

You can see a list of artifacts each class and specialization will be receiving here.

Getting out into the world has always been a player priority in World of Warcraft, which is why Warlords of Draenor has had so many complaints leveled against its core feature: the garrison. Fortunately, not only will powering up your artifact get you out into the world, how you progress through the game is something that Blizzard has been taking a look at.

During the panel, Blizzard made the claim that: "The team wants to overwhelm you with variety and choices." And when I mentioned the world in Warcraft feeling a little empty in the post-game, well, Blizzard is looking to change just that:

"Legion will have ongoing world quests that are constantly changing. Varied reasons, gameplay, and rewards."

Of course, questing out in the world is nice, but that doesn't mean instances should be shelved. Far from it!

Dungeons have always been tricky in World of Warcraft. If they get too easy, but still have rewards, they become a grindy slog. If they become irrelevant, all of the effort Blizzard put into them suddenly collapses, and players are left wondering why they even bothered to make so many of them in the first place.

Warlords of Draenor suffered from the latter problem, and this is a huge deal, because ever since the dawn of World of Warcraft, one of the biggest pulls has always been the dungeons, and the challenge of clearing those dungeons has added to replayability and given a reason for players to log in every single day, because joining up for the chance at loot, rewards, and a challenging fight, is really one of the biggest reasons that MMOs have continued to survive for so long.

Luckily, Blizzard is ready this time, and they have specifically addressed the idea of dungeons as endgame content.

How will there be variation? How could dungeons possibly remain difficult and rewarding as gear makes players stronger and stronger? Well, Blizzard is upping their game and adding a new, more difficult mode to their dungeons, a revamped version of challenge mode.

The panelists describe challenge mode dungeons as a "genuine alternate path to raiding," with players receiving a "jackpot" at the end of each week for the most difficult version of a dungeon they cleared. Players will have to go out into the world to find "Challenger Keystones," blending exploration and dungeons to create a player progression system. These keystones will have "a power level that determines the dungeon difficulty and reward. Higher levels of it will have some additional modifiers." The best part, it seems that these keystones will grant enemies random abilities.

Perhaps most exciting, this challenge mode "will complement raiding or even replace it for you entirely depending on what you choose," meaning you and four other friends can party up and progress without having to go through the rigors of finding a guild and setting up the perfect schedule. 

Will Blizzard be able to deliver? Is Blizzard just telling us what we want to hear? It's impossible to say at this point in time, but if Legion is what it's being hyped up to be, we might be seeing the triumphant return of the world's most popular MMORPG.

Published Nov. 7th 2015
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