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Thoughts on World of Warcraft: Legion

World of Warcraft: Legion takes World of Warcraft in a direction that is both a surprise, yet at the same time, completely expected.

On August 6th Blizzard announced World of Warcraft's sixth expansion World of Warcraft: Legion. There is some promising stuff that came out of the announcement for Legion. But, I can't shake the feeling that Blizzard are grasping at straws at this point.

If you just want to read about all the new features you can do here. I'll be looking at some of those features in depth adding my thoughts. I'm also going to briefly touch on why the game is in its current state, and how Legion could help or even hinder the game.

Subscriber Numbers

Subscriber numbers are a big deal. World of Warcraft's (WoW) are in a bad state at the moment, no matter how much Blizzard say otherwise. Just the other week Blizzard released the subscriber numbers for WoW. It showed the game is now at 5.6m subscribers, its lowest point since Vanilla WoW in December 2005. The game was at its highest near the end of 2010 with 12m subscribers.

In terms of subscribers it's no surprise Blizzard have announced an expansion this early. They even stated the beta will be this year. Warlords of Draenor had a great start for sure, but their big feature Garrisons became a chore. The content on offer in WoD was way below par when compared to earlier expansions.

When you look at the graph (from MMO-Champion) you can see the gradual decline since the end of Wrath of the Lich King. It reflects the notion that each expansion is progressively worse than the last.

In a previous article, I stated that WoW couldn't be "killed" by another MMO. Players kept insisting this with every triple A MMO release that came and went. Sure they would take a chunk of players for a bit but the vast majority would come back to WoW.

I said that WoW would "kill" itself over time and it is doing just that. This is primarily caused by the formidable content droughts at the end of recent expansions. Look at Lich King which had 16 dungeons and 9 raids in comparison to Warlords which had 8 dungeons and 3 raids.

It scares me that Hellfire Citadel is the last we’re getting for Warlords. Luckily it seems the wait won’t be as long as Siege of Orgrimmar where we waited 1 year 2 months before Warlords. Blizzard themselves even described the gap between Siege and Warlords as “unacceptably long”.

Grasping at Straws

World of Warcraft: Legion sees the return of two large successes in previous expansions. Illidan, the villain from The Burning Crusade is back. So is Dalaran from Wrath of the Lich King as players' central city hub.

What I mean by grasping at straws is you get the feeling Blizzard are going back to what worked before. "Players liked Illidan? Let's bring him back" "Players liked Dalaran? Let's bring it back". A sense of "Remember when the game was great? We can do it again honest. Please come back." Blizzard is playing with nostalgia.

Nostalgia was a big part of Warlords of Draenor. Blizzard brought old characters back through alternate dimensions... Or something (the lore is just, I don't even know anymore). With Legion, it's more jamming it down your throat. Reminding you of the good times.

Maybe it'll be like a reboot or a sequel that's never as good as the original. From the outside, it's essentially World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade 2. This time it's personal!

Promising Features

Some of the features Blizzard revealed though do look good. Which features will stay though? Blizzard tends to remove features leading up to an expansion's release. They also reverse decisions (like the infamous Karabor and Bladespire turn around in WoD). So, start placing your bets. What stays? What goes?

There were prominent features shown off for Legion. A new hero class, the melee focused Demon Hunters. Class order halls including the weapon artifacts for each spec. And PvP "Version 3", overhauling rewards for PvP players.

Demon Hunters

There’s always both excitement and trepidation when Blizzard unveil a new hero class. It’s great to have another class to play as and try out, but there is often problems with associated with them. Hero classes usually start off overpowered, receiving a lot of tinkering throughout their expansion. This is a problem for those using said hero class as their “main” with the constant changes. Eventually, the class becomes neglected and the desire to play them dwindles.

Look at Monks for example. According to realmpop.com, Out of 4.6 million level 100 characters on EU, 5.6% or 261, 508 are Monks. To compare that with another class 13.2% (613, 990) are Hunters. Monks are currently the least played class at level 100.

With Demon Hunters Blizzard have taken an interesting turn. Demon Hunters will have only two specs: Havoc and Vengeance. The latter being the class' tanking spec. It'll be the only class to have two specs, they said that a third spec would dilute the identity of the class too much. The playable races for Demon Hunters will be Night Elves and Blood Elves.

 

Havoc DPS   

Vengeance Tank

Blizzard is selling Demon Hunters as agile, dual wielding glaives similar to Illidan. They will have a double jump, as shown off by Blizzard during the reveal. They showed a small clip of what combat as would feel like as a Demon Hunter, showing some abilities they may have.

For me, a hero class can help spice up the game, throwing something else into the mix. But after awhile there is always disdain for a hero class. They look a lot of fun and their design is appealing. If you're not interested in playing Demon Hunter that's fine because everyone else will. Also, Rogues, it's another class for you to fight with over gear.

Artifacts

The Artifacts are weapons that you will level up throughout the expansion. There are 36 artifacts, 1 for each spec, each with extra cosmetic looks that you can unlock. Artifacts will have something lore based to do with your class. Enhancement Shamans getting Doomhammer or Retribution Paladins getting Ashbringer for example. How the players will get these weapons were not expanded on, neither was all 36 Artifacts. Blizzard used Frost Death Knights heading to Icecrown retrieving pieces of Frostmourne as an example.

You gain Artifact power by completing quest lines, dungeons, battlegrounds etc. You then spend the power at you Class Order hall on traits. The trait tree is overlaid on the weapons shape when you upgrade it. It almost reminds me of the aesthetic of the old talent trees once in the game.

I hope Artifacts and Class halls don't split the player base too much. The Class Order Halls will be somewhere you visit less than you Garrison. You'll do quests, upgrade your artifact and use an evolved Garrison follower system, Champions. So hopefully the separation will happen at the beginning then infrequently throughout leveling.

I foresee raids through trade chat becoming a problem “Must have maxed out Artifact.” Also, certain specs get a certain weapon, this will affect playstyle. Frost Death Knights will now dual wield as their Artifact is two runeblades. Frost will now focus on dual wielding and Unholy will focus on two-hand weapons. It’s going to be odd seeing every spec all using the exact same weapon, with a few customised looks. Which is why I think it could grow stale, especially as you lead the class order because of your weapon. Yet, look around you and 10 other players are wielding it as well.

PvP “Version 3”

I myself have never been a fan of PvP, at all. I’ve never enjoyed it but remember when you needed full PvP gear before you could do anything max level. Once players were acquring full PvP gear just "giving it a bash" resulted in you getting bashed.

PvP v.3 just seems to rid of PvP gear completely. In its place is a talent system. Yes, another talent system. So if you play PvP you’ll have your base talents, your Artifact trait tree and your PvP talents to customize. Though give a few weeks for there to be an optimal set-up. The talents you unlock are specifically for PvP, giving you extra spells and passives. You gain honor and level up from 1 to 50, each level getting you perks and bonuses along the way as well as those talents.

This is an interesting move that allows the balancing of PvP to be somewhat separated from PvE. Before if you had an issue with one spell being too powerful in PvP you would have to reduce the damage. That would always have a consequence for PvE players as well, especially if the balance for PvE was fine. If there is one thing I hear from PvP players it’s how unbalanced PvP is and these talents could help.

So you got to PvP level 50? Now what? Prestige! Reset yourself to level 1, and start all over again. When you prestige rewards are cosmetics like mounts and Artifact cosmetics only for PvP. It’ll be interesting to see if there will be any disparity between level 1 and 50. Whether if at level 1 you’re screwed because of the level 50s with full talents.

PvP v.3 doesn’t make me want to PvP, but I don’t think that’s who Blizzard are aiming for. Warlords was a poor expansion for PvPers, the hashed Ashran was the only addition in Warlords.

All in All

I noticed in the reveal how much the designs shown reminded me of when the WoW aesthetic was great. Think about transmog, we mostly transmog gear from the early days of WoW. Why? Because it looks a lot better than what we got from Pandaria and Warlords I can tell you that. The Burning Crusade had a great aesthetic to it, and the gear was well designed. Bringing all that back for Legion allows the design team to bring back a great aesthetic.

Blizzard keeps thinking we want expansions faster, and we don’t. We want expansions that last with plenty of content, content that lasts. We want expansions when Blizzard is ready to give them to us, without rushing them out of the door.

We know millions will come back for Legion they always do with a new expansion. But that won’t be the surprise. Blizzard keeping those millions playing for most of the expansion will be the surprise. Will Legion do that? If Blizzard sticks to their guns it might do. Fingers crossed Blizzard can avoid content droughts. With the largest team ever, and a good showing, I think they can.

Published Aug. 12th 2015

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