Posted on October 18 2016
There is a moment early in Warlords of Draenor, the latest expansion pack for World of Warcraft, in which the player walks at the head of a disastrous vanguard invading an alien world. At your side are an assortment of characters from the distant past, a memory lane of allies from the storied history and future of the franchise. Each show off their new fully voiced lines, barking orders at the player to begin the counter attack before things fall apart. The player rushes through set-piece peaks and lulls as the game slowly teases the new land and mechanical twists it’s brought to the table. The game is also liberated by the reveal of an alternate history from the normal setting, allowing familiar faces to be redefined and repackaged for an experienced player. It’s the same game through a new and much more refined lens.
It was a pretty exceptional way to get a ten-year veteran like me back into the game and I have been playing again since it was released back in November 2014. Even the trailer is great, but Blizzard have always been great at those.
Released last week here in the UK, Warcraft: The Beginning is clearly supposed to be the followup in Blizzard’s one-two punch to conquer the world. Dipping into the alternate history well from its first scene, Warcraft is currently tracking to be a £160M failure panned from every corner. Criticisms include it’s in-it-for-the-paycheck acting, it’s special effects, it’s cliché-based writing and the general serious tone it is obsessed with pushing on the audience. It is, I am sad to report, a failure.
But fear not! Legion is finally on the horizon. But what is Legion? How can it become the true Warcraft gospel? Why does it get us veterans all hot and bothered? Can it truly live up to the hype? Will there be new merchandise that forces me to re-mortgage my home? Let’s have a look!
The Big Promise
First of all lets make clear that Legion has been in planning since Warcraft hit the shelves ten years ago. This is the end of a story a decade in the making, the final chapter following the absolute creative peak of the franchise with The Burning Crusade. Legion is the end of the roadmap, the last big high we have been waiting for since the day we subscribed. This is the Promised Land and disappointment could not be more likely.
Whatever hasn’t already been leaked or revealed in the Beta (which may not be a lot) is going to be torn into by 12 million ravenous eyes. Every spell for every class at every level from 100 to 110 is going to analysed by an army on news sites. Mechanics are going to be spreadsheeted and Google will light up with guides to every encounter in the game. Whatever this game looks like, it has to be polished in a way that only Blizzard could ever pull off. Besides the predictable and almost beloved mess of release day servers, Legion needs to be the most stable and flexible platform ever put out by a modern gaming developer because the entire medium will be watching.
Complicating this, the mechanics have to strike a Blizzard-precise level of innovation vs familiarity. Legion will be extending the world by 10 levels worth of zones, and with each level needs to be a real sense of accomplishment. We’ve already heard about the new spells and talents coming to WoW in the form of the new Artifact system but most players have only got rumour and vaguely placeholder first impression articles to go on. Once we have got our teeth into it, we have to know that things work just differently enough to be interesting. The fans will not accept a nice lick of paint on the same old material. Warcraft: The Beginning had some of the world’s most expensive CGI and people still walked out the theatres.
The Promised Land
Speaking of the zones themselves, expectations are high. The Broken Isles are the fabled lost region of WoW, a pocket of lore dipped into whenever the highest stakes of needed. All the big night elf characters were born there, Illdan got his wings there, it’s been sat just outside of sight for 10 years. Fans are clamouring for that wide-eyed look we had when we first stepped out of the Dark Portal to Outland and realised we weren’t in Kansas anymore.
We also want a variety in our zones. It can’t just be different, it has to be lots of different kinds of different. Players are setting their sights on a Wrath of the Lich King level of work, a triumph of a second expansion that took an expectation of frozen blandness and threw some of the best zones ever made at us. Even without the forest and tropical jungle, WotLK gave us a range of completely divergent takes on a frozen land.
Legion beta feedback is already impressing on this front. Besides gushing over the distinct flavour of the new regions, Legion is taking another brave leap forward into the impossible with its Suramar zone. Unprecedented in MMO’s of the past, this is a region made up of a 1:1 scale metropolis for players to quest in. This will be the promise made by every capital city in every game since time immemorial, a real cityscape to run around in that you could believe holds a nation in its walls. Suramar is aiming to more like Blizzard’s home city of Paris than the current “about the size of a medium capacity multi-story car park” feel that Stormwind and Orgrimmar evoke. If Suramar works, they’ve changed the MMO design world again. I’ve got my fingers crossed for them.
For the Honour of Greyskull
Legion is also promising to move the game forward in one other huge way: Class Artifacts. Just like those days sat watching Lion-O and She-Ra summoning epic powers from the heavens, WoW has wisely decided to give players their own piece of epic legacy equipment. These are items tied deeply to the story of themes of a class specialisation and promise to be the most empowering moments of the expansion. The entire levelling system seems to hinge on powering up player’s weapons so they can finally take the fight back to the bad guys. We’ve even got class-only areas for players of both factions to hang out and build their power up.
But from the games that have tried this before, we know there are pitfalls. They have to be powerful, they have to be something that can be shown off sat around a summoning stone and they have to be something personal. From what we’ve seen, Blizzard have decided to break from the trend and allow players to unlock wildly cool skins for every artefact, as well as enabling each class to unlock and quickly level up the alternate artefacts for their classes. Only time will tell whether this is a real game-changer or just another Garrison for us to throw time at before getting bored.
New Guys in Town
Last, but certainly not least, Legion is promising a new hero class worth the title. Joining the pleasantly successful Death Knights as a near-top level class rooted in lore, Demon Hunters are finally joining the game. These are the uber-cool winged anti-heroes last seen in Burning Crusade’s endgame, a wonderful piece of fan service tying in with their leader’s path to darkness from Warcraft III.
It’s on the back of that leader that Demon Hunters are coming in at the perfect time, capitalizing on the return of series legendary figure Illdan Stormrage to the franchise after his death all those years ago. This is the big final boss of the peak of the franchise, and he’s finally coming home to roost with a playable army of copycats.
Will they break the hard-fought balance of the current classes? Will they steal everyone else’s flavour as warlocks and monks are complaining about? Will they have their own niche in the raiding landscape? Are they as fun to play as they look in the trailers? These are the things every player is going to try and find out when they open that launcher on release date.
Good luck to them, they’ll need it, for that and everything else.
What do you think? Are you on the Legion hype-train? Can anything make up for THAT movie? Please let us know in the comments!