Game reviews in 2018 feel kind of weird, you know?
It is often important, and necessary, to know how good a game is out of the box, so you can make an informed buying choice, but even on consoles and everywhere, games change so much with patches, downloadable content, and expansions, that a year after launch, the game looks nothing like it first did.
This is the premise that leads me to write what will be my last content piece on Legion, before the hype of Battle for Azeroth consumes all.
So with that premise framing this piece, I want to talk through a few different things – the promises made before Legion launched, what we got at launch, and how the patches and tweaks made over the last two years changed what we will remember when we look back on this expansion.
So, let’s start from the beginning!
The Promise of World of Warcraft: Legion – More, Better, Faster
The core concern on the WoW team’s mind when debuting Legion at Gamescom 2015 could, generously, be summarized as “stop the bleeding.” Warlords of Draenor had worn the playerbase of the game down, with a stunning lack of content and a lack of cohesion in game design. The Garrison, while a concept that players had expressed support for, was not holding interest, and the sparse content existing in the margins outside of our four walled forts wasn’t keeping folks logging in. While some elements of the game at the time were great, like raid encounter design, the overall experience of the expansion just wasn’t anywhere near it needed to be, and Blizzard arguably needed players to have that urge to log in more again.
Legion’s unveiling made some bold promises right away – Artifact weapons, including dangling Doomhammer and Ashbringer in front of us right away, Demon Hunters and their fun gameplay, and a break from the damn fel green we had been staring at since the Fury of Hellfire patch in June 2015.
Blizzcon later that same year threw some more on the heap, with Artifact Progression being shared, along with Legiondaries, World Quests, and an off-handed Q&A answer that later led to Karazhan’s return to the game with an updated 5-player dungeon. Then, the introduction of Mythic Keystone dungeons, and we had a good sense of the endgame that we would be playing when the expansion launched the next year.
So when August 2016 rolled around, it was time to see – how did the game live up to the hype?
Promises Made and Grinding Done – The Launch of Legion
When the game launched, I think there was a lot worth complimenting, but there was a lot of wariness from players concerning the early experience. Warlords of Draenor, after all, had a fantastic leveling and early endgame, which quickly petered out into nothing. The week before launch, we got our first promising bit of news – patch 7.1 was already on the PTR and we would be getting a Karazhan revamp with some additional content.
Then the game was out, and our journey into the Broken Isles was off! The leveling experience overall was pretty good, but I think the scaling component led to a lack of cohesion between zones. In trying to avoid the fel-green palettes of Tanaan and Hellfire Citadel 6.2, the end result was that we didn’t see much Legion at all, and each zone was largely its own, self-contained story. The stories had their moments, with standout moments like Ysera’s death in Val’Sharah and the immediate impact deaths of Broken Shore.
Questing felt really streamlined with the scaling, perhaps the easiest experience we have ever had in a new expansion due to the lack of being forced to move on to new zones and higher-leveled quests. I really enjoyed the simplicity of it all, but I am a leveling hater, so it certainly colors my perception of the gameplay.
The dungeon integration felt really good, though – rather than desiring to run dungeons on loop, questing was great, and each zone had quests to funnel you towards its leveling dungeon while also introducing hooks for some of the 110+ dungeons.
Once we hit 110, there was a good slate of activities available, with world quests (including grinding for the whistle!), cleaning up remaining zone quests, a new slate of dungeons added at level cap, and grinding out Artifact Power.
When the time was right, we then got Mythic Plus and Emerald Nightmare, both of which were solid bits of content. We’ll talk more about Mythic Plus later, but its addition to the game is, I think, one of the most fundamentally transformative things Blizzard has ever added to the game. The Emerald Nightmare was a solid introductory raid, with a good mix of mechanics and a forgiving difficulty curve. 7.1 brought the Trial of Valor, which gave us a bridging raid to get into Nighthold, and one that offered an excellent increase in base difficulty.
But not everything was shiny and great in launch-of-Legion land. World Quests were great, and Artifact Power offered a meaningful reward, but the overlap of these features led to an excessive desire to grind. Couple that with Mythic Plus grinding, and the early nature of rewards in that mode leading people to do Maw of Souls endlessly, and you’ll find that much of the sheen was worn off of the expansion experience very quickly by grinding to excess. Many players ran an absurd number of Maw keystones and they were the hottest stone in a Blizzard game since Stone of Jordan (there’s a fun old Diablo reference!).
Overall, I’d rate launch window as a solid experience!
Pros: Lots of different content, randomized World Quests meant different experiences even in same zones, fresh, well-designed dungeons, excellent introductory raiding.
Cons: Story a bit lacking in leveling content, World Quests often being recycled regular quests felt disappointing, Mythic Keystone gameplay incentivized excessive repetition of particular dungeons to maximize rewards, Legendaries at launch were incredibly disappointing.
The Patches – A Quick Run-Down of 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, and the Steps In-Between
Blizzard, as mentioned earlier, caught a lot of flak for the thin content and lack of things to do in Warlords of Draenor, and the response they had was excellent in Legion. We had new patches every 11 weeks off the bat, and each patch had a mix of content worth doing. We got 3 new dungeons, 3 added raids, 4 added zones (Broken Shore in 7.2 and the three Argus zones in 7.3), and a good mix of additional content. Each patch offered a good mix of new things, with dungeon content and upgrades for Mythic Keystone as well as the lower difficulties, solo content, raiding content, and new progression mechanics, with 7.2 adding the Concordance of the Legionfall buff and the revamped Artifact trees.
What was more interesting to me, however, is this: Blizzard has, in the past, often doubled-down on mistakes, riding the original design to the end of its relevant lifespan and then mentioning after in interviews that they wish they had changed course. The Garrison was poorly received, and so we got a new Garrison progression with followers that could die in 6.2 with the Shipyard! Mists of Pandaria offered no new dungeons from start to finish and doubled-down by pushing people to LFR and flex raiding instead – experiences that are very different from running dungeons. The Blizzard we saw in Legion, however, often would change courses in response to feedback on their marquee features. Are utility legendaries shitty and feel bad to get? Well, we’ll buff them and play with them to make them better. Is the Artifact Power mechanic too grindy and feeling too mandatory in Nighthold? We’ll change the trees to offer the buffs of the Paragon trait from launch sooner, and then add more traits and a new buff that is random to offset, and then add Artifact Knowledge catchup.
The Blizzard we got during Legion was far more willing to make concessions and adjust the live game rather than lamenting the problems later, while still sticking to them. There are some places where they took their time to make that shift (Legendary RNG, RNG in general, Artifact Relic traits, etc) but ultimately, I feel like the team we got with Legion was far more willing to own up to their mistakes and adjust on the fly to make the game a better experience.
The patches each offered their own great additions to the game, with Deaths of Chromie, Return to Karazhan, Suramar Insurrection, and the Mage Tower being some of my favorite bits of added content the game has ever had.
The raids, on the other hand, were a bit iffy. I should really clarify that and say that Tomb of Sargeras was, in a few ways, kind of a stinker, and the smell it left behind taints the perception of the raid game for the whole of the expansion. Trial of Valor was fantastic, and I liked Antorus. Nighthold was also fun and had some great fights, and even Tomb of Sargeras, taken on an individual fight basis, had its moments. Overall, short of ToS, the PvE content added was mostly good to great, with the added dungeons being a welcome addition after two expansions without.
We also saw Timewalking solidify with the addition of Mists of Pandaria dungeon timewalking and our first Timewalking raids, with Black Temple and Ulduar coming back around.
Argus is a place of contrasts, and one that I wanted to expand upon separately. One of my most popular and contentious posts is about flying in Argus, wherein I make the argument that flight was not needed in Argus, and I still mostly agree with that. I like the feeling of the zone without flight and overall feel that flying over all of it would reduce the threat we are intended to feel. However, in the end, while I counted Argus as 3 zones a moment ago, it is worth saying that the zones are somewhat small and the teleport mechanic leads to them feeling smaller than they are. I think there was an opportunity missed here, to make Argus feel more like a shattered world and less like a setpiece. Also, I’d probably take flying in Antoran Wastes. It’s still not THAT bad, but I mean, I’m not a big fan and it is the place where my appreciation for the flavor of lacking flight begins to give way.
The promise of added patches on a regular frequency made me feel much better about continuing to give Blizzard sub money for the entirety of the expansion. And, to be fair, Blizzard delivered on that promise – the game has never been this patched or supported at any point in history, save for Vanilla WoW, when patches were often class changes and the series of talent tree revamps we got post-launch back then.
Overall, I’d rate our recurring content patches pretty highly. It’s probably the best content schedule we’ve ever had, and while not every bit of content was a clear winner, the aggressive release schedule and continued commitment to the live game while also working on the expansion makes me feel that despite any individual pieces of meh content, or one steaming green pile called Tomb of Sargeras, the end result is that my look back on the expansion is one of the most favorable I’ve ever had this close to the end of an expansion.
The Eight Months of Settling In
Lastly, before drilling down into a couple of features, it’s worth looking back at everything we’ve had since January, where the expansion’s last patch launched and introduced us to the early Allied races. Legion in its current state is pretty good, overall. There’s a lot of stuff to do and see, and I’ve enjoyed having this window to relax a little bit and push some goals, while trying pieces of content I’ve missed during the earlier parts of the expansion. Mage Tower attempts have filled this well, as has leveling allied races. It is also set to be the shortest end-expansion gap ever, beating out the 9 months offered by Cataclysm and the sort-of 9 months at the end of Wrath of the Lich King (if you consider the point at which Lich King became available as the end of the expansion, since if you count Ruby Sanctum, Wrath wins).
At the end of the expansion, as we are now, it’s easy to look at the present state and think of that as the entirety of the Legion expansion. It is worth saying, however, that there was a lot of change, a sort-of tumultuous period of settling in the changes to the game’s core content structure. The end result, I think, has been a game that is much better off for the experience.
And that leads to talking about the three core features, all of which are continuing forward in some fashion into Battle for Azeroth.
A feature that was announced as a replacement to challenge modes became so much more, Mythic Plus has added so much to the game. From this simple idea, sprouted a feature that has led to an e-sports PvE mode, with repeatable gameplay that seems like it would be grindy but ultimately changes shape with each week and each different affix, and the interactions between those affixes. I haven’t done many of them, but I love the feature and have enjoyed them each time I have stepped foot into one. Sometimes a simple, scalable system leads to something really great, and that is definitely the case here.
These were also a simple concept, one that started with the idea of revising how Daily Quests worked and building them into a cohesive model with different quests daily and a stunning lack of repetition. Sure, they are largely built on leveling quests, but there are enough differentiators that I feel like World Quests just kind of work. In the end of Legion, while they aren’t inherently worth doing much on an established character, I’m glad they came out and I look forward to seeing the Battle for Azeroth version of the idea.
Artifact Power and Endgame Progression
This one has had ups and downs, but overall, a concept that was tossed out in Cataclysm with Path of the Titans did end up leading to a worthwhile feature. Artifact Power had a slow start with a lot of grinding – both Artifact Power in general, and the order resources to get Artifact Knowledge. The upside to this is that it made each upgrade powerful, and you could feel the points you put in early on.
This did give way in 7.2, as once you got past the Power Ascended traits, the 4th points felt less impactful, and Concordance of the Legionfall was really hard to see a benefit from past the first point, but overall, the system felt pretty good. There are rough edges that were added later, most notably with the Netherlight Crucible and it’s randomness of empowerments.
The Heart of Azeroth in Battle for Azeroth is a step forward from this system in every way, however. The thing the last two features had in common is that they were refinements on existing systems, with experience learned from Challenge Modes and Daily Quests, respectively. Artifact Power was a whole new world, a feature with no real precedent and its own challenges. The Heart of Azeroth takes a lot of lessons from that to heart (ha!) with automatic application of reduced power requirements, reducing power requirements over time per level rather than increased gain of power, and traits that are well-defined, non-random, and easily changeable, which makes my early Alpha concerns mostly invalid!
I’m excited to see how this system progresses as BfA continues past launch.
Final Thoughts – It Was The End of Legion As We Knew It, and I Enjoyed It
Far from my thoughts at the end of Warlords of Draenor, I found Legion overall a great expansion and well worth my time and investment in the game. Blizzard had an unenviable task of their own making on their hands at the start of this expansion – delivering a game that slapped the bad taste of WoD out of our mouths, by delivering on promises made, offering more gameplay and features, and better patch frequency than before. To their credit, they did it – it’s so hard for me to muster the disappointment I had in WoD now, with nearly two years of Legion offering such a completely opposite experience to what we had in WoD.
And I think that is the highest praise I can offer the game, in the end – it was so good it made me nearly forget the disaster of WoD.