World Of Warcraft: Legion PC
There aren’t many games to which people dedicate over a decade’s worth of attention, and yet millions of players still clung to World Of Warcraft prior to this latest expansion’s release. In the 12 years since the game’s arrival, its maker has battled multiple times against encroaching outside innovations within the genre it birthed. In other MMOGs, combat has been refined to inspire more active interaction from the player. Technology has enabled us to smoothly cohabit bigger and more visually arresting persistent worlds. Crucially, the hardy loot-loop structure has been adopted by other mainstream genres, from firstperson shooters to driving games. As more and more game platforms chip away at its playerbase, how can Blizzard ensure that its ageing MMOG keeps on chugging, let alone remains relevant? Releasing the most confident and content-packed expansion the studio has ever put together makes for a fine start.
Legion marks, for veterans at least, something of a long-awaited delivery of an oft-hinted-at plotline. The Burning Legion, an army of amassed demons, has returned to Azeroth, and it’s up to players to take up arms against them. Such a villainous entity, entrenched as it is in the lore of the game, hints at an aim on Blizzard’s part to cater first and foremost for longserving fans. As such, newcomers will likely find themselves lost in the name-dropping rollercoaster pace of the game’s Game Of Thrones-like opening moments.
In the game proper, Legion is much more adept at making you care about its narrative constructions than at any other stage in WOW’s long life. Even the most dutiful of players will admit to having skipped a few quest-log entries in a bid to fill out to-do lists as quickly and efficiently as possible. Here, the flow of quest progression has been both subtly and overtly tweaked to ensure you’ll want to stop to smell the roses.
A selection of voiced in-engine cutscenes ensure that potent info is aptly delivered, while instanced scenarios return to teleport you to iconic locations from the game’s past, giving your progression through individual stories a series of paced landmarks that stick in the memory. The Exodar is especially enjoyable, transforming a formerly frustrating environment into a battleground full of iconic characters spouting stirring speeches and firing magic barriers about the place.
There’s a sense, also, that Blizzard is more acutely aware of its game’s questing shortcomings than ever. Farming respawning Nagas is still a valid way to pass the time, but while the ‘kill X number of things’ base on which the average quest is built remains familiar, the things you’re actually doing are wildly varied and, often, hugely entertaining. Within one hour we go from training in an underground magical academy to taking part in a beachhead pirate battle where we become a bespoke Pokémon for a couple of giants, before helping an estranged prince reconcile with his subjects after millennia in ghostly exile. This latter story is a particularly fine showcase of the many tales Blizzard has woven into Legion. All are worth discovering, whether you’re nodding at the references as an old hand or being swept up in the tapestry for the first time. Alongside these tweaks and changes comes a new character class, the Demon Hunter. These half-elf, half-demon types boast the visual design of something you might find daubed on a bored teenager’s maths notebook, all burning eyes, horns, gothic wings and glowing tattoos. Behind the emo-demon facade, however, lies the most active and intriguing character class in the game’s entire repertoire. Demon Hunters can dash into combat, only to leap backwards with a flip to charge back in again. Their movesets allow for teleportation strikes, altering positioning while simultaneously dealing out damage. Even when out of combat they boast double jumps and glide abilities. The world is suddenly more fun to move around in when stepping into the hooves of a Demon Hunter.
In a way, it’s unfortunate. In the wake of these new heroes, any existing classes you might want to play as feel stoic and uninviting. This is endemic of the one problem that haunts every expansion in Warcraft history, and rears its head again here: the lack of permanence afforded to the things that went before. The huge amount of game that already exists, from complete landmasses to specific weapons and gear earned often through months of effort, are rendered pointless in Legion. The new Artifact weapons are perhaps most emblematic of this, unlocked early on through the main questline, levelled up and visually customised separately to your character as you play. They’re supposed to feel unique and incredibly powerful, yet as a Demon Hunter jogging through the new Class Hall, a social hub specific to each class and also upgradable in the fashion of Warlords Of Draenor’s Garrisons, it’s easy to feel like you’re simply toeing the line. Most players gravitate towards the same Artifact weapons, so they quickly lose their unique status.
But while what has gone before has lost its relevance and the new weapons system does its utmost to make you feel like just another part of the throng, that throng does exist anew. For the first time in years, it’s easy to meet up with other players, drawn together by enticing new stories and months’ worth of new adventuring to absorb, explore and pick clean. If Blizzard leaves Legion out in the sun for 12 months without a content update, which was the sad fate of Warlords Of Draenor, then WOW’s days might be numbered regardless, but even as time and progress marches the genre on, this expansion is an effective reminder that Warcraft isn’t ready for retirement just yet.