|Box Art N/A|
|Publisher Activision Blizzard|
|Developer Blizzard Entertainment|
Blizzard has something to prove with World of Warcraft: Legion. Or, to put it in a slightly different, arguably more correct manner: Blizzard has to prove something.
Despite an extremely positive launch reception, the last World of Warcraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor, ended as a disaster. It saw an unprecedented drop in paid subscribers, and even those who stuck around seemed unhappy with the state of the game.
Enter Legion, an expansion that, 12 years from World of Warcraft's launch, seeks to reestablish trust with players and introduce a smarter and more sustainable path forward for the future. It's no longer surprising that the launch experience has been largely excellent. But the real question is whether Legion sets World of Warcraft up for future success.
Blizzard has something to prove with World of Warcraft: Legion
After the alternate timeline distraction of Warlords of Draenor, Legion takes players back to Azeroth, where the demon army that has long been the major bad guy behind the scenes has begun its latest invasion of the planet. To stop that invasion, players must journey to the Broken Isles, a long-forgotten area that hides powerful artifacts that could help turn the tide of the war.
Legion provides some work to do even before you head to the Broken Isles, however. Each of the game's 12 classes — including a new addition, the demon hunter — gets a unique set of introductory quests that then splinters off further based on your chosen specialization. Legion embraces class fantasy: The experiences of each class feel separate in ways they rarely have in the past.
Both the early class quests and some later plot beats in Legion also make a welcome change after two expansions set in faraway lands: They take advantage of the world of Warcraft, sending you all around Azeroth to visit locations and characters that have been underutilized for years. Legion builds a sense of history and place that's so much broader than the average WoW expansion; it's expressed in more epic quest strings with bigger stakes than just explaining the story of a single zone.
Of course, the single-zone stories presented by Legion's new areas remain a highlight as well. The expansion delivers some of the largest and most beautiful regions the game has ever seen, such as the night elf druid haven of Val'Sharah and the Viking-inspired Stormheim. For the first time in World of Warcraft history, Legion implements a level scaling system, which means you can do each zone in whatever order you want.
On the one hand, this new system means that Legion isn't quite as good as past expansions at presenting an overarching story that progresses as you level up, since it doesn't know which zones you'll play through first. On the other hand, each zone is now guaranteed to provide a proper degree of challenge and reward, whether it's the very first area you enter or one you're cleaning up at the new level cap of 110. Level scaling also works wonders for longevity, ensuring that Blizzard can spread endgame content to any of the new zones without having to worry about designing special level cap-only areas.
In fact, Legion's biggest additions — and its best argument to be hopeful for the future — come in the endgame. The traditional World of Warcraft endgame has focused almost entirely on large-scale raiding, with extremely limited solo content in the form of small hubs where players could take on daily quests. Raiding still exists as one major space to spend your time once you hit level cap, but daily quests have been overhauled into a brilliant new system called world quests.
Initially world quests resemble the old system of daily quests, in that they help raise your status with reputations in the new land, and you're urged to log in regularly to do them. The difference, then, is that there's just so many more world quests, and they're rotating in and out constantly. All five of Legion's zones — including the level cap-only area of Suramar — feature dozens of possible world quests, ranging from the usual kill x amount of enemies or track down a high-value target, to more unique requests like riding a magical tiger through springs of magic or solving a riddle. There's even world quests devoted to player-versus-player combat and the various crafting and gathering professions.
In addition to a wider variety of things to do, world quests also offer better and faster rewards than the old daily quest grind ever did. Every day, the game gives you one faction to do four world quests with; fulfill that request, and you'll receive a faction cache full of rewards, including (rarely) loot that can be as good as what you'll get through high-end dungeon and raid drops. These faction challenges stack for up to three days, which relieves some of the pressure of feeling like you need to log in every day or miss out.
But if you're like me, you'll probably want to log in every day anyway. Shortly after Legion launched, Blizzard released a Legion companion phone app that lets you keep track of the current world quests being offered and what their rewards are. There's some exotic and rare quests out there that have sent me running to my computer, such as quests offering new pets, mounts and gear upgrades. Even outside of that, the average quest offers artifact power, a new resource that has been highly sought after following launch.
Artifact power feeds into another of Legion's smart new systems: the artifact weapon. Those class-based quests that kick off the expansion end in your character coming into control of a powerful weapon from World of Warcraft lore. Many of these weapons are tools of destruction that players have seen in action or heard about for years; for example, enhancement shamans get to wield Doomhammer, the magical hammer that has been carried by Warcraft hero Thrall for ages. The idea of every character from a certain specialization running around with the same weapon sounds goofy, but the game quickly provides options for visually stylizing your weapon of choice and helping you stand apart from the pack.
The bigger concern with players sticking to one weapon for the whole expansion is that Blizzard needed to provide an alternate form of progression. Thus the developer has introduced artifact power, a system that allows you to level up your weapon, unlocking new skills and increasing your power well beyond the character level cap. Each artifact weapon can reach up to level 54, with the requirements for each level increasing exponentially. At this point, two months into the expansion, I'm just hitting around level 20 with one of the three artifact weapons available to my class.
Between the compelling nature of world quests and the constant hunt for more artifact power, Legion has already dodged one of the bullets that killed Warlords of Draenor. By this point in the previous expansion's life, players had hit level cap and were running out of things to do outside of searching for slight gear upgrades to make raiding go a little smoother. Certainly some of the playerbase has already burned itself out on world quests, but this time it doesn't feel like it's Blizzard's fault; the developer has provided plenty to keep us busy and happy.
On top of that, Blizzard has embraced a much more aggressive patching schedule for Legion. Earlier this week, less than two months after the expansion's launch, the developer released patch 7.1. This giant content drop includes a huge five-man dungeon, even more world quests and a fresh series of story quests. The developer has widely paced out that latter addition to unlock chapter by chapter over the course of nine weeks; players won't be able to just blaze through the quests and be faced with weeks of nothing new happening.
After more than 80 hours, I've still barely scratched the surface of all the changes Legion brings to World of Warcraft. Crafting and gathering professions have been revamped to include significant progression and questing content. Player-versus-player combat now has its own system of levels and perks not tied to the rest of the game, complete with a prestige option straight out of Call of Duty. The new mythic-plus difficulty setting for five-man dungeons allows them to increase in challenge and reward payout indefinitely, letting players focus on small-group content instead of raiding, if they prefer. There's barely a part of the game that hasn't been touched and tweaked for the better.
World of Warcraft: Legion addresses long-standing player concerns in smart ways
In some ways, reviewing a massively multiplayer game feels like a fool's errand, because it's impossible to predict the long-term impact of any one of these changes, much less all of them released in concert. Will everyone be bored with what Legion has to offer six months down the road? Will Blizzard disappoint its fans once again by failing to keep a steady stream of additions coming to the game between now and whenever the game's seventh expansion launches?
Anything is possible, which is why this review can only speak for the state of Legion right now. That state is excellent. In World of Warcraft's 12 years of life, I've never seen an add-on this reactive and this specific in its targeting of individual issues that have upset long-time fans. New systems like world quests and mythic-plus dungeons are overflowing with potential to keep the game fresh and engaging for much longer. And the classic questing and raiding content is as good as it's ever been. Blizzard could drop the ball again, but it would be a damned shame to watch it fall.
World of Warcraft: Legion was reviewed using final PC code purchased by Polygon staff. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews