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World of Warcraft may have just had its best expansion launch ever

Legion makes a stellar first impression

World of Warcraft: Legion screenshot

Last night at around 11:50 p.m. PT — 10 minutes or so earlier than expected — World of Warcraft’s new Legion expansion went live.

For those in-game in those first moments, the process was surprisingly seamless. Players at the pre-Legion level cap of 100 knew the expansion had been flipped on for two reasons. First, their experience point bars reappeared on screen, begging to be filled again, teasing a new level cap of 110. And second, a bird flew down from the sky with a message for each player: a quest that would open the way to the new content.

Yesterday afternoon, I took a nap so that I could stay up and experience the Legion launch live for myself. Other World of Warcraft players who have been around for previous expansion launches chided me. With so many people logging on to check out the new stuff as soon as possible, launch night is often a technical mess. Hell, launch week is often a wreck, even with the resources and general server stability of Blizzard.

It’s not always just server problems either. Take 2014’s Warlords of Draenor launch, for example, the last time that Blizzard put out an expansion for World of Warcraft. In addition to having servers go up and down as was pounded by DDOS attacks, Warlords players also discovered some frustrating design flaws.

The first quest chain in the expansion, the one that followed your character finding a plot for and building their own unique garrison? It required players to interact with an object that, for some inexplicable reason, unlike dozens of other interactable objects in the game, could only be used by one player at a time. With dozens crowding around to try to use the object at once, no one was happy on launch night.

World of Warcraft: Legion launch night stream

World of Warcraft's newly-launched Legion expansion is here! Join us as we hop in live:

Polygon 貼上了 2016年8月29日

So how did my Legion launch night go? Well, you can watch the first hour of it for yourself above, or continue reading for my impressions.

The first thing I’ll say is that it seems Blizzard learned their lesson from Warlords of Draenor’s launch. While everyone in Legion begins with the same quest, it simply requires you to talk to a single non-player character. Before long, players are shuffled off into the hunt for an artifact weapon, a quest that’s delineated by both class and spec, significantly breaking down the number of players who will be active in any one area at any one time. And several steps of that quest are fully instanced for solo players besides.

different players will have different experiences and unique stories

It isn’t until after players establish their class hall and recover their artifact weapon — two of the big new systems at the heart of Legion — that they’re actually let loose into the new zones. And they can choose any of the four leveling zones to begin with, since they scale based on the level of whoever’s questing through them at the time.

Basically, Blizzard has created multiple branching paths sending different players off in different directions. This ensures both that a single zone won’t be crushed under the weight of every single player who’s logged in trying to crash through it at the same time, and that different players will have different experiences and unique stories to share as they begin their time with the expansion. It’s brilliant, honestly.

It helps, as well, that the artifact weapon questlines seem to be some of the coolest content in the game so far. As a fire mage, I hunted down Felo’melorn, a fiery blade once wielded by World of Warcraft raid boss Kael’thas Sunstrider. As someone who’s been playing the game since it launched in 2004, I appreciated this callback, but I also freaked out at all the interesting places the quest sent me.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King art

First I had to go to the Hillsbrad Foothills, a zone that has been in the game for 12 years. In one corner of that zone rests a giant, magic-filled crater — the remains of the floating city of Dalaran, which is actually the primary hub of Legion. Then I was sent to Icecrown Citadel, a raid area from the Wrath of the Lich King expansion where I spent literal months of my life slowly chipping away at super-tough bosses with a bunch of my online friends.

Legion is the first expansion since 2010’s Cataclysm that seems to honestly remember that older zones, dungeons and expansions are there. These are areas players care about and have investment in, and sending them back to them can make for some incredible moments. And so far it seems to be doing far more interesting things with these bits of nostalgia than Cataclysm ever attempted.

These are areas players care about and have investment in

Icecrown Citadel was my favorite part. What had once been a raid that I could only hope to overcome with at least nine other players was now an area I was sent into all by myself. This felt fitting, given the six years or so of continuing to build in power since I last set foot here. But even better, it felt like a really cleverly designed single-player dungeon, with puzzles, boss fights and surprises. It wasn’t incredibly difficult, but it also wasn’t overly simplified or dumbed down the way World of Warcraft questing content can often come across.

Once I acquired Felo’melorn and began recruiting mages to my class order hall, I was able to choose which of the game’s four new zones to start questing in. (A fifth zone, Suramar, remains closed until players hit the new level 110 cap.) I went with Stormheim, because I’ve heard it follows the story of [EARLY SPOILER ALERT HERE] new Horde warchief Sylvanas Windrunner, who is one of my favorite World of Warcraft characters.

You actually journey to Stormheim with Sylvanas, until your fleet of ships is attacked by an Alliance airship. Then you play through a fun little instanced scenario of fending off the Alliance attack and sabotaging that airship. It’s a great set piece that introduces you to some of the major players on both the Alliance and Horde side, as well as really once again driving home the rivalry and hatred between the two factions. Any story content that can make me feel more pride as a member of the Horde is good in my book.

World of Warcraft: Legion screenshot

Within Stormheim itself, things get into a more regular and recognizable World of Warcraft questing rhythm. But as with the zones of Warlords of Draenor, new areas in Legion are sprinkled with dozens of hidden treasures and powerful rare enemies that drop bonus loot. The treasures are especially appealing this time around as they drop items that are used to power up your artifact weapon, which can unlock new abilities and just generally make you even more of an unstoppable death machine.

In one night of questing for a few hours, I only got a small portion into Stormheim — maybe a fourth of the way through the zone — but I discovered a fairly tight series of quests driving me through and a beautifully designed area that easily encourages off-the-path exploration. I also picked up a grappling hook early on in Stormheim, which can be used to jump up steep mountain walls, usually as a means of acquiring more treasure. Grappling is a simple thing with very little in the way of mechanics, but it helps the zone stand out even more.

Will Legion be able to keep up this pace? Will it continue sending me back into old world content and putting me into rad, engaging single-player scenarios? And will the world quest system at endgame be enough to keep me playing actively once I’ve burned through the main questing and story content?

These tough questions are impossible to answer right now, but at this point I can say that I’m very impressed with where things begin. After the disastrous path World of Warcraft’s last expansion took from strong start to painfully dull content patches, we’ll be waiting a little longer to do a proper full review of Legion. But for now, I’m very hopeful and very eager to spend a lot more time in Azeroth.

The next level of puzzles.

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