World of Warcraft is, with the exception of a few hiccups, still very much in the bright light
Nearing its 12th Birthday, one would expect the game that became a byword for adolescent escapism would have had its day in the sun. Had you been the non-playing associate of someone who did so all those years ago, you might even wish that to have been the case. Yet World of Warcraft is, with the exception of a few hiccups, still very much in the bright light.
30th August saw the release of Blizzard Entertainment’s ‘Legion’, the sixth expansion to this aging titan of the gaming industry. Over the first 24 hours more than 3.3 million copies were sold, and its “launch week player concurrency” (the peak number of concurrent players worldwide during the week proceeding launch) struck its highest point since 2010. It is safe to say that this expansion has already been a roaring commercial success. To understand why this is so, we must venture into the depths of WoW’s most recent iteration and see how it compares to its priors.
With the release of Legion comes yet another continent, The Broken Isles, to the sprawling world map, with yet another to-do list that’s practically endless. Starting in Azsuna, the South-Westernmost province I find myself flung into the fight against Legion’s main antagonists, the Burning Legion. My character is recruited to help the Illidari, a ragtag band of demon hunters in the service of a prior villain turned unlikely ally, Illidan. Their instructions vary from ‘compelling’ information out of captive demons, murdering attackers by the dozen and assassinating their leaders, which I set to with joyful abandon.
Pausing for breath, I crack out my Dragon-encrusted Fishing Pole and cast out to a nearby stream. Five minutes and a dozen catches later; time comes to cook my newly caught ‘cursed queenfish’ into more practical nutriment to store as a means of ‘buffing’ my character at some later point. Moving back to demonic vendetta, my character is tasked with killing some 4-legged mammalian ‘vile stalkers’. I head over to their den and slay a handful, yet one appears oddly overpowered. The fight continues for a minute before I realize that I am in fact fighting a shape-shifted human character of opposite faction. We have both been horribly inconveniencing each other’s’ progress against the demon horde. Our fight draws to a close, we apologise to each other using the game’s extensive ‘emote’ system, and carry on our way. Asides such as these give rise to the ‘World’ of Warcraft.
By WoW’s standards, these escapades are par for the course. Legion, however, has taken the formula and breathed into it a new lease of life. It excels in submersing the player in a rich narrative. As a Paladin, my character undergoes a sub-story quest beginning with a choice of which specialization to take. I choose ‘Protection’ (attracting enemies’ attention and get hit a lot), and embark on a quest to attain an artefact weapon of immeasurable power; the shield ‘Truthguard’ and its sister sword ‘Oathseeker’.
In the chain of adventure that follows, my character winds up (alongside thousands of other players who chose to play paladin) as the head honcho of the Paladin order, the Knights of the Silver Hand. Characters who had constituted the furniture of the WoW universe were picked off a la George R.R Martin in order to lend this transition finesse, and by the end the character emerges as the one (amongst others) hero to save the proverbial day.
On arriving at the Expansion’s new level cap of 110, it becomes clear that Blizzard are set on ensuring that WoW does not become stale for its players. Character progression, be it via improved items and armour, enhanced professions, exploration or any other vector has had new life breathed into it. Whereas previous expansions had seen a proliferation of abilities and spells, Legion allows a core set of abilities to prevail, allowing a truer sense of player class identity.
In the realm of PvP differences in player gear have been marginalised, making battles in Arenas and Battlegrounds a testing area for co-ordination and skill rather than a predetermined affair based on gear and stats alone. Professions such as Enchanting and Blacksmithing have been given a wholly new path of progression and are now interspersed with quests that send the character to far flung locales to further their craft.
Perhaps the best addition is that of World Quests. These are refreshed daily and offer luxurious rewards that scale upwards with your progression, giving the player reason to venture back to the beautifully crafted regions of the Broken Isles that previous iterations of the game have given scant purpose. Combined with the fact that flying mounts having been locked off for now, Legion feels very much like a return to the immersive qualities that first drew to WoW an army of fans.
For those that have dipped their fingers into MMOs and found no lucre, Legion will have little to offer. For those that have tried and felt that behind the manifold frustrations there might lie a genuinely brilliant game, Legion offers perhaps an opportunity for hours of enjoyment.