World of Warcraft is an absurdly massive game, and the same applies to its recent Legion expansion. I've already spent well over 40 hours exploring the Broken Isles, dashing and double-jumping all over the place with my Demon Hunter, completing an apparently endless stream of quests, and yet there doesn't seem to be any end in sight. Unlike Warlords of Draenor, Legion has come packed with content!
Since there is simply far too much for me to cover in one review I am going to be splitting this up into two parts. The first, or rather the one you're reading right now, will cover the newly released Demon Hunter class, as well as the entirety of the leveling experience, story, and class specific features such as Artifact Weapons and Class Halls. The second part, which is now available, is focused entirely around Legion's end-game: Raids, Mythic Dungeons, PvP, World Quests, and that sort of stuff.
With all of that now out of the way, let's begin the review proper with my favorite aspect of Legion - the new Demon Hunter class.
The leveling gear might not look amazing, but its got a certain charm to it
As someone that hates generic MMO combat, mostly because it tends to revolve around you standing still and mashing three buttons in sequence, the Demon Hunter comes as a breath of fresh air. Not only do you have numerous mobility options available to you at all times, you have to use them constantly in order to output the most damage! This doesn't sound like much, but in reality it adds an entire new layer to the Demon Hunter playstyle as you now have to worry about not just your resources and cooldowns, but also your positioning and the range of your spells.
Now as you can imagine, dashing away from someone isn't really the best way of ensuring that their health bar inches towards zero, no matter what sort of a damage boost you get for doing so. In order to counteract this quite obvious flaw the Demon Hunter has numerous ranged options, so even if you dash away you still have something to do as you mosey back towards the boss. The trick is that almost all of these abilities are either on a rather lengthy cooldown, require some setup beforehand, or are just too precious to waste on a single enemy.
It is of the utmost importance to strike a cool pose after each and every dash!
As a result of all of this the Demon Hunter doesn't have a set rotation, only a whole bunch of choices that all come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Will you waste all of your mobility spells in order to achieve the best AOE (Area of Effect) damage output, essentially leaving you vulnerable to any sort of boss mechanic? Will you use all of your big cooldowns in order to ensure you have no downtime while leaping away from the boss, thus sacrificing future AOE damage for short term gain? Will you stifle your own damage in order to ensure you don't accidentally dash into a patch of burning ground, or will you just fly around like a demonic version of Batman?
All of these questions are just realities you will have to deal with as a Demon Hunter, and after playing the class for 40 hours, I simply wouldn't have it any other way! The difficulty curve is a few steps above the other classes, there is no denying that given how prone Demon Hunters are to flinging themselves off a cliff, but the payoff is some of the most enjoyable MMO combat I've experienced in years. Its just pure, chaotic fun!
Eye Beam + tons of enemies = explosion of numbers
While the Demon Hunter mechanics are quite exciting to figure out, it is the presentation that ties all of it together. World of Warcraft might be running on a 10 year old engine, but that doesn't seem to matter for the artists at Blizzard as the new zones and enemies are some of the most detailed the game has ever seen. Each of the new areas has a distinct visual style, and more importantly, a good degree of atmosphere that really helps to get you immersed into the world.
The best example of this is Stormheim - an entire region themed around Norse mythology, proving yourself worthy of Valhalla, and naturally, a whole bunch of storm-infused dragons... because why not! Even if I didn't give you an exact description, I can almost guarantee you would know what Stormheim is all about from the moment you entered. All of it: the music, the architecture, the enemies, the quests, the environment itself - all of it combines to create a zone that feels like an overcharged representation of Norse mythology. A lot of love and care has been put into the design, and the 100-110 questing experience has benefited from it immensely.
Welcome to Valhalla Stormheim
Its not just the graphics that have gotten improved, however, the animations have received a complete overhaul as well. On first glance I thought this was a fairly minor change, I mean who really looks at animations when there's flaming ground everywhere, but after playing World of Warcraft non-stop for the past week I can fully admit I was wrong. To put it simply, the animations no longer feel like MMO animations, but rather something you might see in your standard AAA game.
You're no longer throwing paper punches that create a couple of numbers in order to give you an illusion of action, you actually get to feel your character slice and dice through their enemies. I've only really played the Demon Hunter so I can't comment on the other classes, but when it comes to the Warglaives the combat is simply a joy to behold. Every single button press is satisfying as all of the attacks are proportionally flashy to the amount of damage they do. A normal attack is just that, a simple slice at the enemy's fleshy bits, while some of the stronger moves can only be described as an elaborate dance of death, with all of the sound effects and fancy animations such a move deserves.
This sort of contrast between simple and complex attacks is exactly what makes the Demon Hunter playstyle so enjoyable for me. If everything was "super awesome ultra epic" all of the time, the whole thing would quickly become an eyesore. But if only a select few attacks get the "awesome" treatment, then the entirety of combat feels much more engaging as you first have to build up your power before unleashing hell.
Being a giant flaming demon also goes a long way towards making you feel powerful
And speaking of Warglaives, this would probably be a good time to explain how the new Artifact Weapons work. You acquire them by completing a brief and rather exciting story quest, though unfortunately the Demon Hunter one is quite possibly the most boring out of the bunch, after which they will function as your main weapon for the entirety of the Legion expansion. Rather than just give you a whole bunch of stats, all of these Artifact Weapons come with their own set of perks which you will slowly unlock as you progress through the main storyline and the dungeons/raids beyond it. In other words, its a whole bunch of new talents you can use to customize your character, what's not to love?
As it turns out, the answer to that question is a lot lengthier than I expected. While the Artifact Weapons do indeed give you a chance to customize your playstyle, you will eventually get all of the talents and be exactly the same as everyone else, rendering the whole exercise pointless. I was hoping this would give us a few more meaningful choices when it comes to building our own characters, but alas its just another progression method. Don't get me wrong, however, I am actually immensely happy to be able to collect something other than gear with slightly bigger numbers, but I expected to see more from these "legendary" weapons.
It might not be amazing, but its a pretty cool idea
While the Artifact Weapons are a new take on the classic talent tree, the Class Halls are a modern version of the Garrison from Warlords of Draenor. While I reaped a lot of benefits from the Garrisons, mostly in the shape of massive sacks of gold, I always hated how they segregated the players, essentially making the whole world a barren wasteland. Thankfully, Legion's Class Halls did not commit the same sort of mistake as they are simply an area you visit a couple of times a day and otherwise leave alone.
Much like the Garrison, you are able to slowly upgrade and improve your Class Hall, though there is definitely a smaller amount of options this time around. You can research various passive buffs that slightly improve your character and your followers, upgrade the strength of your Artifact Weapon, increase the rate at which you gain Artifact Power, and finally, attempt a bunch of quests that directly relate to your class. The Class Halls are filled with a good amount of content, there's no denying that, but I can't help but feel that the whole concept is one big waste of time. Everything takes days to research, all of the follower missions are either irrelevant or needlessly lengthy, and the upgrades you do get are so minimal you could easily do without them.
Pretty much everything I've said about the Artifact Weapons applies to the Class Halls as well. The Class Halls are a welcome addition, and one that I will spend a good chunk of hours messing around with, but I still believe Blizzard should've made them into something a bit more interesting than a slightly reworked version of the Garrison.
If nothing else, the Class Halls sure are lively
The final topic I wanted to go over was the questing experience and the overall story. Continuing on with the trend set in Warlords of Draenor, Legion's leveling experience is by far the best World of Warcraft has ever had. The enemies are challenging, the stories and locations interesting, and most importantly, a scaling system has been implemented so you're no longer forced to progress through the zones at a predefined order. Since I frequently play Guild Wars 2 I knew the scaling system would massively improve the leveling process, but I never could've imagined how much of an impact it would really have. Even after reaching level 110 I'm still finding the "beginner" zones decently challenging, and more than fun enough to actually want to revisit them in order to complete the odd quest I missed the first time around.
While Legion has managed to nearly perfect the World of Warcraft leveling formula, the unfortunate reality is that this is still a system designed well over 10 years ago. I'm not talking about the levels themselves, but rather the quest objectives. After playing The Witcher 3 for well over 50 hours the past month I simply cannot take World of Warcraft's quest design seriously as every single mission involves murder, looting, or a combination of both. There are so few quests where you get to creatively solve problems, hunt down secrets, wrack your brain against challenging puzzles, or even complete mini-games... the whole thing tends to boil down to just going into a random area and butchering everything in your path. As before, this isn't a massive problem, but it is still something I would like to see Blizzard work on for future releases.
I do have to admit, seeing old heroes come back is quite awesome!
The story on the other hand is a fairly mixed bag. In classic World of Warcraft tradition the overall narrative is absolute garbage as it relies on cliches, deus ex machina, ancient prophecies no one knew about until you needed them, and naturally, a super weapon that is so powerful it had to be scattered into multiple pieces and forgotten for all time. I wonder where I've heard all of that before... oh wait, everywhere!
What's truly hilarious, however, is that the side quests exhibit very few of these flaws! I've seen nearly insignificant side quests with great mysteries behind them, excellent writing and even better voice acting, and a payoff that makes all of the trouble worth it. Some quests were hilarious and gave the world a lighter side, others showed the brutality of the demon invasion and the impact it makes on those that had to bear its worst, and others yet simply reveal the lore and legends the races of the Broken Shore hold dear to their heart.
A few of these side quests are some of the best mini-stories I've seen in a RPG, so to have them contrasted so heavily with the incredibly lazy main plot is a massive shame. But I suppose that is the sacrifice the writers had to make when it comes to creating a story that fits an MMO world. While I'm aware all of this sounds a bit negative, Legion's questing experience has been so much fun for me I can't help but wish it to be even better, and that process must start by accepting its flaws.
After Warlords of Draenor I must admit my interest in World of Warcraft has been at an all time low, despite the fact that I've been playing it for the better part of a decade, but with Legion I'm glad to say that my passion has once again been reinvigorated. I've been playing Legion for well over 40 hours now, and much to my surprise I'm still nowhere near done with it! Every single time I feel like I'm nearing the end-game, something new and interesting pops up and I find myself spending another couple of hours roaming the land and seeing what there is to see. For the first time in many years World of Warcraft feels like an actual world to me, and that is something that fills me with a great deal of joy!
If you've previously played World of Warcraft but have stopped due to the lack of content or dubious end-game design, then I full recommend you reactivate your account and give Legion a try. I don't know what the future will hold and if Legion will stand the test of time, but for right now I am having a ton of fun with it. Rather than dish out mostly meaningless praise, allow me to just say one final thing - as soon as I'm done with this review I'm going back online in order to delve through a few more dungeons. If that doesn't tell you all you need to know, I don't know what will.
Before you go, do bear in mind that this review only covered the leveling experience and some of Legion's early 110 content. Raids, PvP, Mythic Dungeons, Crafting, and other such elements that require a lot more time and dedication will be covered in part two as soon as I've managed to work my way through all of them.