Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Legion Hype: The Honeymoon Is Over

World of Warcraft: Legion has been live for over six weeks now. The first content patch goes live on Tuesday, so the honeymoon period is over and it's time to take a moment to assess how well things went.

The Good

  • The Broken Shore scenario is an improved version of the Tanaan Jungle introductory scenario for Warlords of Draenor, and it does a far better job of setting up the stakes for this expansion's narrative. Three well-known lore characters get Killed Off For Real, setting up the major Alliance/Horde conflict this time around, and the credibility of The Burning Legion (with Gul'dan as the current invasion master) gets established in a satisfactory manner.
  • The new Demon Hunter Hero Class gets the best starting zone and introductory experience in the game to date, but getting the most out of it does require consulting an external guide so you can get all of the hidden upgrades and bonuses- things that will make the rest of leveling to from 100 to 110 easier.
  • The establishment of the Class Order Hall, and the acquisition of the first Artifact weapon, finishes the narrative stake establishment for this expansion. It works as intended, if not spectacularly so.
  • The leveling experience, so long as it is confined to the core narrative in each zone, is equal to that of Warlords of Draenor in its quality. The side quests and objectives, where they coincide with the main narrative thread, do not obstruct it; those out of the way can be safely ignored. Only the one dungeon quest gotten at the end is at all inconvenient, and then only if you're unable or unwilling to go as a Tank or as a Healer.
  • The World Quest system, once unlocked, taken as a whole with the Emissary system is fantastic for time-poor players. You need log in only every three days to play and stay abreast of those who do so daily, and the Flight Master's Whistle makes it convenient without needing true flight capability. As a new form of Daily Quest system, this is the best iteration yet; it's a nice adaptation of Diablo 3's Adventure Mode and Bounties.
  • Suramar's core narrative is good, and serves well to disguise the fact that you have to do it to unlock and attune to two dungeons (and, in 7.1, the final raid in the first tier), but unlike the other zones the welcome wears out quickly without having an external guide to show you what to do to progress through the narrative quickly.

The Bad

  • You MUST get your Artifact Knowledge Work Orders running as soon as you can if you don't want to turn your Artifact Weapon progression into a joyless grind that burns you out, and you have to stay on top of them. The multiplier to received Artifact Power is too good to ignore, no matter your level of time commitment to the game, and you must do it to unlock many hidden or ill-covered features of the expansion.
  • You can level as a Healer or a Tank, but you're far better off doing it in a DPS specialization. Furthermore, there is a clear imbalance in both the classes and their specializations that has been known since the Beta but (even with recent changes) still is not remedied. If you're aiming for the more competitive end of what the game offers you must be prepared to accept that your favorite class or specialization may need to be shelved until that's fixed.
  • On a related note, because Artifacts are tied to Specialization and you do get them all as you level, you will be expected to be competent at everything your class can do- and that means keeping off-spec Artifacts at a viable place should you need to swap to that spec for the good of your group, which again plays into the need to keep Artifact Knowledge going.
  • Suramar is too good to pass up. It offers so much Artifact Power, gates two dungeons and a raid behind it, and is required to complete for eventual unlocking of player flight in the Broken Isles. You had better rebind your Hearthstone to Shal'aran as soon as you unlock it; you're going to be here a lot.
  • Running Mythic+ (the adaptation of Diablo 3's Rift & Greater Rift system) increasingly becomes dependent upon group composition, and that means the community will impose its standards upon you if you don't secure your own regular team or squad to run them. This shift of that old raid mentality to what heretofore was confined to Challenge Mode play means that more casual players may hit a practical progression wall far earlier than before.
  • Raiding is ridiculously expensive due to the components for consumables and enchants being onerous to acquire, inflating prices by depressing supply, and without equal ability to acquire that revenue by satisfying that supply or manipulating the market via playing the Auction House it's prohibitive and thus freezes out a lot of players from raiding. (No, Looking For Raid still doesn't count.)

The Ugly

    Alts? You want to level an alt? Unless you make this a priority just after keeping yourself fed, clothed, and house you're not going to touch an alt until well into the expansion's lifespan. You will spend so much time questing for ever last little fucking thing on one character that you will not have time for alts. Want to max out your Professions? You're going to run dungeons to do that. You're going to grind Reputation for L3 patterns, or World Quests, or whatever until you want to kill yourself. Legion is the most alt-hostile expansions since Vanilla.
  • This build of the game has within it several known technical issues that even users with beast machines complain about. The new textures and models are NOT optimized; loading times even for top-end machines is bothersome, and for the majority on potatoes and aging machines even being at bottom settings may not save you. The lag from rendering can and will fuck you in the ass, especially if the texture also tanks your framerate (and there is plenty of occasions for that). In places where little hitches can be what determines if you get away clean or you get assraped and eat a repair bill, shit like that grates good and hard- and should be fixed, or at least disablable by players.
  • I hope you like repetition, because you will do a lot of the same thing. You'll run those eight dungeons a lot. You'll run that raid a lot. Quests take you there. World Quests take you there. Loot you want is there. Your dog wants you to go there, again, for the fifth time tonight. Even my favorite dungeon (Halls of Valor) gets old after enough re-runs and the new content enough sufficient in quantity to alleviate this.

Overall, Legion delivers and is an improvement over Warlords of Draenor, but there's a lot of room for improvement and several wrong trends in the dev culture persist. More on that down the road.

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