Twelve years ago, Blizzard was an unknown quantity in the niche MMO market; few knew what to expect when World of Warcraft went live. Six expansions and total world domination later, however, and the now-slavering fan base knows exactly what it thinks it wants – and it's not afraid to be very vocal about it.
One of the things fans have been very clear about is that, for the most part, they weren't very fond of the last expansion, Warlords of Draenor. While it impressed at first, the focus on garrisons made it much more of a single-player experience, and its dearth of endgame content left players starved for fresh content towards the end; an interesting lens through which to assess Blizzard's latest attempt to entertain World of Warcraft players.
Expansion six – called simply Legion – returns the world of Azeroth to the dire straits of WoW's first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Inhabitants of Azeroth must now put their differences aside and band together in order to fend off another demon invasion, before all is lost to the overwhelming evil that threatens to overrun the world.
The story isn't just skin deep in Legion; instead, Blizzard has built many of the expansion's core components around the narrative's cooperative beats. That might not sound novel for an MMO, but WoW's arguably been a solo experience of late, with players only coming together to tackle an instance or raid – and only then because they must.
Legion features a very garrison-like class hall as a base of operations, but now they'll be joined by other players by default. Right from the pre-launch patch, demon invasions allowed players of all factions (and even all levels) to band together in rewarding, entertaining encounters located around WoW's original continents.
The concept of characters of all levels working together and being rewarded appropriately extends into to the endgame, including in instanced dungeons and when revisiting leveling zones to tackle much more rewarding, max-level world quests.
Another significant feature is the introduction of Artifact weapons. Right from the start of Legion, players are rewarded with a powerful weapon which they can improve throughout the course of the expansion. Each has a skill tree – leveled up by quest rewards, for the most part – that is likely to take months for most players to completely top out.
On one hand, this approach is extremely rewarding for players who stick to a class or even spec (there's a unique artifact per spec, and weapons don't share upgrades). But on the other hand, this all but eliminates the idea of reaching the endgame on more than one or two characters due to the time investment required.
The leveling experience, while clearly a logical refinement of that seen in Warlords of Draenor, is an entertaining mix of scenarios and regular quests. Following a rousing class-specific intro scenario, players are elevated to the position of leader of their order, which provides a powerful motivation when it comes time to tackle the evil that pervades Legion's new lands.
What's peculiar about this setup is that you'll still find yourself killing random boars or helping out a Tauren with a problem in his garden. But while you'll definitely raise an eyebrow when it comes to the trivial nature of some tasks, Legion also offers a large number of truly epic experiences, and the balance is definitely tipped in favor of the excellent much more so than in the past.
What's not clear is how things will develop over the course of Legion's likely 18-month to two year span. Historically, Blizzard's content release has dried up toward the end of an expansion's life, with each cycle triggering a series of frustrated entreaties from the players alongside reassurances from the developers that things will be different this time. There's no way to know just how this expansion will develop, but things already look promising with the announcement that patch 7.1 and its Karazhan-themed content.
Legion improves the overall gameplay and mob-to-mob experience significantly. Numerous additions – new animations, more character voices, greater quest variety – ensure that the moment-to-moment gameplay feels fresh, and new endgame activities should help Legion maintain that feeling longer than in previous expansions. The new Legion companion mobile app means you can get a dopamine hit by managing your order hall missions on the go, as well as receive a preview of the rewards should you complete the current set of world quests.
New quest mechanics ensure that each of the zones is interesting to explore and the addition of a "world quest" mechanic makes revisiting those same zones once you get to max level feel rewarding – especially as you can now exploit the system to pursue an ever-higher item level without needing to use dungeons or raids, should you prefer.
Ultimately, where Legion succeeds is that it somehow feels both the most personal and social that WoW has ever been. The continued development of your artifact, for example, comes largely through interactions with other players, and these interactions are easy to come by thanks to the way players of different levels overlap to tackle the same content.
There are a few broken quests and little quirks here and there that occasionally frustrate, but Legion is definitely an impressive expansion. WoW is as good as it's ever been right now and the combined focus on both personal and multiplayer experience has renewed what was a flagging experience to create something that's fresh and exciting once more.