While many other games would have petered off and sequeled up by now, World of Warcraft is a beast unlike any other, and has continued to evolve, changing, shifting, altering itself with each expansion pack until it barely resembles its original iteration. World of Warcraft: Legion brings a new transformation to WoW, making it into something smaller, sleeker; a creature far more befitting the modern gamer.
After the citizens of Azeroth raised their eyes to the skies and kicked some demon butt back in WoW's first expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, the demonic forces have taken their time to lick their wounds, get swole at the gym, and try to invade all over again. To combat these demons we get a new playable class, Demon Hunters --- headed by the sometimes antiheroic, sometimes villainous Illidan --- along with a complete overhaul to professions, Class Order Halls, Artifact Weapons, and countless small, smart, quality-of-life changes.
Demon Hunters are unlike any of Warcraft's other classes, with the ability to double-jump, glide, and blade dash/leap their way around maps like wild platformers. With their mystical tattoos, echoing voices, and hardcore attitudes, they ooze that fun --- almost kitschy --- coolness Blizzard is so good at. Gamers more accustomed to more action-heavy RPGs like Guild Wars or Bloodborne will likely feel right at home as one of Illidan's highly-mobile chosen.
The biggest changes, by far, are the Order Halls and Artifact Weapons. Order Halls are the 2.0 version of Warlord of Draenor's Garrisons, only with most of the fluff cut away. Soon after starting your adventures in the Broken Isles you'll find yourself on a quest to unlock your Order Hall, a class-specific base, and Artifact Weapon, a spec-specific weapon. These questlines are fast, fun, often make great use of your class' unique abilities, and have you interacting with the most notable NPCs of your class— Paladins get to hang with the ghost of Uther Lightbringer, Rogues can connive with the deadly Valeera Sanguinar, and so forth— who recognize you for the badass you are and ask you to become the leader of your class' order.
The Order Halls themselves are gorgeous places, each designed to fully immerse you in the fantasy of each respective character class, loaded of tiny, fun details and differences sure to please both hardcore wow lore buffs or people who just like the idea of being a wizard. Like Garrisons, Order Halls have you upgrading and accruing followers to send them on missions, but there are fewer, more meaningful missions rather than the onslaught of pointless excursions found on Warlords of Draenor.
Artifact Weapons are legendary armaments that come with special abilities, a talent tree of sorts, and rune-esque slots used to continually upgrade them over the course of the expansion. You'll level up your artifact by completing quests, scouring the world for treasure chests, taking down special boss monsters, etc. At lower levels this makes questing feel more rewarding than ever; there's a real sense of fun and wonder to sniffing out rare treasure chests as you're questing through a zone. At maximum level you'll continue powering up your artifact through the new World Quests— quests which are on constant rotation, offering high-level rewards and varied objectives. One quest might have you duking it out against other players, another might require you to play a mini-game, and another might task you with forging a stockpile of armor.
These systems combine to keep players feeling hooked and rewarded, and offer a flexibility which rewards you for playing the way you want to rather than whatever is the most optimal way to gain power. And playing as alts has never been easier or more rewarding: you can skip Legion's introductory quest after completing it once, allowing you to take on an entirely new adventure based on your class and spec. Not all Order Hall/Artifact quests are created equal (I'm looking at you, Havoc Demon Hunters), though most have that great "theme park" feeling WoW is so good at inspiring.
Quests, in general, have been greatly improved this time around, not only from a gameplay perspective, but in terms of sheer thematics. There are a number of memorable little characters, stories, and moments which are so well-crafted and unassuming even the most hardcore of WoW veterans will likely find themselves hanging around a little while longer to talk to NPCs despite the lack of tangible rewards. Legion’s stories and characters are sometimes tragic, sometimes epic, sometimes hilarious, and almost always compelling.
Legion's dungeons are as fun and polished as WoW's have ever been; gorgeous locales full of intriguing story and fantastic boss battles. With the addition of the new Mythic+ Dungeons (special dungeons with nigh-infinitely scaling difficulty and rewards), those who hunger for elite content but prefer to play with a smaller group of friends have found it. Plus, Legion introduces a new kind of level scaling technology, meaning players can tackle any zone at any time, no matter their level. Team up with a buddy to quest through Stormheim, if you're level 101 and she's level 109, the monsters will be level 101 to you and 109 to her, allowing you to play and fight together as equals.
Legion gets top marks for its aesthetics; the sweeping soundtrack and jaw-dropping locales make each moment an audiovisual treat. WoW's cartoony style has served it well over the years; while there are rough patches here and there (such as NPCs clad in low-rez armor from expansions past), Legion's continually-updated graphical options keep WoW looking pretty despite its age.
Legion plays like a game designed by a team who wanted to dig back to the essence of World of Warcraft, letting players live out the fantasy of getting to be a spell-slinging mage, an indestructible warrior, or a sacred paladin, alongside your friends. As time has progressed, so, too, has the zeitgeist of gaming, and Blizzard has kept its eyes peeled and its note-taking hands busy. Legion offers the epic raids of the past while adding more small-group and single-player content than ever before, changing its core systems in smart ways and touching on WoW's storied history by having you return to its most iconic locations and bringing back its most famous characters— in a lot of ways, this is like World of Warcraft: Greatest Hits Edition.
Modern games tend to have players in control of someone of importance, a main character who makes things happen, while MMOs have often had you playing as an unimportant foot soldier constantly running fetch quests. Legion, on the other hand, wants to recognize you as a hero. You're cool and important, so you get to go to cool and important places, do cool and important things, and collect cool and important stuff. This smart new mindset has lead to a peerless addition to Blizzard's biggest beast, showing that the beast is not only still alive, but its heart is pumping more strongly than ever.
This review is based on a download of World of Warcraft: Legion provided by the publisher for PC.