How World of Warcraft: Legion is bringing a sense of mystery back to MMOs

A seemingly endless layer of puzzles has Azeroth feeling exciting again.

Deep in the Moon Guard Stronghold of Suramar, I found something that caught my eye. As I slaughtered another squad of the Nightborne elves that had taken over the fortress, I found a baby owl. This little creature didn't look all that different from her feathered friends, other than a tiny difference: her name was "Moist Owlette." I laughed at first but was then struck by a thought: What if there's more to her than just a silly pun?

I opened up Google and found a WoWHead wiki page on her, eager to see if this little wink from Blizzard could be more of a nudge towards something undiscovered. Sadly, the evidence suggested not and I felt a little silly for getting so worked up. But that's the magic of Blizzard's obsession with injecting so many hidden mysteries and puzzles into its latest World of Warcraft expansion, Legion. Even the smallest, out of place detail can lead to a moment of adventure and, as a result, I'm beginning to over-scrutinize everything. Legion is turning me into a Warcraft conspiracy theorist and I love it. 

Looking for a legend 

While the Mystery of The Moist Owlettes is a story that ends after a single, disappointing paragraph, other players are donning deerstalker caps and cracking mysteries much more exciting than mine. Last month, players found closure to a puzzle that had been teasing them for years after obtaining a long sought after pink hippogryph mount. It was a rabbit hole of an adventure that even led them to uncovering another, unrelated mystery.

Many of these riddles revolve around Legion's new artifact weapons—items of legend unique to each class specialization that level up and grow more powerful right alongside you. As I wrote in the review, I wasn't fond of the system because every member of a given class was wielding the exact same weapon. I felt like the limited cosmetic options didn't do much to distinguish you from your peers. That's still true, but there's also hidden skins for the 18 weapons that each has its own unique method to unlock. At the time, this didn't seem particularly exciting to me as some were drops from bosses or purchased from vendors. But a few of these skins are the prize for completing a series of dizzyingly complex hidden quests, and reading about the journey to discover them is just as exciting as actually owning the damn things.

One of the greatest of these mysteries has been a quest a decade in the making. Back in 2006, a player by the name of Osmigos posted a thread about a curious discovery he had made while killing slimes in the Western Plaguelands. He found "Timolain's Phylactery" on one of the corpses, but was confused as Timolain wasn't an established character in Warcraft lore. "No one I asked had the slightest clue what this was," Osmigos writes. "The single piece of information I managed to gather was that Timolain was an Archmage of some power."

Needing to know more, Osmigos sleuthed through nearby villages and determined that Timolain might be the creator of Ashbringer—one of WoW's most storied swords that players had known about since release but had never been able to obtain. Rumors of how to acquire Ashbringer were rampant among the community, but Osmigos' discovery was a new thread for everyone to pull at. If Timolain created Ashbringer as Osmigos and others suspected, figuring out his fate might bring them one step closer to its location.

Sadly, the puzzle pieces Osmigos was trying to put together would never fit. Timolain's Phylactery would eventually disappear entirely. A few years after Osmigos' discovery, Blizzard removed the item from WoW altogether, giving players the impression that the story of Timolain was not the road that would lead them to Ashbringer. So they waited and speculated until Legion ended that 12-year-long quest to own Ashbringer. It was released as an artifact weapon easily obtainable by all 'retribution paladins'—an anticlimactic end to the hunt for such a fabled weapon. But even if Blizzard decided to hand out Ashbringer to every paladin like a participation ribbon, it hadn't forgotten Timolain or the players like Osmigos.

Just last month, Osmigos posted to the forums again, updating his decade-old story with some exciting new details. "Now that we finally have the Ashbringer in hand," he writes, "it appears that Blizzard has written a love letter to all the original hunters who scoured Azeroth searching for the sword, and given us a hidden skin related to this early theory."

I feel like Azeroth is once again a place teeming with adventure.

"The hunt is back on, boys!"

Osmigos discovered that Timolain's Phylactery was back in the game and now updated with new details that clearly indicated it was a clue for something. The dead-end mystery of Timolain was resurrected, now with a proper conclusion that players retracing all of Osmigos original steps, killing slimes, and even fishing in a specific location over a thousand times just for the next piece of the puzzle.

Reading through that thread as players frantically try to piece it together with the same enthusiasm they had a decade ago is exciting. But I love that Blizzard isn't just digging deep into Warcraft's lore to create new adventures in Legion, but also the history it shares with its community. In a way, Blizzard is canonizing the myths and rumors its players obsessed over so that they can finally gain closure after all these years. And perhaps unintentionally, It's making me feel a sense of adventure that I haven't felt about WoW in a long time. 

A dash of mystery 

For the most part, MMOs have become rigid beasts of habit, and even between various games in the genre, there's very little that is new and exciting. Hell, even Warcraft's artifact weapons are a partial ripoff of Final Fantasy XIV's zodiac weapons—which in turn ripped off from Dark Age of Camelot. Each MMO shares an overwhelming sense of familiarity with the rest. It's great when you want to try out a new one and don't have to relearn everything the genre taught you, but it also means very little about that genre is ever surprising.

But Legion's obsession with hidden puzzles has surprised me. I feel like Azeroth is once again a place teeming with adventure. I'm constantly keeping my eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary because I so desperately want to be a part of that unfolding story. When I find a ring lying in a field that allows me to shoot bolts of electricity, I don't use it to kill a monster but check to see if there's some kind of device I can power on. Could I one day be like Osmigos, sharing a riddle I stumbled across so that others can help me solve it? A part of me hopes so.

These small moments in Legion are bringing me back to a time when MMOs and RPGs were much more demanding. A time when quest markers didn't meticulously plot out every step, where success wasn't determined by being stubborn but clever, and where the worlds I played in felt unpredictable. Most of Legion isn't really interested in reliving those old days—and that's okay—but I love that there's still echoes of that time scattered around the Broken Isles. It's also great to see Blizzard honoring the investment of its most dedicated players by taking their wild theories and making them fact. Sure, it's turning me into a bit of a nutter who is constantly scrutinizing every detail to make sure nothing seems out of place. But it's fun to play an MMO that, for once, inspires me to carefully observe my surroundings instead of just running off in pursuit of that next quest. 


Steven is PC Gamer's contributing editor and has a nose for sniffing out the interesting and unique stories being told every day in the PC community. He likes RPGs of the MMO persuasion but isn't that popular so regular RPGs are good too.
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