It was only a couple of months ago that I reflected on what World of Warcraft's Warlords of Draenor expansion had become over the months since launch, and at the time I suggested that it was "a placeholder while the team scrambles to come up with something better." Based on what Blizzard revealed on the main stage at BlizzCon today, the upcoming Legion expansion might be that "something better," after all.
Today, after months of flagging attention in World of Warcraft and declining subscriber numbers, Blizzard shows it still knows how to get our attention with some jaw-dropping cinematics. The main trailer for Legion depicts King Varian Wrynn aboard a ship besieged by the titular Legion, whereupon he's helped by none other than Lady Sylvanas Windrunner, a longtime Horde adversary (and fan favorite). The ship goes down, goes boom. Is Varian dead? No, he's changing specs (or something) and kicking ass! It's great stuff that ties directly into the storyline—so great, in fact, that many are claiming that it's better than the full-length Warcraft movie trailer that aired earlier in the day.
It sets the tone for the expansion, which seems to show the Horde and Alliance finally getting over their petty squabbles (to an extent) to work together and destroy an adversary that threatens them all. To that end, the expansion will kick off with a new 40-person scenario split evenly between the Horde and the Alliance as they rush to the tomb of Sargeras on the Broken Isles that serve as the expansion's setting.
The focus onstage then shifted to the new Demon Hunter hero class, which models itself on the emo Night Elf Illidan Stormrage from Warcraft III and starts players off at level 98. Long-awaited, the class nevertheless looks like it plays about as much as you'd expect based on previous Warcraft lore, right down to the hero slicing things up with oversized glaives. Illidan himself guides the class through its starting level, which takes place back in time when Illidan was still doing Hamlet impressions at Outland's Black Temple.
"Unprepared" for an assault on the fortress, Illidan sends his flock of homegrown Demon Hunters to the demon prison world of Mardum, which is crammed with both new and familiar varieties of demons. The Demon Hunter players slice through them, picking up their couple of hotbars' worth of skills from the very bodies of demons, and Illidan's even nice enough to give them a (rather ugly) semi-skeletal mount. The party ends, though, when Maiev Shadowsong jails all the new Demon Hunters for years, until at last they're set free in the unseen second half of the Demon Hunter starter zones to save the world.
Blizzard then devoted a huge chunk of its panel to showing off the art design of the six new zones for the Broken Isles, which are admittedly lovely. This is all that's left of Suramar, a vast region that was destroyed in the Sundering thousands of years ago.
One problem is that the zones seem to push the theme park concept a little too literally in contrast to previous expansions, as if going for a scattershot "greatest hits" appeal rather than a coherent theme. In one corner, for instance, we have Val'sharah, a leafy, druidy zone that contains Shaladrassil, the big tree that was once the entrance to the mysterious Emerald Dream. In another, we have Stormheim, full of the brawny Viking-like Vrykul warriors who were so popular during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Elsewhere still we have the Highmountain zone that's filled with Tauren with moose antlers, a pretty Greek island-themed zone called Azuna, and the sprawling city of Suramar itself, which is full of former Night Elves who've long been corrupted by the magic that's protected the place for all these years.
More interesting is how we'll level through this content. Instead of guiding the 100-110 progression through specific zones in order, the content will scale according to your new "legacy" weapon, thus allowing you to venture through the beautiful theme park in an order of your own. The upshot is that it's also a great way to allow players of different levels to play together, and that it also allows Blizzard to use every zone for endgame questing content.
The questing content itself sounds attractive, as Blizzard claims it wants to combine the story focus on endgame quests from Mists of Pandaria with the choices available in Warlords of Draenor. Now, they say, you'll be able to choose which missions you want to undertake, and some of these may take multiple days. Some are profession-specific, some are PvP-related (apparently there's still some bad blood there, cutscene to the contrary), and some will bring back minigames. The whole game will share the same quests in this regard, so it won't be necessary to hop to other servers to find the one you want or need.
And, naturally, there are new dungeons and raids. Legion will kick off with the seven-boss Emerald Nightmare raid set in the Emerald Dream (so much for that being a whole expansion) and the 10-boss Suramar Palace where Gul'dan apparently hangs out these days. Ten dungeons will make an initial appearance, with five being aimed at leveling up and five being aimed at the endgame. Legion even sees World of Warcraft rip a page from Diablo III with its Challenger's Keystone for Challenge Mode dungeons that recall Nephalem Rifts, although with modifiers that shake up the dungeon behavior aof enemies.
That's what we now know about Legion in a nutshell. This all sounds like great stuff, but here's to hoping Blizzard continues to dish out meaningful content for it after it launches next summer, rather than letting it chug along on autopilot as it did with Warlords of Draenor.
Blizzard said it plans to release Legion sometime in summer 2016.