It's been a month since World of Warcraft: Legion was unleashed, and during that time, WoW's sixth expansion has certainly garnered plenty of critical acclaim. Mike and I didn't rate it quite as highly as most, but still awarded it a very solid score of four stars out of five, noting that, "Legion is the invigorating shot in the arm that the game sorely needed."
I was very positive about much of the game's content, but had a few reservations regarding some of the fundamental changes to the gameplay that the expansion ushered in. After playing pretty much nightly for a month, I've got some additional perspective on that and other aspects of the game that we weren't able to cover in the original review.
Firstly, I have to admit that I've really enjoyed playing WoW over the past four weeks. What's clear is that its new endgame is very robust, with a tremendous amount of content for the average player to enjoy once they hit the level cap of 110, from world quests through dungeons to the recently-released Emerald Nightmare raid. They're all linked in a progressive way: Gear is earned by completing world quests and basic dungeons, which enables you to increase your character's item level and become more powerful, so that you can move onto heroic and mythic-level dungeons, and eventually tackle the new raid. It's a clear-cut system that effectively prepares players for Legion's high-end content via a fairly smooth learning curve.
Legion also offers a variety of activities outside of the dungeon-to-raid progression system. For those who enjoy questing, there are zone storylines to complete, and those dovetail with world quests to enable you to level up the pertinent reputation of that zone's faction, which gives you access to new gear and recipes. Some players have complained that these reputation quests can feel like a grind, but I've found that by taking a more long-term view of the task, and not trying to do everything at once, it's actually really enjoyable working through the different storylines. Some questlines are quite entertaining, and most of them are fairly low-stress, making them ideal for when you want to relax while playing WoW, or wind down after a particularly tough dungeon or PvP session.
Professions have been seriously retooled for Legion, and are now far more challenging to level up than they have been in the past. Most require questing, and even running dungeons to acquire the items needed to learn new recipes or become more proficient at gathering. However, while the new professions system is definitely more involving, its results are somewhat hit-and-miss. I've invested quite a lot of time into enchanting and tailoring, and while the former has been useful and rewarding, the latter hasn't. The best cloth items I can make using tailoring just aren't as good as the gear I've already received from dungeons and world quests, making the profession feel almost obsolete, especially when you consider the high cost of constructing items and the relative scarcity of materials.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but looking at other player's feedback on the official forums, my feelings about tailoring seem to be echoed by blacksmiths and leatherworkers. Other professions seem to be in a better spot, however, and can be used to make more useful and salable items. Ultimately, it seems that Blizzard has made an effort to stimulate the professions-based economy by making it more difficult to gather and create items, and thus generate more of a demand for them. It's a nice idea, but at the moment however, it doesn't seem to be working so well, with certain items and materials commanding very high prices – particularly flasks for raids and high-end dungeons. I imagine things will eventually settle down as players level up their professions, but it seems like it's going to take some time. On the positive side, professions represent another potential time sink to keep players busy – even if some of the gathering professions might seem somewhat of a grind.
Along with all its PvE content, Legion's PvP has kept me very busy. In my original review, I complained that the PvP environment felt really unbalanced at launch, with certain melee templates feeling over-tuned and capable of putting out very high sustained damage, resulting in a situation where players – particularly casters and healers – could be quickly overwhelmed and killed. Fortunately, WoW's developers were quick to react to this, and have since applied a hotfix to many character templates that has made PvP feel more balanced (that same hotfix also helped address some PvE inequities in terms of character damage output). As a result, PvP is definitely in a better place than it was, and although it's still not perfect – some melee characters are still capable of dealing quite considerable damage – it's definitely moving in the right direction.
What still needs work, though, is the Battlegrounds loot system. In random Battlegrounds, you currently receive a small loot chest for winning a game that contains a fairly useless item – perhaps a flask, or some materials – and, very occasionally, a random piece of PvP armor. The problem is that the armor is of a fairly low level, generally far lower than the items you can acquire from world quests, making it pretty much useless for PvP – especially considering that item level is the most important aspect of PvP armor. What would make more sense is to have higher-level PvP-specific armor drop that perhaps had lower-level stats on it so that it wouldn't undercut PvE armor. That would allow players to effectively gear up by participating in the activity they most enjoy without it affecting other aspects of the game.
The random loot system also applies to Rated Battlegrounds and Arenas, and while the item level of loot that drops is a little more generous, it's still frustrating to have to deal with a random number generator to acquire items. I've already received duplicate items, which is very annoying compared to the old system where you earned honor points that you could spend on the items that you needed.
Speaking of honor points, the new prestige system is pretty good. Honor is earned from all PvP activities, which gives you access to new PvP-specific talents as you work your way up to the maximum of honor level of 50. At that point you can prestige to reset your PvP talents, earn a reward, and start over again. However, many players aren't using the prestige system because the power granted by the PvP talents is simply too good, and the rewards are just not desirable enough. The developers have recognized this, and for the upcoming patch 7.1, the system is being reworked so that when you prestige, your talents don't reset. I think this is a good move, essentially delivering a system that allows players to work for the modest prestige rewards without gimping their character every time they start over.
An aspect of Legion that I was concerned about when I reviewed the game was the grind required to level up one's artifact weapon, and that still rings true four weeks later. Progress really starts slowing down at a certain point, and despite being able to increase the amount of artifact power you receive from items by completing research, it still seems like quite a lot of work. I'm not sure what the thinking was behind this, but it's basically made the game somewhat limiting when it comes to playing specs other than the one you initially chose for your artifact weapon. You can still play other specs, of course, but you're at a bit of a disadvantage compared to your primary spec.
The same system has also made it more challenging to level up alts, especially for more casual players who mightn't have the time to sink into leveling up their artifact weapon. I'm sure that the artifact power catch-up mechanics will help alleviate some of this grind eventually, but right now it feels like Legion's design is tilted towards focusing players on a single character and a single spec. I guess it makes leveling up and developing characters more meaningful, and gives players more to do, but for those who like playing multiple characters and specs, it's rather disappointing.
Something else that I wasn't particularly positive about in my original review was the redesign of some of the classes that Legion introduced, and four weeks later I'm still feeling the same way. My Discipline Priest is reasonably entertaining to play, even if it lacks the depth and flexibility that it once had – particularly in PvP, and when healing high-level dungeons. But I'm not impressed with the changes made to the Marksman Hunter, Frost Death Knight, and Arms Warrior. All feel fairly mundane and rote, and lacking in situational options – particularly the Hunter, which was hugely enjoyable to play before Legion, and now feels gutted.
These are all characters I've previously leveled up to 100, and as I look towards working on an alt to level up, I'm a little lost. I want to choose a character that's fun to play, but none of my "mains" really deliver that at the moment. I think I'll probably end up developing a Demon Hunter. I've had a crack at playing the Havoc spec, and quite enjoyed it: It seems to have a little more gameplay sophistication than the Death Knight and Warrior, and definitely feels very powerful both for PvE and PvP. It's just a shame that the characters I have an affinity for are not as enjoyable as they once were.
Still, work is currently underway on patch 7.1, and judging by reports from the PTR, it looks like Blizzard is tweaking and fettling virtually every class. Whether or not the forthcoming changes will address my issues remains to be seen, but it's good to know that at least classes are a work-in-progress and will continue to be refined as this expansion evolves.
In the meantime, I see myself investing plenty more of my gaming hours into World of Warcraft. Despite my complaints about certain classes not feeling as much fun to play as they once were, I still think Legion's content is very well designed and offers plenty to keep most players entertained. After a month of playing it a couple of hours a night, I still have a lot of work to do on my professions, and haven't yet stepped inside the Emerald Nightmare. I'll probably do that using the LFR first of all, so I can get used to the mechanics of the different boss fights, before seeing if I can join a raiding guild to participate in "normal" mode.
Like I said in my original review, I think WoW is in good shape right now. While some hardcore players are already pushing the limitations of its current content, I think for most players, Legion still has plenty of gas in the tank. Its true test will come when patch 7.1 is delivered. Karazhan sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun, but I think by that time the game will need more than just a new dungeon to keep its players engaged. I'm looking forward to seeing what else it brings: Hopefully modifications to professions, lots of new World Quests, and further tweaks to the way that classes work.