Blizzard has shown the next World of Warcraft expansion to the world. When the company announced that it would be doing a livestream announcement about the next expansion at Gamescom, I was a bit confused.
Then Activision Blizzard release its financial earnings report for the second quarter of 2015, ended on June 30, 2015. In that report, we found out that World of Warcraft ended the quarter with 5.6 million subscribers, a number the game hasn't seen since 2005. The game is hemorrhaging subscribers, either because players are simply fatigued and aging out of the game or because Blizzard is doing something wrong. While WoW is still very high for an MMO, Blizzard can't rest on what it's done before. Two years between expansions won't work when other titles have more ambitious content schedules.
So today Blizzard buckled down and announced World of Warcraft: Legion. The new expansion is focused on the return of the Burning Legion. In fact, the presentation really felt like Blizzard was aiming to make Burning Crusade 2.0, an expansion taking some of the best concepts from prior releases and tackling some long-running fan requests. This is a company trying to get back some of those lapsed fans. As I've always said, companies do their best when they're hungry.
The presentation started with "a story so far" trailer from Warlords of Draenor, showing the rise of the Iron Horde, Gul'dan ultimate betrayal of Grom Hellscream, and banishment from our plane of existence. Then game director and vice president Tom Chilton took to the stage to show us all about the new title.
"We've been in production on this expansion for quite some time now," said Chilton. "We're going to show you a video that's an important connecting point. This is a completely independent piece that's just meant to be connective tissue between the expansions."
The big features you can expect in Legion:
- Level Cap bumped up to 110
- New Region: The Broken Isles
- New Hero Class: Demon Hunter
- Class Orders and Order Halls
- Customizable Artifact Weapons
Exploring a New Horizon: Legion's New Regions
WoW creative director Alex Afrasiabi called the new Broken Isles a "land at heart of Azeroth that was long forgotten," noting that the continent "is a graveyard of sorts." Here players will explore a long-forgotten Night Elf civilization, search for the Titan-powered Pillars of Creation, and ultimately defeat the Legion.
"Every single person that has played WoW in the last five to ten years is going to be shocked," said Afrasiabi.
Then he took us on a tour of the various regions that will make up the Broken Isles, many of which are particularly lore-heavy. Afrasiabi began with Val'sharah, where Malfurion Stormrage became the first druid and players will take on Xavius inside the Emerald Nightmare. Stormheim pits players against the Vykul's God King, while exploring the origins of Wrath-related groups like the Val'kyr
Aszuna is the Night Elf ruins that Afrasiabi mentioned before, where players will race again Queen Azshara and her minions for control of the region. Highmountain are craggy peaks that are the home to some isolated Tauren, Hemit Nesingwary's new hunting grounds, and a region that was home to Neltharion, the Earth-Warder. (You probably know him as Deathwing.) Finally, Suramar is the highest level area of the expansion and home to a new race of elves who have thrives on their magic, like the Blood Elves did. These elves are pawns of the Burning Legion, so you'll have to face them and Gul'dan to turn back the demonic army.
Afrasiabi also mentioned Valeera Sanguinar and General Turalyon as characters we may interact with in the new expansion, continuing the Warlords of Draenor's concept of focusing heavily on player's accomplishments and their exchanges with famous figures from the lore.
Get Equipped With... Legion's All-New Artifact Weapon System
The most interesting idea in the presentation was Artifact Weapons. Many of these weapons are drawn directly from World of Warcraft lore, like the Ashbringer or Frostmourne. They're also all class specialization specific, meaning there are 36 weapons in total. Each weapon will accompany you on your journey through the expansion.
If you're a Retribution Paladin for example, you'll get a quest early on that has you recovering Highlord Mograine's Ashbringer. Frost Death Knights will recover the shattered shards of the Lich King's Frostmourne, reforging it into the twin rune blades Icebringer and Soulreaper. Mistweaver Monks can acquire Sheilun, Staff of the Mists. Other weapon include Doomhammer for Enhancement Shaman, Felo'melorn for Fire Mages, and the Eagle Spear for Survival Hunters. One of the coolest artifact weapons is the Fangs of the First Nightsaber, which change the look of a Feral Druid's animal forms.
Once you've picked up your artifact weapon, you'll start to acquire Artifact Power. You then spend artifact power to customize your weapon with new designs and traits. When it comes to designs, every weapon has a basic version, a powered-up model, and then a few additional models that players can acquire. In addition, there are multiple colors for each model, so everyone won't be carrying around the same Ashbringer or Eagle Spear.
You can also unlock traits for each weapon, with the trait tree changing depending on the former of the weapon. These traits give your characters new skills or modify existing skills. When you unlock one trait, you'll also unlock the next branches in that tree. Honestly, the Artifact Weapon system is probably the idea I enjoyed most in the presentation. I tend to play solo these days, so systems that benefit solo players like this one are high on my list. I'm sure they'll have Raid-specific weapon models for each artifact weapon, but being able to have one in the first place is a bonus.
Class Orders: Players Lead the Charge
Next up are Class Orders, which sound like an expansion of the Garrison concept from Warlords of Draenor. Joining your class order is the second thing you do after putting together your artifact weapon. Alongside the class orders are Order Halls, which are class-only spaces, like the Death Knight home base of Acherus.
Like garrisons, the player is the class leader and each class will fight the legion in a different way. Within your order hall you can customize your artifact weapon and get special quests. You'll also be ordering Champions around, which look to be a replacement of the garrison Follower system. Expect fewer characters this time around, but each character will be more important and allowed for more customization. Blizzard wants your Champions to work alongside you to find new regions and challenges to tackle, as opposed to them simply going out on missions. A presentation slide urged players to think of Champions are your own Knights of the Round Table.
Moving onto dungeons and raids, Blizzard it hoping to make them more important to the player beyond early expansion grinding.
"We don't want dungeons you can do for a month at the beginning and then forget" said lead game designer Ion Hazzikostas.
He covered a few of the initial dungeon, including the Valhalla-themed Halls of Valor, which feature some Vykrul lore. Black Rook Hold is the ancestral home of Lord Kur'Talos Ravencrest and an fortress in Val'Sharah. The Vault of the Wardens is where players will begin their hunt for Illidan. The full list of announced dungeons:
- Eye of Azshara (A joking reference to a frequent expansion rumor.)
- Halls of Valor
- Black Rook Hold
- The Vault of the Wardens
- Darkheart Thicket
- Neltharion's Lair
- Suramar City
- Violet Hold
Blizzard also outlined two raids, noting that they liked the raid and progression style in Warlords. The first raid is the Emerald Nightmare, a long-requested area of WoW lore. Raids will take on Xavius within the twisted and broken Emerald Dream while searching for Cenarius. The Emerald Nightmare is 7 bosses in total. The second raid is Suramar Place, with raid groups facing off against Gul'dan in the heart of the grand city of the new elves. Suramar Place will have 10 bosses and an Night Elf theme.
Illidan, The Class
The focus for many people will be on the new Hero class, Demon Hunter. Yep, hero class like Death Knight, meaning they probably won't start at level 1 like the Monk. The Illidari are elite warriors sent back by Illidan, so their story will begin in the past, probably concurrently with the events in Burning Crusade. New Demon Hunter will awaken in the Vault of the Wardens.
The odd thing about the Demon Hunter is the class only has two specializations: Havoc and Vengeance. Havoc is the damage spec, while Vengeance is the tank spec. Blizzard looked into a third spec, but a healer spec didn't make much sense for the class and they probably didn't want to repeat the early issues they had with Death Knights. Demonic Fury is the class resource, with skills either building or costing Fury.
Oh, and the Demon Hunter can double jump. Yeah, it's kind of cool.
PVP Gets Overhauled... Again
Finally, Tom Chilton took to the stage again to explain the new Honor System. We've been working with the same system since Burning Crusade and Blizzard feels it's time for a refresh. The issue with Honor System version 1 in vanilla WoW is PVP player hd to literally commit their live to playing to stay on top. Honor System version 2 was a currency system, that we've carried forward until now. You played in PVP, you gained currency, you bought PVP gear. The problem with that is the gulf between have and have-nots in PVP is super-wide. If you don't have the best gear and you go up against someone who does, you're going to lose.
The new Honor System does away with all that in favor of a Trait system that looks suspiciously cribbed from Guild Wars 2's WorldvWorld PVP leveling system. The effect of gear on PVP play has been lessened considerably. In the new system, you gain Honor levels all the way up to 50 as you PVP. On your way up, you can also unlock various class-specific abilities. One example was a Shaman Trait that lowered the cooldown on Bloodlust, but made it so that the ability only works on you and a single target. Blizzard hoping to have a number of different traits that focus existing skills in different directions.
The new Honor System is also backed up by Prestige Ranks. Once you get to max level, you can reset your Honor Rank and level again for cosmetic rewards. These rewards include character badges, special mounts, and unique artifact variants for PVP players. If you care about the visual stuff, you'll dive into Prestige Ranks again and again. If you just want to PVP, the road into that is much easier now.
That's a lot to take in, but Blizzard is hoping that World of Warcraft: Baby Come Back Edition brings some older players back in the fold. Legion will ended beta later this year, so it looks like we may have a Q1 2016 release for the new expansion. Either way, Blizzard is trying it's best to keep players in WoW, instead of jumping for the expansion and leaving again.