If you're a fan of the genre (and maybe even if you're not), as the most popular MMORPG currently available, it's almost impossible to have missed the release of the sixth instalment of World of Warcraft. Going by the name of Legion, this brand new expansion reintroduces the Burning Legion along with some other well-known names from the Warcraft universe.
Following up on their previous instalment, Warlords of Draenor, antagonist Gul'dan travels back in time and stumbles upon one of Azeroth's most notorious enemies: Illidan Stormrage. After releasing the Burning Legion upon Azeroth once more, only this time in larger numbers and in better shape (and, probably, a bit angrier too), it's a call to arms for all players to drive the demons back once and for all.
Never before had the increase in players felt as noticeable as it was with the release of Warlords of Draenor, but then there was an even sharper decrease shortly thereafter. To blame the infamous rocky launch wouldn't be fair; even with smooth gameplay, the amount of subscriptions rapidly reduced to even less than before release. The main reason behind this was largely due to the general sense of abandonment felt by the community when Blizzard didn't update the game in spite of promising to do so. Plummeting player numbers were also due to the fact that many features, whilst certainly luring many old and new heroes back to Azeroth, didn't quite work out as expected. A prominent example was the introduction of Garrisons: a solo instance where players could perform the same tasks daily, but not much else. Whereas games are usually pleasant escapism, a distraction from the daily grind, Garrisons seemed to encourage players to perform mundane tasks in return for fleeting rewards. Along with the lack of updates in general, Warlords of Draenor became as desolate as the many Garrisons it had sprouted.
However, having had a first taste with the beta and then returning once more following release, we daresay Blizzard has redeemed themselves entirely. Granted, the storyline is not a very original one, and like expansions before Legion, Azeroth is once again under threat from the strongest, baddest enemy the world (of Warcraft) has ever seen. Admittedly, an expansion revolving around how well everybody gets along would probably not make for an interesting game. However, Blizzard dabbles in yet another recycled concept - time travel - and uses it to reintroduce some old enemies as new threats.
Despite this, Legion feels like a fresh experience, and at the same time Blizzard layers in the rich lore and storytelling the series has always offered. Regardless of the recurring apocalyptic theme, the studio manages to captivate its audience time and time again. Questing (even the generic killing/gathering X amount tasks) remains interesting due to the innovative storytelling. We quickly became fully immersed in the game, and found each quest to be a meaningful assignment; instead of racing to the new level cap of 110, our main goal quickly shifted to discovering the many stories that these new lands had to offer.
Legion's new areas are another aspect that showcases Blizzard's ability to craft immersive and detailed worlds: although often described as having a 'cartoony' style, the distinctive artstyle befits the fantasy theme very well, and along the way players are treated to many new lands to explore. Just as captivating as the storyline, we found ourselves often wandering off to take in old ruins, marvel at dreamy landscapes, as well investigate the native wildlife that the Broken Shores have to offer.
We've covered Demon Hunters before, but it must be said once again: Blizzard rarely introduce new classes to their popular franchise, but when they do they make sure that they're well-rounded and innovative. Demon Hunters definitely live up to that standard, and not only are they the coolest looking class in game (sorry, Death Knights), playing with them is both fun and challenging. Not to mention they can transform into a mean monstrous fighting machine, and ride a class-exclusive badass demonic cat.
Existing classes have seen some major changes as well. So many even, that it would be too much to cover each and every single one. Most notably, Hunters are now not a solely ranged class anymore, and Warlocks with the Demonology spec no longer turn into demons, leaving that little trick as a class-exclusive for Demon Hunters only.
Another huge change comes in the PvP system, which now sets PvP and PvE apart from one another. Blizzard effectively eliminates unfair advantages in PvE as well as making PvP a lot more interesting by adding honour and prestige levels. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Legion's PvP season has not yet begun. Similarly, no raids are available as yet. Legion does, however, offer ten dungeons. Without spoiling all the fun, you can rest assured that these dungeons are certainly on par with the rest of the game.
As mentioned before, whilst looking good on paper, Garrisons didn't quite work out as expected. Instead of writing the concept off, Blizzard has improved the idea, now providing players with Order Halls. Here, players of the same class can retreat, which creates a stronger bond than ever amongst heroes cut from the same cloth. Order Halls are located and decorated befitting each class (for example, Shamans reside in a cave overlooking the Maelstrom and there's a sanctuary beneath Light's Hope chapel for Paladins). Furthermore, players have access to their followers and can send them out on missions, saving a trip to their Garrisons. Whilst players can also upgrade the look of their gear, it is mainly the added social aspect that makes Order Halls appealing. We were pleasantly surprised by the strong feeling of togetherness they created. Simply put, Order Halls are a huge improvement from the solo-instances in Warlords of Draenor.
The Transmogrify system, renamed as Transmogrify 2.0, has had an update as well: it is now easier than ever to dress your character in impressive (or less impressive - whatever tickles your fancy) gear that you can gather throughout Azeroth. You will no longer have to keep making deposits at the bank in order to support your characters' ever-changing fashion sense; items will now automatically be added to a wardrobe system similar to that seen in Diablo III. Besides cloaks and helmets, shoulder-gear can now be hidden too.
With more options than ever to customise your character, it seems almost strange that Blizzard has chosen to keep one of the most important features painfully bland: weapons. With the introduction of artifact weapons, heroes will all wield the same class-specific weapons from level 102 and up. Granted, alterations can be applied, but in general you will see a lot of players equipped with the same weapon as you.
A couple of minor gripes aside, it's hard not to be enthusiastic about the release of Legion. With a smoother launch this time around, improvements across the board, and a team of developers that are seemingly more committed to keeping the game updated, Legion has managed to attract many new and old players back to Azeroth. Deservedly so, as it's been a long time since we've been this excited about a World of Warcraft expansion, and Legion certainly lives up to our lofty expectations. It's clear that Blizzard isn't going to let World of Warcraft dwindle away to nothing now that other titles such as Overwatch and Hearthstone have gathered their own massive followings, and after this strong showing we can't wait to see what the studio has in store for its MMORPG in the future.