[Gaming] A Legion Retrospective and Battle for Azeroth Conjecture

In just two weeks from today, the latest expansion of World of Warcraft will be unleashed upon the world… assuming the servers don’t catch on fire or angry gamers don’t DDoS Blizzard. Battle for Azeroth returns the game back to the main story of the Warcraft franchise, the conflict between the Alliance and the Horde.

Legion is by many accounts the most successful WoW expansion, although there is still much strong nostalgia for both vanilla and Wrath of the Lich King. However, when I comb through my social media to see how players rate Legion, on the whole it seems more positive than negative when compared to expansions other than Wrath. Unlike previous expansions, Blizzard spaced out its content and added new facets to the story along the way, so players didn’t have to spend half of its two-year life cycle complaining about content drought as happened with Warlords of Draenor.

Early into Legion, players were actually complaining about too much to do, and that’s still a problem now, two weeks before launch of Battle for Azeroth. Right before the prepatch went live on July 17th, players could do things like multiple raids, grind for gear, grind for rep to unlock Allied Races, PVP, timewalking or regular dungeons, holiday events, class order stories, class mounts to unlock, Legion invasions on the Broken Isles, Legion invasions on Argus, grind artifact power for your artifact weapons, level professions. There were also limited-time events/activities that would no longer be available once the prepatch went live, such as unlocking the base Mage Tower appearances for the artifact weapons, completing certain levels of PVP to unlock certain elite gear transmogs, becoming a Field Medic before first aid was removed from the game.

Blizzard did a good job of listening to their community when they cried out ‘but we like playing alts too, Ion!’ The richness of the class order hall stories meant that more players were playing more alts than before, I’d wager, but I think most of us are super sick of the grind. Even now, there are calls to make things such as Balance of Power account-wide because it’s so much work on a single alt, and it prevents players who unlocked any or all of the three subsequent artifact tints from using them.

Speaking of the Mage Tower for a moment, I’d like to address community reactions to it, particularly all the people (including the preferred go-to guides on Wowhead) that kept saying the certain MT fights were easy. One of the most discouraging things about all of it was when I was struggling on one of the fights, and I’d tell someone what my ilvl was and which legendaries I had, and their reaction was that I’d easily beat it. No, none of the ones I accomplished were easy, even if I’d beat the same fight before with another class. Some of it was the RNG of the fight itself, some of it was accounting for the different class mechanics, some of it was my execution of class skills, and some of it was pure physical ability. Yes, they’re supposed to be a challenge, so each one was a sweet, sweet victory, but it was super discouraging to hear a well-meaning but ultimately unintentionally depressing remark from a friend or acquaintance who’s surprised that you’re having trouble with something they readily beat up on.

Another big problem with the MT fights is that many of them pretty much required certain legendaries to be successful unless you were super-skilled or Heroic or Mythic geared, and legendaries other than the guaranteed ring from killing Argus the Unmaker were all RNG based. Some players had accumulated several legendaries by the time they took on the Mage Tower, but that’s not everyone. And then having legendaries promptly become ‘buy what you want’ at the vendor the day after Mage Tower quests went away was a bit of slap in the face. I don’t mind that the MT artifact appearances are unobtainable anymore, but I do wish I had planned better and had been able to acquire a few more of them. The enhancement shaman and outlaw rogue ones are the most painful, but I have other appearances for those weapons I like, so it’s not the end of the world.

Turning to other aspects of Legion, professions also took a hit during this expansion, mostly because properly leveling them and unlocking the various recipes required a healthy dose of good RNG luck and running dungeon and raid content. Blizzard ‘encouraged’ (read: forced) players who didn’t like to/want to/had the ability to do group content by placing not only profession content in them, but also tied the class order hall campaigns to them. You simply cannot complete your class hall story without dungeon or raid runs, sorry.

I know what many of you are flippantly thinking: it’s an MMO, you’re supposed to group up, that’s the whole point, it’s in the bloody acronym. No, that’s ableism, pure and simple. Not everyone wants or is able to to group up with other players. Look how people complain about pugs all the time, and I’m not talking about the cute dog breed. Look how toxic chat can be, and who the hell actively wants to hang out with abusive people? Look at all the negative gamer behaviors out there. Not everyone can group up with others due to time constraints such as jobs/school, social anxiety, or other perfectly valid medical conditions. Not everyone has a guild capable of raiding or doing regular dungeon runs. It’s not our place to judge why a player doesn’t want to or is incapable of doing group content. Just simply understand that those reasons are valid and this expansion ignores all of them. Blizzard insisted on players’ completion of many separate segments of group content in order to finish story goals or to get through what would normally be the non-raiding bits of the expansion. That’s a first for WoW. In Warlords of Draenor, players could get through most of the story without having to raid, although certain story elements were completed in those raids. Sure, you had to PVP and raid to complete the legendary ring in WoD, but you didn’t have to in order to learn all the cool crafting recipes, and you didn’t really need it to succeed in the game. Your base character’s story as the commander of this garrison on Draenor wasn’t tied to whether you’d run through Blackrock Foundry or Hellfire Citadel every week. All you got out of them was higher gear, more or less.

Speaking of higher gear, the artifact weapon system was both a success and a failure. Once it got massaged to be more alt-spec friendly and a bit less of a grind, it seemed all right. It was a nice and only mildly subtle means to encourage players to try out other kinds of content to get the various artifact tints and much less of a requirement than, say, professions requiring group content to complete. However, we all knew from before Legion‘s launch that the artifact weapons were a one-expansion trick pony. That foreknowledge doesn’t save Blizzard from the community unrest caused by the, quite frankly, uninspired story chosen to cover the reason why suddenly all of our heroes had to give up their artifact weapons. To me, it didn’t feel like my character was doing anything heroic like when we kicked Argus the Unmaker’s butt in the Seat of the Pantheon. Honestly, the most enjoyment I had out of that brief event was seeing how silly people could get with their disguises and transmogs during the cutscene where the weapon gets overcharged. Otherwise, it was pretty much a downer, especially since we just had this huge victory and instead of some downtime to celebrate, we have to promptly jump into a new conflict. More on that later.

In the meantime, those who are playing the prepatch content can already replace these super-famous legendary weapons with a green you pick up in a world quest in Darkshore without any fuss or muss. I mean, my characters aren’t often the most egotistical in the world, but you kinda have to tilt your head a bit when you’re the Ashbringer and suddenly you’re wielding some random green Draenei-style warmaul… oh, and you’re a Blood Elf too… because it has higher stats than the Ashbringer. THE. ASHBRINGER. WTF, Blizz. At the very least, players should have been given some lesser epic weapon to use, not some random unnamed green. We earned that much, at least.

I think most of my personal dissatisfaction about the end of Legion and the beginning of Battle for Azeroth stems from one thing, a Blizzard value I think they took too far this time: Gameplay First. The only major thing they did all expansion where they should have put gameplay in front of story and made it more balanced between the factions was the Allied Races. In that, the Alliance pretty much got boned for the initial two races. Let’s take a look at this.

Alliance (Lightforged Draenei and Void Elves):

  • Neither race known/heard of until Argus launched 1 year into the expansion
  • Much shorter story arc, much more grinding to get Exalted with the Argus factions
  • Must be at cap to open up Argus and start grinding the rep
  • Higher ilvl required to survive on Argus
  • No gameplay requirements to do the story to unlock anything except the Netherlight Crucible

Horde (Highmountain Tauren and Nightborne):

  • Both known about/heavily promoted before the expansion even launched
  • Lengthy and involved story arcs to mask the grind
  • HMT can be started as soon as one gets to the Broken Isles
  • NB start at cap but have a lower ilvl required to complete
  • NB content required for order transmog set
  • You pretty much completed their requirements over a year ago during regular gameplay

The base Legion story before Argus had both factions working with the Nightborne to help Thalyssra’s rebels overthrow Elisande. Before we knew that Argus would be plopped smack-dab in Azeroth’s sky (thanks Illidan), players of both sides worked with these elves in good faith to reclaim their city. Yet, the story of Legion sells out the Alliance’s hard work and tells us players that our leaders were somehow reluctant to help the Nightborne and thus that’s why they choose to ally themselves with the Horde. However, Alliance players still have to complete certain gameplay aspects of Suramar’s story if we want to unlock various things such as achievements such as Loremaster of Legion, which is required to unlock flying in the Broken Isles, or to complete our order hall transmog set.

Horde players aren’t required to do anything at all on Argus if they don’t want to. The only gameplay Horde players might want to complete is just enough of the story to unlock the Netherlight Crucible, and that’s an account-wide unlock. I’ve never completed the Argus story on a Horde alt, but I’ve had access to the Crucible ever since my Alliance main unlocked it. The Crucible was also only somewhat effective as a power-up tool. Half the things you get from it were listed as ‘your abilities have a chance of…’ procs that don’t actually tell you how much of a chance it was. I almost invariably went with the options that were a guaranteed power increase unless I had no other options.

Let’s talk a little bit about the Allied Races themselves. Of the four we currently have and the four we know for sure are coming with the expansion, their factional choices make sense other than the Void Elves and Nightborne. Of course the Lightforged Draenei are going to the Alliance and of course the Highmountain Tauren are going to the Horde. However, I feel that both elven faction choices were forced by gameplay and not by story. Or rather, Blizzard chose the gameplay and forced the story to comply with that choice, throwing Alliance players’ efforts under the bus at the same time.

A better, less dismissive-to-the-player choice would have been to set them up as bifactional just like the Pandaren. It also would have helped if Blizzard had listened to their community who wanted proper High Elves in the game like Alleria was before her transformation, esp after raising hopes so much at BlizzCon a few years ago when they announced Turalyon and Alleria were coming back. I think that a better solution as to what to do with the Nightborne and Void Elves would have been to leave it up to the player to decide which faction their elves went to. We already have elves in both factions. Void Elves use the same base character model as Blood Elves/High Elves. There is a shared culture and history that would have let them go either way. But no, they had to show a cutscene where Alleria goes home to Quel’thalas and have Lor’themar be a jerk to her when she wanted to talk to him and another cutscene of Thalyssra talking to Liadrin and painting Tyrande in a bad light and saying ‘the Alliance’ was reluctant to help them to justify them choosing the Horde – something that wasn’t evident before in previous quest text. There is no similar Horde-shaming in the reciprocal cutscenes given to folks recruiting the Void Elves and Lightforged Draenei.

The story of Legion wraps up several threads that had been present in the Warcraft franchise all tied to the infamous Illidan, a character that was introduced as a betrayer years ago but acquired more nuances and layers as the years passed, finally going out in a blaze of glory in battle with Sargeras. The Burning Legion, which had razed most of the universe over the course of millennia, had finally been defeated through the actions of heroes like you and me. Yet, instead of getting a big wingding to celebrate at the end, we sacrifice the iconic weapons we’d acquired to fight the Legion to defang Sargeras’ sword stuck in Silithus and are promptly drawn into a factional conflict.

Going back to the core factional conflict in an MMO after an expansion’s worth of time working together always feels weird. It did when Star Wars: the Old Republic did their Forged Alliances story arc that led into their current Alliance structure where players have followers from both primary factions as the leader of a third faction that occupies an imperial throne. It’s worse between Legion and Battle for Azeroth, because we just spent the past two years hanging out and working with members of the other factions, and many of us players agree with our fellow order NPCs and would prefer to stick with the orders rather than factions. The order hall structure was a realization of the concept first employed in the game during Burning Crusade, where players could gain rep with the cross-factional Cenarion Circle or Earthen Ring, or Wrath of the Lich King‘s Argent whatever current iteration Tirion was leading at the time. Blizzard proved that the NPCs and players of the game could set aside factional differences and work together for common goals and have done for over a decade, and they seem to have ignored the segment of their community that thinks the factional hate is pretty stupid by this point.

To me, it feels as if the orders were a waste of time story-wise, if all the work we did in them pretty much amounted to nothing. I spend two years as an Alliance paladin with a Horde combat ally, working together with no story hints pointing to it being reluctant or a simple convenience, and suddenly we’re hated enemies again the second the Legion is defeated? Even Christie Golden’s book Before the Storm addresses the whole faction versus order tension briefly (no spoilers) as it led into the story that will be playing out in-game. I love the richness of the out-of-game story that Blizzard supplies, but if you focus strictly on the in-game stuff, then you wonder what the hell is going on sometimes.

A lot of this return to factional conflict seems so forced to me. We’ve known since BlizzCon that the Horde was going to burn down Teldrassil and that the Alliance was going to attack Lordaeron. Now, I haven’t played through the sequences on beta (was too busy grinding gear for the Mage Tower runs), so it’s like… why? So far, it’s all about Sylvanas being an aggressor and attacking the Alliance just because… why? So they wouldn’t be able to gather up this new Azerite (aka blood of Azeroth the nascent titan at the core of the planet) and use it against the Horde? All of this is happening because Sylvanas is pulling the strings here. The Alliance didn’t want another war. The rest of the Horde doesn’t seem to want the war. I don’t believe Sylvanas actually thinks the Alliance wants to start another fight. She’s manipulating the various pawns in her grasp for power.

Again, without spoiling the contents of Before the Storm (please go buy it and read it, it’s really good!), we have no reason to believe that there’s any kindness or positive emotion coming out of Sylvanas, any real protectiveness for the Horde itself, that she’s doing any of this for the Horde’s benefit… she’s doing it for her own. The same as Garrosh did. Garrosh didn’t care about the Horde any more than Sylvanas does. They’re a means to an end, that’s all. And I think that’s unfair to the Horde itself and to its players in-game. I might main Alliance, but damn, my Horde characters have zero respect for Sylvanas (even the Forsaken!), because she doesn’t respect the Horde and what it represented in the past. As a player, I’ve never understood the cult of Sylvanas, how other people respect her as a character or trust in her actions and are willing to make excuses for the atrocities she’s committed either directly or through her leadership. I understand they sympathize with her because she was abused and violated by Arthas, but she’s turning into him in that she’s willing to do similar terrible things to innocent people to get what she wants.

Knowing that the night elves will lose Teldrassil saddens me. My first-ever character was a night elf druid, and that music still takes me back to those halcyon days in vanilla. While those who’ve played beta will know how it turns out, but I’m personally gonna be vexed at Blizzard if they find some way to make it not Sylvanas’ fault. They’ve spent so much time marketing it as ‘the Horde burns Teldrassil down because Sylvanas!’ and pointedly showing Sylvanas watching it burn, and having her be the leader of the current machinations and aggressor here, it would feel wrong to me if they suddenly go ‘Surprise, it wasn’t actually her, it was…’ and then have it be some outside force (we’ve been there, done that), or better yet, find a way to blame it on someone in the Alliance. Many night elf players have taken retrospective journeys through Teldrassil, but oddly, I haven’t seen similar things from Forsaken players, since presumably what’s gonna happen here is that the Undercity will be similarly removed from level-capped gameplay experiences. From my understanding, the zones will still be as is for leveling characters, but once they get to BfA content, they’ll be phased just like the Blasted Lands are, where you use a bronze dragon to bounce you to the correct version.

The loss of Darnassus and the Undercity also will affect gameplay, particularly around holidays and for basic travel. Personally, I’d be sad if we lost Brill, especially during Hallow’s Eve. It was the perfect spooky Halloween town. I’m sure Blizzard has thought about this and sorted out a solution, but having them permanently altered a la Cataclysm‘s effects on various places, would have been a sore loss indeed.

In all, Legion was a solid expansion, and BfA will be transitional. I’m not sure I like the sudden reappearance of Jaina Proudmoore who was supposedly off doing her own thing during Legion (with only an out-of-game reference saying what she was doing during that time) despite seriously liking the Warbringers animated short about her. Sure, she’s a great link to bring in Kul Tiras as a new area, but she’s suffered so much and right now, I’m not sure the Alliance should trust her. It seems as if this will be a fight primarily between Sylvanas and Jaina, to be honest, because Anduin doesn’t actually want a war, he wants peace… and it seems to me as if they’re going to use Jaina to drag the Alliance into war good and proper. Jaina, who’s now listening to what her father, the warmongering Daelin Proudmoore, was saying. Yeah. She’s going to become her father, just as Sylvanas will become the corrupt abuser that Arthas was.

Why is it the female characters are the warmongers, and the guys are like ‘I’d rather be off doing things with my fellow shaman (Thrall)/priests (Anduin)’? Even Khadgar said ‘sod this for a game of soldiers’ and took off for Karazhan because he wanted no part of this conflict. To me, it seems so pointless. I’m all for letting the ladies step up and all, but even the one character whose story I was most interested in during Before the Storm (no spoilers still) went that route. She at least opened up a rather intriguing sort of thing that would be awesome if players could get in on that, but meh, I don’t see it happening. It’ll just be like Sylvanas all over again, a person leading another group of people but not actually being part of that people. I was bored with that in Tolkien, I’m not keen to see it here too.

That being said, it’s possible I’m wrong about some of my conjectures on what will happen. It wouldn’t be the first time. I can’t say I’m mad about the item squish or having to redo the talents on all of my characters, but I am rather happy with my paladin’s rotation again. I missed my Hammer of Wrath (sniffle). However, I’m not as keen on the story, and that makes me sad. Still, I’ll be the last person to give the devs shit about it as other people have been doing on the net. Some of them are acquaintances, some actual friends, so I’ve been trying to be careful to pin any of my concerns on Blizzard the company rather than take it out on actual people, because that’s part of toxic gamer culture that needs to die in a fire, attacking devs for doing their jobs.

So, we’ll see tomorrow how the burning of Teldrassil goes, but I can’t say I’ll be happy about it.