At this point a lot of words have been spilled over World of Warcraft‘s latest expansion Legion, most of which have been put forth by people who are much more familiar with the franchise than I am. I’m a casual WoWer at best; although I own all the expansions and have played each to varying degrees, I don’t do group content (for differing reasons), and I have no interest in the things that WoW tells us we should have interest in: raiding, loot, and the perpetual go-round formed by the two working in tandem.
There is something intrinsically awesome with Legion however. It seems to have more story than any of the other expansions. The design of the zones are top-notch. Some of the complaints from the past (garrisons) have been worked on (class halls) to great success. But one of the best moves, in my opinion, is also what’s causing me the greatest headache.
Legion is WoW‘s most sandbox-esque expansion to date. You have a mission to stop a demonic invasion, and in order to do so you need to collect class-specific weapons of legend. In order to do that, you take the floating city of Dalaran to the Broken Isles, a crescent-shaped landmass that is divided into several regions as well-demarcated biomes for the purpose of visual and narrative convenience. In expansions gone by, we’d expect to be dropped off on one coast of the continent and railroaded through each zone until we reach the final stages of the lore-driven story in some dark fel castle or some such, but Legion opts for a different tack this time.
Legion allows you to pick a zone to start in. Your pursuit of your weapons will take you all over the continent, as will the collection of followers for your class hall. This is made possible by Blizzard’s new scaling system. You may recognize this as a reverse form of adaptation of the system in Guild Wars 2 that down-levels the player, or from Bethesda’s “One Tamriel” initiative coming to The Elder Scrolls Online sometime in the future, which is kinda like the enemy scaling in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. Because the mobs scale to your individual level, you have the opportunity to move anywhere within the Broken Isles at any time in pursuit of your objectives while always being properly challenged (for another perspective on this, check out Pete at Dragonchaser’s post on his concerns regarding TESO‘s One Tamriel [First] [ Second] [Third]).
I’m finding this nifty, but severely off-putting. Last night I logged in, intending to do some treasure hunting for class hall resources, and found myself re-visiting a zone I’d already passed through but not cleared of the hidden treasure boxes. I looked at my quest log, and found that I had a lot of tradeskill quests, one mandatory dungeon run (which is another severe annoyance for me), one last weapon-harvesting chain, and a few nickel and dime quests. As I was running through this zone on my hunt, I came across several “!”, but skipped over them with the intention of coming back later.
That’s when I realized that Legion wasn’t working for my gameplay style. WoW is a game of linear progression, but Legion is a sandbox, and what we’ve got is some kind of genetic mutation that ends up short-circuiting of my need for progression. I’m leveling well enough, I’m collecting class hall resources well enough, and am upgrading my weapons and gear well enough, but that Legion‘s design makes it OK to be in a zone with all new quests even when a previous zone’s quests have barely been touched — actually, when the game specifically sends you to another zone before you’ve “completed” the current zone — and that’s not OK with me. Even though Legion allows this through the scaling measures, they still rely on the “!” design as the drivers in each zone. That means you’ll always have work to do, but a limited quest log to do it with, and for me, a limited amount of focus. All in all, they could have just blown the doors of the quest log limit and pre-loaded all missions for you so you could just do them organically while chasing down the story elements and it would have worked just as well (if not better).
The workaround, then, is to not leave a zone before it’s done, even if that means putting critical work (weapon stories, class hall followers) aside for later, but I’m not sure that would work, especially for the class hall follower collection which is a critical part of Legion thanks to the mobile app that Blizzard released a few weeks ago.
I guess my take-home message is this: Legion is extremely well done, but now that I’m at that midway point (level 106), I’m finding that the traditional issues I have with MMOs are still here. The motivation to continue is waning. At a similar point in other games, I’d be looking at a plateau of the same mechanics stretching out towards the level cap, and while it seems that Legion should avoid this, it doesn’t. In fact, it seems to be making things worse by allowing me to be anywhere and everywhere at the same time. It’s like levels never happened and everything is available to me. I know that others would jump in at this point and say that at 110 the world quests open up and everything changes, but that’s really the same thing as what MMO devs have insisted on for decades now, that “the real game starts at the level cap”, which is a particularly vile Kool-Aid I’ve never opted to swallow.
I’m thinking that my plan at this point is to put the game aside. I played it semi-religiously when it launched, having done the pre-release events every single day and getting some serious levels for my Mage (though nothing like the power-levelers achieved), so maybe it’s just burn-out at this point. I’d been contemplating this for a while, since I realized that I couldn’t complete the first weapon story arc without doing a dungeon run, which made me much more sad than it did angry. Overall, I think that Legion is probably the best move Blizzard had to make in order to justify WoW‘s evergreen position as the #1 MMO in the West, but I can’t fault them for not getting everything 100% awesome for me, personally, at this time. I’m hoping that coming back to the game maybe in 2017 will give me fresh perspective and a renewed desire to make the push through the final four levels (at least on my main character).