Recently, I started back playing World of Warcraft (WoW) after skipping almost two expansions (and a few years) worth of content. In 2018, is WoW worth it again for new or returning players? Let’s take a look.
WoW is a game that is near and dear to my heart. I have played it on and off for almost 13 years, starting out in the original game (referred to as vanilla or classic), all the way up to now, the seventh expansion, dubbed “Legion.”
An expansion is an odd way to describe World of Warcraft’s huge fully-priced content drops, which contain hundreds, possibly thousands of hours worth of juicy gameplay, dwarfing the definition of “expansion” as we know it in other games (looking at you Destiny 2). Of course, World of Warcraft is funded by a subscription-based model, with well over ten million players paying $15 per month for the right to access the gargantuan open worlds that make up the land of Azeroth and the game’s other planets (yes, planets).
World of Warcraft has many imitators (and WoW itself borrowed heavily from other MMOs that preceded it), but few have managed to achieve Blizzard’s level of execution. WoW is an action RPG that is responsive, exciting, and quite honestly, somehow gorgeous despite rocking an engine that’s more than a decade old. WoW is going from strength to strength, and while the previous two expansions, Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor seemed to contribute in a steep drop off in players, Legion has brought many millions of players flocking back, but why?
I’m going to run through some of my findings both leveling new characters, and indulging in WoW’s new end game content after several weeks of non-stop play, and explain why I’m once again fully addicted after years away from Blizzard’s flagship title.
The Levelling Experience
I have experience trying to persuade dozens of friends and family to get into WoW, so I know many of the common complaints. Sadly, Blizzard hasn’t done a great deal to improve the experience for newcomers, although things are getting better.
World of Warcraft is an old game, and the bulk of Blizzard’s resources go towards monetizing and incentivizing its veteran playerbase, at the top of the level cap. For new players, World of Warcraft is a bit of a mess, with outdated content intersecting and overlapping with new content, and a leveling system tuned to speed you towards the end game, rather than fun.
Indeed, one of the biggest complaints I’ve gotten trying to get younger siblings or older peers into WoW is that it’s just too damn easy for newcomers. Most monsters (mobs) can be killed in 1 to 2 hits, making low level play a total snoozefest. At the very least, you’d hope to get the opportunity to use some of your other abilities, if for no reason other than to learn them, but sadly this isn’t the case.
Blizzard is recently introduced a new level scaling patch, which will ensure that enemies are always on an equal footing with you level-wise. In testing, I find that you’ll still kill monsters far too easily, with little danger involved. It makes general low-level gameplay incredibly dull and disengaging. Thankfully, dungeons are now somewhat challenging, requiring some degree of co-ordination and class knowledge, but the rewards have taken a hit, both in terms of EXP and gear, since gear now scales too. Blizzard could do more to make WoW’s levelling experience more engaging across the board, but these recent improvements are a step in the right direction.
WoW makes up for its patronizingly easy low-level combat in other ways, however. Levels 1 to 60 were completely revamped a few years ago, bringing in many new voiced quests, new storylines, and more fun and unique game mechanics to make questing more interesting.
The level scaling patch will also ensure you don’t “out-level” a zone before completing its story, which means you might find yourself more engaged with the characters and plot of any given area, even if the zero-risk combat doesn’t entice you.
More problems arise when you hit level 60, however, since the level 60 to 80 content is not only pretty outdated, but it takes place in a different timeline to the level 1 to 60 content. Not only is this a little confusing for newcomers, it’s probably quite confusing for veterans too, who might not be familiar with the story.
Level 1 to 60 take place in the Cataclysm expansion, after the corrupted dragon, Deathwing, assaults Azeroth causing numerous environmental disasters. Level 60 to 70 takes place in the game’s second expansion, The Burning Crusade, set during events several years before Cataclysm. Wrath of the Lich King, the third expansion, comprises levels 70 to 80, and showcases the events prior to Cataclysm, which not only handles levels 1 to 60, but also 80 to 85.
After level 85, things get a little more concurrent, with Mists of Pandaria following directly on from Cataclysm, handling levels 85 to 90. Things get confusing again in the Warlords of Draenor expansion, however, as Blizzard introduced time travel into the game’s plot (and a bunch of strange plot holes along with it).
The level scaling patch will allow you greater control over where and what expansions you use to level. In a few weeks, you’ll be able to choose to skip The Burning Crusade expansion altogether, and level 60 to 80 using Wrath of the Lich King zones, for example. It’ll be entirely up to you which storylines you experience, but the overarching plot of WoW will become increasingly difficult to follow at this point – if you’re interested in it. It would be cool if Blizzard could somehow make these older zones relevant to the game’s modern story, but it would require a significant amount of investment.
You can skip all of this older, messy, and outdated content however by purchasing the latest expansion, Legion, which grants you a token to get a character straight to level 100. Suddenly having a level 100 character, complete with all of their abilities and nuances, might be a bit overwhelming for new players too, and I’m not sure whether it would enhance the experience vs. playing through the game’s older content (which despite being old, contains a lot of fun quests and environments to explore).
The Legion Experience
The latest expansion, dubbed Legion, revolves around a massive demonic invasion of Azeroth, kickstarted by an evil orc warlock named Gul’dan (who originally died in Warcraft 2, but has now arrived in Azeroth again via time travel… don’t ask). And honestly, I find it to be the best expansion WoW has ever offered for the abundance of content and end-game activities.
I have been playing through Legion as my undead warlock, leveling through the game’s utterly gorgeous zones, complete with updated water tech, crazy details, and all-new spell effects. Indeed, most classes have received new animations and spell effects, which makes gameplay more enjoyable by itself (although warlock animations and spells still haven’t been updated… grr). Additionally, Legion adds an all-new class, the Demon hunter, which starts off at level 98.
Demon hunters are extremely agile, being the only class in WoW that can double (and triple) jump, playing more like something I’d expect of Devil May Cry rather than World of Warcraft. Demon hunters are incredibly fun damage dealing or defensive tanking class, depending on spec, and worth a look if you’re a returning player looking for something fresh.
Demon hunters have their very own starting zone and plot, to introduce you to their backstory. In fact, every single class in WoW now has a story campaign to follow, as the expansion revolves around the accrual of special “artifact” weapons, many inspired by Warcraft’s vast lore.
My warlock class campaign took me across Azeroth hunting down special weapons, setting up a hidden base within the Hell-like Twisting Nether, and turning the demon’s powers against them, fighting back against the expansion’s eponymous antagonistic force, The Burning Legion.
Typically, to get the most out of WoW, you needed a guild or clan of dozens of members in order to do the game’s more rewarding and complex raid content. WoW now has hundreds of hours of content for both grouped and solo play – I’ve been playing completely by myself, and still found myself unable to put the game down.
Once you have run through the game’s new zones and storylines (of which there are many), yet more content opens up to you. Since Legion’s launch, Blizzard added an entire additional campaign quest zone dubbed The Broken Shore, which sees the forces of Azeroth assault the Legion’s foothold on the planet.
After that, you take the fight to the planet Argus itself, which the Legion has been using as a de facto capital. After several weeks of playing, I still have barely touched either of these zones, opting instead to complete the storylines of the expansion’s launch zones.
As of writing, Legion has over a dozen 5-man dungeons, and several raids to complete, accessible either with random players through the game’s “Looking For Raid” system, or through more difficult, organized versions with “Normal,” “Heroic,” and “Mythic” difficulty levels for 10 to 25 players.
However, even if you’re playing with a smaller group of friends, you can do the game’s Diablo-like Mythic+ keystone dungeons, which grants access to increasingly difficult versions of the game’s 5-man dungeons in exchange for increasingly powerful loot. There are all sorts of new ways to play, and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface.
Blizzard was adamant to keep players engaged throughout this expansion, enlisting an expanded World Quest system for players hitting level 110. In expansions past, WoW had a handful of “repeatable” quests for players hitting the level cap, specifically designed for grinding reputation numbers with the game’s various factions. These were also soul-crushingly boring and repetitive, and no doubt served to turn many players away from the game during that time. In Legion, Blizzard has really ramped up the quality and variety of dynamic quests available to end-game players, going from a few dozen repeatable quests to hundreds. They all come with a bit of voice acting and context too, and offer far more powerful rewards than the previous reputation grind-like daily quests of yesteryear.
While the leveling experience stops at 110, Blizzard was quite smart in allowing you to level up your story-based artifact weapon and your class hall. As you complete quests, you’ll obtain power to enhance and level up your artifact weapon, which comes with its own unique talents and abilities, and also, you’ll gain order resources, which lets you engage in the game’s Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood-like soldier mission system, which lets you send NPC followers on their own quests for various rewards and resources.
Blizzard has also squashed gear out of the game’s Player vs. Player (PvP) systems, which not only makes PvP combat way, way more fun but also fair. No longer will newcomers get utterly obliterated by veterans who have been grinding PvP from day zero, everyone can step into a PvP battleground now and have a chance – and the rewards are by and large cosmetic, including special player titles, gear styles, and awesome-looking mounts (and of course, there are still competitive modes for dedicated teams).
Should You Give It A Go?
I’ve been having a blast with Legion, all without stepping into any of the end-game raids, all without having a guild to complete Mythic+ or other group activities. I’ve never known a WoW expansion or endgame that sports so much content for solo players, who might not have the time in their schedule to commit to a raid guild anymore.
While I still think WoW is a little too mindlessly easy at a lower level for the average gamer, there are certainly more interesting and challenging activities to do at maximum level, including unique solo dungeon “scenarios” for special cosmetic rewards, PvP, and those Mythic-level instances.
The monthly subscription of $15 will put off many, but I see it as the price of a cocktail, which lasts a few seconds, vs. a fun and evolving hobby which can last for months (and years). World of Warcraft seems to have gone to great lengths to eliminate the problems with its endgame in expansions past, delivering truckloads of high-quality, voiced, and well-written storylines for each class, each zone, and the expansion in general.
World of Warcraft is back, and with the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth, on the horizon, I’m excited to be a part of it once more. It’s well worth taking a closer look.
Legion is available for around $25, it also requires the base game, World of Warcraft, in order to play. There’s also a free trial up to level 20.