Blizzard announced the newest expansion for its popular MMO game series, World of Warcraft: Legion, from Gamescom in Germany.
Prior to the announcement, I personally felt as though it was too soon for a new World of Warcraft expansion. It seems like only yesterday (actually, last November, a mere nine months) that the current installment of the game was released and I was raiding the dark portal and grinding out 10 new levels across the landscapes of Draenor.
The latest (and now, presumably last) raid content patch for Warlords of Draenor was only released last June, and currently some of that content is not even available yet for the game's raid finder system. After panicking for a moment, thinking all my hard earned gear and garrison followers would be soon rendered obsolete, I calmed down and realized this is how it has always been in World of Warcraft.
The Gamescom panel opened with a video package to recap the events storied in Warlords of Draenor, with the villainous Gul'dan being banished through the Black Gate by the final raid boss of Warlords of Draenor, Archimonde. Archmage Khadgar, ever the foreshadower, says he feels this isn't the end, but only the beginning.
Next, Blizzard revealed a cinematic video, described as an important transition story, where Gul'dan finds a crystal containing the familiar shape of Illidan Stormrage, causing my inner geek to burst with excitement for the potential role the primary antagonist of the franchise's first expansion, The Burning Crusade, could play in the newest installment of the series.
Finally, fans were treated to the announcement video, where primary features and a first look at the new environments were revealed. I instantly went from fearful and not ready to eager and excited.
Location and Scale
The newest expansion, titled World of Warcraft: Legion, will take place on the fabled Broken Isles, a location first referenced in Warcraft III and steeped in the game's rich lore. The continent consists of seven scenic zones with unique landscapes and architectures. The floating city of Dalaran, and Acherus, the flying fortress of the Ebon Blade, have also relocated to the new map, with Dalaran once again serving its familiar role as the main player hub for the expansion.
The level cap has been raised another 10 levels, allowing players to reach level 110, providing a similar leveling experience as Warlords of Draenor in both scale and content. Previous expansions tested using a five-level increment, but most players agree that 10 levels of grinding quests makes for better content.
Dungeons and Raids
New dungeons and raids come standard with every World of Warcraft expansion, but Blizzard humbly admitted it has done dungeons a disservice in the past, describing dungeon gameplay as "…the heart of what makes the MMO experience awesome," and promised more of them with long-term reasons to keep doing them.
Blizzard revealed a whopping nine dungeons, taking players to new locations such as the Halls of Valor, Black Rook Hold and the Vault of the Wardens, and even bringing players back to a few familiar places like the Violet Hold.
The first of two announced raids will be a long anticipated encounter for World of Warcraft fans: The Emerald Nightmare. It will feature seven bosses and immerse players in a mission to pursue Cenarius and confront Xavius at the heart of the nightmare itself to end the corruption of the Emerald Dream.
Suramar Palace is the second raid and features 10 bosses, promising a long-awaited confrontation with the villain that got away, Gul'dan. Raids will follow the overall release structure introduced in Warlords of Draenor, with content being slowly released over time.
New PVP Honor System
A new honor system makes it seem Blizzard took its PVP oriented gamers' complaints of imbalance and favoritism seriously, by completely overhauling the way PVP rewards are earned in World of Warcraft. Players will compete against each other and gain ranks to unlock the abilities and traits of a new PVP specific talent tree.
This will supposedly help balance gameplay by catering to PVP specialties, but it will only function in PVP environments like battlegrounds and arenas. A new prestige ranking can reset player's PVP rank once they reach the maximum level, and it provides cosmetic rewards including unique portraits, mounts and PVP artifact weapon variants.
A new item feature for the game is the addition of Artifact Weapons -- 36 different weapons from World of Warcraft’s past, such as The Ashbringer or Doomhammer, which each player will be called upon to wield in their fight against the Legion.
The weapon you claim depends on the character's class and specialization, making it unique to your chosen gameplay style. Further personalizing this new item, each Artifact Weapon is upgradable by earning artifact power from a variety of different sources, such as completing major quest lines and dungeons, and using those points to empower each weapon's unique trait tree as you see fit.
The weapons are also visually customizable, and even feral and guardian druids who cannot see their weapons in cat or bear form will alter the look of their forms with these customizations.
Class Order Halls
Each class bands together to face the threat of impending war from the opposing faction and the Legion, and you assume leadership of the new coalition, because you have proven yourself worthy with the acquisition of your Artifact Weapon. Each class will have a specific themed location for their hall, which is accessible to all members of their class. It is here that you can upgrade and customize your Artifact Weapon.
A new Champion system was announced as an evolution of the follower system from Warlords of Draenor, but it will take your subordinates out to the world and provide more engaging interaction for players, giving you bonuses or enabling you to access certain content while out and about saving the world. There will be fewer Champions to command than players are accustomed to, but Blizzard has made these companions more customizable and more significant to your interactions in the environment than their follower counterparts, and it seems like a worthy successor to the popular follower system.
New Hero Class: Demon Hunter
Blizzard rarely releases new player classes to its games, with only Wrath of the Lich King and Mists of Pandaria introducing new types of heroes to play. I was elated that a new hero class would be coming to Azeroth in the form of the Demon Hunter, a melee tank or damage class that lets players take the power of the enemy as their own. As a hero class, Demon Hunters will feature a unique introduction experience and will also start at a higher level than standard characters.
Demon Hunters will begin their quest with a flashback to the legendary Black Temple, where your character served as a disciple of Illidan Stormrage during the events of The Burning Crusade. After the flashback missions, you are awakened in the Vault of the Wardens on the Broken Isles, and hit the ground running in the new expansion zones.
The new class will also have a passive ability to "double jump" (that's right, jump, and then jump again mid-air) and will be heavily tied to the primary plot of the expansion, like death knights in Wrath of the Lich King.
Blizzard revealed that players could look forward to the reemergence of familiar characters and locations from World of Warcraft’s expansive lore, such as The Frozen Throne, Sargeras and Hemmet Nessingwary, and even hinted at the return of the long lost Alleria and Turalyon.
There isn't an arrival date yet, obviously, but Blizzard has kept a relatively predictable release cycle for World of Warcraft expansions in the past, releasing every expansion since The Burning Crusade through Warlords of Draenor about every two years. Warlords of Draenor was announced at Blizzcon 2013 and was released a year later. If this trend continues, we should expect to see the release of World of Warcraft: Legion sometime next summer.
However, Blizzard has indicated in many forum posts that delivering content releases in a more timely fashion is a top priority, so perhaps we will be visiting the Broken Isles sooner than later. I for one can't wait.
Blizzard will take the stage at Gamescom once again this Sunday to answer questions about the new expansion before the conference ends. You can check out that livestream, or a replay of the announcement livestream at Blizzard's official Gamescom page.