I don't think anyone reading this site can possibly be unaware of World of Warcraft, but for those of you who were, the sixth expansion to Blizzard's outstanding MMO was launched as the summer closed out. So, what's new in this particular one?
Following on from the Legion's invasion - the launch event (itself spectacular and arguably the best one since the Wrath of the Lich King Scourge Invasion launch event) - you find yourself working once again with Archmage Khadgar, shifting Dalaran over to a new spot near the Broken Isles. Yep, that's right - good old familar Dalaran from Northrend - with everything more or less where you left it. Sort of. (A side note: it is definitely worth spending a little more time in Dalaran just poking around - there are plenty of little changes that are a ton of fun!)
Then, before you know it, you get to go on a quest to collect your artifact weapon. And you get it. Quick. Not only is it an artifact weapon, it's probably a lot more interesting than any legendary that has come before (the old, tier 3 Atiesh's ability to teleport the raid group to Karazhan notwithstanding - come on, that's just fantastic. But, I'm starting to digress a little too much here). Later on in game, there's the option to upgrade those appearances, but right now, you'll be more interested in your new (as in, I-just-got-this-at-level-100) artifact weapon's "talent tree".
Wait, what? Back up there. The weapon has a tree? What nonsense is this? Yep, that's right. They're called traits - these traits are class-specific abilities you can imbue your artifact weapon with as you progress through the game. Relics are another thing you can stick in the weapon too, reminiscent of the old glyph system; these will boost up a particular ability, as well as the level of the weapon itself. The more you 'spend' on your weapon, the better it becomes. Ultimately, it will be the main thing you wave around to give the bad guys a hard time, and you're the mighty warrior or powerful mage or whatever, so you should have the weapon.
This is a theme that's more prevalent in this expansion than others. Although it remains, naturally, a massively multiplayer game, there is a lot of focus on *you* as the hero; the class halls really bring that into focus - a special place for each class that's neatly stylised - what the death knights have before in Acherus, the monks in the Peak of Serenity and the druids had in Moonglade, is now something that all classes have access to. My draenei priest is rather taken with Netherlight Temple, and it's nice taking a stroll through there, with NPCs addressing my character with the title "Cardinal".
Actually, I don't think it's exclusively what's new that's interesting; veteran players will notice a lot of homage to previous expansion packs. What stood out to this reviewer was the resemblance, both in preamble and progress, of Smolderhide Thicket (in the new Val'sharah zone) to that of Felpaw Village and Timbermaw Hold. The music particularly has a lot of classic elements to it.
The zones, too, borrow the best parts from the previous expansions, and meld wonderfully with new looks and textures; from the echoes of old Burning Crusade Shadowmoon on the far west, through the classic Kalimdor looks of Val'sharah and Highmountain, to the Wrath of the Lich King-and-Nordic inspired Stormheim. Plenty of old faces show up early on, especially with the class quests, and people like Maiev Shadowsong and Cordana Felsong, the Stormrages - even Rexxar is hanging out in Highmountain. And, of course, the familiar face of Archmage Khadgar. I think at this point in the game we're inviting the Archmage over for supper every few nights.
The way the zones have been handled, too, is brilliant. Rather than tediously going from one zone to the next, fairly linearly, prescribed zone that we've seen in the last few expansions with precious little difference, we have something different altogether. When levelling pre-60, one might have the choice of a few zones to quest in for a level band, and mix them up across the continents. At the Burning Crusade range, there's some overlap which continues into Wrath of the Lich King, but this sputters out after that. With Legion, though, you can choose any of the outer zones at any point, and the zone - rewards, monsters and all - scale to match your level. So if you want to start in Azshara and head over to Highmountain next, feel free. Or vice versa. Or throw Val'sharah in there. Any of them. Doesn't matter. All this helps a lot to keep things fresh for any subsequent characters you might level. It also means you won't necessarily miss out on content you wanted to see if you prefer to hang around in dungeons for a level or two, too.
It doesn't stop there, though. We've already had announcements from Blizzard suggesting that Karazhan will be back as a (tough) dungeon in the first patch - and the original raid instance from the Burning Crusade, as far as we know, will remain in the game too (so any mount-hunters don't need to be worried).
Speaking of the instances, this is a great change. They're available to everyone at level 100, and in non-heroic form have a level range of 100-110 in the dungeon tool. No more tight banding; everyone can get stuck in and guild mates that don't level quite as fast as others don't need to miss out on that early fun - and there's a lot of fun to be had as, on launch, there are TEN new dungeons to have a go at.
The PvP reward system has been overhauled. Traditionally I've always stuck a toe in to the new PvP events whilst levelling on a new expansion. There are no new battlegrounds straight off, but the PvE content has kept me completely occupied so far and I've had no desire to investigate the PvP right away. I think that personally this is a pretty good indication to the content being top-quality.
All in all, I'm going to thoroughly enjoy levelling up my characters, old and new, in this new expansion. I'll proclaim it that it is the best expansion to WoW for years, if not the best of all time. If you've been out of the Warcraft loop for a bit and were looking for an excuse to get back in, this is it. Buy it, and you won't regret it.