After playing World of Warcraft (WoW) for six straight years since its launch, I quit the game in 2010. Blizzard's massively multiplayer, orcs versus humans (versus many others) online fantasy game had monopolized my leisure time for more than half a decade, but I dropped it cold turkey.
By and large I've been on a complete media blackout on everything WoW since then. I even proclaimed at one point that I would never go back.
But about eight weeks ago, I fell off the wagon.
Blame the deluge ofand personal recommendations from friends of WoW's newest expansion pack, Legion.
Now, two months later, I'm back in Azeroth. Deep. And it's largely because Blizzard's latest changes the game in some major ways -- for the better.
How it used to work: Read quest texts and dialogue balloons with the occasional voice over thrown in.
How it works now: Watch cinematic cut scenes and listen to a ton of high-quality voice acting as a rich and compelling story is told. You can still read all the quest texts if you want, too.
I've never cared about the story in WoW until now. That's because Legion amps things up in terms of presentation and quality.
Simply put, Legion is theas it should have been. The cutscenes are exciting, with high quality voice acting that sounds like someone cared about what was happening onscreen.
And the story's actually good! It's dramatically told with more character deaths than a Robert Kirkman comic book (OK, maybe not quite that many...). And while I'm far from a WoW backstory expert, I found myself covering my mouth and whispering "OMG, I can't believe they just killed [that character]!" more than a few times. Blizzard made some real ballsy moves and because it did, I can't wait to see what happens next. Just typing that is both foreign and refreshing.
How it used to work: Play through dungeons and raids for months or weeks and if you're lucky, you get a powerful weapon for your character.
How it works now: Complete a few quests to get the most powerful weapons in the game for every specialization of your class.
Soon after you reach level 100, your character is sent on several quests that eventually lead to wielding the most powerful weapons in the game. They're called artifacts and they're incredible.
You won't have to jump through a ton of hoops to get them (the quests are fairly easy), but as soon as you start using them you immediately feel the increase in your character's power. There's one for each specialization for each class in the game. That's a lot of different weapons.
Yes, there's the risk that having every player walking around with the same weapons leaves no one feeling special. Thankfully, Blizzard includes several meaningful ways to customize your artifacts, both aesthetically and from a character power standpoint.
There's nothing better than the most powerful weapons in the game, so how do you top that? Hopefully Blizzard has something just as cool planned for the next expansion.
How it used to work: Play from level 1-100 to experience the latest WoW story.
How it works now: You still have to option of playing 1-100, but you can also now press a button and boost a character of any level to 100 immediately.
Blizzard includes a free boost to 100 for returning players, effectively allowing you to get your older, lower level characters into the Legion storyline, which starts in earnest at level 100 and continues through the current level cap, 110.
Boosting has actually been around for years, but this is the first time I've used it. I used to take the elitist "you should play your character from 1 to level cap to truly learn her" position. But we live in a different world, where there are a ton of resources online that can teach you how to use your class. Also, as a new dad, my time is at such a premium that there's no way I'm playing through old content to level up, so thank the gods for boosting.
(Look, I'm not playing this game if I have to play old ass content. I wanted the play Legion and this was the best way to do after such a long hiatus.)
After boosting, (since it may have been 10 plus years since you've last played) a quick tutorial on how to use your character starts and is a fantastic re-introduction to the game.
You can also buy more boosts for your other characters at $60 a pop. Follow this path at your own peril.
How it used to work: Each new area was gated based on the player's current level.
How it works now: Each new area scales to your character's current level so you can enter almost any of the areas at any time.
No matter which new area you choose to quest in Legion (save for Suramar, which is for 110s only), the game scales enemy strength and quest rewards to the current level of your character. That's great when you're leveling up, but this feature's real advantage is that none these gorgeous huge environments ever expire. There's just as much reason to go to every area at level 110 as there was at level 103. Which leads me to...
How it used to work: Daily quests could be performed only once per day. The rewards weren't worth the time commitment.
How it works now: World quests are only available for a certain amount of time before they're replaced with a different one. They force you to explore the world and deliver immediate and meaningful rewards to the player.
Once your character reaches level 110, there are four ways to progress in the game: raids, dungeons, PvP (player vs player battles) and -- now -- World Quests. World Quests are timed quests that give immediate, meaningful and useful rewards. These include artifact power (which makes your weapon even more powerful), gold, reputation and other resources, all of which can be used to keep you gaining in power.
Since reaching 110, I've exclusively "geared up" by running World Quests. They're simple, often don't take much time to run and, since there are usually plenty of other players out in the world running them, add a sense of camaraderie I'd not felt since my early days of playing WoW.
Again, as a guy who recently had his first kid, the option to run a few quick World Quests as opposed to having to organize a raid or grind out PvP content is oh so welcome. I can play only a few hours per week and not feel like I'm being left behind by players with more time.
Back. For now.
Six years ago I started to feel like I was playing WoW out of habit. Almost obligation. That's thankfully changed for Legion, at least for now. I'll continue to play it until the frustrations outweigh the joy of playing.
Going through the process of writing this and recording the video above, I've learned two things:
One, even if I quit WoW again, I'll definitely return again. I just have too much of an affinity for it to leave it forever. Also, I love seeing the improvements Blizzard's made to the game over the years.
The second thing is more obvious: never say never.