Under the Burning Skies: Stormheim, Artifacts, and More

Now that World of Warcraft once again has a new setting that I care about, I plan to take an in-depth look at each new zone as I play through it, just like I did back in Pandaria. Except this time, we’re not venturing into the mists; we’re battling under the burning skies.

The Stormheim zone in World of Warcraft: LegionIn keeping with the Mustering of Azeroth, I’ve also decided that I’m going to play through each zone on a different character my first time through.

To start, Maigraith ventures into Stormheim.

But first…

One thing that has surprised me about Legion is the wealth of pre-max level content outside the standard questing zones. That’s not something we’ve really seen before — at least not on this scale. It does sort of screw up my desire give each zone its own neat little post, but I’ll soldier on.

Firstly, there’s artifacts. I knew about artifact quests going in, but they’ve turned out to be far more lavish and involved than I expected.

Put simply, I think artifacts are probably the best thing to happen to WoW in years. Artifact quests are absolutely fantastic, full of excellent story-telling, epic adventure, and an unusual (and welcome) level of challenge for WoW’s solo content.

My favourite so far is probably Ashbringer — because Ashbringer — but the brewmaster artifact (Fu Zan, the Wanderer’s Companion) is a very close second. It was almost a microcosm of Mists of Pandaria as a whole — fun and whimsical at times, but deadly serious where it counted.

My monk on the quest for Fu Zan, the Wanderer's Companion in World of Warcraft: LegionAfterward it occurred to me there was a double purpose to all of the Monkey King’s tasks. On the surface he just wanted me to brew him some beer, but in the process I basically saved Pandaria’s food supply. Clever.

I adore how much the artifact quests utilize the entire game world, not just the new content. It makes the world feel so much richer and more alive, and it once again hammers home that nowhere is safe from the Legion.

This probably the first time in WoW’s history it’s matched the cinematic scale of the old RTS games.

On the other hand, I’m less impressed with the new class halls. I’m still not clear on what the actual point of them is supposed to be. I like the class-specific storylines so far — adventuring with the Black Harvest especially — but I don’t see why they need to be tied to a somehow even more half-baked version of garrisons.

And I really don’t like what they’ve done with professions. I think the idea was to make them a bit less boring, and that’s a noble goal, but in practice it seems like all they’ve done is taken a tedious, unrewarding chore and made it even more tedious and unrewarding.

My paladin seeks Ashbringer in World of Warcraft: LegionNow, onto Stormheim.

Pinin’ for the fjords:

A lot of Legion seems to be a calculated attempt at playing to nostalgia of longtime WoW veterans, and Stormheim is one of the clearest examples yet. It’s basically the Howling Fjord 2.0.

The environments are similar, the musical callbacks are not even remotely subtle, and the subject matter and story are eerily close to that of Wrath of the Lich King’s eastern starter zone.

Mind you, I like the Howling Fjord, so none of that is necessarily a bad thing.

It also struck me that Stormheim feels much more like a sequel to Mists of Pandaria than Warlords of Draenor ever did. Right away you’re back on the Skyfire with Admiral Rogers and Mishka, and the early quests have a feeling of being lost in a strange land that echoes the Jade Forest. It’s almost like WoD never happened.

Again, not complaining.

Stormheim's Runewood in World of Warcraft: LegionOverall, I enjoyed Stormheim, but not as much as I was expecting to. I do very much appreciate the Norse flavour of the zone — though the constant mispronunciation of the J’s is driving me up a wall — but there aren’t a lot of big revelations or “wow” moments, God-King Skovald is just a much duller version of Ymiron, and boy is it a frustrating zone to navigate.

Is it my imagination, or has Blizzard’s decision to scale back on flying coincided with zones becoming much more difficult to navigate from the ground? Yo, dawg, we heard you like cliffs…

Similarly, the zone’s associated dungeon, Halls of Valor, is good but not great. It’s very pretty, but it has a bit too much trash for my taste. TSW has spoiled me in this regard.

The one thing I did really appreciate about Stormheim is its weather. Obviously, WoW has had weather effects for a long time, but never before have they been so dramatic — not even in rain-drenched Pandaria.

When the rain blows into Stormheim — which it does often — the entire character of the zone changes. It gets much darker, and the gloom and driving rain gives the area a much grimmer, bleaker feeling. It’s incredibly beautiful, albeit in a very stark way.

The rain pours down in Stormheim in World of Warcraft: LegionAlso, man do I ever want playable Vrykul now.

Like, so bad.

So, so bad.

* * *

So right now Legion seems to embodying the wildly inconsistent quality we’ve come to expect from World of Warcraft over the years.

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