Under the Burning Skies: Val’sharah

With the rain and the thunder of Stormheim behind me, I now turn my eyes to the lush groves of Val’sharah for my second Legion zone.

The Val'sharah zone in World of Warcraft: LegionAs this is an area steeped in the culture and history of the Night Elves, it seems only appropriate that I send my monk. With the Wanderer’s Companion in hand and the backing of the Order of the Broken Temple, she is ready to teach the Legion to fear the night.

Andu-falah-dor.

Val’sharah-sharah, whatever will be, will be…

Just as Stormheim was a clear play to Wrath of the Lich King nostalgia, Val’sharah is a clear throwback to old Night Elf zones like Teldrassil and Ashenvale. Visually, it’s almost exactly a graphically updated Ashenvale, and the music is deliberately similar.

I have less fond memories of those areas than I did for the Howling Fjord, so the play to nostalgia isn’t as effective for me as it was in Stormheim.

I do like Elves, though, and this is very much the Night Elves’ show. The whole zone is so unrelentingly Elfy I can hear Syp squirming from here — an image which can only endear me to the zone. 😛

I particularly liked seeing all the updated Night Elf architecture — it’s absolutely gorgeous. I’m glad the game is finally letting go of its human/Orc obsession, at least for a little while.

The bleak coast of Val'sharah in World of Warcraft: LegionWith that being said, though, I think my favourite part of the zone was the wind-blown coast around Black Rook Hold. It’s stunningly beautiful, albeit in a very grim manner, and I wish we could have gotten an entire zone with that aesthetic.

All in all, I’d say Val’sharah, like Stormheim, is firmly in the “okay, not great” category. It’s not unpleasant, but nor does it rank among WoW’s more memorable experiences to date.

I’d say its biggest problem is that its pacing is off. You start out doing a lot of pointless busywork to gather a bunch of archdruids that you never see again, but then everything starts going catastrophically wrong at once, and that half feels too rushed.

It was nice to see Tyrande out and doing things again, but I would have liked to see her doing more. This is Tyrande frickin’ Whisperwind. There should have been a scene where she murders a whole cohort of doomguards with her bare hands or something.

Similarly, I like the idea of bringing Xavius back again (even if this is, like, the third or fourth time he’s come back from the dead), but he didn’t get enough attention. I wanted more explanation of how he’s come back again, and why now, and generally more build-up to make me truly hate him as a villain.

That’s not to say he didn’t do much. I don’t want to spoil things too heavily, but suffice it to say we lost yet another character. This expansion’s body count is absolutely insane, and I’m only two zones in.

A cave in the Val'sharah zone in World of Warcraft: LegionI’m not necessarily against killing off [REDACTED]. But it happened too quickly, too suddenly, and with too little struggle. There should have been more of an attempt to save them. We as heroes seemed to just give up right out of the gate, and [REDACTED] should have put up more of a fight.

Also, while I enjoyed the story surrounding Bradensbrook and Black Rook Hold, as well as seeing Jarod again, I really don’t like how the game is just sort of hand-waving away all the murder and treason Maiev’s done.

This is one of those times where I really wish WoW had something like Bioware’s story choices. My monk is a loyal Sentinel. There’s no way she would have let Maiev walk away a free woman. She’d have brought Maiev to justice or died trying.

Finally, Val’sharah’s dungeon, Darkheart Thicket, is once again good but not great. I found it better paced and well-balanced than Halls of Valor, but it’s a bit visually drab.

It was very nice to be tanking again, though, even if brewmaster is not quite what it once was. I’m surprised other MMOs haven’t followed WoW’s lead in rethinking the traditional tanking model. Since active mitigation, tanking in WoW is vastly more fun than in any other game I’ve played.

I think I did reasonably well considering I’m out of practice and had never done the dungeon before. A few pulls got a bit hairy, but nobody died, and at the end, one of the DPS even complimented me on my tanking. You don’t see that often.

My monk posing with Fu Zan, the Wanderer's Companion in World of Warcraft: LegionSo that now makes two zones down, both adequate but not spectacular. It almost feels like the leveling zones became an afterthought while all the best effort was put toward the artifact quests and class stories.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as we’re still getting awesome story content. Just not in the way we usually would.

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