About Tyler F.M. Edwards

Freelance writer, fantasy novelist, and nerd of the highest order.

Under the Burning Skies: Suramar, World Quests, and Class Stories

I’ve now completed the new leveling content in Legion, and I’ve gotten two classes, warlock and rogue, to level-cap. For my final installment of Under the Burning Skies, I turn my eyes to the max level zone of Suramar, and to Legion’s take on endgame.

My warlock's new outfit in World of Warcraft: LegionMaigraith has been my “main” for endgame purposes so far, but for lore reasons, I’m doing Suramar on my warlock.

Suramar:

Suramar is something pretty unprecedented in World of Warcraft, and I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen more discussion around that. Yes, we’ve had max-level zones before, but none of them have even come close to the scale of Suramar. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that Suramar may well be the most ambitious piece of content in World of Warcraft’s history.

Suramar is vast, in every sense of the word. In both breadth and depth it could have been an entire game unto itself. And like many things in WoW, I have very mixed feelings on it.

On the one hand, I love Suramar. It’s a place we’ve known about in the lore for years but haven’t seen firsthand, which is exactly the experience I desire from WoW.

The zone itself is incredibly well-designed. The outer reaches are beautiful, but the city proper is where it really gets interesting. WoW has had cities before, of course, but they weren’t hostile territory, and they didn’t have anywhere near the scale or level of detail Suramar boasts.

The Suramar zone in World of Warcraft: LegionEven with all its fantasism, Suramar feels incredibly real. There are bookstores and jewelry shops and restaurants and parks. There are couriers running messages to and fro, and there are parents walking with their children.

I’ve heard a lot of praise for the detail and realism of Black Desert’s cities and towns, but I have to say Suramar surpasses anything I saw during my (admittedly brief) stint in that game. It’s probably the most realistic and detailed city I’ve ever seen in a video game.

And of course it’s incredibly beautiful. Bioluminescent plants, artistic magic, and elegant architecture combine to create a haunting, ethereal beauty that’s just stunning.

The main story is also very strong from what I’ve seen so far. It’s not really a Blood Elf story, but it covers a lot of the same topics, so it feels appropriate for my warlock, and it appeals to me strongly.

I really think Warcraft as a franchise deserves more praise for how unique its magic system is. The concept of magic as an actual physical addiction is really fascinating.

The Suramar zone in World of Warcraft: LegionThey’re really not pulling their punches with it this time, either. There’s an entire gameplay mechanic where the NPCs will go into withdrawal and become non-interactable until you get them a mana fix. You’ll even see them begin to shiver and pick at their skin, the way a real addict would. It’s brilliant, if disturbing.

I’m very curious how people who’ve actually struggled with addiction feel about Warcraft’s portrayal of it. I have only the most distant familiarity with it myself (thankfully).

And the characters are very colourful and endearing, from Thalyssra’s endurance and nobility to Occuleth’s nutty professor persona. The voice acting for both those characters is really top-notch.

But there’s also a lot wrong with Suramar. Most notably, it is the time-sink of all time-sinks. I’ve already spent more time in Suramar than any of the leveling zones, and I’m not even halfway through.

Suramar has a lot of side quest chains outside the city, and I really don’t understand what the point of them was meant to be. Their gameplay is tedious, their stories forgettable, and their rewards paltry. Some of them are part of the Loremaster achievement for the zone and thus necessary for flying, but some aren’t, and there’s no way to tell which is which without playing through them.

The Suramar zone in World of Warcraft: LegionYou could probably skip them on subsequent play-throughs, at least… if you can somehow muster the time and masochism to do Suramar more than once.

Even the main story, for all its strengths, can get a bit wearing at times. It’s enormous, and it doesn’t offer a lot of rewards or progression, so it often feels like you’re not getting anywhere. You’re also strongly encouraged to do all the Suramar world quests every day, since the non-repeatable quests offer very little of the reputation you need to complete the story, and that makes the whole thing into even more of a time-sink.

Even as someone with a lot of free time, even contributing all of my gaming time to Suramar, I still feel like I can’t keep up. Suramar will consume your entire life if you let it.

My goal had been to finish the zone before my subscription runs out in mid-October, but I’ve since learned that’s impossible because part of it requires you to kill the last boss of the Emerald Nightmare, and that doesn’t open for the raid finder until the end of October.

Initially this frustrated me, but now I’m kind of relieved, because it gives me an excuse to do something other than Suramar at least some of the time.

The hidden enclave of Shal'aran in World of Warcraft: LegionThis is what makes WoW so vexing. It’s not that Suramar is wonderful, and it’s not that it’s awful. It’s that it’s both of those things at the same time.

World quests and endgame:

“I know what I hate, and I don’t hate this.”-C. Montgomery Burns.

I lump world quests and endgame as a whole together because they’re pretty inseparable in Legion. For a lot of people, including myself, world quests are going to form nearly the entirety of the expansion’s endgame.

So far, I’m finding Legion’s take on endgame to be a decided improvement over what we’ve seen in the last couple of expansions, but it does need to be said that’s a terribly low bar to clear.

I’ve seen a lot of praise for world quests themselves, but I can’t say I’m all that impressed with them myself. They’re pretty much the same daily quests we’ve been doing since Burning Crusade. There’s just a lot more of them.

My warlock does battle in Suramar in World of Warcraft: LegionWhat does deserve some praise are emissary quests. Emissary quests appear every day and require you to complete any four world quests for the corresponding faction. Four world quests is a pretty quick goal to achieve, and while individual world quests aren’t always terribly rewarding, emissary quests are. They provide a big boost of reputation, a lot of order resources and/or gold, and often useful gear.

Thus, all you really “need” to do per day is your emissary quest, which takes very little time. You can keep grinding beyond that if you want, but there’s not a lot of pressure to. Emissary quests also last for three days, and you can bank up to three of them at once, so when and how you do them is pretty flexible.

The emissary/world quest grind isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but it also doesn’t give one much cause for complaint. It’s nothing compared to how annoying endgame could be in Pandaria and Draenor.

Good thing, too, because it’s clear we’re going to have to do a lot of world quests over the course of the expansion. Literal hundreds.

I’m also finding gearing to be easier this time around — provided you don’t sucked into Suramar’s black hole, anyway. My rogue is already geared for Emerald Nightmare raid finder, and I wasn’t even trying. Normally getting geared at the beginning of an expansion is quite the slog.

The Black Rook Hold dungeon in World of Warcraft: LegionNot being able to fly is getting old real fast, though. Wouldn’t be such a problem if Blizzard wasn’t so insistent on cramming the world full of so many mobs you can’t move five feet without having to fight something irrelevant.

I’m also a little worried about heroic dungeons being irrelevant again. They can be worth doing if there’s a world quest for one that offers something you need, but otherwise they’re already feeling pretty unrewarding. And the expansion just started.

Too bad, too. Some are really good. I especially like Black Rook Hold and Maw of Souls, and the last boss of Vault of the Wardens is very neat.

Class stories:

As of this writing I’ve finished the class stories for both my max level classes. As with many things in WoW, they’re somewhat inconsistent experiences, but on the whole I’d put them in the win column.

They do have a fair bit of gating, but most of that gating comes in the form of stuff you’d probably do anyway, so while it seems like a grind on paper, it doesn’t feel that way in practice. It does need to be said, though, that without artificial gates in place, each class story would be the sort of thing you could finish in a day or two of light play at most.

Made a plan, it was grand, but you're still in the void...That said, while they lack quantity, they’re generally of a pretty high quality. The stories themselves are interesting and tend to sell the feel of the class very well.

The endings are mostly what’s giving me mixed feelings. The rogue story’s climax was quite exciting, but it was also over very fast and a little too easy. The warlock ending was even worse. The climax of the entire story is to walk five feet and have a brief conversation with an NPC in your class hall.

That’s it. I’m not exaggerating. I couldn’t believe it at first.

It does make me wonder if Blizzard plans to continue the class stories later. The warlock one is pretty clearly unfinished. But then again the rogue story wrapped everything up pretty conclusively, so…

The good news is that the warlock story was so good up until its faceplant of an ending that I’m still inclined to look upon it favourably. I especially enjoyed how colourful the various characters were. I even grew to like Lulu Fizzlebang, despite my prejudice against Gnomes. Alone among all other Gnomes in the game, Lulu feels like a real, three-dimensional person, not just a ham-fisted Jar Jar-esque attempt at comedy.

My Top Ten Fictional Races

One of my favourite things about speculative fiction is imagining non-human sentient races. It’s endlessly fascinating to me to imagine creatures who are not quite like us, who have different thought processes, different perspectives.

I thought it’d be fun to run down my ten all-time favourite non-human races within fiction.

We all know what’s going to be #1, but let’s pretend there’s some suspense.

10: Elves, The Obsidian Trilogy

Cover art for "The Obsidian Trilogy, book one: The Outstretched Shadow" by Mercedes Lackey and James MalloryInnovation is good, but there’s also something to be said for taking the same old stuff and just doing it really, really well.

This is what Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory did with their Obsidian Trilogy. In many ways it’s an extremely generic high fantasy adventure, but it polishes all the old tropes to a brilliant lustre.

The best example of this the series’ Elves, as fascinating and alien a bunch as you’ll ever see. I loved the subtle intricacies of their culture, their bizarre yet somehow logical ideas of politeness.

9: Castithans, Defiance

Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) in DefianceCastithans are one of those things I shouldn’t like, but do. Objectively speaking, they’re a nasty bunch. Dogmatic, brutal, conniving, unrepentantly sexist.

But if their society is cruel, it’s beautifully cruel. Gloriously cruel. They’re like if the painting The Scream was a society: horrifying, beautiful, disturbing, and fascinating all at once. There is such depth, such intricacy, and such artistry to everything they do that it’s easy to forget how horrible it all is.

8: Cylons, Battlestar Galactica

Lucy Lawless, Tricia Helfer, and Grace Park as the Cylons Three, Six, and Eight in Battlestar GalaticaThere’s a lot of brilliant things about how the Cylons were depicted in the BSG reboot, but to boil it down to its core, they hit a great balance of making them clearly real people with real feelings, but also clearly not human. Always a difficult tightrope to walk.

The whole point of the series is that Cylons are not mere machines but feeling individuals, but they didn’t fall into the trap of making them identical to humans. They clearly have their own unique perspective and psychology, as seen in things like their “projection” ability.

7: Drow, Dungeons and Dragons

Art of a Drow warriorThe wonderful thing about the Elves is that they’re equally compelling as both heroes and villains.

I’m not the biggest D&D fan around, but I’ve always had a great fascination with the Drow. I think they’re perhaps the best example of Elves who are anything but noble.

There is something enticingly alien about the Drow. They come from a place without light, or life as we understand it; a place of darkness and mystery where those of us born under the sun are not welcome. Like any good Elves, they are beautiful and majestic, with an intricate culture, but whereas some Elves are virtuous, Drow are terrible and deadly.

6: Orcs, Warcraft

Saurfang dual wields Chuck NorrisAfter the last few WoW expansions, I think the whole Warcraft community is a bit burnt out on Orcs, myself included.

That said, that doesn’t change the fact that Warcraft’s Orcs are awesome. They are a fresh take on the archetype, not just savage brutes but a complex and multifaceted people. Over the years, they’ve been used to make all sorts of great points about the assumptions we tend to make, judging books by their covers, and how one society’s monster can be another’s hero.

Their story is an incredible rollercoaster of highs and lows, and even after all the terrible things they’ve done, it’s almost impossible not to feel sympathy for them. They destroyed themselves as much as they destroyed their foes.

5: Night Elves, Warcraft

Art of Warcraft's Tyrande Whisperwind and the brothers StormrageI like to make fun of the Night Elves. They’re dogmatic, xenophobic, smug hypocrites, and as a proud native of Quel’thalas, I’m somewhat obligated to dislike them.

And World of Warcraft has certainly ill-served them. They’ve become little more than hippies these days.

But all that said, there’s still a lot about Night Elves that’s incredibly cool. The original vision of them being savage, feral Elves was a really fresh take on the archetype. They’re not Drow, and they’re not the traditional cultured Elves, either. They’re a very unique breed unto themselves.

Listen to Nightsong, remember the days when Ashenvale was a place outsiders feared to tread, and reflect on the terrible majesty of the Kaldorei.

4: Romulans, Star Trek

Romulans in Star Trek: NemesisOne of my favourite styles of villain is that of the cultured, sophisticated villain. They could crush you outright, but they’d rather spin such an intricate web of deception you prove your own undoing, and they’ll do it while finely dressed and sipping a rare vintage

That’s the Romulans in a nutshell. They’re the bad guys, yes, but there’s also an incredible sense of history and culture to them. They’re better than you, and they know it.

I don’t think Star Trek has ever really explored the Romulans to the extent they deserve, but at the same time that sort of adds to their mystique.

3: Mantis-kinden, Shadows of the Apt

Art of the Mantis-Kinden from Adrian Tchaikovsky's "Shadows of the Apt"Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Mantis-kinden are similar to Elves in many ways. They’re forest-dwellers, they live in tune with nature, and they’re a relic of a long-forgotten time.

However, the Mantids are much harsher, more savage, and more bloodthirsty than Elves. They are graceful, but also terrifying. They’re not just a relic of an older time, but a relic of a darker and far more brutal time.

Of course, that just endears them to me all the more.

2: Protoss, StarCraft

A council of Protoss leaders in StarCraft II: Legacy of the VoidMore than almost any other non-human race I’ve encountered in fiction, the Protoss manage to feel both convincingly alien and yet still like real people.

On the one hand, the Protoss are very clearly not human. Their long lives, their telepathy, their warrior culture, and their connection to the Xel’naga give them a perspective completely different from that of humanity.

But unlike many aliens in fiction, the Protoss are not just an archetype or a rigid set of personality traits. They are not a mono-culture. There is great diversity among them. This was true from their inception, and Legacy of the Void went to great lengths to further expand upon the various different Protoss cultures.

Think about it. How often does fiction bother to give non-human races a variety of nations with unique cultures? I’m sure it’s happened outside the Protoss, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any examples off the top of my head.

All of the Protoss cultures share the same warrior spirit, but how that identity manifests varies greatly, from the rigidly honour-bound Khalai, to the fiercely individualistic Nerazim, to the brutal Tal’darim.

Even within those broader cultures, there can be variation. Aiur’s society includes dogmatic hardliners like Aldaris, open-minded idealists like Artanis, curious scholars like Karax, and bombastic warriors such as Fenix.

This diversity has allowed some fantastic points about multiculturalism to be made throughout the Protoss story. The Nerazim were rejected by greater Protoss society for their “deviant” behaviour, but without them, the Protoss never could have survived the onslaught of the Swarm.

When the tables were turned, many Nerazim did not want to harbour the Khalai refugees, but without them, the Nerazim would have fallen in the End War — and all creation with them.

And beyond all that, it’s hard not to admire the honour, dedication, and sheer badassery of the Protoss.

Take the immortals. These are people who have been crippled and mutilated by combat. A human in that circumstance would consider death a mercy. But the Protoss willingly — gladly, even — volunteer to have their ruined husks implanted into giant war machines so that they can continue to serve their people for years, perhaps even centuries, to come.

“Uhn dara ma’nakai — our duty is unending.”

1: Blood Elves, Warcraft

Art of a Blood Elf paladin from the Warcraft universeYeah, this is the most unsurprising ending to a listicle in history.

By now my love of the Sin’dorei is very well-documented. I’ve talked before about how they won my undying devotion by maturing along with me. When I was a child, they were a majestic if simplistic embodiment of goodness, and when I became a teenager, they evolved into something darker, edgier, and sexier — everything a teenage boy could want.

Their story has so many strong commentaries to make on issues like addiction, genocide, racism, and victim-blaming. Which isn’t to say that they are saints or without blame in their own downfall, but that just further deepens their profoundly complex themes. For the Blood Elves, there are no clear right answers. Nothing is ever simple.

They are one of the most fascinatingly complex moral studies in speculative fiction, their elegance and grace are unmatched, their tragedy is heartbreaking, their endurance is inspiring, and their sheer cool factor is undeniable.

Selama ashal’anore.

Honourable mentions:

My love for non-human races in fiction is such that there are many more favourites who didn’t make the list.

One thing Warcraft has never lacked for is fascinating races, so in addition to those mentioned above, I could also praise the Tauren, the Worgen, the Forsaken, the Pandaren, the Faceless, the Vrykul, and the Nerubians.

Adrian Tchaikovsky gifted us with no end of fascinating races in Shadows of the Apt, and in addition to the Mantids, Spider-kinden were always a favourite.

Star Trek’s aliens tend to be pretty bland as a rule, but they have come up with some good ones over the years beyond Romulans: Klingons, Borg (pre-Voyager), Trill, Tamarians, Denobulans.

The much-missed Myth franchise of video games was fantastic for coming with interesting new races instead of just relying on the same old archetypes. I especially liked the nightmarish Myrkridia and enigmatic Trow.

Ian Irvine is also pretty good at coming up with new concepts within fantasy, and I’m especially fond of the mighty and regal Charon.

Do you have any favourites I didn’t include on my list?