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.

Under the Burning Skies: Highmountain

I have now reached the final leveling zone of Legion, Highmountain. I’ve had the strange desire to actually progress beyond level 103, so I’ve decided to forego sending another fresh alt into Highmountain. Instead, Maigraith is taking the wheel again.

The new Highmountain zone in World of Warcraft: LegionHigh as a Skyhorn kite:

Highmountain continues Legion’s theme of shining a light on races other than humans and Orcs. This time the Tauren take center stage, something they’ve rarely gotten to do.

I’m not the biggest Tauren fan in the world, but I do like them, and I’m happy to see them getting some time in the spotlight.

Also, now that moose Tauren are a thing, I think we can confirm that Tauren are, in fact, the Canadians of the Warcraft universe.

On paper Highmountain is a zone I should really love the aesthetics of. It’s got snow, lots of trees, scenic vistas, and a bit of a wild edge. But in practice I found it the least visually appealing of Legion’s zones so far. It’s not ugly by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely not as nice as the others, either.

It’s nicer at night, but unfortunately I don’t play at night very often.

I do like Thunder Totem, at least. It’s the closest thing to a new city we’ve gotten in a long time, and it has a nice homey feel. I almost wish it could have been the new hub for the expansion. Not that there’s anything wrong with Dalaran, mind you.

WoW highmountain-night-2Although I’ve heard lots of horror stories about navigating Highmountain, I didn’t find it nearly as troublesome as Stormheim. Although I suppose being both a rogue and an engineer helps.

The story is a bit like Val’sharah’s in that it suffers from a certain degree of inconsistency, though not as severely.

A lot of Highmountain is not terribly memorable — mostly a lot of killing harpies — but there are a few points that are more interesting, mainly at the beginning and the end.

Early on, there’s a lot of going into the history of Highmountain, and in particular it does a lot to expand upon the story of one of the great heroes of Tauren history. Nice little sequel to War of the Ancients there. A few quests even send you back to relive history, which is always cool.

Then it’s a lot more dead harpies for a while, but then near the end there’s a pretty interesting twist that does a good job of reversing your expectations.

My run through Highmountain also, of course, included a jaunt through its dungeon, Neltharion’s Lair. On the whole a fun dungeon — visually interesting. They did a very good job of imparting a great sense of scale without making it a tediously long slog. Reminds me of Ahn’kahet that way.

WoW highmountain-5It did sort of confirm my impression that WoW’s once-legendary soundtrack is slipping, though. Most (all?) of the music in Neltharion’s Lair is re-used from Cataclysm, and that caused way more excitement in me than it should have.

Finally, Highmountain is noteworthy for allowing us to finally meet a legend of Warcraft lore: Marcus of A Steamy Romance Novel fame. This comes alongside the latest entry into the franchise, A Steamy Romance Novel: Got Milk?

Which may well be the filthiest yet. Much like the “also, I seduced his wife” quest in SW:TOR, I don’t know how this got past the censors.

Funny. I always pictured Marcus as having black hair.

Overall, I enjoyed Highmountain more than Stormheim or Val’sharah, but definitely not as much as Azsuna.