The Mustering of Azeroth: From Darkness, Comes Light

Seven down, five to go.

My priest wielding Xal'atath, Blade of the Black Empire in World of WarcraftThe latest class story under my belt in World of Warcraft is priest, meaning I have now finished the campaigns for all three cloth classes, as well as all four of my Blood Elf characters (I think we should all be impressed that only 1/3 of my characters are Blood Elves).

As I suspected, the priest story and the paladin story are pretty much the same thing, with exactly the same ending. There’s even a few cases where NPCs called my priest “highlord,” which is the paladin title.

I think this was a disservice to both classes. The paladins got robbed of a proper ending to their own story, and the priests miss out on some important aspects of the plot, like where Lothraxion comes from and how Delas became a paladin.

And if you play both, it’s just repetitive.

As with the paladin story, there’s also some things that are glossed over that really shouldn’t be. Oh, hey, here’s zombie Alonsus Faol and Arthas Menethil’s sister the rightful queen of Lordaeron, but let’s not for a moment acknowledge what a massive deal that is or explain in any way where they’ve been all this time.

The one thing I really did like about the story was the bit about Natalie Seline, as it is (I think) the first actual canonical lore we’ve gotten around the Cult of the Forgotten Shadow and shadow priests in general. It was all too brief, though.

My priest embraces the shadow in World of WarcraftMy main motivation for playing a priest, beyond my general desire to finish as many class stories as possible, was because shadow has access to one of the most exciting artifact weapons: Xal’atath, Blade of the Black Empire.

Xal’atath is somewhat unique in that it is arguably the only artifact that is both a completely new addition in Legion, and a big deal in the greater lore: an ancient sacrificial dagger dating back to the Black Empire itself, the nightmarish civilization of the Old Gods that dominated Azeroth before the coming of the Titans.

Beyond that, Xal’atath is not simply a weapon. She is a sentient being with a malevolent will all her own. She will even whisper to you as you play, providing tantalizing insights to all that is happening… if you’re willing to take her at her word.

This, however, did prove something of a disappointment simply because Xal’atath’s dialogue is far less frequent than I had expected. It reminds me waiting on party banter in Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s almost always interesting when it comes up, but each bit of dialogue can be few and far between.

I do love her voice acting, though. The actress did a great job. Far from the gravel-voiced snarls of most Warcraft villains, Xal’atath’s voice is calm, soothing, even seemingly reasonable.

Another great priest outfit in World of WarcraftIt’s so easy to forget just what she is and what she represents. It’s easy to understand how so many people have fallen under sway down through the countless millennia.

It does make me a bit sad for the limitations of an MMO. I’d love to see Xal’atath’s story continue. I’d love to see her ultimately betray the player, and perhaps become a dungeon or raid boss. It would be interesting to see just what her true form really is.

But all of that is extremely unlikely to ever happen, because she’s an item that the player controls and relies on. Even when artifacts are no longer relevant (still a terrible idea, by the way), lots of people will still be transmoging their weapons into her, I’m sure, and people who don’t play priests likely won’t know who she is. So in likelihood her story ends here.

Playing a priest was also somewhat interesting from a gameplay perspective. If you’ve read Superior Realities for a long time, you may remember priest was the very first class I ever played in World of Warcraft, though I quickly lost interest in it. I always found it tedious at low levels, but the concept of a class blending the powers of Light and Shadow has continued to appeal strongly in theory, and I often thought I might like it better at high levels.

Now, I had the opportunity to put the theory to the test, having skipped straight to level 100 with my free boost from Legion. I’m not sure if it’s because of being high level or the class changes that came with Legion, but I did definitely enjoy being a priest much more than I ever have before, though it’s still not going to go down as my favourite class.

My priest in Voidform in World of WarcraftAt least in the current version of things, priest is a rather strange class. Holy is the vanilla healer spec of all vanilla healer specs, but discipline and shadow both feel rather unusual.

I still feel that WoW’s UI isn’t a good fit for the kind of damage-healer hybrid discipline is, but despite that, I found it growing on me. It’s certainly a refreshing change of pace, and closer to the kind of balanced support playstyle I feel MMO healers should be.

Shadow I maintain mixed feelings on. I like the general idea of building to voidform and then trying to maintain it as long as possible, but it’s tuned in such a hectic and unforgiving way that the playstyle feels very rushed. It’s exhausting after a while. I would like to see insanity built and spent at about half its current rate, making voidform a rarer but more satisfying experience.

Finally, this was a very visually appealing class. The big caster animation update happened about halfway through my playthrough of the class campaign, and I’ve been loving the new effects and animations for everything.

Beyond that, priests have always been one of the luckiest classes when it comes to things like tier sets, so I’ve been having a grand time coming up with all sorts of pretty outfits for her, as you can see from the screenshots (click them to view full size).

The gorgeous new priest casting animations in World of WarcraftMy backstory for the character is that she made a secret and desperate pact with the Void  when the Light abandoned her people, a pact she now deeply regrets, so I’m trying to make all of her outfits hide her face in some way. She must always conceal the shame in her expression, and the madness in her eyes.

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The Mustering of Azeroth: Mager Nostalgia

Next up on my journey through Legion’s class stories is mage, and this was an interesting case.

My mage shows off Felo'melorn in World of WarcraftLong-time blog readers may remember that my mage was my original main. He wasn’t the first character I ever created in World of Warcraft, but he is the first one I committed to and made significant headway into the game with. He was my first character to ever reach max level, alongside a bevy of other firsts, and he received the lion’s share of my attention for the first year or two at least.

But I started falling out of love with the class in Cataclysm, and when Mists of Pandaria launched, I completely abandoned the character.

That was five years ago, and now suddenly I was playing him again. It was a bizarre feeling. I really don’t know what to compare it to.

Bizarre, but not unpleasant, though. I found it an excellent example of what makes MMOs special, and why I keep playing them despite all their many foibles. The persistence and longevity of them is staggering. There’s something strangely comforting to be able to return “home” to a character nearly ten years old after so long away.

Single-player games cannot offer anything like this.

That’s not to say I’m entirely back on the mage train. While there were times, as I fell back into the dance of locking down and kiting mobs, when I felt some of the old joy return, the fact is mage still just doesn’t click for me the way it used to. I’m not sure if it’s because of how the class has changed, or how I have, but the magic just isn’t quite there anymore (no pun intended).

The Forge of the Guardian in World of WarcraftThe most fun thing about it was actually my combat ally, Archmage Modera. She has a ranged version of frost nova, helping me keep enemies at a safe distance for even longer, and it even allows my spells to benefit from shatter and all those other juicy frost mage passives. And unlike my nova, it doesn’t even break on damage!

This created a great “tag team” playstyle, and I haven’t felt so much camaraderie for a video game NPC since that time Cora and I charged the same Kett at the same time from opposite directions.

It was not a good day to be that Kett.

But while I didn’t entirely fall back in love with playing a mage, their class story proved to be quite enjoyable, maybe the best yet.

One thing I’ve learned from doing these is that the class campaigns aren’t long enough to tell satisfying, self-contained stories. To work, they need to lean heavily on established lore and characters. The Warcraft universe is so vast now that there are oodles of great characters and potential plot threads that are just gathering dust. Class stories are a good way to fill in the blanks, so to speak.

The mage story works well because that’s exactly what it does.

The mage order hall in World of WarcraftInterestingly enough, the mage campaign is basically a sequel to the Warcraft comics, focusing on the hunt for the Dreadlord Kathra’natir. Med’an issues aside, I was a big fan of the comics, and I think they’re one of the highlights of modern Warcraft lore, so this pleases me well.

Meryl Felstorm, in particular, could be the poster child for ridiculously awesome yet totally obscure Warcraft characters, so I loved finally getting to meet him in-game. The voice actor they got for him is great, too — exactly how I imagined his voice.

It’s a relief because it doesn’t always work out that way. Valeera’s voice actress is not bad, but her voice just doesn’t suit the character at all, and Thisalee Crow’s new voice has scarred me for life.

As with most class stories, the plot was a little straightforward, and the final quest over a little too quickly, but on the whole the mage campaign tells a very satisfying story.

It did a very good job of utilizing the class’s abilities in interesting ways, too. Among other things, there’s a boss fight where you will be overwhelmed by adds unless you spellsteal them to power them down, and a segment where you evade a small army of demons using invisibility.

My mage in World of WarcraftMy one significant complaint is that if this is meant to be the final throwdown with Kathra’natir, Valeera really should have been there. I realize she’s already in the rogue campaign, but there’s no reason she couldn’t have appeared in both. Of all (living) people, Valeera probably has the best cause to want vengeance against Kathra’natir.