The Mustering of Azeroth: I Was Lightning Before the Thunder

Another class campaign in the history books: shaman. This makes for 75% of Legion’s class stories finished, as well as at least one class of every armour type at max level (a first in my WoW career).

My Orc shaman in World of Warcraft: LegionStorm, earth, and fire…

The shaman story, to be honest, just isn’t that good. The fundamental concept is flawed.

Your mission is to unite the four Elemental Lords against the Legion. That’s something that seems reasonable at face value — shamans deal with the elements, after all — but is revealed to be powerfully stupid once you examine it.

It does draw some attention to one of the most confusing aspects of Warcraft lore (so confusing even I’m not exactly clear on it): What, if any, is the distinction between the elemental spirits and the elementals?

I have long operated under the assumption they are, in fact, separate. The elemental spirits are shown to be omnipresent and usually (but not always) benevolent, whereas the elementals are mainly imprisoned in the Elemental Planes and usually (but not always) evil.

But the distinction has never been clearly drawn, and WoW often seems to treat the two groups as interchangeable, so it’s all deeply confusing.

The Elemental Lords assembled as part of the shaman campaign in World of Warcraft: LegionIf my assumption is correct, it doesn’t really make sense for the shaman campaign to focus on elementals rather than the spirits, but even if I’m wrong, it still doesn’t make sense, because one thing that’s absolutely certain is that the Elemental Lords are bad news.

The Elemental Lords have historically been servants of the Old Gods, and they all hate mortals. Trying to give them more power is a colossally bad idea. Not that long ago at all, our characters were fighting tooth and nail to depose the Firelord and Windlord, and the shaman campaign asks us to end the chaos in Firelands and Skywall and appoint new ones?

This will not end well.

Heck, even Therazane — usually portrayed as one of the more stable and reasonable Elemental Lords — has some dialogue in the campaign implying the only reason she’s fighting the Legion is that she wants the privilege of destroying Azeroth herself.

And now we’ve unified all of the Elemental Lords into a single, powerful fighting force. And last I checked the protections around the Elemental Planes still haven’t been fixed after Deathwing punched them open, so there’s literally nothing stopping them from invading Azeroth en masse and launching another Cataclysm.

There are a lot of class campaigns that involve doing morally questionable or potentially dangerous things, but I never thought the worst one would be not demon hunter, or death knight, or rogue, or even warlock, but shaman. Gambling with the fate of the world might make sense for the Black Harvest, but shamans are supposed to be bringers of peace and harmony who serve to keep the forces of the world in balance.

My Orc shaman in World of Warcraft: LegionThe Broken Shore leg of the campaign doesn’t do much to help matters, either. It does wrap up a long-hanging loose end from Cataclysm, which I appreciate, but it does so by once again forcing you to work with someone unambiguously evil who will clearly stab you in the back at the first opportunity. You’re forced to play as a gullible idiot.

There’s other problems, too. In terms of the cast of characters, this is a very weak campaign. Half your followers are just faceless elementals we’ve never met before.

Stranger still, Azeroth’s two most famous shaman are almost totally absent from the campaign. Thrall’s disappearance is likely due to Metzen’s real life difficulties, which can’t really be helped (no matter how illogical it is in the context of the game lore), but there’s no reason Aggra couldn’t have played a starring role. Instead, she’s barely there.

With them out of the picture, the focus is on Nobundo, and while I like Nobundo about as much as I ever like Draenei (Broken > regular Draenei), he doesn’t really have the charisma or star power to carry a story like this.

At least Mylra’s still fun.

Gameplay wise, the campaign is also lacking. At one point it even commits the most cardinal sin of MMO quest design: Sending you straight back to the exact same location you just were to kill the exact same mobs you just killed. I couldn’t believe Blizzard would sink to something like that in this day and age.

The shaman order hall in World of Warcraft: LegionAnd I don’t like the class hall. It’s too cold and uninviting. When I picture a shaman hall, I think a cozy spirit lodge with elders sharing wisdom around a bonfire.

One thing I can say is that the shaman campaign does more to illustrate the full extent of the Legion invasion than the rest of the expansion, even if does so mainly by telling rather than showing. It confirms that the invasion is far worse than is reflected in-game.

Also, as lame as the rest of the campaign was, the artifact quest for the Fist of Ra-den is absolutely nerdgasmic from beginning to end.

Even so, though, this is still probably my least favourite campaign so far.

…heed my call!

It’s not all bad, though. While I didn’t like the class’s story, the actual playing a shaman part was a lot of fun.

It’s something of a joyful reunion, really. You see, my shaman is actually one of my oldest WoW characters. He’s only a few weeks younger than my mage and my rogue, and older than most everyone else on my roster.

My shaman in World of Warcraft: LegionHe was always on the backburner, though. A neglected third or fourth alt. And as time went on, I increasingly lost interest, mainly due to frustration with the “whack-a-mole with cooldowns” playstyle of enhancement.

As a result, my shaman was eventually abandoned in late Cataclysm (I think?), having never once reached the current max level.

Enhancement still doesn’t feel great to me, but with tri-spec now a reality, I gave elemental a try, and I love it. The spells are visceral and satisfying to use, and the toolkit feels very well-rounded: one DoT, a spammable filler, a powerful nuke on a short cooldown, a resource-spending instant nuke, a proc. It’s got everything you could want.

In retrospect I probably should have tried elemental a long time ago. It just seemed weird to have an Orc who doesn’t melee, but I’m having so much fun with elemental I don’t really care anymore.

I also continue to play restoration when in group content — being a healer is a crucial part of his backstory, and in my heart I consider that his “main” spec — and it remains very fun. It’s probably my favourite healing spec in Legion.

A close-up of my Orc shaman's face in World of Warcraft: LegionIt’s actually remarkable how little resto has changed over the years. Oh, sure, there are some adjustments that have been made, the loss of Earth Shield being the most notable, but fundamentally it feels about the same as it did back when I first played it back in Wrath. Something comforting about that.

As with elemental, I enjoy how well-rounded restoration feels. It has a little bit of everything and a tool for every situation. Its strength lies in its versatility.

And beyond the raw mechanics, it feels good to finally have my shaman at max level, doing raids and heroics. It feels like the fulfillment of a promise, somehow. I’ve always loved the backstory I came up with for him, and I never stopped regretting abandoning him. Maybe he’ll never be my new main, but I’m glad he got to have his moment in the sun.

Lok’tar.

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The Mustering of Azeroth: I’ve Suffered Well

I have a strange relationship with the death knight class in World of Warcraft. I’ve always said I love everything about death knights except actually playing them. The playstyle has just never quite clicked for me, and as a result my death knight has long been one of my most neglected alts.

My death knight in World of WarcraftAnd yet the fact remains I really love the idea of the class. For sheer style points, they’ve always been one of the best classes in WoW, with cool spell effects and consistently amazing tier sets. And most importantly, they have an incredible story.

Death knights were WoW’s first (and for a long time its only) hero class, and thus the first class with its own unique starting experience.

That starting experience was a quantum leap forward for WoW’s story-telling. I can still remember when I made my first death knight and was completely blown away. After months of my WoW experience being collecting bear asses, the epic experience I knew and loved from the Warcraft franchise was back. I was rubbing shoulders with legendary lore figures, getting to love a new cast of characters, and wading into massive battles with the fate of Azeroth on the line.

I’ve gone back and made other death knights on other servers several different times just because I loved that starting experience so much.

And so maybe it’s not surprising the death knight class campaign in Legion has been one of my favourites. In fact, with eight classes down now, there’s pretty good odds it will go down as my single favourite campaign.

Archerus: The Ebon Hold in World of Warcraft: LegionAs with all the best class campaigns, the death knight story draws heavily on what has come before. The original starting experience did a very good job of forging a sense of camaraderie between the player and the NPCs, and the Legion campaign very wisely brings pretty much all of them back and puts them at the centre of the story. It felt great to once again be fighting alongside Thassarian, Koltira, and Darion. It was as if no time had passed.

I was especially reminded of how much I love Darion Mograine as a character. Part of it is just his awesome voice, but I love his unique combination of breathtaking bitterness and cynicism tempered with lingering traces of optimism and nobility.

“All is not lost… not yet.”

The Ebon Blade has also always done a very good job of selling the anti-hero angle, and that’s one area where I can’t help but compare with the demon hunter campaign. As much as I hate to use the buzzword, the Illidari mostly come across as a bunch of angry edgelords.

The death knights have a more nuanced approach. They’re monsters, and they know they’re monsters, and they’ve decided to turn their hideous nature against even worse monsters so as to preserve that which is still good in the world. They do heinous things, and they know that no one will ever forgive them for what they’ve done, least of all themselves.

The death knight class story in World of WarcraftThe camaraderie that exists between the Knights of the Ebon Blade, as well as their tremendous self-awareness, adds a very sympathetic angle to what would otherwise be a tremendously unlikable bunch of people.

There’s even more to praise about the death knight campaign, but the rest starts to veer into spoiler territory. Suffice it to say we got to revisit some long-neglected locations, storylines, and characters, and it’s definitely enriched Warcraft lore as a whole.

Really my only big complaint about this story is that it left me wanting more. A lot more. I know the odds of this happening are exactly zero, but I would love to see a single-player game that’s all about the Ebon Blade and their story. They’re such a fascinating bunch.

Gameplay-wise, I also had more fun with my DK than I have in the past. Legion’s changes to the rune system seem to have sped up and smoothed out the rotation a bit. Blood still feels off to me in a way I can’t quite define, but I’ve had a pretty good time playing frost and unholy.

Legion unholy is pretty much the only pet spec in WoW I’ve truly enjoyed (well, I was a big demonology fan for a long time, but I liked it despite the pets). As unholy, your pets don’t feel like they’re detracting from your character — they’re a bonus rather than a crutch — and the sheer number of them you can summon is a real power-trip.

Apocalypse is also one of the very few artifact abilities that is genuinely impressive. One of my few complaints about artifacts is that the abilities granted by these supposedly awesome weapons tend to feel surprisingly weak, but Apocalypse is an exception, looking and feeling awesome to use.

My Tauren death knight in World of WarcraftAlso, if you’re not shouting “APOCALYYYYPSE!!” in your best Lich King voice whenever you use it, you’re playing the class wrong.

Meanwhile, frost spec does a very good job of capturing the “unrelenting killing machine” fantasy of the death knight class. It is a bit on the simple side, but you can add complexity through talents, and it’s fun and relaxing to play.

If you haven’t played a death knight in Legion, you might want to consider it.