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.

Under the Burning Skies: Azsuna and Warlock Woes

Two zones are down, and now I direct my attention to the haunted coastlines of Azsuna. I didn’t know too much about Azsuna going in, but I had heard it had a lot of connections to Highborne history and ancient magic, so my warlock seemed the obvious choice to be the first to set foot on its forgotten shores.

The Azsuna zone in World of Warcraft: LegionA seaside holiday:

Azsuna is the first zone I’ve played in Legion that doesn’t feel like a clear attempt to recapture the magic of some region from World of Warcraft’s past. While I’m not opposed to the occasional shameless play to nostalgia, it’s good to know Legion is also capable of charting its own course.

Azsuna is also the first zone so far where I’ve encountered the Legion directly… which is rather strange when you think about it. I’ll need some more time to decide how I feel about the Legion not being seen in the new content very often; it has its pros and cons. But either way I’m glad to have at least one zone where we fight the demons directly, even if it’s only a relatively small part of the experience.

Undoubtedly the most memorable thing about Azsuna is its visuals, which are absolutely stunning. Every zone so far has been nice to look at, but Azsuna is just breathtaking. The somber ancient architecture, the shining ocean waters, the verdant plant life, the brilliant colours of the leylines… There is nothing about this zone that isn’t gorgeous.

Every WoW expansion has improved on the last when it comes to graphics, but Legion may represent a quantum leap forward not seen since Wrath of the Lich King. The depth and detail is unlike anything we’ve seen in this game before.

I can keep going for ages and still not do justice to just how pretty Azsuna is. It has to be seen to be believed — even my screenshots may not be entirely doing it justice.

The Azsuna zone in World of Warcraft: LegionThat’s not to say that Azsuna is all style and no substance, though. The actual content of the zone also impresses.

Azsuna’s storyline isn’t the best Blizzard’s ever done, but it is definitely the best of the expansion so far. I greatly enjoyed the tragic story of the Court of Farondis — doomed to eternal damnation for trying to do the right thing — and Prince Farondis himself is pretty much my new hero.

It was also nice to see Azshara again, however briefly. It’s a long way from the Azshara expansion I’ve been fantasizing about for the last several years, but it’s good to know Blizzard hasn’t forgotten her entirely.

It seems like slightly more effort was put into quest mechanics in this zone, too. I particularly enjoyed a quest where you experience what an NPC was doing while you were otherwise occupied, ultimately ending up with you (as the NPC) turning the quest in to yourself.

There are a few dull quest chains, but they’re the sort of thing you can easily skip on subsequent playthroughs.

The Azsuna zone in World of Warcraft: LegionThe zone’s leveling dungeon, the trollishly named Eye of Azshara, was also quite enjoyable. It’s very well-paced, and the final boss fight was an epic, visually spectacular experience.

I did find the soundtrack in Azsuna a bit dull. Which, come to think of it, has been a bit of a problem throughout Legion so far… and in Warlords of Draenor. Is Blizzard’s excellent soundtrack finally slipping? That would be a real shame, as often the music has been among the most enjoyable things in WoW. It certainly makes the endless grinding a lot easier to deal with.

Another disappointment is that, despite the name, we learn nothing new about Azsune in this zone — she’s never even mentioned. I’ve been wanting answers about her basically forever, and I thought now I might finally get them. Maybe in another fifteen years or so…

Even with those complaints, though, Azsuna was a great ride. Easily the best zone of the expansion so far, with Eye of Azshara also being the best dungeon so far.

Warlock woes:

If anything truly detracted from the experience, it was my continued unhappiness with the state of warlocks.

My warlock adventures with the Council of the Black Harvest in World of Warcraft: LegionReally this is an excellent lesson in the power of inertia and nostalgia. I don’t doubt that I would have enjoyed the actual gameplay more as a demon hunter, or really almost any other class. Instead I chose to suffer through insane ramp-up time and no combat visuals to speak of purely because of the history I have with my warlock and my fondness for her as a character.

After finishing Azsuna, I got my second artifact, the Scepter of Sargeras, and I think I’ll try playing destruction again for a while. Thinking it might be my solo spec, while affliction is reserved for grouping.

These days choosing a spec as a warlock is really just picking how you want to suck. Do you want to be able to get up and make a sandwich while chaos bolt is casting, or do you want an eternity of ramp-up time coupled with an utter lack of combat visuals, or would you rather just give up fighting altogether and become a buff bitch for a bunch of mindless NPCs?

The one thing I can say is that the parts of being a warlock that don’t have to do with actually playing them are turning out to be pretty fun. I’m loving their class story, and their artifacts are pretty awesome.

I’ve had the absurd good luck to have both artifacts so far go excellently with my preferred outfits for the associated specs. Ulthalesh might as well have been designed for my affliction outfit, and the red tint for the Scepter goes very well with the blood mage look I prefer for destro.My warlock and the Scepter of Sargeras in World of Warcraft: Legion