Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New Alpha Build

If you, like me, are in a kind of WoW fallow period (even the prospect of Timewalker dungeons isn't enough to get me to log in today,) there is at least some movement on the Legion Alpha front. A new build is up, with a raised level cap (108, which is almost to the true cap) and a couple new dungeons, as well as some more specs available for play (still no Protection Paladins.)

As far as I know, no new zones have been opened up, meaning we're still missing Azsuna and Suramar. Also, Thal'dranah has disappeared from the mini-map overworld, which does make me worry a bit that it might go the way of Farahlon, though before it was just a flat plateau with "Thal'dranah" written in massive letters clearly by hand (or mouse) as a placeholder. So it's not like we're seeing a ton of work scrapped.

The two new dungeons are Vault of the Wardens and the new Violet Hold.

Vault of the Wardens apparently plays a part in the Demon Hunter starting experience - after your adventures on Mardum, you wind up there and have to help get some of the prisoners back in their cages - and those prisoners wind up being dungeon bosses. This looks like a very cool instance, and ends with a trip through a near-pitch-black basement area that requires you to use a special light buff.

The other prison dungeon, Violet Hold, sadly looks almost identical to its Wrath incarnation (they repaired the big broken staircase and there are new bosses.) Honestly, I never really thought anyone was begging to go back there. I'd really hoped that the new Violet Hold was going to be a different sort of dungeon - one that would let us delve deeper into the prison. But then, I guess that's what Vault of the Wardens is for.

They seem to be adding tons of additional artifact appearances, which is great. This seems like something they'll be able to build on constantly over the course of the expansion, and I'd be rather surprised if we don't get at least one new look per raid tier.

I don't know if there has been any iteration on the spec-switching costs. I also still don't know how one is supposed to get an off-spec artifact. My gut says the current plan is to make you wait until you hit 110, which sucks as someone whose main is not a DPS spec. If that's how it goes, I guess I'll just suck it up and solo as Protection like I did back in vanilla, BC, and Wrath.

There are dungeon journal entries for ten 5-player dungeons, which is much more like it. Even with Violet Hold as a kind of underwhelming rehash, it's still the most original dungeons we've had with a launch since Wrath of the Lich King. I really hope that they have additional dungeons planned for later patches. The thing that concerns me though is that, like Warlords, I don't really see what an obvious "middle raid tier" would be after we deal with the Nightmare and Suramar before we go into the Tomb of Sargeras (which I have to imagine will be the final raid.)

Anyway, good to know that progress is coming along. Honestly at this point I really think the term "Alpha" is just being used because they don't plan on inviting as many people to test the game as they did previously. There's definitely some serious testing left to do - probably a couple months - but at this rate I would not be shocked to see the expansion release in the first half of 2016. If you figure it'll be another month before they raise the level cap to 110, and then you give them two months for raid testing after that (something they've already begun,) and another month to polish things and make sure all the new systems are working right, that's still only May. This test might be called an Alpha, but the level of completeness is farther than we've seen things in Beta from them.

I'm pretty confidently optimistic that Legion will be ready months ahead of their conservative September 21st deadline. Now, from a marketing standpoint, I don't know when it's best for them to release (though I'd have to guess that summer's a good time, given that students will be done with school then.) Here's hoping! The sooner the better!

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