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Branching off – Why WoW: Legion’s treasures bring a spirit of adventure

Branching off – Why WoW: Legion’s treasures bring a spirit of adventure
Carl 'Malkaurai' Phillips

While my review for Legion will be coming soon, I wanted to share an anecdote to illustrate one of my favourite aspects of Legion so far. You see, I had concerns heading into World of Warcraft’s latest expansion. Despite the prologue Invasion content appearing to herald a fresh start for Blizzard’s MMORPG, there was a voice in my head whispering dark thoughts. “It’s going to be just like every other expansion.” “You’re going to be doing the same thing you’ve been doing for over a decade.” “You’ll be done with the game within a month.” As I stood in Dalaran with hundreds of excited players waiting for the expansion button to be pushed by the devs, I still couldn’t shake the feeling.

Thankfully my tune changed rather quickly thanks to the fantastic first missions to claim my Death Knight’s Unholy weapon, Apocalypse, but that’s not what this piece is about. I wasn’t truly won over by Legion until I started playing it with two friends, Dan and Jonny (who you may remember from the GTA videos at the start of the year.) We had decided to level some alts together to see how well Legion’s open world content accommodated groups – something WoW hasn’t been great at for a number of years. What we were about to discover was not only had a number of our issues been addressed but that our adventurous spirit would be rewarded in the latest expansion.

It would also get us killed. Many times.

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While this piece won’t spoil the storyline or quests (as I feel Legion is at its best when you’re discovering the world for yourself) my tale does centre around a random item. Let me set the scene for you – we were questing throughout Highmountain, doing the storyline chains and area objectives of the Tauren-themed zone. During our travels we had come across a number of the newly added treasure chests. For those that don’t know, these chests award varying types of goodies to a character such as gear upgrades and relic power-ups. While some chests can be stumbled upon from the beaten path, a large number of them require more legwork to discover, with some even guarded by elite enemies.

While all three of us had been keeping an eye out for them, Jonny had been the most aggressive in the search. Utilising his Warrior’s Heroic Leap ability, he would hurl his character up mountains in an effort to scout out the terrain, all for a single glimpse of those purple-outlined containers. This had resulted in a number of unfortunate (yet hilarious) incidents, including the time where Jonny overestimated his jump and fell down the other side of a mountain to his death, and at least two occasions where he wedged himself between a tree and a rock, unable to escape.

It didn’t help that Dan, on his Shaman, was unable to make his way to Jonny corpse, or that each time something happened my Demon Hunter would glide on by in a rather smug fashion.

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As we travelled towards our next quest hub, Dan noticed a rocky path going off towards the side of a hill. “That’s a pretty cool path,” he said, as we rode off to see if something of interest lied in wait. When we got to the top we suddenly stopped in our tracks – there was indeed a chest, but it was on a branch hanging off a perilously high cliff. If we dropped down to it there was no way to get back, a revelation that was met with nervous laughter.

Despite everything within me was yelling “TRAP” it didn’t stop us from (very carefully) dropping down towards the chest. Our hunger for treasure was absolute, after all, and by the light, we were damn well going to get it. After some careful positioning, we realised we had stumbled upon something more than our usual findings. For you see, in addition to the usual kinds of rewards, there was a kite. A Derelict Skyhorn Kite, to be exact, which applies slow falling speed to a character for 15 seconds.

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It also includes the following flavour text – “This weathered kite has seen better days. Perhaps it could be renewed?” We had no time for that right now, though, as we had to make our way down. Jonny was the first to jump, activating his kite to enjoy his new found gliding ability for the first time. Dan then asked where we were headed next, to which Jonny replied, and a quote, “There’s another treasure chest on that middle island the-OOOOO NO IT WORE OFF.” Dan and I watch on in hysterics as fall damage claimed yet another victim.

Dan was going to offer his resurrection skills, but then he saw where the corpse was. “Oh wow, you fell WAY down. I’m not going down for you there,” he said. “Oh! There’s a cave down here with a rare boss in it!” was Jonny’s reply, having spotted it from his point of impact. This, as you might imagine, changed Dan’s tune. He waited for his Kite to recharge and then heroically dived down, my Demon Hunter casually floating behind him.

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All of a sudden it was a race against time – an Alliance Death Knight appeared out of nowhere and was running towards the rare elite in the cave ahead of us. Thankfully, my Demon Hunter leapt into action for the tag, scoring us the loot we were nearly denied. Jonny’s muttering of curse words towards the random player soon stopped as he investigated a waterfall opposite to where we had just fallen down, for the hunt had to continue. Now, you would have thought he would have learned his lesson from what had just happened, but oh no.

“Oh no, I’ve fallen off again!”

It wasn’t exactly his fault this time, as the current of the waterfall had sent him over. While he did survive, the situation was about to get a lot worse.

“Oh, there’s another elite down her-OH GOD IT’S LEVEL #@?! IT’S LEVEL @?#!”

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For those that don’t know, enemies that are almost certain death at a player’s current level are displayed as “Level ??” with a skull icon to hammer the point home. Jonny had just discovered one. Attempts to rescue him failed rather quickly as aggressive Oozes appeared, chasing both Dan and me towards the sea. Jonny had no choice but to begrudgingly cheese it as well, vowing to return at a later date to reclaim his honour.

We were completely lost by this point, unable to return to where we had found the kite or fought the rare elite. Thankfully, our dumb luck had led us to a flight master on the beach. Jonny mused that our taxi-based salvation was probably thinking “What the hell are you lot doing here?” We suddently began laughing as we went over the chain of events that had led us to this point, and it all began with a kite in a treasure chest.

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I could honestly hammer out many more paragraphs detailing our escapades of hunting down the parts to repair the kite that started it all. Tales such as how Jonny and I helped a Tauren make a glorious final stand, or how the kite flying often ended up with someone going face first into a mountainside, and a rather dark incident where Dan skinned an animal as its spirit watched him, floating away into the great beyond (who we later learned was revered by the locals. We felt terrible.) My point is that the chances of us coming across random occurrences like this in older content would have been very limited, but Blizzard have made sure there’s always something around the corner. In doing so, the monotony of following quest chains is broken as frequently as a player chooses it to be, and as I say oh-so regularly, choice is good.

More to the point, without that kite we would have just moved onto the next quest and our experience would have been the same as everyone else.

It’s important to note that the addition of hidden treasures isn’t a new thing in MMORPGs, not by a long shot (hell, WildStar had an entire player path dedicated to it) but it’s very clear that Blizzard have looked at what makes these factors work in other online games, refined it, and made it feel natural in WoW. The end result not only encourages players to go out and explore in ways they almost never would have in the past, but it helps to create personal anecdotes like the one above. Sure, sending the Legion back to the twisting nether from whence they came is great, but forging my own path as I do it is what is making it a memorable journey.

The awesome loot I grab on the way doesn’t hurt, either.