A Legendary History
Legendary items have been present in World of Warcraft for a very long time. Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros was the very first that players could get their hands on, with Thunderfury and Atiesh also being obtainable before Burning Crusade. All of these weapons were, essentially, crafted by players using the rarest materials – in Atiesh’s case, it was rebuilt from the pieces of Medivh’s staff. A very large degree of luck and resources went into Thunderfury and Sulfuras, and Atiesh was only ever available to the most elite raid groups capable of killing both C’thun and Kel’thuzad. (Interesting bit of trivia, a 4th piece of legendary gear was in the game files in Classic, and one player actually acquired it “by accident”.)
Burning Crusade changed the formula – or removed it may be a better way of putting it – by having legendary weapons as drops from Illidan and Kil’jaeden. Thori’dal and Warglaives were very exclusive, as very few managed to defeat Kil’jaeden and Warglaives gained their “legendary” power from equipping both, which were fairly rare drops. While they remained quite rare, the feeling that came with the act of creating these legendary items was gone.
Val’anyr‘s acquisition method was something similar to the Classic style – requiring a quest be completed after collecting numerous boss drops. It remained a fairly exclusive item due to the short period of time in which Ulduar was current content. Shadowmourne had a longer and more involved quest than Val’anyr did, but due to the year spent in ICC it was – by far – the most commonly seen legendary up to that point. It also was the first one I personally acquired while it was current, on a Death Knight I no longer play. By the time Cataclysm launched, my guild at the time (Voracity on Anvilmar) had twelve of them. Only four were on mains. (Interestingly, all four of those players quit WoW or the guild at or before Cataclysm launch, to go along with our three Val’anyr wielders who also weren’t around anymore when T11 landed. I guess getting a legendary was like beating the game.)
Dragonwrath caused a lot of unintended gameplay. It was the first legendary available to 10-player raiders, and had several stages of the quest which could be completed alongside each other. For example, one player could be on the Seething Cinders portion while another does the Eternal Embers portion and both would be making progress concurrently in the same raid group. Balance between the two different raid sizes, however, was pretty far off. 10 player raids were initially at a disadvantage and weren’t guaranteed to be able to complete one before Dragon Soul landed, which led to buffs to 10-player drop rates that resulted in 10s being the preferred method of acquisition on a reward-per-person level. 25 had a bottleneck (that was never addressed) on the final part, which resulted in many 25 player guilds having a 10 player group run as well to get as many legendaries completed as possible. Some guilds were even more aggressive about it, but the end result was having an orange on all of their casters if at all possible. Because “everyone” in a heroic 25 player raid had a Dragonwrath, it had to be nerfed for class balance reasons. The few who didn’t have it were compelled to keep doing Firelands or do Dragon Soul at a severe disadvantage. It was just a math problem where one (and everyone after them) would know when their legendary would be completed. After the last wave of changes to drop rates, it was calculated that mine would be completed on December 6th. Sure enough, mine was completed on that exact date. Mine was the 7th we made. We hadn’t completed #4 yet when we planned all this out. In other words, Dragonwrath was just a big mess. (Interesting note – Dragonwrath quest line counts for the Borean Tundra quests achievement, Nothing Boring about Borean, and I completed that by accident when I handed in my Essence of the Firelord before being carried into the air to pick up my staff.)
The quest line for Fangs of the Father rectified these balance issues by not having the ability to work on more than one at a time. This legendary could not be completed on the new LFR difficulty, so not every Rogue could pick it up. It had one problem it shared with Dragonwrath, however, and some of its own.
First, you could easily calculate the maximum amount of time it would require to complete a set on 25. 10s weren’t that “lucky” as they weren’t guaranteed to get the drops, but regardless of setting, you expected to get a set finished in a certain amount of time, and it was expected that every Rogue who did organized raiding would get a set. Expecting a legendary at a certain time for weeks or months in advance removes a lot of the excitement from getting one.
Second, it caused a lot of players to see it as class favoritism and bias from the developers. The existence of these daggers, to go along with statements from several developers about wanting to make Rogues feel special after an expansion of being in the dark, made a lot of melee players pretty upset. The “problems” that plagued Rogue through the first half of Cataclysm could easily be applied to all melee specs. They were all at and remained at a disadvantage to their caster overlords for the entire expansion, except Rogues who saw a reprieve from the darkness due to these legendaries. While I don’t think the developers as a group favor certain classes over others, Enhancement Shaman and Feral Druids specifically felt like they were being kicked while they were down, since they’d never really had a legendary (Horde Enhancement had Sulfuras, but they weren’t a viable PvE spec at the time), and Warglaives may as well have said “Classes: Rogue” on them when they were current due to the off-hand speed being unattractive to a Warrior.
Legendaries in Mists of Pandaria pretty much threw all previous designs for acquiring legendary items out the window, and focused on an expansion-long legendary quest line with personal progress. Each chapter had a significant reward that took various forms, and nobody, regardless of raid size or preferred difficulty, was excluded from completing it. It’s a long ride with a lot of different things to look forward to. Has it been a better way of providing legendary items, though?
Chapter I: Trial of the Black Prince
The first stage is simple enough. You first hear Wrathion speak about a coming darkness and how a Horde and Alliance war will make it impossible to deal with. He enlists you to help bring the conflict to an end.
Step 1 is a pair of quests – one to acquire 10 Sigils of Power and 10 Sigils of Wisom from Mogu and Klaxxi raid bosses respectively while also gaining reputation with Wrathion by killing mobs of each type out in the world. If you started early enough, these steps were easy to complete, the items having relatively balanced drop chances if you included all 3 raid zones, and simply valor capping every week would likely result in acquiring enough reputation by the time you needed it due to the huge amount of dailies people were doing to get there. This was alright to start off with, but Heart of Fear wasn’t unlocked right away, and many players weren’t doing it until much later than that, resulting in a heavy bias of collected sigils toward the Power side. Wisdom sigils were then made to drop in all T14 raid zones, and this resulted in a huge swing in the opposite direction for players who didn’t start right away. Wisdom were easy to get, power were the difficult part. On my Monk, I had roughly 40 Sigils of Wisdom when I managed to pick up my 10th Sigil of Power several weeks into Throne of Thunder, and she had started early in 5.1.
Needless to say, the drop rates have been fixed since then, and the drops from ToT and SoO will only give you what you need, but for a while it was a pretty big and frustrating mess, one that I grew to hate. That’s bound to happen anytime there are not one, but two layers of RNG stacked on top of each other for quest completion, one that was emphasized by taking weeks to complete.
After completing this, you would go into Terrace and kill Sha of Fear to get your reward, as a boss kill had been fairly consistent with many past legendaries.
The reward for Chapter I was a fitting one for the time it took, but was limited to very specific weapons. “Sha-Touched” weapons from HoF and ToES were eligible to receive the “Crystallized” gems with +500 to your primary stat. If you weren’t lucky enough to receive one of those weapons, you weren’t lucky enough to benefit from this part of the legendary quest line, which is something many players didn’t like at the time.
Chapter II: Wrathion’s War
The second part of Wrathion’s quest line is easily the worst. Originally, after speaking with Wrathion, he would offer you two quests. One was to get Revered with him, the other was to collect 6000 Valor Points.
Getting Revered with Wrathion wasn’t likely to be too difficult at the time, if you were doing the dailies for your side’s Krasarang Wilds faction, but I don’t think I need to do a whole lot of convincing to say that grinding 6000 VP (which players would feel compelled to do in 6 weeks’ time) was a horrifyingly boring time sink with no originality whatsoever. If it weren’t for the final part of Chapter II, I would refer to this as the worst idea that went live during this entire quest line. Even though it has since been reduced to 3000 Valor Points (conveniently a week or two after my Monk completed 6000) I still have that high level of hatred for it. It’s the worst possible form of gating, especially for someone who dislikes non-gold currencies in WoW as much as I do.
But the last part of Chapter II trumps that in how hate-worthy it is.
The Lion Roars or Glory to the Horde depending on faction sees you enter the two newest (at the time) battlegrounds and capture victory. This makes a lot of sense thematically as this chapter and all 5.1 content were about the Alliance and Horde war. The problem is that many players have no desire whatsoever to engage in PvP combat, and so it feels like a very awkward leg of the legendary journey.
First of all, the win ratio for each faction in these battlegrounds hasn’t ever been even based on what public information we have. Horde typically dominate both of them, making it a bit more frustrating for the Alliance side to complete this quest. (Horde may have longer queue times, however).
Second, it’s a very common occurrence for players to queue up for these two battlegrounds and simply expect to be carried. This sucks for those who like to PvP, as they don’t want to just carry people, and it sucks for those there for the quest because they didn’t want to be in there to begin with. Playing tentatively and carefully in random battlegrounds almost never rewards you, but PvE players generally will play that way.
Even if you are an experienced PvP player, or are at least legitimately trying to help your team, you have very little control over how the battle goes on your own. It’s not unheard of to step away from your 7th or 8th loss in a row, even if you’re trying your best, which can only be described as sad and disheartening for people who don’t enjoy it in the first place. If you’re looking to be competitive in PvE, however, this quest is a requirement. Even though I personally enjoy random battlegrounds, The remainder of the quest’s very powerful rewards being behind this poor quest design decision is unfortunate, to say the least. There really should be an alternative.
The final part of Chapter 2 is to kill a mini boss in Krasarang Wilds, one that was released tuned to be easy for a 10 player raid and has since been made easier. This part of the quest is fine to be a requirement, but also would’ve worked quite well as an alternative to the above.
This rewards Eye of the Black Prince, which adds a socket to any Sha-Touched weapon or Armament of the Thunder King. It was ultimately a pretty bland reward – one that can no longer be used by most of us.
Chapter III: Two Princes
Finally, the quest line starts to do some interesting things. It felt and continues to feel like nothing more than a chore to get to this point, but it’s not as bad from here on. Chapter 3 begins with a request to gather 20 Secrets of the Empire and 40 Trillium Bars. This is a very traditional sort of legendary quest, where the Secrets drop in Throne of Thunder and the Trillium you pick up wherever you can get it. Secrets are subject to a great deal of RNG, however, as you need a large number of them and they originally had a low drop rate and you could go an entire week without getting any. Lei Shen (and later Sha of Pride) being guaranteed to drop one didn’t happen until later. Aside from some players being punished by bad RNG, this wasn’t terrible. (Again, my Monk was the target of a lot of hatred from the RNG gods and went a period of four weeks in a row picking up only the single guaranteed one, and never getting more than 3).
Alongside this, you’re requested to gain exalted with The Black Prince, which took a little longer than the previous reputation requirements, but shouldn’t be that bad for anyone doing Isle of Thunder dailies on a regular basis.
When the material and reputation requirements are met, you’re sent into an interesting single player scenario where you aid some Titans in defending the Thunder Forge while Wrathion crafts a weapon. While it was a fun and interesting scenario, it seemed easy for damage dealers and significantly more difficult for tanks and healers. The followup to this was a simple quest – throw the spear at Nalak and survive for 15 seconds.
The first truly powerful item from the legendary quest line is awarded to you here. The meta gems… all of them were incredibly powerful when released, and only recently have very few select healers stopped using them due to no longer being limited by mana. These are truly a legendary reward that conveyed a huge performance increase and continue to be used by nearly everyone.
Chapter III continues in with the request to gather Titan Runestones, which dropped only off the final 6 bosses in Throne of Thunder (7 with Ra-den). Needing only 12 and having half as many bosses to pick them up from, this part of the quest was once again subject to a wide swing in completion speed due to RNG. (If it can go wrong, it will – my Monk once again went on a 6 week dry spell picking up only the guaranteed one and never getting more than 2 in a week until completion shortly after SoO landed.) Gathering 12 Titan Runestones sees you step back into ToT one last time to kill Lei Shen and deliver his heart to Wrathion.
Chapter IV: Celestial Blessings
When 5.3 landed, along with it came Chapter IV – accompanying Wrathion to each of the Celestials’ temples to receive their blessing, and take on a challenge of your choosing. These were fun and interesting challenges, but having a high gear level seemed to trivialize them, while being significant challenges for lower gear levels. From this, we received our second extremely powerful quest reward, item level 600 cloaks that would yield roughly a 10% power gain for 545 geared characters on their own, even without the proc available. Compared to everything previous, this chapter was extremely short and did not even require the player step inside a raid zone. While technically a new chapter, this just felt like the reward for gathering 12 Titan Runestones.
Chapter V: Judgment of the Black Prince
On the release date of Siege of Orgrimmar, the quest line’s final parts became available for completion, and they were completed very quickly. Having no aim and no knowledge of the Timeless Isle, one could still manage to complete the final parts within a couple hours. That included gathering 5000 Timeless Coins and defeating all 4 Celestials in combat, which could be done easily with a small pug raid. The final reward was basically a gift, a free boost to your character that came on or shortly after patch day if you had gotten that far beforehand, and a powerful gift it is, providing a substantial damage, healing, or survival boost depending on role.
Technically, the quest wasn’t completed until you acquired the cloak and defeated Garrosh in Siege of Orgrimmar, which wouldn’t happen for many players until several weeks later, but you already had the reward, so completing it gave you 25 Achievement Points and some pocket change along with some interesting words from Tong, the innkeeper at the Tavern in the Mists.
Well, I’m not a prince, nor am I a dragon, and my Paladin is only item level 529 so my Judgment doesn’t count for much.
That’s about as much as I can get it to count for, right now.
Depending on your viewpoint, the Mists of Pandaria style of legendary has some positives and negatives.
- For the first time ever, we were (intentionally) given a legendary piece of gear that was not a weapon. I’m not sure why it took 5 expansions, but it’s cool to see something else.
- All classes were able to benefit. Previously, it had felt like the Warrior and Rogue show.
- Players taking part in all PvE difficulty settings were able to participate. This is a positive to a lot of players.
- Several stages of the quest were a lot of fun, namely acquiring the Celestial Blessings, defending Wrathion in the Thunder Forge, and throwing the spear at Nalak.
- The effects of the meta gems and cloaks were unique and interesting.
- The caster and healer wings were gorgeous looking (obviously subjective).
- Chapter 1 had a very high degree of RNG, and many of the changes likely hurt as many players as they helped. It was very frustrating to experience if you weren’t with it from day one. For those who were, well, it probably sucked for some of them, too.
- A Test of Valor was and remains nothing but a very obvious fabricated time sink. Collecting “Valor Points” doesn’t feel at all immersive, either.
- The PvP quests aren’t liked by anyone, even if they fit the story. I have 100,000 honorable kills to my name and often enjoy the chaos of random battlegrounds, yet I think this quest needs to die a horrible, bloody death.
- The rewards are very back loaded. The Crystallized weapon gems and extra socket for your weapon are very dull rewards compared to those offered later. These rewards are completely obsolete now, so it feels like a huge chore to go through the huge time sink of the first two chapters and not get anything usable out of it.
- The power conveyed by a combination of the Meta Gem, the 608 cloak, and the cloak’s proc is absolutely massive, accounting for 15% or more of a damage dealer’s throughput. Being so heavily back loaded makes those on the first 3 chapters feel woefully inept even if they’ve put a great deal of work into the quest line. The power gains need to start happening a lot sooner to alleviate the “chore” feeling of the quest.
- If you haven’t completed the entire quest line as a damage dealer, you’re basically not viable for heroic raid progression. This is a pretty severe barrier to entry. It’s a bit more forgiving for healers and tanks.
- Nearly everyone who plays in PvE on a regular basis will acquire the rewards for this on one and often numerous characters. Is an item really legendary if everyone has it? It doesn’t feel rare enough to be considered one.
- The melee and tank “wings” were quite ugly (obviously subjective). I’m not even sure what the melee “wings” are supposed to be. A jagged bright blue rock? Whatever it is, it doesn’t work like the caster ones do.
- Cloak visuals added a lot of unnecessary visual noise in large raids, bringing visibility for melee specs to an all-time low.
Recently, there have been statements suggesting that we’ll see a similar style of legendary quest line throughout Warlords of Draenor. While I have not enjoyed the majority of the Mists of Pandaria version, I’m not opposed to seeing it again if most of my “negatives” are addressed.
- Ensure that the reward plan is more evenly weighted throughout the quest line, and that the early parts aren’t a massive gold sink like Crystallized Gems and Eye of the Black Prince are. A single upgradeable item you retain throughout the entire expansion could be a good fit. A ring taking up one slot wouldn’t make all other rings obsolete.
- None of this PvP in a PvE quest nonsense.
- No more shallow time sinks like 6000 VP. At the very least, you can put a mask on it.
- If a single upgradeable item isn’t chosen, or the power of rewards evenly dispersed throughout the quest line in the future, make it possible to skip earlier quests once their rewards are obsolete.
- If everyone gets one, don’t give it orange text.
- Keep the flamboyant visuals out of combat. Something signifying you’re wearing a legendary is cool, but the cloaks were pretty far over the top. Subtlety would be a plus.
There have also been talks of legendary weapons making a return. With Mythic raiding being the only cutting edge setting, balancing acquisition rates should be much easier. I feel that they’ve never been able to hit the sweet spot for how to acquire one, but they’ve come close. If ICC only lasted 6 months instead of 12, Shadowmourne might’ve been about right. It took guild effort, it took personal dedication, and there was enough RNG to keep it from being predictable, but not so much that it was frustrating. Legendaries being “common” for Mythic raiders and “rare but not unobtainable” for everyone else seems like a good place to be as far as Legendary weapons go.