Legendary items have been part of World of Warcraft since its earliest days. Sulfuras, Thunderfury (did someone say....), Fangs of the Father and Shadowmourne -- The names reflect the legendary status of each item alongside the small smile and knowing nod of those lucky enough to have received them when they were "current content". Even those getting them a bit later have the satisfaction of having done something exceptional.
While legendary items themselves haven't changed since arriving, though some have been removed from the game in the intervening years, the pathway to obtaining one has definitely changed.
So It Begins - Vanilla WoW
Vanilla WoW saw players able to embark on a pair of long quests to obtain legendary weapons, most notably Sulfuras, Hand of Ragnaros and Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker. These were not simply drops, but required a long coordinated effort of entire groups working cooperatively to obtain them for a single player. For instance, to create Sulfuras, raiders had to defeat Ragnaros to get the Eye of Ragnaros through a very rare drop. It then had to be combined with the Sulfuron Hammer created by a high level (at the time) blacksmith using Sulfuron Ingots dropped by Golemagg after turning one in to get the recipe from a vendor in Blackrock Depths. This required multiple raids and a long process to obtain enough ingots to create the hammer.
Sulfuras is the mighty weapon of Ragnaros the Firelord. The weapon never leaves his grasp. It is composed of flaming red elementium and etched from end to end with intricate runes that seem to move like flowing lava across the weapons surface. Sulfuras is covered with many vicious pikes of varying sizes, each white hot and surrounded by the distortion of shimmering heat. When a creature is slain by Sulfuras, its body is consumed by intense flame and effectively disintegrated, leaving behind only a pile of ash. The heat and pressure of this effect solidifies the ash into a hard, dark, crystal. This crystal is known as an eye of Sulfuras and is used by Ragnaros' followers in ancient rituals or to craft special weapons such as sulfuron hammers.
Thunderfury also required a trip to Molten Core to get one half of the Bindings of the Windseeker, another extremely rare drop that kicked off a long quest line that involved creating Enchanted Elementium Bars and multiple trips to MC to obtain enough reagents.
What made Vanilla legendaries truly legendary is the synergy needed between players to raid and craft them.
Will It Drop Today? - Burning Crusade
The Burning Crusade, while arguably still requiring raiders to work cooperatively together, brought about a bit different system in that the two legendary items dropped, the Warglaives of Azzinoth and Thori'dal, the Star's Fury, were a matter of luck and not obtained through actually having to create them. Granted, it still required numerous raids in the Black Temple and the Sunwell Plateau, as well as the cooperative agreement of the raiding team on who would get them when dropped. Still it was a big change from Vanilla.
The Epoch of Greatness - Wrath of the Lich King & Cataclysm
WotLK and Cataclysm took a step back from TBC with the return of long involved quest lines in order to obtain four legendary items: Val'anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings, Shadowmourne, Dragonwrath, Tarecgosa's Rest and Fangs of the Father. Each required multiple play throughs of some of WoW's greatest raids -- Ulduar, Icecrown Citadel, Firelands and Dragon Soul. Each one needed special reagents only dropped in the raids as well as a number of quests outside the raids in order to work through the last and final iteration into the legendary item.
Of all the legendaries in WoW, none is more epic for the showcase presented to one's faction at the conclusion of the quest line than Tarecgosa's Rest. WoW players traveling through Stormwind or Orgrimmar are often treated to the sight of Tarecgosa's spirit floating gently over the city with members of the Blue Dragonflight flitting about. It's breathtaking and, even today, is a moving, epic experience.
The Era of Unnamed Legendaries: Mists of Pandaria & Warlords of Draenor
For the first time in WoW's history, legendary items became individualized. In Mists, legendary cloaks were introduced. Players earned them through a number of "normal" quests, as well as through the collection of more than a few items sprinkled throughout Mists. For instance, some items required the collection of Timeless Coins from Timeless Isle as well as defeating the Celestials. Ultimately, players were rewarded with a role-specific cloak that can no longer be obtained. Luckily, players could obtain other role-specific cloaks simply through purchasing one for off-specs.
The legendary ring from Warlords of Draenor followed a nearly identical path as the cloaks from Mists. Players embarked on a month's long journey by completing quests, gathering and turning in items from raids and more. The legendary ring became a "must-have" for players, though due to the long nature of the quest to get one, many players opted to only do it on one character.
And So It Has Come to This - "Legion"dary
Legion has, in a sense, gone back to the "dropped" legendary system but to the extreme. There are no quests, no cooperative work among groups of players...no anything other than "legion"dary luck. Where legendaries of yesterday required input from players, that is the case no longer. "Legion"daries drop in just about any place in the Broken Isles. They can come from boxes, through loot chests, or dropped from boxes. There is no rhyme or reason to where they will drop. Similarly, there is no telling what stats will arrive with it. While possible to get a "best in slot" legendary, it's equally possible that it will have the wrong secondary stats.
With the arrival of 7.2, players have a statistically tiny chance to "target" a specific legendary by spending Nethershards at a special vendor on the Broken Shore in order to receive a token. Right-clicking it will reveal an item, usually a purple, though there is the minuscule chance it will be a legendary.
The "legion"dary system in the current expansion has been...controversial, to say the least.
Where to Next?
Where will the legendary system go in the next expansion? No one really knows, but it's no secret that many players would like to see a return to earlier systems when "legendary" actually meant something.
What do you think? Do you like the "Legion"dary system as it is today or would you like to see a return to an earlier time? Let us know in the comments!