The year-long wait is finally over. At BlizzCon 2019, the first cinematic for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands was shown to a packed crowd at the Anaheim Convention Center. When Sylvanas Windrunner defeated Bolvar Fordragon and ripped the Helm of Domination a part atop Ice Crown Citadel, the roar of the fans rivaled the Wrath of the Lich King cinematic reaction at BlizzCon 2007. With that much anticipation coming off an expansion that many felt left much to be desired Shadowlands has a giant helm to fill as players journey into the unknown. Even the delay in the launch of the expansion had many players, myself included, worried about how polished and fresh Shadowlands would feel. Regardless of the burden of expectation, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is here and looks to be around for quite some time.
With new expansions, come new stories. In the latest installment of World of Warcraft, players are looking to uncover the intentions behind Sylvanas Windrunner’s opening of the rift into the Shadowlands. Shortly after her defeat of Bolvar Fordragon, dark-winged being abducted the leaders of both the Horde and the Alliance and carried them into the rift. Fordragon and the other Knights of the Ebon Blade lead players to rescue Azeroth’s heroes into the depths of The Maw, a hell-like landscape in Shadowlands where only the most wretched souls are sent after death. The Maw is supposed to be inescapable which makes it a perfect place to imprison Azeroth’s leaders so that there is no one to oppose Sylvanas Windrunner’s plans. However, the plot dictates that as heroes in our own right players are indeed able to escape The Maw but not without leaving many of the leaders of the Horde, Alliance, and Ebon Blade behind.
After escaping The Maw, players are transported to Oribos, The Eternal City. Oribos serves as the main city for Shadowlands and is supposed to be the gateway for all the souls who enter the Shadowlands. By design souls who enter into the Shadowlands are judged by the Arbiter: one of the Eternal Ones who are ancient beings who make up the Pantheon of Death. The Arbiter sends souls to their appropriate afterlives in the Shadowlands which is broken down into five areas that are ruled by the other Eternal Ones.
Bastion for souls dedicated themselves to noble causes. Maldraxxus for souls who made a life out of being a warrior. Ardenweald for souls with deep connections to nature. Revendreth for souls who full of pride and sins but are redeemable. The Maw for those truly evil souls. Those who read the tie-in novel Shadows Rising know that for some time, souls were only being sent into The Maw despite the life that they led. Players learn that the Arbiter was attacked and is locked in a deep sleep. Without anima, the essence of mortal souls, each of the areas outside of The Maw is experiencing turmoil. It is up to the player to travel to the different areas of the Shadowlands to bring answers to the Eternal Ones of each area who have no communication since the attack on the Arbiter.
The uncovering of this story essentially takes players through the 50 to 60 leveling experience in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. Unlike other expansions where players had a choice of which areas to explore at certain level ranges, Shadowlands takes players through a campaign quest chain the unlock endgame content. Very similar to that of Final Fantasy 14, all players experience the same main questline that covers each area in detail. There is still a plethora of side quests to do, treasures to find, pets to battle, and essentially everything we come to expect from leveling in World of Warcraft. The main questline only gives players a dip into each area and leaves plenty of undiscovered areas to go back and explore if a player so chooses.
The areas themselves are very distinct. While the quests are very basic and I never felt truly challenged, I loved the new characters, races, and lore that I was able to experience. Bastion is filled with angelic like characters while Maldraxxus feels like something out of the Doom universe. Revendreth is filled with vampire vibes and Ardenweald is what I always imagined the Feywild in Dungeons and Dragons to be. Given that the Shadowlands is where souls from all worlds go, there is room for new and interesting designs that we haven’t seen before.
However, players will also find more than one pleasant surprise with souls that they may have encountered throughout the sixteen year-long run of World of Warcraft. Some encounters with these souls sparked moments of glee and others with a slight sorrow as I was the one who put them here years ago. All that said, the leveling experience is smooth with low difficulty. I was about to go from 50 to 60 in about 16 hours of game time where I was admittedly taking it slow to experience everything the story had to offer as the questline is required for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands.
Now, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands also introduces a mountain of new mechanics for players to experience once they have completed reach level 60. Most notable is the player’s decision to choose a Covenant. Players must dedicate themselves to one of the four areas explored while leveling. Each Covenant gives players access to unique abilities, gear designs, and mounts only offered by a certain faction. The Covenants also have their own story questline which gives players more to learn and explore even at max level. Ultimately, there is a best choice for each player’s playstyle. For example, as a Discipline Priest the abilities offered through Bastion would make my character better at dungeons while Revendreth would make me more useful in raids. Picking one way or the other does not make a player obsolete in an area but really comes down to min-maxing to be the best prepared for what players look to do in Shadowlands.
Luckily enough for me, I really loved the Bastion area so I had no problem selecting that as my covenant even if it meant I wouldn’t be as strong in raids. However, I can certainly see why players may feel pigeonholed in spending time in an area that wasn’t their favorite just to get certain abilities. On the flip side, I can also see players just choosing what makes them happy. Regardless of the choice made, players can change their Covenant at the expense of time. It is this kind of player option that really makes World of Warcraft: Shadowlands stand out from its predecessor.
Like any MMO, the grindy aspects of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands are already plain to see. World quests, anima farming to build up your Covenant, and dungeon or PvP grinding for gear will certainly take a large portion of the player’s time. With that said, I can appreciate the strides that Blizzard has taken to take the mundane out of the experience. Having the Covenant storyline be directly related to the story progression makes it feel like my experience with Bastion will be different than someone who picked Maldraxxus. To replace the grind of islands in Battle for Azeroth, Shadowlands has introduced its own roguelike for players to experience.
Torghast, Tower of the Dammed takes players through different replayable endgame content either solo or a group and is designed to be different every time. Like other roguelikes, Torghast has upgrades to player abilities. The choices can’t necessarily make or break a run but the right combination of upgrades can turn your character into a different beast. The full tower is currently time-gated for staggered release, but players will likely spend a significant amount of time here as the rewards for completing layers are the only resource for crafting personal legendary items. While the grind for legendaries is nothing new for World of Warcraft expansions, Shadowlands does give players the ability to choose what they will be crafting rather than being forced to continually upgrade items given through RNG. Putting players through a roguelike to achieve feels refreshing for the time being.
While content like the newest raid Castle Nathria and the new PvP season won’t be released until December 8th, I am still enjoying my time playing World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. The length of the time-gates takes some of the pressure off of just rushing to max level. There is time to stop and smell the roses, look for treasures, and really eternalize the story. For players who care about that more casual playstyle, I believe there is a lot to love in Shadowlands.
More hardcore players will still have to wait a week to start their raid progression, there is still much to be done leading up to that point. Leveling the Convenat and playing through that questline along with the Torghast and dungeons will allow for players to hone in on playstyle for this expansion. Further, the extra time also gives players a chance to raise their characters to max level so they do not fall behind the Covenant and legendary curves which has been a problem with previous expansions. In that same vein, once players have completed the main storyline to a certain point, their alts will have the option to skip going through the questline again and play through The Thread of Fate to level up 50-60. One of my biggest gripes with leveling alts in any MMO is playing through the same quests over and over again. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands offers a way around this but again gives players the choice to do so or not.
Ultimately, while much remains to be seen with the endgame content and how the class changes will affect higher-end PvE and PvP, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has me more excited for diving deep into the game again than ever before. Shadowlands seems to be taking the best parts of Legion and smoothing out the issues with Battle for Azeroth to give players a well-rounded experience. I can see how players may feel like Shadowlands will fall into the same traps as previous expansions with an overly grindy experience.
However, I feel that Blizzard has taken the right steps to make Shadowlands feel like its own experience. The storyline is compelling with new and old characters everywhere. Both my priest and my warlock I am currently leveling as an alt feel refreshing with the level squish and changes. There are options for the path that I choose for each of my characters moving forward. More importantly, I have no idea what is going to happen next. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has expanded the worldbuilding to such a scale that every new dungeon or quest is a chance to explore lore new and old. At the end of the day, I can’t ask for more than that.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is available on PC via the Blizzard Store.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has expanded the worldbuilding to such a scale that every new dungeon or quest is a chance to explore lore new and old. At the end of the day, I can’t ask for more than that.
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