Here We Are Again My Friends
Since I first joined Hooked Gamers a few short years ago in 2014, every two years I’ve been able to sit down and talk about my love of the long running World of Warcraft MMORPG and my review of the latest expansions. Whether it was diving into an alternate reality in Warlords of Draenor, facing a demonic threat once again in Legion, or witnessing an iconic character’s descent in madness through the course of Battle for Azeroth, after the first week or so I’m able to give some insight onto the state of the game and how the road is looking ahead. Well here we are again my friends fresh off the heels of the launch of the Shadowlands expansion, and it’s time to break down the experience and see just what’s under the hood as we enter another new era of World of Warcraft.
The Pre-Patch We Needed Part 1: Customization
Almost as important as the launch of the expansion itself, is the two-pronged approach to the pre-patch this time around. The first half of the patch focused on quality of life changes, while the second half contained the limited time event Death Rising. The quality of life changes in question brought some major changes to World of Warcraft, chief among them being a level squish where the max level was brought down from 120 to 50 (later expanded to 60 with the launch of Shadowlands) and a far more robust character creator that brings World of Warcraft into modern times by giving players more agency over their different character designs.
One aspect where World of Warcraft has trailed behind other MMORPGs for roughly twelve of its sixteen years is character creation. At its base, characters looked incredibly basic and as such the main draw was finding armor combinations that looked good to inspire variety. This was later expanded with the introduction of the transmog system that allowed players to make armor pieces appear like different items so they can set up their sets in their own way. But beneath it all, the player models still looked basic. With the Shadowlands pre-patch, players now have control of everything from eye color to facial hair styles. Some races have lucked out better than others, with Night Elves, Orcs, and Humans getting a huge upgrade to their options while the Allied Races first introduced in Legion only get a few new options, but overall it’s a welcome change to make your characters stand out further.
The Pre-Patch We Needed Part 2: The Level Squish
When Blizzard first announced that there would be a level squish to bring things down from the 100s back to a level cap of 60 for this expansion, I didn’t know what to think. Would they mess up balancing? Would it feel like years of progress was just waved away in the blink of an eye? My knee jerk reaction was absolute opposition. I wanted to see my character climb from 120 to 130, not see 120 reduced to 50 with a new level cap of 60 for Shadowlands. It turns out though, that my worries were misplaced, as overall the next experience has been implemented in a way that old players and new can agree on. 1-50 is a much quicker experience, getting players into the new content at a greater pace while 50-60 is more in lines with what you’d expect from fresh leveling content where the most elite can probably do it in a handful of hours while relaxed players will take a day or so to complete it. For 1-50, players will have the option to either hit up an existing starting zone for the first ten levels, or explore the newly made Exile’s Reach which is tailored to help players ease into new classes. From 10-50, utilizing the power of the Bronze Dragonflight, players can relive content of their choice as it was intended instead of just hopping from zone to zone hoping to speed level. I like being proven wrong when the benefit is to the player.
The Meat Of The Matter: Shadowlands
The prepatch itself was important to discuss because some of the largest changes to WoW came out a few short weeks before the expansion itself, but you’re here for the meat and potatoes not the side dishes. Shadowlands takes the story so far in the ever expanding chaos of the Warcraft universe and takes us to a realm never traversed before in the game; the afterlife. What lies beyond death is quite different from the interpretations we’ve heard through Warcraft’s history, instead introducing us to an afterlife that is both similar to the world of the living and yet more foreign than the furthest reaches of Draenor and Argus.
After being forced out of the seat of Warchief of the Horde, Sylvanas Windrunner has done the unthinkable. Shattering the Helm of Domination, the iconic helmet of the Lich King worn both by Arthas Menethil and Bolvar Fordragon, she has ruptured reality itself allowing the living to pass into the afterlife and for the dead to pour into Azeroth. Pushing back the onslaught during the Death Rising event, it came time for players to pour into the Shadowlands to face Sylvanas and her partner in crime. Zovall the Jailer, described a few times by Blizzard as a being more powerful than even the Titans, has made a power move that is draining the Shadowlands of its much needed anima and by proxy, siphoning all newly deceased souls directly into The Maw instead of allowing them to go where they would be destined to. It’s a dire situation for everyone involved, and it's up to the player bases to solve it.
The adventure will take players across five new zones, with the majority of the leveling content taking place in the beautiful plains of Bastion, the decaying warzone on Maldraxxus, the enchanted forests of Ardenweald, and the transylvania inspired Revendreth with occasional excursions into The Maw which can best be described as a hellish prison that at one time was meant only for the worst of the worst who had died, but now is being used to imprison all new lost souls.
This time around leveling takes a much more linear approach due to a more curated presentation to the storyline. While this works heavily in the storyline’s favor, those hoping to jump into Ardenweald or Revendreth from the start will have to wait until they finish Bastion and Maldraxxus first. I’d count this as a hard negative against it, but once you’ve completed the story quests as one character, future characters are able to enter any zone they wish and level through them as they see fit. It’s a good compromise to balance story integrity and player choice if you ask me. Once hitting 60, players will have their access to one of four covenants and from there participate in campaigns to increase their strength as well as gain a variety of perks and equipment from the faction of their choice. It’s not that unlike Class Halls or Garrisons of the past, but at this time it’s hard to tell if these time sinks will be a welcome addition for the duration of the expansion or become a nuisance like Azurite and Corruption mechanics were in Battle for Azeroth.
Dungeons and Dragons
It wouldn’t be a new expansion without new PvE content, as well as changes to PvP content. In the way of dungeons, we have four available during the leveling process with an additional four opening up once max level has been reached, with raid content beginning in December. There’s not much to talk about here without risk of spoiling the experience, but what I can say is that the art styles and inspiring vistas we’ve seen before are once again put on full display in these dungeons and they offer up hefty bits of story as well as enjoyable enemy encounters. My only complaint with the dungeons themselves is that the drops seem quite a bit more reserved than Warlords of Draenor and Legion, mimicking Battle for Azeroth in that aspect, but that does draw out their relevance when you don’t just get fully geared up in a day right? Still, the gear grind may be off putting for some.
Where I feel this expansion falls short sadly is in the PvP aspects. While further balances have been made to try to make PvP accessible at all levels, world PvP feels like it’s taken an incredible hit (at least on my server) because with just how good the 30% experience buff is from having War Mode enabled, players that would normally be fighting for control of areas are just sort of leaving each other be in an effort to just level. Fight me you cowards!
Content With The Content
With the first week starting to wind down, overall I’m happy with World of Warcraft’s latest expansion. Shadowlands allowing players to dive into the realms beyond life is an incredible adventure, and one I’m eager to watch play out over time. That being said, I have to be incredibly cautious this time around. Warlords of Draenor and Legion felt like incredible rides the whole way through, but Battle for Azeroth hit some serious snags over the course of its lifespan that may have left a sour taste in the mouths of gamers. That being said, at the moment I think World of Warcraft: Shadowlands earns optimistic praise with plenty of room to grow going forward. I do think this will start a trend for me of posting my thoughts about the state of the game going forward as future major patches roll out to give the readers a more accurate representation through Shadowland’s lifespan.
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The realms of the afterlife offer a great adventure, dungeons are an enjoyable experience once again, new character customization options and refined leveling has breathed new life into the game.
Item drop rates feel low once again, world PvP has lost its luster, a linear initial leveling experience may be off putting to some.