What’s Good About: World of Warcraft Shadowlands

(Editor’s Note: Get your Shit Together, Blizzard)

Do you smell that? New World of Warcraft expansion is in the air. We’re talking about that today. At least the leveling experience of it because it’s done a bit differently this time around. There’s even some new stuff that’s pretty cool in here too.

The story setup for Shadowlands is as such: disgraced former warchief of the Horde Sylvanas Windrunner goes to Icecrown Citadel, whoops the Lich King and Destroys the Helm of Domination. This straight-up shatters the barrier between the realms of the living and the dead, on top of several of the Alliance and Horde key players to be abducted. After a quick trip to the Maw (which is Tartarus), you learn from the residents of the Shadowlands that their realm of existence is experiencing a nasty drought of Anima, the energy source that gives them and their realm sustenance. The main story of the expansion thus far is to learn more if the origin of this drought as well as keep the Jailer, the Maw’s master, and the expansion’s main villain in check.

As someone who prefers it when Warcraft delves more into its cosmology and mythic storytelling, this is right up my alley. Especially after all of the Faction War plots from the last expansion felt like small potatoes compared to the literal sword of the fallen titan Sargeras sticking out of the planet after he attempted to destroy Azeroth at the end of Legion. By giving us a new set of characters to interact with, we learn more about the ways of how life works in the afterlife and their purpose therein.

There are five new zones here: the angelic realm of Bastion, the necrotic wasteland of Maldraxxus, the ethereal forests of Ardenweald (which has BIG Ori and the Blind Forest energy and I’m here for it), and the Gothic Horror inspired Revendreath on top of the aforementioned Maw, which serves as an endgame level zone, ala Suramar, Icecrown, Tanaan Jungle, etc. The interesting thing is that on your first time through, you go to each area in a predetermined order (specifically the one I just mentioned); this is pretty great because it gives the game a chance to tell a cohesive story compared to choosing where you want time level up. This is bolstered by the use of in-engine cinematics, which I don’t remember being used to the scale Shadowlands uses them. But it gives the proceedings a bigger scale and I appreciate this.

If there’s a complaint I could levy, it’s that I wish the narratives tied dungeons in more because the majority of them aren’t unlocked until you hit 60. Compare this to the leveling process of Legion where each area before Suramar had a dungeon as the climax to get their respective MacGuffins, I felt like it could have flowed better that way, I don’t know.

It also feels like, compared to Battle for Azeroth at least, there is less busywork involved getting in the way of you playing the game. This also plays into the removal of Titanforging on gear, so there’s no need to fuss about grinding gear to get the upgrade you need. I haven’t had to worry about extraneous extra systems, no weird item that gives me powers that go away at the end of the expansion, none of that. Just straight up “Go here, do the quest, get Experience and rewards.” I mean, at the end of the day, it’s still busywork, but it’s enjoyable busy work because I can just go do what I want and not feel like I’m being punished for it.

There is also what happens after you hit cap; you have a choice of joining one of four covenants associated with each of the four areas/factions that will influence your day-to-day goings-on in Word of Warcraft. You can join the Kyrian of Bastion, the Necrolords of Maldraxxus, the Night Fae of Ardenweald, and the Venthyr of Revendreath. I went with the Venthyr because my main class is a Warrior and the class ability Warriors get is basically a beefed-up Execute and I literally cannot say no to extra Execute damage. Each covenant also has its campaign that can be done over a few weeks if done week to week starting with the release last week, and it’s focused on each area recovering from the effects of the chicanery in each of their respective areas. Only one can be chosen at a time, so think about that before you choose whichever one vibes the best with you.

There’s also the second, and in my opinion, a more interesting and exciting new feature in Shadowlands: Torghast, Tower of the Damned. Torghast is the Maw’s most secure prison; where the halls are evershifting and the Jailer keeps all of his most prized prisoners, and it’s up to you to bust them out. This is essentially a Roguelike in World of Warcraft where you go through randomized floors and rings, killing guards, collecting Anima powers that directly affect your class abilities, and accomplishing the ultimate goal of freeing Prisoners and getting Soul Ash: a material needed to craft the most powerful legendary items in the expansion. Each run lasts about six floors per wing and as someone who loves himself a good Roguelike, this is dangerous territory because I might be checking back in every so often to see new stuff in Torghast. Well played, Blizzard.

When you level alternate characters is where things get interesting. You can choose to replay the story again or you can choose to use Threads of Fate. This is just a fancy way of giving your alts the ability to jump straight to the endgame by letting them level up through doing zone-specific Questing objectives and choosing your character’s covenant after doing the introductory quest. Either way, the leveling process takes around 10–15 hours to complete depending on how you pace yourself. And combine this with the already now quicker than ever leveling from the level squish, and you got the fastest experience to get new characters to cap in a very long time in WoW.

The Shadowlands look like a great place to spend the winter months for me, and if you are looking to get back into it, now feels like a great time to get your affairs in order and take a trip to make some friends on the other side.

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