An odd title for a review to be sure but MMO expansions are typically pretty hard to review anyway. Especially ones that tend to have a year worth of content to come out after launch. So here’s a look at the good and the bad of what we have access to in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. One of the most unoriginal names Blizzard has used so far. It’s like naming The Burning Crusade just Outland or Cataclysm The Same Places But Slightly Different.
However, the new mechanics and things to do in Shadowlands are far from unoriginal for World of Warcraft. Before we get to the original stuff we need to look at the basics. First off, the levelling experience. Honestly, the levelling experience is perfectly fine and serviceable. It always tends to be something you forget about after a year of dungeons, raids and dailies. There’s nothing new or interesting to it. The levelling process is usually coupled with the first pillars of the expansion’s story.
In WoW’s previous expansion Battle for Azeroth (BFA), we learn about who our new allies were. For the Alliance you gained incredible insight Jaina Proudmoore’s current mindset. Where she is emotional after seeing her home obliterated by the Horde and losing all faith in old allies. Alternatively for the Horde you got to introduced to a new kingdom and the rebellion it struggles with and the effect this new faction is having. You also got to meet one of the coolest characters of all of Warcraft Mr Bwonsamdi himself. The Loa of Death. We also indulged in the first parts of the War Campaign. This was the main story thread that would lead us towards BFA’s somewhat poorly written conclusion.
So how is that initial story for Shadowlands? Not bad. A rebellion is happening in two of Shadowland’s new zones. Bastion and Revendreth. Unfortunately in Bastion a huge amount of exposition is just not there. One of the returning characters teased heavily in the pre-expansion materials just shows up without much context. Whereas Revendreth tells a full story built perfectly around the quests you were doing. So the storytelling is a little bit all over the place. The majority of it is pretty good if not great. In certain areas, however, they kind of drop something in your lap and go “Oh? You didn’t know about this? Well sucks to be you.”
The five new zones we have access to in the expansion are all very well themed and designed. Shadowlands’ aesthetic is all about extremes and Blizzard has done a great job of making every entrance to each zone feel different and pack some serious wow factor (pun intended). The first time you fly into Bastion and see the rolling plains of light golden fields is pretty stunning. The electric guitar that kicks in when you reach Maldraxxus is absolutely perfect for the zone. Sometimes you should stop and take a look at around at the amazing environments you’re wandering through.
So once you’ve reached the new level cap of 60 what is there to do? First things first you will choose a covenant to ally yourself with. The Night Fae, The Kyrian, The Venthyr or The Maldraxxi. Each of these covenants has unique weapons, armour and quests for you to indulge in. So the best way to get all of this expansion’s story is to play through each covenant’s questing campaign. These covenants also come with their own abilities for each class. My Venthyr Demon Hunter gets a new brand that increases the damage enemies take, which isn’t all that exciting. My Night Fae Warrior gets a dope cone attack that blasts out a bunch of nature damage and leaves a damaging AOE zone.
There’s a lot of problems with balance for the covenant abilities right now. If you’re intending to be a hardcore raider or PVPer you’re probably going to need to google which is best for your class.
An add-on to the covenant system is the revamped adventure/mission system. Blizzard has been working since Warlords of Draenor to give you a system that reflects your character’s status and power on Azeroth. Your character is a great adventurer who has fought off countless threats to Azeroth. You’re not just some joe off the street, you are the Champion of The Horde/ The Alliance/Azeroth. The system Blizzard came up with is a system where you send out lackies to go do jobs for you.
Personally, I think the changes that have been made to this system in Shadowlands are fantastic. They have made it into an actual game rather than just a dice roll. Now you choose your heroes and align them on a board. This effects what enemies they’ll attack first, if they attack from range, how their abilities will work etc. I really like this system and think it’s probably the thing that has been most tended to by Blizzard. Maybe they should be working harder on making the story make sense and balancing the game. At least they’re clearly doing something.
Next up is Torghast, the reason I bought this expansion. Torghast is a solo or multiplayer rogue-like dungeon system where you fight enemies through random corridors, pick up empowering abilities and passives and then fight a boss. It’s pretty awesome if you ask me. I feel powerful while I run through it and I like not knowing what’s going to be around the corner. There’s also mini-quests in Torghast that reward you with in-run rewards or sometimes even out of run rewards for other systems. The only unfortunate thing is there’s no real incentive to run Torghat more than twice a week. Each zone of Torghast is separated into layers. This affects the difficulty and the amount of ‘Soul Ash’ you’ll be rewarded at the end. But once you have done each layer once on one zone you can just do the max layer on any zone straight away.
Plus there are no rewards consistent enough to incentivise you to do another run past these two. So while it’s fun it also feels like you’re wasting time. In The Binding of Isaac, every run usually nets you something, a new item, character, boss or zone. I don’t know what Blizzard could add that makes Torghast feel more rewarding this early on. I am fairly certain that we will get more features within a few weeks to encourage us to keep playing. However, in this is a review of the first two weeks, the gameplay is lacking for Torghast.
Now let’s talk about dailies. Dailies are basically repeatable quests you do once a day that gives you rewards such as gear, reputation, currency or sometimes even mounts and pets. The dailies in WoW have been pretty much the same since Legion which was two expansions ago now. It’s hard to make repeatable quests fun. So Blizzard has worked, instead, on making them as un-intrusive as possible while also giving you strong incentives to do them. The prime reason to do dailies is a thing called anima, which is the main currency and method of increasing the power of your covenant. All covenant upgrades require a certain amount of anima. Also any of the cosmetics/mounts that your covenant will sell to you also require anima. So the dailies, like the last two expansion, are fine. Not good, not bad, just present.
The last thing is dungeons and battlegrounds. Battlegrounds can be summed up thusly: there’s more of them. Battlegrounds haven’t changed in WoW for a long time and this expansion is no different. It’s still the same crowd control spamming, Rogue favouring mess that it is. But it’s fun so that’s fine.
Dungeons again are relatively unchanged. However, even the levelling dungeons seem to have a lot more tactics to them than the previous expansions. In past expansions, basic dungeons were mostly just a check to see how much DPS you could do in a minute. Now in Shadowlands even the easiest of dungeons require a bit more thought to them which I’m sure the WoW Classic players will appreciate. If you’re someone who left WoW because it ‘became too casual’ then you actually might enjoy this expansion. It does feel a little more like the dungeons of old where everyone had to be on their best behaviour.
Overall I am enjoying Shadowlands and I’ve got plenty to do to keep me occupied beyond max level. I have some problems with the storytelling but as a game, it’s great. It’s only going to get better as new things are dropped/unlocked for us to do. Next week will see the release of Castle Nathira, the first raid of Shadowlands. There’s plenty of lore in there to be dissected on the Everchanging Azerothian Cannon Analysis Book Club (shameless plug) so get ready for that I suppose.