Once again the call has gone out, and players have flocked to return to Azeroth to experience the Shadowlands. Promising players new challenges and adventures, and enticing them to revisit old content, the latest warcraft expansion has infused new life in their already stable franchise.
The prepatch delivered an all new way of leveling, allowing the player to choose their own adventure rather than following the set path you must follow through the expansions, a refreshing break from the norm of the last decade. Players now have the option to level in the expansion of their choosing, staying nearly as long as they like to delve deep into the lore and experience the expansion as it was when it was fresh.
As expected, once you hit the new max level of 50, you are invited to leave the old lands and make your way into the Shadowlands.
Your first time through the expansion, you are guided into each new zone as you level and progress, to experience the unique flavor and atmosphere for each new zone. You get to know the area, the key players, and what motivates them in these new lands. This new story line is very linear, and feels a bit constraining at times. However, the side quests allow for extra wiggle room if you would like to explore an area further.
Once you have completed the story arc, you are invited to pick the covenant that you would like to represent. Your choices are joining the Kyrian, Venthyr, Necrolord or Night Fae. You will embody their values, and infuse your character with new skills and gear specific to your covenant to enhance your character in ways beyond the maximum level. This new system allows for more choices and abilities to customize their character for the end game content.
Each covenant has different benefits, and how you choose to progress is up to you. For those who want to play meta, there are different covenants you can pick to enhance your character to be good all around, pvp specific, raiding, or mythic progression.
Once you have completed the story, your second play through of the content can be completely different. The new alt leveling system is a refreshing change - as mentioned before, you are no longer tied to a specific path to level through the old content. Players can choose to level in a totally new expansion, and are greeted by the "Threads of Fate" once you hit shadowlands. Having once completed the entire Shadowlands story, your alts can fast track directly to picking a covenant!
The zones themselves are gorgeous, the artwork is the quality you expect from Blizzard, and some locations even managed to surprise a grizzled WoW veteran such as myself. The quests have some new surprises as well, but many hit the same notes we have come to expect from playing WoW. Go here, kill this, collect this, and bring it back to me. To be fair, that is a standard filler, but at times I had hoped there would be a few more surprises in the main story arc. I expect that of side quests, but not the main story itself. At times it seemed a bit too simplistic, and I had hoped that after all these years we would be surprised with something innovative for our questing and leveling experience.
I'll admit, when I first came back it was a little hard to palate the level squish from 120 down to 50. However that quickly changed as I enjoyed fully leveling in old content I had not played in years, and was quickly pushed out as I surpassed the levels of the zone. I found old quests I had forgotten and loved, and relearned lore I had neglected. The downside being that I no longer needed to run old dungeons. While they had enhanced the leveling experience, I feel they have omitted one of the major parts of the WoW experience, which was enjoying the leveling experience inside of dungeons. Perhaps they will add a reason for us to revisit those old dungeons, and give us an incentive to participate in the multiplayer aspect of WoW outside of the Shadowlands.
Aside from my wish for a more multiplayer aspect for old dungeons, Shadowlands has lots of end game content available to fill those needs. Back again are the mythic dungeons, with their promise of upgrading your gear weekly as well as end game raiding in the newly released Castle Nathria.
As with each expansion, we know there is some resource we need to collect in order to upgrade our character. In Azeroth we had to collect Azerite, and now we have Anima. Currently Anima does not feel as grindy or as much of a chore as collecting azerite was. So far, there is a fun factor to log in daily and do what is needed to advance. Will this change in the spring when we have done it for months? Perhaps, but currently there are enough different ways to obtain anima that it is not getting stale, unlike the Azerite grind that quickly became tiresome.
For the solo players, a new feaure has been introduced which is their solo dungeon Torgast, Tower of the Damned. Players can now climb this tower until they are eventually overcome by the forces. There is no end level, the ending is your death and the challenge is how far can you go? Players can opt to spend Anima, the currency obtained inside of this tower, to customize their play and give their character special powers for their particular run. Everytime you complete a floor, you can spend your hard earned anima on ways to help with the floors to come.
While we still have much to experience in the new expansion, so far what we have seen is highly enjoyable! Castle Nathria is alluring and we can't wait to answer it's call.
All in all, WoW's latest expansion has been a joy to play and experience. While not entirely alt friendly, strides have been made to at least make it easier to catch up should you wish to change classes once you have started the expansion. Even with this knowledge, I look forward to leveling alts to join each of the covenants - the replayability is there to entice me with a new experience to see the afterlife of Azeroth through that covenant's unique view.
Many of my friends and old guildmates have returned to experience the new adventures, and for the moment it feels like old times and hits that comforting familiarity that is much needed this year. An outlet to let go of the dreary mundanity of real life, and immerse yourself fully in Azeroth.
4 stars out of 5