GAMING

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands Review – Otherworldly Freedom

In each role-playing game, the day comes when the adventure master throws his players onto one of the alien planes. The time has now arrived in the lives of the adventurers of Azeroth.

It was a pleasant breezy summer day in 2006 when I used Night Elf Hunter to collect melted candles for a stuttering NPC. Now, 15 years later, with plenty of experience points, fallen titanium, and three Old Gods, I stare at the shattered sky later, and it goes through my mind how far I go from Goldshire.

The consequence of the war

We’re weeks after the release of the eighth add-on to World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, the world’s most popular MMORPG. After the events of Battle for Azeroth, the Blizzardos storytellers felt it was time to open a new chapter in the history of the world of Warcraft, and Sylvanas Windrunner would be the key to that. The previous supplement only brought death, and then Sylvanas decided it was time to unite the realm of death and the plane of physical existence: he tore the Helm of Domination. He punched a hole in the veil that separated the two worlds.

As a farewell, he also took with him the most important figures of the Horde and the Alliance to the Shadowlands, for Sylvanas and his master had to deal with them. This is where the heroes of Azeroth come into the picture: with the help of the former crown of Bolvar and Arthas, we rush after him to rescue Anduin, Jaina, Thrall, and Baine while discovering this realm utterly foreign to us.

When we arrive, it soon becomes clear that the Shadowlands are in big trouble. Once upon a time, the otherworldly distribution system between the Legion and the Battle for Azeroth add-on broke down, and now, instead of every soul enjoying its well-deserved rest, the Mawba flows, which is a World of Warcraft hell. So it’s not just our job to save our leaders but also to shake the afterlife to work and thwart Sylvanas and Jailor’s plan, whatever it is.

Infinite dimensions

Like any add-on, this one begins with a discovery. When we cross the Shadowlands, we are treated as a strange monk from the very first moments. A living mortal has not yet been to Oribos, which functions as the heart of the afterlife, so the clerks suddenly don’t even know what to do with us. Here, with a few dialogues and walkthroughs, we later learn about the structure of the Shadowlands: the capital is a center from which smaller gates open into a piece of the afterlife.

Of the theoretically infinite amount of dimensions, we can learn five. The first venue is Bastion, where we can meet the ready-to-serve, angelic Kyrian, whose members give up all their memories and then become independent companions of souls. The second Maldraxxus, the eternal battlefield battered by war, is home to the Necromancer and Necrolord factions. This is followed by Ardenweald, the local fairy world where wild gods and nature-loving souls can be reborn in the caring hands of the members of the Night Fae. The fourth is Revendreth, where Venthyr oversees the breaking and atonement of arrogant souls. The last is the Maw, the barren, bleak damn where the supplement’s main enemy, Jailor, reigns.

Except for Maw, each zone is controlled by a Covenant, which we can get to know during the 8-10 hour leveling experience. Each of them shows us their base, goals, and the abilities we can get from them.

When we reach level 60, the moment of decision comes: which otherworldly service to choose?

The whole gaming experience of Shadowlands revolves around this. From your chosen Covenant, you get two beneficial spells, extra developmental branches, an upgradeable base, and plenty of cosmetic accessories to suit that group’s theme. The Covenant will be your home for the next two years, so it will be worth considering the decision, if only because you can’t jump between teams with impunity. You’re at a severe disadvantage if you decide in the middle of the add-on to switch to the Necrolords because you get bored of the elves.

Blizzard has done everything to make a choice difficult: all four selectable Covenants have been given an inspiring story. Their visual design is stunning, and the spells they guarantee often add an exciting addition to our caste’s arsenal. On pages that specialize in this, everyone can find the “right” choice for mere numbers, but it won’t be easy to do if you ignore this. Not so with the endgame, where Blizzard finally found the golden mean.

No more homework

The story’s foundation was well done, but that’s not enough for a good addition: the Legion’s garnish, and its constant content updates, for example, nicely dampened the gameplay issues that all emerged when the Battle for Azeroth story was unable to sustain interest. The BFA bleed from many wounds, from the mandatory Artifact Power grind to the lucky lottery quality to the castes’ problems. By the end of version 8.3, we felt we needed to complete several hours of homework a day to pray for the half-armed robber for an acceptable piece of armor. Blizzard faced a severe challenge when he set out to put the game in order, but maybe I won’t tell you a big secret by revealing that you succeeded.

The developers learned a lot from the BFA, and these have now all benefited. The most important thing to get started right away is no more Artifact Power collecting. There are no upgradeable weapons or necklaces to level. Instead, what we get is called Renown and is much friendlier than previous solutions. Renown is the most critical system in the endgame. It opens up Soulbind levels (more on that later), opens up new features and followers, and even story missions related to Covenant. Luckily, this can’t be farmed indefinitely: we get two weekly quests. By completing both, we can move Renown up 1 + 1, and we’re done for the week.

In addition to the Renown, we can also collect Anima, the equivalent of the otherworldly currency: it is the life force that souls bring with them, but since all souls are now pouring into eternal damnation, all Covenants are starved. That’s why we can buy all sorts of little things for Anima, from backs to armor looks to bags. Shadowlands’ new War Table (i.e., a time-dependent mini-game controlled from mobile and an in-game table) also works with this, so it’s okay to collect at least 1-2,000 animes a week. The third most important raw material is Soul Ash, and here comes the picture of perhaps Shadowlands’ best novelty, Torghast, the endless tower.

According to the story, the most converted souls will be locked up here, but our friends will also be detained here so that the main missions will lure us in sooner or later. In terms of gameplay, it’s a roguelike experience where you can choose a section, a difficulty, and the marching can begin. One (sometimes more) Torghast-specific amplification can be activated at each level. These include little things like a 3% Intellect boost but are more severe than the fact that, prepared from invisibility, we can surprise the counter with a 2000% stronger Frost Bolt. We lose all of this when we get out of the tower, but as long as we’re there, we can put together these exciting lineups that can significantly influence the gameplay of our caste. The goal is to go through all six floors of that section and defeat the boss living there, and we pocket our deserved Soul Ash. The latter is a significant raw material, making all Legendary category objects.

After the Legion, the Legendary stuff comes back, but this time they don’t fall from random boxes. We have to put them together ourselves. Soul Ash will be the essential raw material for this. Still, we will also need an actual item that we can buy from other players or manufacture ourselves if we have chosen a tailor or armor blacksmith for the occupation. In addition, you need a roll that guarantees statistical bonuses that Inscription players can produce and a Legendary power that can be obtained from specified locations. In the Dungeon Journal section of the game, you can see which Legendary forces are coming from, so you can collect them relatively quickly. If we have everything, we will take them to Runecarver, who is imprisoned in Torghast, and he will put together for us the relic of our dreams.

Dance parties and arena fights

So an average week in Shadowlands looks like we’re completing our weekly Covenant missions, clearing out the most complex Torghast levels we can accomplish, and that’s it. Everything else is optional, and we don’t even have to collect Anima very much if we don’t want to. Roughly speaking, we can get the required laps in approximately 4-5 hours a week and go to the essentials of World of Warcraft, clearing dungeons and raids, or PvP battlefields.

Blizzard has worked on Shadowlands following more principles of less: this time, we only get eight starting dungeons, but they are fun and interesting one by one. The Mists of Trina Scythe takes us to the middle of a fairy forest from which we can only mingle by observing the signs left by the fairies. In Necrotic Wake, we defeat a scientist who builds monsters by playing his Abominations. In the Theater of Pain, we have to fight the Maldraxxus champions in an arena. Each dungeon hides some fun gameplay mechanics that will not necessarily be as glamorous for the 2000 run, but even then not as annoying as waiting in the Violet Moon for events to progress.

This time, the designers were also bolder with the Mythic + modifiers. The Prideful Affix was immediately introduced in the first week, which is why we have to face the physical manifestation of our pride sooner or later. If we defeat our ego, we get a sizable buff that helps put down the dungeon monsters’ remnants more shortly.

A new raid, Castle Nathria, awaits at the end of it all. We have to cut down tough opponents at home at Venthyr’s treacherous leader, Sire Denathrius, which nothing proves better than that at the time the article was written, none of the Guilds were able to complete the Heroic-level version of the raid, and many were already stuck at the Normal level.

Of course, it would be superfluous to spin all this great content if they didn’t get the suitable reward. Fortunately, Blizzard has finally decided to settle for random gear, and all armor, weapons, shields, and jewelry exist in one version. This way, everyone can plan the most necessary stuff for their character and start carving it out for that particular dungeon or raid boss. The more you play, the more rewards you can choose from, thanks to the Weekly Vault system.

If we spend a lot of time in raids, dungeons, or ranked PvP arenas, we’ll be able to choose from a given amount of gear over the following Wednesday on Vault. This significantly reduces Ms. Fortuna’s role in equipment collection. Nor should those who treat WoW primarily as a PvP game be afraid, as you can finally buy armor pieces made explicitly for PvP with Honor, which can be collected in arenas and battlegrounds.

Beyond the veil

Beyond dungeons, raids, and Torghaston, there’s more to do in Shadowlands. Maw, for example, is a zone specifically for high-level characters, where minibosses await challengers and where we can unlock upgrades for our Torghast races. Of course, you don’t even have to jump to hell if you spend time with someone else. Do you like collecting backs mini animals? Or is reputation building your life? Would you drive for achievements? Maybe you would do everything at once? You can do it in Shadowlands. Blizzard has significantly cut back on mandatory farming, so we have time for what we like to do in WoW.

This freedom can be weird at first, and many interpret it to mean that there’s nothing to do – which isn’t true. There’s a lot of content in the add-on, but this time Blizzard won’t tell you that you need to do this or that now. They’re focused on the parts of World of Warcraft that matter most, so that brings out the strength of the genre and gameplay.

Of course, Shadowlands isn’t perfect either, and there are missed opportunities here. One of the problems is caste balance: with 9.0, a lot has been changed in some cases, and what the developers have touched on has become visibly more enjoyable. Like Mage main, my life hasn’t changed much, but I’m enjoying my Shadow Priest and Affliction Warlock for the first time, which have been given radical transformations with the pre-Shadowlands update. On the other side of the coin, then, are the Feral Druids and the Windwalker Monks, with which Blizzard still did nothing, even though they have been in near-unbearable condition for years. They ran out of either time or resources, but either way, Monkom will never forgive me for not touching it since the beginning of the BFA.

The other problem is an omitted ziccer. One of Shadowlands’ endgame systems is a solution called Soulbond. At each Covenant, we can connect our souls with three NPCs who allow access to a new talent tree. Our souls are connected, so we strengthen each other, and this fantasy element is fine so far, plus the Soulbinds add exciting extras to our character in places. The problem is that the Soulbind tree evolves as our Covenant-bound Renown level increases. Instead of having personal quests with specific NPCs, all of a sudden, the tree deepens, we get new bonuses, and that’s it. So poor Nyla isn’t much different from my Artifact weapon, except that Aluneth hissed at Matthew Mercer’s excellent baritone when I used my mana to make cookies.

After death

Three weeks after the launch, despite the minor issues, I feel like World of Warcraft has been playing so well for a very long time. Playing a significant portion of the castes feels much better than in BFA. The endgame development systems are designed not to be farmed for long (so the community doesn’t even expect it), and everything beyond a few fleeting quests is just optional extras. The caste balance isn’t perfect right now (in fact), but with a game this big, it will probably never really be in place.

The visuals are beautiful, the otherworldly musical background and the engine used for the lead-through animations have also made tremendous strides. Our characters are getting a more significant role in the videos, which is always good to see. We can only hope that in 9.1, Blizzard will spin up his main story march because, in principle, Jailor should be the big supergun, but it still doesn’t seem like more than a very blue bodybuilder.

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2 Comments

  1. Ever since the Chinese bought this game out it has become one of the worst mmorpg to play. Everyone is basically rewarded with the best to describe it as “trinkets”. There is no competition in ANY ASPECT of the game what so ever. It used to be you had to know the mechanics of raiding, not any more, just do stupid dance moves , no one needs to know any kind of mechanics, they thru that out the window, because “not enough people were able to beat the bosses in raid”. This is getting as close to the old hello kitty Island adventure game as it gets. Not worth the time or money. Chinese turned it into a “everyone gets a worthless trinket prize game.

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