As the second week rolls by, the initial confusion (hopefully) starts to fade, and everything starts to click in its places. By now – at least for main characters – we’re supposed to design our daily/weekly routines, our goals and our path to glory, build all the stuff in our Covenants and get acquainted with all the systems, and also see the story so far.
All in all, the focus on weekly/half-weekly routines is a bliss. You can login at least once in 3 days (to cover callings/emissaries), and yet be rest assured you didn’t miss anything important. For example, I did not have a chance to play Schlitzchen the Necrolords Shaman during this week, and yet on Saturday I will be able catch up with her and be sure that she’s on the same page as if I played with her daily.
Leveling has now a straightforward path of a major story, and a Threads of Fate option for alts which is a lot more varied and offers a lot of player agency in picking what suits you. Btw, completing this week’s Threads of Fate steps on an alt (help Revendreth, Ardenweald etc.) grants you Renown levels – I think it’s the same if you’re doing normal leveling story, so thanks for this catch-up mechanic. Where to get Renown when others will be in their Renown teens or 20s is yet of question.
The curve of gearing up and getting ready for mythics/raids is also crystal clear, but here comes my first chokepoint which I don’t like at all: running dungeons in Shadowlands is practically the only way to gear up. Yes, you can get good gear from emissary chests, world quests, Maw events and AH, but this is not a way to rely upon.
In the endgame, Maw and Torghast are getting diametrically different opinions. Apparently I’m in the minority for both, as I like the Maw, and I don’t like Torghast. Maw is easy to navigate without unnecessary fights, has transparent daily goals, and it is very easy to complete them without being harassed too much by the Jailer, because you get the GTA police stars only for goals completion, not for the amount of battles you initiated or were dragged in. Once you gain buffs from Ven’ari, it will unlock new zones and make it even easier.
Torghast is something I strongly dislike so far. My limit on Frost Mage main today is Layer 2, and this is it, but this is not the biggest problem. Eventually my success totally depends on random!
This week, I cleared one of the wings with no bother. Right at the entrance I got the flat +15% (or was it even 25%?) intellect buff, and this alone would suffice. But no, there came another imba of my abilities having a chance of chipping 10% of enemy health with a frost shard (imagine that on boss!), then came a couple more like shield buffs, and also save 27 souls for an extra 27% intellect buff. Long story short, when I came to boss, he did not even manage to reach me from the center of the room – the encounter was over in 10 seconds!!!
Not the second wing though. First of all, they had teleport platforms, and one of the teleports propels you right at the middle of 6-8 enemies of the normal (non-brittle skeleton) type which come at you all at once, no prep. For a mage this means a certain death, and the only strategy is to try and take as many enemies as you can with you before dying to make further tries easier. Then, most enemies teleport at you and also leave highly damaging pools upon dying – good luck with kiting and navigating the battlefield. I’ve searched every corner, and collected only about 8-10 souls for intellect buff (compare to 27 of the previous wing!), also all the anima powers were shitty as hell: mostly about polymorphs, fox covenant ability, making aoe cover wider areas, rats explode and such – in fact, absolutely nothing to help me with the boss. I came to him with (2!) attempts, died at the first, and when I managed to finish him with 1% of my own health, my hands were literally shaking.
This is definitely not an experience I’m looking for! The worst part is: this totally depends on random, and if you get shitty anima powers, effectively you just flushed 30-60 minutes of your gameplay time to the toilet. Try again – in case you get better ones? No, thanks. Now I have 1080 Soul Ash, and my legendary craft is delayed until next week, as I’m definitely not ready for Layer 3.
The other activities are a lot more fun. Quests now lean towards kill-me-twenty rather than kill-me-ten, but then again you don’t have to do many of them – 3-4 a day would quite suffice. There are dozens of secrets, not only exploration, but mere chests as well! You literally have to think a bit before every chest, because you can never just loot it: either secret enemies jump at you, or you have to solve a puzzle of how to launch it or how to get there. I like this so much! Dungeons, albeit obligatory, are quite fun to run actually – I feel like their novelty is far yet from wearing thin… or they’re simply just that great. Probably both.
Conclusion: I’d say 4/5 stars for gameplay. I hate Torghast’s random anima powers design, and I don’t like that our options are limited to dungeons, but otherwise the whole experience is engaging and fun.
Ambience and Story
Blizzard nailed it again with the ambience and introduction of different communities. It’s their trademark thing: for example, you hate Zerg or Undead so much, then you play them a bit, and you suddenly love them to the bone. Both shaping of Covenants, characters and zone design are super cool. While leveling an alt, they are sending me to the next zone, and I’m thinking in Oribos: oh no, not the boring Ardenweald/Bastion, heights and gloom of Revendreth, or cesspool of Maldraxxus – not again! But, upon your arrival, you need just 5 minutes to decide: yep, I would totally make this place my home. As you get acquainted with every corner of every zone, it makes every next experience there even easier and a lot more pleasant. And zone design, music and locals just don’t give you any chance but to like them. A lot. Even Maw and Torghast which I was very afraid of being bleak and boring appeared to be actually beautiful and engaging.
Otherworldly – this is the right word to describe the whole Shadowlands layout. You see, whenever we previously came to the next continent or even planet, we have something to rely on. Yes, they are eating different foods and ride different mounts, wield different weapons, but they are still down-to-earth. They are tilling, they are hunting, they have cities and villages, and communities – everything is familiar if not by design, but in its core.
Nothing like that happens in Shadowlands. By lore, whether you are a pandaren, an orc, or a blob of slime from planet Garhoogle, you will be ascended to either a blue winged human, a hulky brute, a fairy/fawn or a Bela Lugoshi. And that renders the whole zone races variety in one paint. Then again, they all apparently feed on anima, so there’s no hunting grounds, farms or means to simply have fun. It is unusual to walk through the whole Bastion, and all you see is the very same temple grounds with patches of spare land in-between. Surely venthyr do not need anything apart from their castles, period to fulfil their purpose – and this is afterlife, after all, but it feels super weird and requires an effort to get used to.
Strange enough, it works. But not in the same way as before: this design prefectly serves a purpose of communicating: hey, this is afterlife! to players. It is not some place we want to stay as long as we live, and I would gladly trade Shadowlands for the world of the living once the expansion is over. It is more like a slumber, and maybe it’s perfect to have that kind of experience after a pretty dark Fourth War horrors and madness. You just have to get used to the new reality – at least for a while. Do I want to return after we’re done here? No, definitely not. Do I accept this reality for the time-being? Yes, I do.
Storywise, many discoveries await us. It is very comforting that Blizzard does not forget about the Big Bad and the major story. There are many hooks, there are many secrets we need to discover – and what’s best, even now, as we’re supposed to build our bonds with Covenants, but Bolvar, Ven’ari and piligrims from Azeroth keep pushing us to the main goal: discovering how to beat Sylvanas/Jailer and saving our allies. We have a purpose, the end goal, and we don’t know what happens next – that’s actually pretty huge. The Jailer is also not your another Deathwing, who was perfectly able to destroy Stormwind in trailer, but he did not – for reasons – and then he sat idle until we came for him. No, Jailer also actively works towards his goal, but lorewise, he cannot go rampant – not yet.
Conclusion: weird, not a place where I would return (unlike Pandaria, Northrend or Draenor), but perfectly works for now. It’s an otherwordly, almost serene vacation experience – a dream we are happy to be at, but with confidence that some day we will wake up.