While Shadowlands is definitely one of the successful expansions considering gameplay (albeit all the many small bits and bobs to be improved), it is not that much considering zone immersement. The baseline of this post is: it is not a pleasant place to be at, and I very much doubt we would ever want to return here once 10.0. hits us.
Of course it has everything to do with the expansion and zone lore. The Covenants were all designed and maintained as places to keep their function running, and thus the whole zone serves one and only purpose. Fae tend the soul seeds keep their groves lush and cull the occasional gorm and devourers population, Necrolords forge their pleasingly-disgusting corpse army, Venthyr live in castles and intriguing, and Kyrian meditate and nurture the new souls in temples scattered across the golden fields until ascension.
Given the only source of any Covenant prosperity is anima, period, there’s no need for farming, fishing, hunting and whatever activities we got used to. So, this all results in two simple things:
- Total lack of diversity within zones
- Total lack of locals’ activities
Lorewise, it works. Upon a denizen of Azeroth – a mortal player – arrival to the Covenant, the whole theme strikes you between the eyes like a sledgehammer. The zones masterfully explain what they’re up to not only by questlines, but by design as well.
In the long run – for players – it does not work at all.
Whenever you are sent to the zone, it’s one image that pops up in your head, and there’s really nothing else at all. You could cross Ardenweald north to south and east to west, and all you see would be:
In short, if you’ve ever set foot in Ardenweald and took one glance, just one glance at a random grove, you’ve seen it all. There is nothing to explore, no cozy corners – in fact, there are no even any specific corners to think about and remember. The image above could be taken in literally every spot of Ardenweald – no matter if it’s a sacred grove of Awakening, a hedonistic theater, a magnificent capital tree, a drust-infested land, or just a random road. In every previous expansion and zone there were your special places you liked, special places you remembered and chilled there – your own favorite cozy corners. There were landmarks – but there are none in Shadowlands: every building, every place within the zone looks exactly the same.
In fact, the case of landmarks is simple: you need them to stand out in the landscape. The terrain – and even the sky might and must change as you approach the villain lair, or a jovial ground, or venture in some mansion, subarea, town or village. Nothing like that ever happens in Shadowlands.
And the lifestyle of locals does not help much – in fact, it hurts even more. Due to the only purpose, the only activity – and lack of needs except natural anima income from souls – they do not have the need to vary the whereabouts, the diversity, the different activities. What is even worse, the enemies don’t vary either. Your typical day in Revendreth would be vampires in castle grounds sending you to fight… the very same vampires in the very same castle grounds. You eye does not rest for a minute: once in Revendreth, you’re bound to deal with one and only enemy in one and the same terrain.
It’s easiest to compare the zones to food. Every zone in previous expansions is like a separate course, with a side dish and spice for flavor. Take any zone in Shadowlands – and it’s simply mashed potatoes, maybe witha grain (just a grain) of salt. While mashed potatoes are a tasty thing to eat per se… wait and see until you eat this every day, every meal, and nothing to vary it with.