Shadowlands Monotonous: How Zone Design is Ruining the Expansion

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.

8 thoughts on “Shadowlands Monotonous: How Zone Design is Ruining the Expansion

  1. I’m logging in maybe 3 nights during the week. My wife is down to one. I mentioned we just had to do two more sets of quests to get our renown 40, and we would get a mount in addition to the tree thing. She doesn’t want to. She is tired of the repetition. It takes us a certain amount of an evening, and when we are done those we just want to log out. The Tower got monotonous very quickly. The Maw? We grab souls needed, maybe a quest if it’s close to home base. The newer areas? We both got tired of getting killed and just won’t go there. That’s even after we unlocked the portal to get across the map and using the thing to hearth back. If anything we are considering going back to Mists and knocking out raid achievements and working our way up through any we are missing.

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    • Well, you got to admit we’d have a 9.1. in 2-3 weeks after Denathrius opened in LFR if not for Covid :) Fatigue is completely understandable. I can’t imagine what would I do if I had less toons.. probably I’d level alts now if I haven’t done this before xD

      The Maw itself is actually quite fun on my druid. I want a Ven’ari Exalted achievement, and gradually working towards it. Torghast is ugh, I find every run super tedious, and even rare fun power combinations don’t help.

      I’ve got goals to get to, but I’m taking my time here. Just taking a toon I feel like playing and having a quick 1-2 hour session – that’s enough to cover the chores for at least 3 days and progress significantly in every aspect: like 30-40 minutes for emissaries, 10 min for souls, an hour for Torghast, a world boss and I’m done. I get gold, rep, soul ash, Renown, and I’m quite happy. I feel like I have all the time in the world now.

      P.S. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve installed a certain Korean MMO to run somewhere completely different :)

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      • Uggh. World bosses. I’m getting really tired of getting killed going from a flight plan to a world boss, and getting killed again waiting for a group to not decline me, to get gold or another conduit upgrade.

        I only work on daily covenant quests, any of the weekly I put off until the wife logs in so we can do them together. Getting the souls we’ve found that one spot right at the bottom of the hill where two spawn, and the one a short hop away next to the encounter. It might not be so bad without the added debuffs from trying to do more things. I could do without assassins, getting lifted into the air, and the no healing one. We’ve bought about everything available that’s not a Use item.

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        • World Boss is a guaranteed Renown level if you’re more than just Souls/Anima double quest from Renown capcap, and a nice chunk of 250 anima, so it’s my primary concern about them :) I figured out how to navigate safely in all 4 spots – best done on reset days with throngs of players pulling mobs from yourself, yet, even before the reset day I normally manage without dying.

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        • I think it depends too if it is your covenant zone. I don’t have much trouble getting to the vampire zone world boss. But Ardenweald is usually a death getting to the cliff to jump off, and I’m usually near death fighting bugs waiting for a queue. Maldraxis? They love me in that tunnel. Only made the run once by following a few seconds behind a group running through. Bastion? Death every time.

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        • Bastion and Maldraxxus – it’s easier to do them on reset day, you just need one player to pass first, and the mobs will follow, then you go. Also, it’s cool to join group when you’re almost there – joining a group drops every mob that follows.

          Ardenweald – you’re doing it wrong. It seems you pass through Tirna Scythe and all the spriggans and elites. Well, you gotta be riding along Tirna’s northern wall (not IN Tirna Scythe, but outside) until the Ardenweald zone ends with a cliff, then turn south – there will be a path. It’s a perfectly safe route except for a random panther you could avoid. The only thing to worry about are gorm downstairs as you approach the boss itself.

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        • Yeah, I’ve gotten fairly good at avoiding Spriggans, it’s usually the big bugs down there that get me while waiting for a group.

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  2. Hmm. All of the zones seem to have a “highland” terrain and a “lowland” terrain. In Bastion, it’s the gold cliffs versus the blue green canyons. In Ardenweald, it’s the blue-purple healthy stuff versus the brown Gorm-eaten stuff. In Revendreth, it’s the castles versus the mires. In Maldraxxus, it’s the drier, bonier places versus the swamps. Other than that, not much variety.

    Like Marathal, I don’t bother with the World Bosses because I don’t like the death run — and because I haven’t been bothering at all with Runecarving, and so getting the Memories doesn’t matter to me. Maybe I’ll go do them for the Anima once we get flying?

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