The current expansion state is questionable, at best, and yet I’m not going to plunge deep into game system analysis, but rather deliver my personal feelings and attitude, as this blog’s always been about.
I’ve always been unconventional with the general player base considering my expansion perception. Well, obviously I liked TBC and WotLK when I played them in retrospective, completing all storylines, most achievements and soloing raids – they delivered great stories, finalized (kinda) some loose ends from Warcraft III, and provided great ambience. Can’t tell anything about Cataclysm, because it was my first current expansion, but flights in the well-known continent, new zones in places out-of-bounds, playable goblins, and my favorite elements theme were quite strong to keep my utmost interest until Pandaria, so I did not feel frustration like many players did. And I did not even see the raids there! Pandaria was great in every aspect (except its endless dailies), and I could live there.
Then starts the bumpy part where my attitude floats into counterbalance. I loved almost everything about Draenor. Surely the endgame dailies were a scarce content and we self-isolated in garrisons, but there was so much to do, the zones and ambience were gorgeous, and I still think that WoD emotional aspect was the strongest in the whole WoW history, maintaining strong heroes, villains and storytelling from intro and until the Archimonde shutdown. Even if it was a trouser-of-time thing (which I absolutely hate in every book and media), it was super great expansion to play at.
I have a love/hate attitude with Legion. The gameplay and the amount of lore (due to class halls and story-of-the-past) was great, as were QOL improvements including the world quest system, but everything else just did not relate with me. There was an ugly Broken Isles continent, subsequently dulled with Broken Shore and Argus, a dozen of endless elf factions which were extremely boring to deal with, and the story went rampant after Gul’dan defeat, reducing to Deus Ex idiocy – twice.
Battle for Azeroth was a nice expansion. Aside from the weird Old God appendix, it delivered the great, consistent – and legendary continents/nations, a share of emotional moments and character exploration, and a strong, brutal story of faction war, which we finally felt in all its cruelty firsthand. As I shrugged and stopped running mythic dungeons in Legion altogether after trying a couple of them, in similar manner I tried and shrugged off the island expeditions and azerite chase, and it was quite a place to be at and feel for the happening events.
Now we have Shadowlands. My biggest concern since expansion announcement now unveiled in all its glory, alas. I was always very vocal about how Blizzard shouldn’t dare to try and devote the whole expansions to something weird, unrelated to Azeroth – or any planet close to normal as an Azeroth replacement, like Draenor. The Emerald Dream, the realms of Death, the realm of Light/Void-only are the worst places where to spend a couple of years. By definition, they would be a) super boring and b) totally unrelated to us – which results in: why do we even care?
And my worst fears came true. All Covenants are colored in one paint in every aspect – zone, ambience, characters. The only highlights are the Azeroth-deceased like Draka, Ysera or Uther, but the locals are as bleak as they come. I dare you to name and care about any Kyrians, Necrolords, Venthyr, Fae piling around your Covenant home – every faerie, vorkai, necrolord, venthyr looks and acts the same, Blizzard could replace them with another character of the same model, and no one would even notice. Covenants failed to form a system – that I was talking about previously a lot, they’re just random and vague pieces – there’s no unity, Voltron-style sentiment of making it whole again. The stories were fine on paper, but as you don’t care about characters – you don’t really invest into them. Finally, Covenants in all their bleakness, one covenant – one paint, are super boring to be at and surely are not places to care about or return here later. There was no actual exploration, discovering corners, sightseeing or anything, it’s all the same once you entered the zone: golden fields, necroshit, blue grass or castle ruins as far as the eye can see, until the map ends in any direction you walk.
The same goes with Jailer’s camp. The Maw could have been a great villain… but it’s actually not. Jailer and Sylvanas are somewhere out there, and Blizzard completely waived away the option to grow some local villain characters that we would hate and gladly kill as raid or local bosses.
Patch 9.1. does not look too promising. Surely every new thing is a great thing, but Korthia is about as far as the discovery of the death world can go. Spoiler alert: Blizzard is pushing the story, and Sylvanas encounter is datamined to take us no less than to Arbiter itself… leaving us to what ends? We must follow Zovaal (presumably released from his “chains” by 9.2., as he’ll collect the keys), and I’d say it’s not Azeroth, but some other ethereal realm, because [revamped] Azeroth is hopefully put on shelf for 10.0., and Covenant stuff is kinda outdated already. So we’re probably looking at Argus 2.0. Deus Ex situation here. Anyways, we’re looking at a year and a half of what fails to deliver emotions and characters so far, and with Sylvanas’ death (?) it will feel like expansion’s real climax, with a year and a half of some weird, unwelcome place to run around – and bleak outdated shards of death world as a resort.
This little emotional investment into current whereabouts, paired with too little – too late addressing of anima concerns, questionable Torghast, questionable covenant activities, too little number of world quests – it makes the expansion not great. A completely unrelated story with little concern to locals and local surroundings, and miscalculation of activity/reward balance to keep our minds away from it, doubled by covid content delays make it the worst stage of WoW history I’ve ever been at so far.
What is left is to hope for the best. I need a firm ground under my feet which I care about, and emotional investment into story/characters – that’s not a lot to ask. So far, we’ll have to finish our vacation – a pool in your hotel yard is nice, but pool alone can’t make it a great vacation.