Shadowlands So Far: A Year into Expansion Review

As we’re wrapping up the whole bulk of content presented to us in 9.0. and 9.1. patches, it’s time to look back and see what was done well and what was done wrong. Note that I’m not a competitive player and skip lots of activities due to my personal likes and dislikes, so the review is a most personal uptake on the expansion.

The Intro Questline imo was done pretty well. We got a hammer hit on the head for our rush assault, were properly introduced to the dangerous Maw and its master in person, and fled with a distinct feeling of danger and a long path to come, setting stage for our adventures. On the downside, the intro was so long, and as for now the game still does not let to skip it on alts.

Leveling Questing Story – is what Warcraft always does well, and Shadowlands were no exception. We were introduced to Covenants, their problems, their leaders and denizens, had a taste of their powers, and in general came to the Covenant choice prepared and informed. Unlike previous expansions, the story was linear, so we had to walk through it in certain order, but this played well as the whole arc was quite climactic, ending with Renathal/Denathrius clash and setting stage for the first raid.

Huge bonus is the first ever introduction of Threads of Fate. An ability to skip the whole story and to level by means of choice was a bliss, and I think this is what Blizzard should implement in future expansions.

Campaigns were… fine, I guess. I like the time gating thing, I do, ever since Suramar. Stretched for 2 months, you have a piece of lore to wait for with every reset, and it’s nice. Dividing campaigns into 4 covenants was cool when replayed by alts – less repetition and same-path fatigue.

Of course, nothing like that in 9.1. where they all blended, but I think this is something to ponder about. As for modern WoW, I would like to see it as a golden standard: everything lore should be skippable on alts once you’ve seen it on your main. All in all, campaigns were interesting, even if with their ups and downs. They really expanded our Covenant knowledge that we only tasted during leveling.

Overall Lore, or Main Story – is a disaster. With regret I have to admit that the tumor of explaining nothing progresses. We never see the villains in game, we have no idea what they’re up to – even when we are to proceed for the final raid. We got zero explanation how Arbiter went into coma. We got zero explanation how and why Denathrius stole anima from other Covenants and caused a realm-wide drought. All middle-time explanations were unsufficient, and in general we have a purpose, means to proceed, but we never got any answer: Why Do We Fight? We know who’s the villain, but we do not know why he’s the villain and what are his goals. We fight because we fight, that’s all.

Covenants – as a system, I think, it largely failed. Like I said, they managed to add some variety to transmogs, and abilities, and ambience, and questlines, providing a sort of player’s choice. But all in all they’re as bleak as they come. We never remember any character from Covenants – if tomorrow they all died and got replaced by other characters of similar looks, who cares. The zones are monochrome, and don’t provide any variety or points of interest, making them super boring to be at.

And my major beef which applies to the entirety of Shadowlands – is the non-releveant nature of the realm of death. I said “oh no” upon expansion announcement, and exactly “oh no” it was. Our characters might understand the concept of anima, but they could not be farther from relating to it. This world exists by its own laws, and we could not care less because, as living creatures, we don’t.

Not to mention the balance of power: Blizzard is well-known to struggle hard with it, and slapping a conduit/covenant power system on top of it did not help at all. Solution? Make it purely cosmetic, so that a druid or a warrior would cast the same spell, but with different color scheme depending on whether he’s with venthyr, fae or whatever. In short, making attunement to covenants matter in terms of whom you like best, not what powers they provide.

The last, but not the least: weird “mini-game” special buildings, which vary from boring to impossible. There are insane flaws which in general turned what could be a fun morning/weekly activity into a grindy, uninspiring crap no one is really excited about.

Torghast – is something I would never, ever want to see in game in any form again. Roguelikes on paper are kinda fun, but in reality it’s one of the most boring and tedious activities I’ve ever met in WoW. I think people still do it for legendaries – I abandoned the whole thing in 9.0., visited it once in 9.1., and for what I care legendaries could burn in hell as long as I don’t have to go to the tower ever again.

The Maw – was one of the crappiest endgame zones ever. Blizzard wanted to convey the sense we’re not welcome there, and they succeeded: we did not want to play there, even now when mounts are allowed and there are no GTA stars. Paired with elites, throngs of mobs and overall ambience, it’s something we’d never remember with a smile. Assaults did not play well too – as for little reward they offer, and not a lengthy, but a very annoying gameplay.

Korthia – on the contrary, is one of the best endgame zones ever made. Its modest size made it quick and fun to run about, the activities are very much rewarding, especially considering little time spent, and in general it’s a fun place to be at. Its drawback? Zero lore. There are some crappy floating guys with a disaster of a ruined archive, and we could not care less what happens to them and said archive. What is that archive? Why it is important? Who are you, ffs? All in all, a fun sandbox with significant rewards we need and get easily, but the land and its dwellers we could not care less about.

Renown and Other Systems – is another tumor which grew worse in Shadowlands. We got really tired of borrowed power and systems-over-systems-over-systems, even before the expansion started, and we got it multiplied by ten. I would not plunge deep into that, let’s just say that a currency and a reputation is quite enough. Gating of everything behind dozens of activities, currencies and systems must go. And don’t even start me with the currency, especially anima, income in 9.0.

Alt Friendliness – strange enough, it was not that bad. If anything, it was good. As you know, I’m not digging deep like other players, maximizing the output of their 1-5 toon roster – I’m digging wide, keeping it casual, LFR-rep-cosmetics level, but on a wide range of characters. I played through 9.0. with 22 alts on the same power and progress level – the biggest number of toons I ever had in WoW. It was a scary stretch, but I managed. Now I cut to 15, and I feel quite fine, even if it’s still a bit too much. But whatever, I like my toons. Anyways, they’re all now at 217+ ilvl, contributed to raid and covenant mog farming, and capping Renown next week – I think it says something. I would not manage to do so many in BfA or Legion, for example.

Dungeons and Raids – as always, group content was inventive and fun. Dungeons in my case stretched enough to ilvl me up for raids, then I quit them altogether – like I do in all expansions, mythic+ are not my piece of cake since their introduction in Legion. Their lore was ok, boss mechanics were interesting, and looking back, I do not hate them – they played their role as they should have.

As for raids, Castle Nathria has got a big plus for not being overtuned (as most BfA raids), a number of hilarious bosses. On the downside, it inherited all covenant zone drawbacks: lack of immersement for the lifestyle of death realm guys and monochromatic boring design. Sanctum of Domination was amazing in every sense: its design variety, lore, significant bosses, encounter designs and an epic experimental Sylvanas final fight, with a small overtune in wings 3 and 4. All in all, the dungeon/raid teams are keeping up with their high quality level, and it’s good.

The Gear Vault system generally sucks compared to the raid tokens. Of course I would like to throw a coin for the boss which owes me the remaining piece of loot rather than get a random item – sometimes from bosses that I did not even kill this week.

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Conclusion? Shadowlands is my least favorite expansion so far. It has its bright moments, like raids, certain stories, Korthia endgame zone, alt friendliness, and in general is quite playable.

But the overall impression is very depressing. I couldn’t care less about what’s happening in the realm of death. Blizzard totally failed delivering a convincing lore background, story, engaging characters, heroes and villains, has not still explained why we fight and why are we even here. Systems over systems, weird innovations and currency flaws don’t exactly help to fix the situation.

I cannot wait till the expansion is over, something I never felt this early in expansion cycle before. By lore and player perception, 9.2. is bound to be the final patch, and my mood is just kicking it to the end, to return back to Azeroth and forget about the death realm as a bad dream.

6 thoughts on “Shadowlands So Far: A Year into Expansion Review

  1. I log in once a week now. Kill two world bosses to fill the vat, knock out 3 quests bin one zone, complete what ever else in another. About 90 minutes by myself. I won’t do the collect souls anymore, it got boring and well, it’s the maw. Just finished my Bastion exalted so that’s all 4 main ones knocked out. My wife hasn’t played in 3-4 months. She just isn’t excited to play. Aside from raid night we have 5-6 people on playing Alts. It’s a telling metric from the start of BfA when we had 85 online. I’m just playing it out, hoping it gets better, but I think it may be done. If they don’t have a huge announcement early next year for virtual Blizzcon about the next expansion knocking it out of the park, then I fear Activision may pull the plug.

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    • I don’t do souls anymore for long ago. I think I would – and maybe already should resume farming them, because my Fae need Conservatory level 5 to purchase the set, need to see if I have enough.

      Like I said, I think I’ll be done somewhen in November – I’m already in a weapon leg of Renown rewards. Fae need more than that, so they stretch longer. In 9.1., I need Exalted with Death’s Advance to purchase rewards – coming soon, we’re at 13-14k after Revered. Maybe I will grind rep with archive once just for achievement, to make it 100% reputations. And that’s basically all.

      9.1.5. is where I go to Legion raids for mogs, and I’ve nothing else planned. Island Expeditions if they could be soloed? Maybe.

      Blizzcon is bound to release 9.2. at Blizzcon and the next expansion in November 2021/February 2022, or they’re looking at such a player drop they’ve never seen before.

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      • Agree. I think what really hitting me hardest is that at this point, I think I’m around 208-209 gear, that I can’t go into an area in the world and do a fill the bar quest by myself without taking it one creature at a time worth 2-3% and even then at times it’s tough. I got dismounted in the maw heading to the world boss and it took me 4-5 minutes to kill 1 creature. I popped every cool down and self heal I had, even used dispersion twice to end up at 20% health. And yet I see some classes just rush in and pull huge groups in world content and deal with things in the maw in seconds. Maybe I am just a really bad player, but it feels off that a monk or Paladin makes quick work of something where I need to carefully navigate to end up at a graveyard

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        • I’ve found that waiting for someone to run the gauntlet ahead of you works well. Stick to a side at choke points and rush to the area above near the graveyard. Worst case you die and Rez right above. Queue up and hop down for an easy group finder boss kill, 500 anima too. From there I usually just hearth back then portal hop.

          The expansion is a little better with flying in the zones. Wish we had it sooner

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