I'm not a huge fan of reviewing MMORPGs, as they're a type of games that are constantly developed and evolving. The lifespan of a DLC, for example, is about two years, and during this period, there are novelties released that affect the of the entire extension. Nevertheless, I realize that a review of Shadowlands written two years after the game released wouldn't interest anyone. So I invite you to the afterlife, where Jailer and Sylvanas dance on the graves of their foes.
NOTE! THIS IS NOT THE FINAL SHADOWLANDS EVALUATION!
Shadowlands is doing quite well, at least after the first week and a half. Is this enough time to give a final evaluation of the expansion? Definitely not, and especially with this add-on, the matter is much more complicated.
This is because it is sponsored by "time-gate", a temporary content blockade. As a result, there is no way to check all the Shadowlands' attractions many of them will only be unlocked in time, such as the first rally, PvP season, or mythic+ dungeons. This also applies to the story campaign or further levels of Renown.
Why did Blizzard try this? This is what you will find out from the text below, but that is also why we decided that we won't give a final score of Shadowlands yet. At this point, if I had to issue a note, I would give something like 75% with a view to 80%. But time will tell if this note will rise or fall, or maybe remain the same? This addition is playing it extremely safe and largely based on proven solutions and nostalgia. This may not be enough, but at the same time it may be absolutely enough!
A true revolution in exping
To be honest, I started my adventure with Shadowlands from scratch, i.e. I deliberately created a new character because as part of the introductory update, Blizzard turned the leveling system upside down. The level cap was 50 (60 in Shadowlands alone), new start zones appeared, and a specific scaling of the old expansions was proposed.
- Pleasant storyline for MMORPG standards;
- Diverse and quite different lands;
- WoW has never looked so good;
- Accelerated leveling and friendly alting;
- A multitude of collectables, mounts and cosmetic items;
- Torghast is fantastic (if you like RNG);
- No more warforge and titanforge;
- Covenants are quite enjoyable, but...
- ...this system is underdeveloped and unbalanced, so it can cause more harm than good;
- Another borrowed power, which will probably disappear in the new extension;
- Breaking up the game elements into smaller systems and the excess of additional currencies;
- Mundane novelties and changes that do not stand out.
Let me put it this way: it's a bull's eye, because exping is fun again. In about 15 hours, the player can develop the hero from level 1 to 50, which is much faster than before. In addition, almost every level brings with it some surprises a new skill, additional talent point to spend, etc. Thanks to this, we can really feel the development of the hero, and I must admit honestly that Blizzard should have done so long ago.
Exile's Reach is also laudable, as a new starting zone for both the Horde and the Alliance. This is a mandatory area for new players and optional for veterans. I recommend checking this location out, because it serves as a perfect tutorial to World of Warcraft, introducing us to the basics of the game.
It works well for people starting to play with this production, as Exile's Reach story is set during the Battle for Azeroth events. In this way, the player smoothly transitions to exping in the new zones right after completing the tutorial, and then, after reaching level 50, they're able to continue the quest in Shadowlands. Veterans, on the other hand, can go to Chromie to select the expansion in which they want to play from level 10 to 50. The region will scale to their level, which gives the player a welcome freedom. You can jump on the extensions or concentrate on just one thing up yo you.
Of course, all these solutions are not perfect, they have their drawbacks and problems, and some people complain that they complicate the story. New players don't follow the story of World of Warcraft from the beginning, but only from the most recent events. Personally, I find this this a better solution than throwing them headfirst into the deep end of the alternative reality, the eternal phasing of the game world, or forcing them to complete missions for the living Garrosh, who hasn't done anything wrong. Therefore, in my opinion, Blizzard chose the best option.
PRE-PATCH TO SHADOWLANDS MEANS A LOT OF NEW STUFF
Pre-patch to Shadowlands deserves it's own frame, because apart from a series of introductory tasks to the add-on and a change of the XP system, it introduces several other novelties. For example, you can change your gender at your hairdresser's, or use new customization options (e.g. heterohromatic eyes). Blizzard also changed the character creation screen, making it more legible. In addition, some class changes have appeared in this update. I treat the whole thing as an element of the Shadowlands, so I think it is worth mentioning.
Shadowlands is extremely linear, but that's good
But how does exping look like in Shadowlands itself? It's completely different! Up to level 50, we have full freedom, but when entering the kingdom of the dead, you have to reckon with the linearity typical of single-player games. Final Fantasy XIV players will feel at home (especially when they see the number of cutscenes), because the first time in Shadowlands is simply about going through the whole story campaign to even gain access to the proper content.
Usually I'm opposed to such solutions, because linear stories don't fit MMORPGs. In the case of Shadowlands, however, I had the impression that it worked out quite well. The introductory task takes us to Icecrown, where Bolvar Fordragon opens the passage to the afterlife using the broken Helm of Domination. We go to The Maw, meet Jailer and a plethora of famous characters, then travel through Bastion, Maldraxxus, Ardenweald and end up in Revendreth.
MAIN PROPELLANT: NOSTALGIA
Reading the text, you will see for yourself that Blizzard likes to recycle the Warcraft world. This applies not only to old systems, which return in Shadowlands in a slightly changed form, but also to NPCs. Wandering around the game, you will come across a huge number of familiar characters. There's Uther, who will play an important role in this extension, and in the future there will also be a place for Kael'thas, and perhaps Garrosh and Arthas. Just as Legion played on our nostalgia for Illidan, so the Shadowlands brings some heavy cannons, using the lands of the dead to stick various heroes under our noses even those we met in side quests.
It took me some 14 hours to travel through all of the Shadowlands zones part of the campaign, with some side quests for diversion. During that time, no mission sent me to dungeons, and only sometimes I had to do an extra quest to meet the required level. I was led by the hand, performing specific orders, pushing history forward. It was realized smoothly and in fact, this linearity was beneficial to the plot. Thanks to this format of the story, the player knows what's going on in Shadowlands, knows who's a traitor, who's good, and who to watch out for. I myself belong to the Sire Denathrius fanclub, and I think Sylvanas and Jailer can't hold a candle to him, the Main Evil One.
I started to take a lively interest in the events, although I admit that sometimes I got lost in this crowd of new characters and plot twists. I'll add that this is an introduction to the whole story, because the real plots are waiting for us later. It's a pity that at that time, players around me were just a background, and didn't participate in the adventure, which is my main issue with MMORPGs with a plot in general. Again, I felt like the chosen one again, but surprisingly it was not a bad feeling. Especially since during the game I got to know all the parties and their powers.
World of Warcraft has never looked more beautiful
My journey through Shadowlands was simply picturesque. Another laudable move from Blizzard is the feats they've achieved with theWorld of Warcraft engine. I am surprised that a sixteen-years-old game can look so good. Of course, there are visible limitations. Replacing the engine with something new would definitely be nice. Nevertheless, Shadowlands proves that the old WoW can pack a punch.
All the lands are simply beautiful, although I realize that not everyone will find the right place for their taste. For example, I was admiring the angelic Bastion for the first hour. Then I had enough of the sterile environment, its cleanliness and shades of blue. I felt much better in the dirty and rotten Maldraxxus, full of plague, undead and constructs. Ardenweald is a visualization of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" people who love fairy-tale climates will be thrilled. And vampire fans will love the Gothic Revendreth.
As for The Maw, the last Shadowlands zone, it's unsettling enough. At first glance, you can see that this is the trash of the afterlife, where no-good trash of the races ends up. The land even has its equivalent of the Styx River, which is quite atmospheric. I'll just say a few words about Oribos, the focal point of this supplement. It's the equivalent of Dalaran and Shattrath, a neutral city for both factions. Maybe it takes time for me to get used to the decay, but I didn't like the design of this building I only stayed there when I really had to.
60th level is just the beginning an overwhelming beginning
Once you've hit level 60 in Shadowlands, you still have to finish the campaign to start fully enjoying the expansion. Okay, you still won't be able to, actually, because you will have to choose a the faction that you want to join, and then you have a handful of tasks to complete. There will be more of them, as new content will be unlocked weekly. In addition, there's The Maw, a zone with a special NPC with reputation and currency. Then, we also have the Torghast, Tower of the Damned. On top of that, there are World Quests and "Callings" related to them (the equivalent of emissaries). I assure you that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
I must admit that the amount of activity is simply overwhelming. Especially when we hit level 60, it's difficult to decide what to do first. I was afraid I wouldn't have enough time to check everything the game offerend and write a review, but also not to be a burden for my guild. After all, everyone wants to be best prepared for the rally that will start on December 9th. So I expected Shadowlands to become a full-time job for a week...
And then it turned out Blizzard decided to release content gradually. Battle for Azerothwas had time-gates, but the latest extension is quintessential content delaying. In the first week, almost every activity had its own limit. And you know what? For the first time, I was satisfied with such solutions!
Because of the excess of the initial content, Shadowlands actually looks as if it was going to devour a huge amount of time. In fact, however, you could enjoy the game and be up-to-date with everything, without playing 24/7. Blizzard simply didn't allow anyone to chew through the expansion to quickly. That's how they tried to please all, both people with excess amounts of free time and casual, Sunday players. The compromise, as it often happens, mostly gave everyone reasons to complain.
It is hard to judge whether World of Warcraft will not be limited like this all the time. I feel that in the long run, the content made available for one week is not enough to keep the players interested. On the other hand, next week we will get raids and mythic+, so the community will be busy. We will see for how long, because the lion's share of activities in Shadowlands does not strengthen our character, but only provides access to cosmetic items or additional attractions.