While leaks and estimations flew around like they do before BlizzCon, we knew one thing for sure: A WoW expansion would be announced as the last patch of Battle for Azeroth was in the works. Some thought a Lich King 2.0 would come, others thought dragons, others Black Empire, I wanted a Return of Aqir (you’ll hear more about that soon by the way.) and Shadowlands was both estimated and leaked. While the whole leak wasn’t accurate, the concept was; as announced in the opening ceremony with an amazing cinematic. I feel lucky to be there, and I was even on the Warcraft stage! So let’s talk about it.
I don’t know Blizzard does it, but the cinematics manage to get better. It started with a dead-serious (pun intended), truly epic fight between the Lich King and Sylvanas Windrunner. Icebergs and pieces of mountain hurled around, supported by powerful magic that brought us to a moment that I believe was a nod to past. Sylvanas brought another champion of undeath to their knees, but this time, with no Kel’thuzad to save them. We’ve seen Blizzard nod to past a lot this expansion, especially drawing paralels between the Lich King and Sylvanas (such as the gates of Orgrimmar echoing the Wrathgate) and when Sylvanas held the Helm of Domination and the camera moved to an angle that directly reminded us of when Arthas put it on the first time, everyone thought “Lich Queen incoming,” except Blizzard had other plans. In a moment of shock, Sylvanas started breaking the Helm and in the continuation of the shock, she did! They weren’t done yet, as this tore the skies apart, revealing a new land. I’m sure the folks watching at home were as mind blown as those watching it at BlizzCon.
Luckily, the expansion looks as good as the cinematic itself! One of the main mechanic of the expansion is the covenants. Basically, we choose between the spirit paladins, spooky nature people, necromancer folk and vampires, which come not only with active abilities but also has characters we can bound with that provide customizable passives and WITHOUT a grind like artifact or azerite power! So pretty much like Artifact Weapons but better. They also have cosmetics including an upgradable mount and since the choice is supposed to be hard to change, we aren’t spending the whole expansion grinding for four factions.
It’s also important to note that Shadowlands is not just a grey wasteland. Each region is different as the four factions suggest. We’ll have dark zones for sure, but Bastion, where Kyrian (spirit paladins as I dubbed them) are is very light, very heaven-like. I was able to test it at BlizzCon and it really looked good. Similarly we have the more nature-y zone, the creepy one etc. which also means we have a bunch of different enemy types to face. Of course, the real dark zone is the Maw, which sounds like the “Suramar” of this expansion and houses Torghast, the Tower of the Damned.
This tower mirroring Icecrown seems to be another maim mechanic and it sounds pretty good. It’s basically a random dungeon that becomes stronger as you do with a lot of rewards. It seems it will be similar to the Withered Training from Legion in the sense that you will keep doing it weekly or so, but this time it will keep being relevant throughout the expansion.
One thing I love are the major changes to leveling. In short, leveling times are being reduced and you will be able to pick an expansion and play through that one fully and only that, instead of playing bits and pieces of each. I think I will be leveling a lot of alts in this one. They are also making life easier for alts by letting them choose their covenant right away (Instead of at max level for your main) and letting their leveling progression to affect their end-game progression ie an alt will have a headstart when they hit 60. They will also be able to level however in the new zones, including World Quests!
Last but not least, they are touching the customization and classes. Races will have a lot of new customization, such as enabling a wildhammer style tattoo for dwarves or customizing how bone-y your undead is. Class specializations meanwhile, are turning back to the single class that focuses on an aspect instead of each spec being a mini class. Abilities such as totems and poisons will return.
Before I finish, I want to talk about the story. Sylvanas played us. She pulled some Kerrigan-in-Brood-Wars level play but with a greater end game. She said the things we wanted to hear or we would believe while she set her game up in the background and everyone played right into her hands and I love it. I love it when villains aren’t stupid evil. I loved her the way I loved Gul’dan in WoD and start of Legion. He did not make the rookie mistakes. He explained his plans after he set them in motion. Same here for Sylvanas. Sure Saurfang had her worked up but she was already confident.
It is going to be even more interesting in Shadowlands as we not only meet completely new factions and a new villain, but also meet some of the famous fallen. I am especially looking forward to those that we never had the chance to meet in WoW, such as Uther. By the way, for the record, I feel there is more to this new villain, the Jailer. I won’t be surprised if he turns out to be an echo or aspect of someone we know (like Azeroth) or completely fake etc. There is something fishy about him.
All in all, it seems Blizzard took valuable lessons of the recent and long term feedback and is preparing a great expansion. If they don’t rush it as we felt they did with BfA launch, keep a consistently good gameplay and add the amazing story telling of BfA on top, we might be looking at top tier content and an unforgettable experience.