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World of Warcraft: Shadowlands (PC) Review

January 19, 2021 | Posted by Marc Morrison
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
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World of Warcraft: Shadowlands (PC) Review  

I’m the WoW guy around here, for what that’s worth. While I’m not playing the game every day, or even every month, I’ve had my account since almost launch (so around 15 years), though I haven’t played all that time. It’s been over a month since Shadowlands has come out for it and it’s an odd throwback to the expansions of yore.

Shadowlands basically opens up with the fabric between life and death being torn asunder, by the current Big Bad of the game, Sylvanas. Basically, she rips apart the crown of the Lich King, and it opens a big portal in the sky to the WoW versions of Heaven and Hell. Key leaders from both factions are kidnapped to the Hell side (The Maw, here) as are you. But you quickly bust out and go to Heaven (Oribos) where you are tasked with rescuing the leaders, stopping Sylvanas (again), and figuring out why the afterlife is broken.

Here’s the thing, Shadowlands is a real throwback of an expansion. While Legion and BFA (especially) got more and more open, with regards to the narrative structure and where you have to go, Shadowlands dials it all the way back down. It is an entirely linear structure going through all four of the new areas before you are told to pick one of the new places as your Covenant (think Class Hall but a guild, essentially). Once you pick a Covenant, the “real” game actually begins.

These are the four new areas:

Bastion – Sadly it’s not the same place as the Supergiant Games Bastion, which is a bit of a drag. Bastion is home to the Kyrians (not the Star Trek race) who are basically the angels of the afterlife. This area is the brightest and generally easy to get around in. The big story here is that souls are reborn into Kyrians who must complete rite of passage to graduate, which also makes them forget their past life and kind of brainwashes them. The enemies here are “The Forsworn”, who are Kyrians who didn’t graduate but still have the cool new blue bodies. I think they are led by Uther (if you remember him from Warcraft 3), which is kind of neat, but barely factors in at all, at least from the bits I saw.

Maldraxxus – Maldraxxus is basically the undead area of the afterlife. Basically, the leader of this area has been assassinated and it’s up to you to find out who killed him and to restore the magical sword that might restore balance here. There’s kind of a lot of undead politics in this area, which can get boring after a while. You do pal around with Thrall’s mom for a while though, which is kind of neat. This area is fairly dark, as you might imagine, with ruins littering almost everywhere you travel to.

Ardenweald – Ardenweald is basically a Night Elf forest smashed together with tree fairies. The fairies (and others) take care of souls that are in a line to be reborn. However, there is a severe shortage of Anima, which is the lifeblood of everything in Shadowlands, which has ground the process into a full stop. The big goal here is to find out the shortage and then to eventually protect a soul and nurture it back to a body, where, surprise surprise, it’s another key player in WoW’s history. The actual area here is slightly more of a colorful or dreamy version of a typical Night Elf area.

Revendreth – Finally there is Revendreth. Unlike Ardenweald, which seeks to protect souls, Revendreth is all about punishing them, based on their sins they committed during their life. This is also kind of the vampire/Nightmare Before Christmas Halloweentown area, which reminds me a lot of the Drustvar map from BFA, only more built up. The big story here is also about Anima and the conspiracy around it. There’s also a pesky rebellion you have to put down. Unlike with the other areas, I don’t think there is a strict “Old WoW character is a pivotal part of the story” figure, but I could be wrong.

After you go through the main campaigns of each new area you are told to pick a Covenant and a story campaign kicks off there. Each Covenant has two different powers/abilities that are unique to it. I picked the Night Fae (Ardenweald) one, which meant I have an ability to decrease cooldowns when I channel it (that also does light damage) while also having a shapeshifting talent that gives me a burst of speed for a bit. The Maldraxxus one, on the other hand, lets me turn into a Skeleton Mage boosting my power every so often and a different one that lets me form some Flesh Armor. Basically, every Covenant has a direct (or indirect) damage ability and a utility ability.

There are also two new main areas, Oribos and The Maw. Oribos is basically the main hub city of the game, and reminds me a bit like Dalaran, with the different wings being built around a central pillar. The Maw is basically the fifth big area and it’s a tad different than all the others.

The Maw is kind of reminiscent of like Suramar area from Legion, kind of the current end-point area once you reach the level cap and do the other areas. The thing here is there is basically a “Jailer” mechanic system. The Jailer is always watching you, and when you kill enemies/complete quests, the notoriety level will rise. When you reach different levels, there will be more hindrances to you playing, like random chains may slow/damage you, you can be randomly damaged, or assassin enemies can hunt you down. This mechanic resets daily, but it’s basically a system where you can’t just spend hours here every day, because it’s (in function) a timer to limit how much progress you can do, day to day.

Within The Maw is a special currency called “Stygia” that you can use to buy special items at the one vendor in the area. You get Stygia from killing enemies and doing quests here. However, it’s not like a regular currency. In The Maw, they basically mixed Dark Souls with WoW. Because you’re basically already in the afterlife, you don’t have to corpse run to reclaim your body when you die. Instead, when you die, you’re resurrected at a graveyard and told basically “Your corpse still has Stygia on it”. Meaning, you can/should run back to reclaim your lost Stygia (souls) and not lose the currency. It’s not full-on Dark Souls, like I don’t think there is an explicit timer to reclaim it, but if you happen to die on the way out there, your new corpse becomes your new bloodstain and the old one is lost.

Also within The Maw is the other big new expansion thing, Torghast, The Tower of the Damned. Torghast is basically a rogue-lite mixed with the Suramar Withered Training in Legion. The main goal is to get through different levels of the Tower, where you fight a boss in the end and collect a currency called “Soul Ash”. The ash lets you craft new legendary items, which is just another treadmill for you to run.

Every expansion has new things and gets rid of old, but Shadowland goes almost to the extreme. We can all agree that the “Expeditions” stuff from BFA sucked, so they are gone. So is the Heart of Azeroth mechanic (yet another thing to fill a bank slot). Archeology is even more forgotten in this expansion, being more neglected than in the past ones. Warfronts, which was kind of a fun thing in BFA, are also toast. In addition to this, there is a massive level squish in the game. Level 60 is the new norm, once again, rolling back from the level 120 character I ended with in BFA.

Here’s kind of the ultimate thing, this expansion, almost more than the others, is just a lot of kind of waiting around. There are a lot of timers and gates that literally gate-keep your progress until the next day. Take the Covenant story campaign for instance. I can’t comment on the other ones, but for the Night Fae one, you need a certain amount of “Renown” in order to progress. It would literally say “You are on chapter 7 of the story campaign, but to unlock chapter 8 you need a Renown level of 18.” This just sucks. You only really earn renown from doing a daily quest or certain other special quests. The Renown system goes up to level 40, so it basically becomes a huge treadmill of not only the actual story campaigns but whatever bonuses you might want from the Covenant.

Anima also fits into this. Anima is basically the “Resources” from past expansions thing. You use Anima to not only send troops out on missions but also to upgrade your Covenant base, and to buy items/weapons from the Renown Quartermaster. That’s…a lot of things to use it on and you get paltry amounts, at best. I think the most I’ve ever seen drop is a 250 chunk from an epic daily quest boss/mission. Meanwhile, there are items from the Quartermaster, particularly the mount, which cost 5,000 Anima, and 75 of a different currency. As for the base upgrades, there is literally a final upgrade which cost 15,000 Anima and 70 of even another type of different currency. I mean, on average, I might make get like 200 Anima a day, without any of the rare daily missions. Most daily quests give you about 70 Anima, give or take. It’s just an incredibly daunting treadmill, even more so than things like the Heart of Azeroth, Legendary Weapons or the Class Hall stuff from expansions before. I realize this will be shortened later on, but at the start, it is a real slog to deal with.

I should mention the alternative leveling scheme for alts. Basically, they added the Diablo 3 Adventure Mode” into WoW. Once you have one character who has played through the main story, you can have another, new character hit Oribos and they are given the choice of either playing out the main story, like normal, or just doing daily quests, Covenant quests and dungeons in order to get from 50 to 60. If you go with this method, you pick a Covenant at the start of the game and don’t have to go through the protracted story campaign once again. Plus, you get access to grinding/rewards a lot quicker than normal.

I think the largest problem with the expansion is that there really isn’t anything new to the game. Torghast is novel for a few runs but it just becomes another weekly grind. I beat my Covenant campaign and while I got a few nifty things out of it, nothing big really happened. It was basically “Well, I’m on level 24 Renown and I can either keep grinding it out till I hit 40, or switch to another one?” Dungeons are fine and the first raid is alright (from what I’ve seen) but a lot of the gameplay feels like it’s been done before.

I’ll leave you with two suggestions that should have been implemented long ago but haven’t: a paint system and a better loot system. The paint thing is obvious, it’s been 16 years, you mean to tell me they can’t introduce a coloring system for parts yet? Hell, Guild Wars 1 had a “dye armor” system in place and it only came a year later. Transmogrification is NOT the same thing.

Second, I want a better loot system. I’ve been running the same goddamn old raids/content (primarily ICC, some of the Pandaria World Bosses, new Kara, etc.) off and on for 5 years. When I zone into ICC, I should be able to pull up a dungeon menu and go “Skip all rewards/loot EXCEPT for Invincible’s Reins”. I don’t care about getting Frostweave Cloth or gear for my character that is at least 4 expansions old at this point. If not a guaranteed drop, it should either raise your odds the longer you do it (a cumulative effect) or at least drop the weekly raid lockouts for content that is over 12 years old at this point.

The final score: review Good
The 411
It’s…okay? Shadowlands isn’t bad like BFA was (thank god) but it also doesn’t add a ton new to the game. It’s still WoW and even some of the fun diversions that used to be in the game are straight up gone. Frankly, if you’re a die-hard player, you already have this expansion and have plowed through most of it. If you’re more casual though, I’d wait 6 months or so until there are multiple raids to do and they’ve started adding in materials boosters, like they always do, just so the grind isn’t so bad.

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World of Warcraft, Marc Morrison