It's been exactly 10 days since the release of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. On Wednesday, we completed the first full reset. We had enough time to familiarize ourselves with the new addition and form an opinion about the changes introduced by Blizzard.
I'll start with a few technical issues so that there's no doubt that I've actually been able to play the game, and I'm not judging the add-on by completing the story campaign. On my Hunter, I cleared an entire, week-long reset and did all the Mythic Dungeons. I managed to go through six layers of Torghast, start quests for my Covenant, and finally hit lvl 180 on the main character.
Thanks to the new leveling system in Shadowlands on Monk, I even went all the way from level 1 to level 60. I wrote about the whole process and the changes made in a separate article, which you can read here. I only skipped PvP, which never interested me in World of Warcraft.
Smooth, seamless launch
Almost all of the World of Warcraft expansions I've had the pleasure of participating in have had good memories. Rarely, however, has a bug-free launch been the reason for my positive memories. I always liked how most of the community would gather in one place, where an NPC would appear at midnight with a quest to start the expansion. Crowds of people take part in the same activities, exploring new locations and racing to max level. Immediately after the first quest, a series of crashes and struggles to interact with an item required for one of the quests would usually begin.
I can't remember a release as successful and trouble-free as Shadowlands' debut. From level 50 to 60 I played in a party of three. Some of the quests were not very enjoyable in a group. There were also times when one of us hit some minor bugs. None of this significantly impeded us from pushing forward through the campaign, though.
The leveling process itself has not changed much with the new addition. After starting the first task in the capital you are transferred to a new land. It was divided into four different locations, with Oribos in the middle, the main city of Shadowlands. The story line takes us to four different areas. Each of them has its own campaign, the completion of which will allow you to hit the maximum level and get acquainted with the plot of the add-on.
For veterans of World of Warcraft this will not be any surprise. The landscape changes dramatically from one story line to the next. You do fairly standard quests for a Blizzard game, interspersed occasionally with some cutscenes. I never paid much attention to World of Warcraft lore, so I treated leveling up mainly as a chance to explore new areas. The premiere took place without any major problems, and 60 level in the party we've reached in about 10 hours.
Covenant, Legends and The Maw
After passing the story campaign, the endgame opens up to us. Slowly you gain access to locations previously closed to leveling characters and learn what exactly Shadowlands will be based on.
World of Warcraft
The most important decision at the beginning of the endgame is choosing a Covenant. On each character after reaching level 60 you will have to form an alliance with one of the four groups representing the new Shadowlands locations - Night Fae, Kyrian, Venthyr or Necrolord. Each has its own questline and strong, exclusive abilities. One part of the weekly reset is completing quests for our Covenant and building up Renown, an engagement level that unlocks new attractions inside the location assigned to the chosen group.
The second part of the reset is The Maw. It's a dark, enigmatic place, where every day a few tasks are waiting for us. The whole location is ruled by the level of threat, which we get gradually by performing various challenges and defeating rare opponents. The higher it is, the harder it is to survive. At the fifth level of danger further tasks become impossible and we have to come back to The Maw the next day. Although the new location can be tedious at times, mainly due to the lack of mounts, its mechanics is quite interesting. In contrast to most places, where you can simply clear the map of all the tasks, in The Maw you have to watch the danger level and avoid death at all costs.
The last, bigger new feature of Shadowlands is the legendary items. In contrast to previous supplements, where we got unique items for free and the main task was to improve them, here we must first create a legend. The most difficult part to get is of course the legendary material, the source of a special, passive skill. Each class has a dozen of such materials, which are used to create a legendary item. Priority in crafting legends depends not only on the class, but also on the specialization. Most of them guarantee very strong skills, which you will not find on any trinkets or talents.
Less grind, more freedom
I've already mentioned in the text about the new leveling system that Shadowlands has opened up to new players and made the game more friendly for less experienced World of Warcraft fans. It's much easier now to enter the world of WoW and actually get to know it, instead of spending dozens of hours leveling up. The same logic can be applied to the entire add-on. Shadowlands is just a lot more casual.
Don't get me wrong, those planning to conquer Mythic+ and Raids in the first few weeks still have their hands full. Top guilds sometimes do resets on up to five characters to make sure they go to Raid with the highest item level possible. I myself had to spend a lot of time at the computer to get to the level I currently have on my Hunter. However, it's nothing like what I remember from Legion or Battle for Azeroth.
There are far fewer World Quests now. Sometimes they can last a bit longer and are not based on a simple puzzle or a conversation with a few NPCs. New quests appear less often and you don't have to spend several hours every day running around the land and doing the same, boring quests. There is also less motivation to do them. If you already have a decent inventory and don't care much about reputation, it's all about Anima, which drives most of the activity in Covenant. So you can ignore most of the World Quests, where the rewards are items with low item level or gold. Anima, however, is sort of the Battle for Azeroth equivalent of AP, the main focus for veteran players. It is the new currency necessary to upgrade our Covenant.
There are also a few things for Covenanters to do during the week, simple quests to kill rare enemies or make a dungeon, a couple of activities in The Maw and Torghast. Other than that, you can tackle whatever you feel like. It is in this regard that Blizzard has taken a step in the right direction by reducing the amount of grind. Thanks to the changes in Shadowlands, I was able to level up Monk and test out Rogue gameplay without losing much of my main character. Even now, I'm considering making some sort of healer and quietly leveling him up when I finish all the daily activities on Hunter.
I can't imagine that scenario in previous additions. In most of them, I would seriously grind away after a few weeks. The daily tasks felt more like work than entertainment. I'd sit down at my computer and feel like I had to tick off a whole list of boring things before I could get to what I actually wanted to do. While that feeling may still get to me in Shadowlands, as it's only been past the first reset, so far I appreciate the freedom Blizzard has brought to the game with their new addition.