In the previous WoW expansion, everything was dominated by the conflict between the Horde and the Alliance. The factional warfare was even waged in Kul Tiran and Zandalar lands, where we made new allies. As usual in World of Warcraft, the open war did not last very long and the two actually warring factions signed a ceasefire in order to face a greater threat together. In the case of BfA, it was Sylvanas Windrunner, who apparently wanted to harness the power of the Old Gods and played a shady game. This threat did not end with the final of BfA, but continues in the current Shadowlands expansion. To begin with, Sylvanas paid the Lich King a visit, destroyed the crown of dominance, and thus tore down the border between our reality and the Shadowlands.
In a sense, the Shadowlands are the beyond from Azeroth, into which our souls move after death. There Sylvanas has found a strong ally in the jailer, although at the beginning of the expansion it is still unclear who is actually exploiting whom and what the two are up to. Since Sylvanas also kidnapped and taken some of the leaders of our peoples, including the king of the Alliance Anduin Wrynn, on her flight into the Shadowlands, our heroes are now on their way to the mysterious Shadowlands to confront the war criminal, the leader of the Liberating peoples and at the same time exposing the dark machinations of the jailer. Since the Shadowlands are about the afterlife, we also see some familiar faces again.
A story for everyone
In telling the story in BfA, Blizzard made some mistakes that should not be repeated with Shadowlands, because the storytelling was not only a major criticism for us. In BfA, for example, the Horde and Alliance had very different main stories that had only a few points of contact. Important facts were in places withheld from a parliamentary group and so the impression was often created that the story somehow made no sense. In the Shadowlands, on the other hand, we are back on the same level – regardless of whether it is Horde or Alliance. We all experience the same story. This is told in a much more linear way and has less confusing twists and turns. On the one hand, this of course makes them a bit more predictable, but on the other hand it is also easier to understand. At the same time, the developers have increased the amount of voice-overs and short cutscenes so drastically that even players who do not read any quest texts are in the vast majority of cases well informed and always know what is going on around them and how the story is progressing. Here Blizzard has clearly learned from the past and taken the criticism of the players to heart.
Well explained and understandable story
While we have explored new continents in past expansions or visited foreign planets, this time we are traveling into a completely new plane of existence. On the one hand, this gives Blizzard a lot of freedom, but also ensures that the players encounter various new features that have to be explained clearly and clearly. The developers did an excellent job of doing the latter. One of the reasons for this is that they did not overwhelm us with information and made the Shadowlands unnecessarily complicated.
We quickly learn that in Shadowlands everything revolves around the anima, the mysterious energy that keeps the Shadowlands alive and that is gained through the souls of the deceased who move in. Or rather should be won. Because Sylvanas, together with the jailer, diverted the stream of souls, and thus anima. Instead of arriving in the capital Oribos, from where it is distributed to the individual areas, the souls of the deceased wander directly into the throat, the realm of the jailer. What exactly the two want to do with the power they have gained remains in the dark for the time being. And so we begin our journey through the four previously known areas of the Shadowlands, and in the first instance help the residents with their problems caused by the anima drought, while at the same time we try to uncover the secret plans of the jailer and look for allies for them.
Four pacts – one decision
During our adventures in the four visually extremely good-looking areas of Shadowlands, we quickly get to know the residents and their attitude towards life in the Shadowlands. These could hardly be more different. In Bastion live the noble Kyrians, who only accept the purest souls and leave everything of their mortal life behind. In Maldraxxus we meet the necrolords who train as fighters for battle for all eternity. Afterwards it goes to the Ardenwald, where the Nachtfae as nature-loving creatures maintain the cycle of rebirth and to Revendreth, where the Venthyr enslave and torture arrogant souls.
At the end of the level phase, we have an important decision to make. We have to join one of the pacts and fight on its behalf from now on. This decision is of great importance for our further adventures in the endgame of Shadowlands. Because the pacts offer us different advantages and disadvantages. Each pact provides our hero with a pact and a signature ability. The former is adapted to our class and has a significant impact on the way we play, while the latter is the same for all players. In addition, the pact campaign is available to us, in which we learn more about the concerns and internal problems of the respective area. In addition, much of the content is linked to the level of fame in your pact, which you drive up through weekly quests and the campaign, and with which you unlock various things. But don't worry, with a little effort you can change your choice of your new home at any time. So you don't have to choose forever.
Already in advance, many players feared that these new skills could mess up the balance and, in the worst case, completely destroy it. A few weeks after the release, it can be stated that the pact capabilities vary in strength, but their influence on the balancing is not as dramatic as assumed. Instead, you can further customize your playing style by choosing.
The assumption that the various pact campaigns will again create chaos in storytelling has not been confirmed either. Most of the campaigns run alongside the main story and have many points of contact with one another. You will always get important news, regardless of which pact you belong to. Even if you ignore the pact campaign completely, you understand what the story of Shadowlands is about and can follow it well.
Boring features and new adventurers
Some of the new Shadowlands features are hidden behind the pacts. Similar to our garrison from Warlords of Draenor, we are allowed to expand our new sanctum by collecting and using Anima, and so gradually get access to various things. For example, we unlock further world quests or rare opponents and are allowed to use the pact's own promotion system. There is also a special event available for each pact.
In all of this, the developers really let off steam and let their creativity run free. Instead of being forced to make the same available to all players, the various features were thematically based on the respective pact. So we travel through a network of mushrooms in the Ardenwald and cultivate our own magical garden, while Venthyr hold curious tea parties and Kyrians undergo sacred trials on the path of ascent. In all of this, Blizzard did a good job without shining. The events and features are fun, but don't necessarily offer a lot of long-term motivation. At the same time, the rewards are mostly cosmetic in nature, so nobody feels compelled to hold weekly tea parties. Because the gameplay of the events is so extraordinary that it is not necessarily fun for every player.
Mission table meets Autobattler
And of course the developers have also taken the feature of the mission table, which was already introduced with Warlords of Draenor, into the Shadowlands and expanded it further. Instead of just dividing up three champions or auxiliaries, we now have to strategically place up to five units. Similar to a car battler, the position of the respective champion on the field is decisive. At first glance, this brings a little more depth to the system, but it can quickly become annoying. So it's no wonder that after just a few weeks, many players are using an add-on for optimal positioning. Once again, however, Blizzard has set the rewards so low that you don't get a guilty conscience if you completely ignore the new adventurer system.
With Shadowlands the classes have been reworked, but apart from the pact ability, there wasn't much new in the spellbooks of the game styles. So that we don't get bored after essences and Azerite perks have been omitted, the developers have brought a small additional talent tree into the game for each player. We activate this by connecting our soul to one of three possible soul bond NPCs. These are important characters in our pact. Everyone has their own talent tree, which can also be customized with collectible media, which are mini-talents that can be base-mounted.
Blizzard has left a little potential here. The talents are very nice, fit thematically to the pact and at the same time do not have so much influence that one is annoyed to have chosen the wrong pact, but there is not much more behind the soul bonds. The soul mate as a permanent companion or an active ability per soul band were often expressed by the players in the beta. In addition, there is no complete overview of the media in the game and where you can get them. The developers are welcome to improve this in an upcoming patch.
The Maw, the home of the jailer
Already during the leveling we enter the four areas and the central capital Oribos as well as the gorge, the home of the jailer. In a figurative sense, it is a kind of hell in which the darkest souls continue to exist in eternal damnation. When Shadowlands was announced, the Maw was identified as the most dangerous area in WoW history (buy now € 14.99 ) presented and the developers kept their word. Surrounded by sinister rare and elite opponents, we do daily and weekly quests there or complete special events – without being allowed to mount a mount. They don't listen to our calls in the throat. And to top it all, the jailer is always on our heels. The more activities we complete in the throat, the more closely he keeps an eye on us. This manifests itself through negative effects that we then have to deal with, such as additional enemies that appear, and increases to complete immunity for healing. Then at the latest we have to leave the gullet and wait for the daily reset from the jailer's eye.
Since you can easily complete all daily tasks before the eye becomes too intense, the gullet is nothing more than a daily area with a high nerve factor for many. Hardcore players, on the other hand, are slowed down when farming the Rares, the associated reputation and a special Maw currency. Frequent gamers cannot develop a significant advantage over normal gamers, which some certainly consider positive.
Torghast, the not endless dungeon
What would a jailer be without a prison? This is called Torghast and is located in the middle of the throat. The jailer keeps dark souls imprisoned there and apparently he took Anduin Wrynn there, among others, which gives us a first reason to pay a visit to the prison. In several corridors and degrees of difficulty we fight our way up the levels and face increasingly mean cronies, against whom we actually wouldn't have the slightest chance. However, we occasionally collect so-called animaboni from the defeated opponents, with which we strengthen our character. The developers were able to let their creativity run free, since balancing only plays a subordinate role in this case. Skills no longer have a cooldown, we can explode opponents or run around with multiple talents per row at the same time. At the end of a corridor, our damage and healing has increased tenfold and the style of play no longer has much to do with what is normal outside of Torghast.
It's hard to deny the fun factor as a whole. Sniffing your way through the masses of elite opponents alone or with a group like a heated fighting machine on steroids, that has something, and thanks to the amount of animaboni there is at least a little variety. With long-term motivation, it looks pretty poor. As a reward, there is only one resource to create legendary items that you will eventually have together and in the more difficult mode, the winding corridors, you have collected all cosmetic rewards after a complete run at the highest level. The developers are welcome to submit additional content or rewards in upcoming patches. By the way, in the beta there was once an endless mode in Torghast, in which you could play up the levels as long as you can. However, this was deleted again because he could not convince playfully. Maybe we will see it on the live servers in one of the upcoming patches.
Make legendary items
Legendary Item Resource? Yes, you read that right. After we were showered with legendarys in Legion and there were no legendary items to be looted in BfA as compensation, the developers in Shadowlands are going in a completely different direction. Within Torghast you can unlock a rune mason who will then make you Legendarys. While the basic item is produced by artisans and you have to collect a special resource from Torghast, you will find the various recipes for the Legendarys scattered around the world and must first loot them. However, since every recipe has a precisely defined source, luck only plays a subordinate role this time.
This change was welcomed by the vast majority of players. You decide beforehand which or which Legendarys you want to have, acquire the necessary recipes and then farm the necessary resources in Torghast. However, these are limited weekly. This means that the Legendarys retain their charm as special items that can only be obtained with a lot of effort, at the same time the annoying random factor is eliminated and hardcore players cannot gain any significant advantage.
There is another reason why the Legendarys, with their special effects, are particularly important for your character in Shadowlands. Because with the start of the current expansion, the developers have turned the loot screw a lot. In the Shadowlands, significantly less loot drops than WoW players from previous years are used to. Raid bosses leave fewer items behind and in Mythic Plus dungeons there are usually only two loot items per group. So it takes a lot longer to equip your character with really good equipment.
On the one hand, the developers are certainly going in the right direction after the loot was distributed so inflationarily in BfA that latecomers and twinks could be fully equipped within a week. On the other hand, it doesn't feel very satisfying when you've mastered the entire raid and are left without a single new item. Even several Mythic Plus dungeons in one evening without at least dusting off any improvement can quickly become frustrating. Classic players still know the feeling, but those who have started WoW in the past ten years have to change a lot.
To take a little bit of frustration and ensure that players get a relevant upgrade to their equipment at least once a week, Blizzard redesigned the weekly box in the same breath. Instead of just getting an item, you can choose from up to nine different items. You unlock these options via defeated raid bosses, completed Mythic Plus dungeons or earned honor in PvP. The level of the respective items, however, depends on the level of difficulty, the keystone level or the PvP rating. If you play a lot, you have a wider choice and have to rely less on your luck. If you play little, you have to take what is offered to you. Thanks to this change, it is definitely less common for players to stand in front of their box with long faces and disappointed on Wednesdays.
Less grind and more beginner-friendly
With Shadowlands, the developers have two things that they really wanted to implement. On the one hand, the grind factor, which was extremely high in the BfA and Legion in the end game, should be drastically reduced. On the other hand, Blizzard wanted to make WoW clearly beginner-friendly. The developers succeeded in both. The entry-level experience and the entire level path have been revised – including item and level squish, which means that the current maximum level is now level 60. New players go through an extensive tutorial with the island of exile and then only replay the plot of BfA before they are allowed to start into the Shadowlands. With Twinks you can even choose the one extension, at the end of which there is a change to the new addon. In addition, the mentoring program has been revised and integrated into the game. In special chats, beginners can get rid of their questions to volunteer mentors and get help with the many features that WoW now offers.
With the loss of azerite or artifact power, the grind at the maximum level also comes to an end. You can grind anima until you drop, but that hardly brings you any advantage. And the catch-up mechanics for twinks have also been significantly improved. Pact campaigns or fame levels to which a lot of content is linked can be quickly followed. Because the further you lag behind, the more sources will provide you with approval of your pact. Since there is no longer a weapon or necklace that has to be constantly improved, playing twinks is much more fun again, although of course there are still things that have to be done twice – for example building the Legendarys.
What you can save yourself with twinks, however, is reliving the entire main story of the Shadowlands. As soon as you have a character in the endgame of Shadowlands, the threads of fate are open to you after the introductory quest. This is an alternative way of reaching the endgame. Instead of completing the entire main story, without which the endgame would otherwise remain closed to you, you can now level as you want. While you are still leveling you join one of the pacts and the world quests and special bonus events will be unlocked. How you get the required experience points is up to you. Whether purely via dungeons, world quests or the various side quests – the possibilities are diverse. Although you are not really faster in the endgame this way, quest grouches are not forced to relive the already known story from front to back. The classic level path is still retained, for everyone who prefers this.
With all the new features, it's clear that some old ones are falling by the wayside. Blizzard did not hesitate to sort out everything that the players didn't seem to enjoy. War fronts are a thing of the past as well as island expeditions or Azerite armor. You will look in vain for spoilage effects or titanium forged in Shadowlands. This means that the current endgame remains much more manageable and is not as bloated as it used to be. In addition, a whole series of smaller things were also abolished that found little approval or became obsolete: for example, ranks in craft professions, entry requirements for different dungeons or experience point bonuses from heirlooms or different potions.
Blizzard did a good job on most of the new features. Often you are introduced to the area through several quests and everything is explained in great detail. Then again, you'll find some content where the developers either forgot to include an explanation or are relying on players to look elsewhere. This starts with smaller things like the fact that auxiliaries at the mission table can be used multiple times or that pet battle world quests now scale with the level of your pets, up to important things like the legendarys. It would have been great if the game had explained to you somewhere where to get the necessary vessels or scrolls. Newcomers without a guild in particular quickly run into problems here. It's a shame, because Blizzard wanted to make life easier for this group of players with many changes. Experienced players are unlikely to even notice the missing explanations.
Class fantasy instead of playing style
With all the many new features and content, the developers also had the twelve classes of WoW in their sights and tinkered with them vigorously. The focus was clearly on weakening the separation of the ways of playing within a class. Druids should feel like druids again and not so much like ferocity, balance, guardian or restoration. To this end, some iconic abilities have come back into the game and many talents and attacks are now also available for all play styles in a class. In some cases this has little effect, in others it does. In general, the classes are given a little more depth of play, without the actual rotation being significantly changed or even more difficult. On the contrary, actually. The classic way of playing against an opponent has even been simplified in most cases. In return, the classes now have significantly more helpful skills available with which they can simplify life for themselves or their group in certain situations. You can like it or not. A negative side effect, however, is that the sheer amount of skills is difficult to balance. This in turn ensures that, especially in PvP or in Mythic Plus dungeons, where such things are often more important than pure damage or healing, certain classes are significantly stronger than others. The tons of Legendarys with their effects, the pact skills, media and soul band talents don't necessarily help.
Raids and dungeons – as good as ever
The most important content in the endgame of WoW should be the dungeons and raids for most players. Blizzard has delivered the usual quality here. Since each of the four areas contains two thematically matching dungeons, variety is guaranteed and the quality of the boss fights is at the high level that Blizzard has known for years. The same goes for the first raid, Castle Nathria. After more than 15 years, the developers are constantly conjuring up new and mostly interesting mechanics that make the raid entertaining and exciting. The praise also goes to the design team. The look and the setting of Schloss Nathria are certainly a matter of taste, but the technical implementation is definitely extremely successful. It surprises every time anew what designers and developers get out of the 20-year-old WoW engine.
In other places, too, it becomes clear how much work the developers have put into improving the look of WoW. A single look at areas such as the Ardenwald or Bastion is enough to see how much attention to detail Blizzard shows here. Or with all the new possibilities for character design, with which even more individuality is possible. The developers are also thinking of players who may not have a potent gaming PC their own. In the meantime, for example, the optical effects of the magic can be turned down so far that you can still see your own well, and the display of all external effects no longer leads to massive FpS drops in the raid. In short: Shadowlands takes WoW to a completely new level in terms of optics and graphics, but still cannot keep up with games like Black Desert Online or the like.
The same applies to the sound, by the way. While effects still seem quite generic in combat, the soundtrack and music in the various environments are once again excellent. Even those who just take a walk in one of the areas will immediately be put in the right mood.
Blizzard listens to the players …
… or at least tries. Most of the major customizations that came into play with Shadowlands were previously loudly requested by many players. No more grind in the endgame, twink friendliness, less complicated systems for loot, more class imagination. In some places, however, the developers may have exaggerated it a little – for example with the amount of loot. Nevertheless, not only these changes, but also the postponement of the release date show that it was obviously important for the developers to bring out an extension that does not stubbornly follow their opinions and ideas, but rather on the wishes of the players. At least in some places it worked out well.
Conclusion: Back to the roots – at least in places
With Shadowlands, the developers are taking a few steps back and saying goodbye to many unpopular systems that players have grappled with in recent years and that have been heavily criticized. In most cases this is very positive and the new features are convincing, at least in the short term. Whether Torghast, the Schlund and the Pacts will still be fun after more than a year remains to be seen. However, if Blizzard manages to continuously add more exciting content to the features that are now in existence, I am less worried. The new beginner-friendliness, the departure from repeatedly similar settings and a completely chaotic storytelling made many players return to WoW. Now it's time to add the upcoming patches so that the players can continue to have the same fun as in the first few months. The developers should also keep an eye on balancing. At the beginning of the expansion, which was still a catastrophe, Blizzard has already greatly improved the situation with various hotfixes.
Less grind, more optional content and twink-friendliness – that's how I imagine an extension
Die Abkehr vom Dauergrind im Endgame und die damit gewonnene Twinkfreundlichkeit gefällt nicht jedem – mir aber schon. Gleichzeitig bietet Shadowlands viele Inhalte, die oftmals rein optional sind. Hat man sich erstmal daran gewöhnt, dass nicht alles ein Muss ist, hat man viel Spaß. Etwas mehr Beute dürfte aber trotzdem droppen und außerdem muss Blizzard zügig Inhalte nachliefern, damit Features wie Torghast oder der Schlund nicht als Rohrkrepierer enden.
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