Best Answer: Probably not. World of Warcraft is suffering from rushed development leaving botched storylines and weak itemization in its wake. Returning or new players have to sink potentially thousands of gold to catch up on Legendary mechanics. Professions are all but abandoned, while Blizzard focuses on raids and dungeons, which lack unique art assets per class. The story has also taken a nosedive in quality.
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Should you play World of Warcraft: Shadowlands? TL;DR version
- World of Warcraft just got a large update, dubbed 9.1, which brings a new raid tier and megadungeon to World of Warcraft: Shadowlands.
- For returning players, Shadowlands 9.1 makes 9.0 content obsolete, and catching up to the 9.1 curve is a steep and boring hill to climb.
- If you want to experience the story alone, Shadowlands features some of the best cinematic work Blizzard has done in a quest experience yet. However, 9.1 craters the experience with convoluted character writing that makes no sense.
- The big bad (as far as we know) is a mysterious entity known as The Jailer, formerly imprisoned in the Shadowlands. The Jailer has now turned that prison and all of its inhabitants into his own personal army.
- The Jailer seemed like a promising adversary at launch, but inconsistent writing makes him less compelling.
- The new Shadowlands zones are interesting, with memorable characters and returning heroes (and villains) banished to the afterlife.
- We have an procedurally-randomized dungeon called Torghast, Legion Order Hall-like Covenants to build up and join, and new progression systems that are arguably more interesting than Battle for Azeroth's Warfronts or Island Expeditions.
- However, the timegating mechanics block progression arbitrarily, making the power gains a week-by-week drip-feed basis. You're consistently left with little to do outside of Mythic+ dungeons and raid schedules.
- Endgame feels less rewarding than ever since Blizzard has reduced the amount of loot you get from direct boss kills, with a massive emphasis on randomized weekly chests for a tiny chance to get an upgrade.
- Blizzard is also being sued by the state of California for creating an unfair, and in some ways dangerous workplace for women in the U.S.
What is World of Warcraft?
WoW is a game that is near and dear to my heart. I have played it on and off for over 13 years, starting in the original game (referred to as vanilla or classic), all the way up to now, the eighth expansion, dubbed "Battle for Azeroth".
An expansion is an odd way to describe World of Warcraft's huge fully-priced content drops, which contain hundreds, possibly thousands of hours worth of juicy gameplay, dwarfing the definition of "expansion" as we know it with other games. Of course, World of Warcraft is funded by a subscription-based model, with well over 10 million players paying $15 per month for the right to access the gargantuan open worlds that make up the land of Azeroth and the game's other planets (yes, planets).
World of Warcraft has many imitators (and WoW itself borrowed heavily from other MMOs that preceded it), but few have managed to achieve Blizzard's level of execution. WoW is an action RPG that is responsive, exciting, and quite honestly, somehow gorgeous despite rocking an engine that's more than a decade old. WoW is going strong, and while previous expansions such as Warlords of Draenor seemed to contribute to a steep drop-off in players, Legion brought many millions of players flocking back.
With Battle for Azeroth finished off, the game has been updated to version 9.0 with the release of Shadowlands. We have a totally revamped leveling experience, all-new customization features, and a smoothed out story that is far easier for newcomers to understand and enjoy.
I'm going to run through some of my findings, both leveling new characters and indulging in WoW's modern end game content after indulging in Patch 9.0 and 9.1 for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, which initially launched on November 23, 2020.
The newcomer leveling experience
I have experience trying to persuade dozens of friends and family to get into WoW, so I know many common complaints. The last time I updated this guide, World of Warcraft's leveling experience was abysmal, to say the least. The overlapping timelines from over a decade of content additions made leveling an utterly confusing, convoluted experience, but Patch 9.0 for Shadowlands completely fixes many of those concerns.
When you make a new character, you start on a brand new island out in the ocean. Shipwrecked away from your faction, you'll begin experiencing the game from a far more up-to-date perspective, around the beginning of the "Fourth War," which follows the events of the previous expansion, Battle for Azeroth. This new leveling experience funnels new players straight into the Battle for Azeroth zones, bypassing content that hasn't been updated or touched in over ten years. Veteran players can still go back and experience these previous expansions via "Time Travel" with the Bronze Dragon, Chromie. But for new players, the repositioning of the timeline makes everything a lot easier to enjoy and understand.
Blizzard has dropped a "level squish" on the game, scaling players back down to a level 60 cap. This reduces the amount of time it takes new players to level up characters through the Battle for Azeroth storyline. At level 50, you'll enter Shadowlands, which is all-new content.
In addition, Blizzard has added piles of new customization features for all of the game's races (although... not nearly enough for Goblins, ahem). This gives returning players new options for differentiating themselves from other players. Some races got boatloads of new hairstyles, skin tones, and other features, which adds further freshness to the game. The climb into endgame was relatively straight forward as of patch 9.0, but Blizzard's obsolecense cycle has made getting into endgame for 9.1 overtly time consuming and, in large part, simply boring. Newcomers are better off waiting for the next expansion at this point for another "big reset," until Blizzard figures out how to make the game more interesting for new players. Until then, you should probably check out Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV) instead.
State of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands (Patch 9.1)
We're now deep into Shadowlands' full launch, which revamps all of the basic systems while injecting all-new "borrowed power" progression, endgame dungeons, and much more. As such, the entire game has been thoroughly shaken up from its previous expansion, but the way its playing out across patches hasn't exactly been encouraging.
Many classes have all-new spells, all-new talent skills, all-new damage rotations, and tools to use. And the way stats scale has been completely changed, so players logging in after Patch 9.0 may find their damage or healing output has completely changed, even if they didn't purchase Shadowlands.
Some of the main activities to undertake in World of Warcraft's endgame includes Mythic+ dungeon runs, which gives players access to increasingly powerful gear for completing increasingly difficult versions of existing 5-man dungeons within a specified time limit. Mythic+ was introduced in the Legion expansion and has proven popular, giving players in smaller groups something to do outside of raiding.
The new Shadowlands dungeons feel shorter at first, but when you include Mythic+ keys they flow nicely, with quite interesting mechanics.
The new Covenants system caused controversy at launch, due to the differences in power between each faction and class combination. Covenants are similar to Legion's class Order Halls, in that they give you a choice to make at the end of the story.
This Covenant "choice" ironically feels like the lack of a choice.
The Covenant you choose can have a profound impact on your endgame potency and experience, but we haven't gotten to a point where players are losing groups due to their choices. That said, it still feels like a contentious choice to make when you look at sims data. While the differences for some might be 100 DPS lost here and there, the differences for some classes seem to be far larger, meaning that you may be forced to choose a Covenant whose story and aesthetic you simply don't care for.
This Covenant "choice" ironically feels like, in some cases, the lack of a choice as a result. You may need to look deeper into whether your class lines up with your Covenant pick either on WoWhead or Icy-Veins' class guide sections, to at least get an idea of how bad a Covenant vs. Class combo might end up being. Blizzard has attempted to finetune the covenant balance throughout the expansion, but the whole system feels like layers of unrewarding busywork, given that your access to them is effectively timegated. It makes World of Warcraft feel like a job/routine, rather than a video game, making WoW more boring than ever.
The worst thing Blizzard did for this expansion was nerfing loot drops.
There's still world PVP to enjoy, ganking other players for daily rewards, and good ol' battlegrounds, which are less gear-based than they have been in the past. Blizzard has arguably stopped innovating in this area though, as it looks to PvE as the main source of player retention.
Torghast is another interesting aspect of the new endgame, giving players an infinitely randomized dungeon to explore and challenge themselves with, as an extension of N'Zoth's "Visions" Blizzard experimented with previously. Torghast is far larger and far more interesting than the Visions were, that's for sure, but after several weeks grinding through the tower, it has started to feel like a weekly chore you want to get over and done with as fast as possible. Every system in WoW feels designed around the big weekly reset, which gives you a chest for your Mythic+ contributions while also resetting dungeons and raids. Frustratingly, the whole system feels like you're operating on some kind of strict routine, complete with deadlines, and a weekly paycheck. You know, like a job. World of Warcraft has frankly never felt worse to play as a result. The pressure cooker of obtaining raider.io ratings and getting absolutely perfect gear from the layers of randomized systems has also degraded the sense of community the game has too. World of Warcraft is in decline, and there's no other way to look at it.
I think this current tier is perhaps one of the least rewarding endgames of recent times, since I've now gotten to a point where I'm not having enough fun to justify the time investment. The worst thing Blizzard did for this expansion was nerfing loot drops, with direct boss kills no longer rewarding items on anywhere near what resembles a frequent basis. The trade-off is that you get "more control" over a weekly Tuesday/Wednesday server reset reward, but it takes the joy out of boss kills in a big way. I went through over 40 boss kills across Mythic+ dungeons and Castle Nathria raiding without getting a single upgrade, which is just plain miserable. In a game that revolves around loot and the power you gain from it, the anemic drip of items ironically mimics the plot's anima drought. 9.1 did introduce a new token and currency system to help you get the items you want, but again, that just reduces the thrill of actually killing bosses.
Right now, I cannot in good faith recommend World of Warcraft to newcomers. There's a reason many players are leaving WoW for FFXIV, despite this new content drop.
What does the future of World of Warcraft bring?
The new raid is now fully released, alongside a new megadungeon, giving players a whole new gear curve to grind through. The gap between 9.0 and 9.1 was several months, probably affected by the pandemic. It seems likely that 9.2 will also be a relatively long wait too.
The next patch will probably be revealed in full at Blizzcon 2022, which is expected to be a "hybrid" show split between an online and in-person gathering. I doubt Blizzard will address the real problems with World of Warcraft any time soon, since the developer team hasn't really innovated since Legion several years ago. Blizzard doesn't even make class-based armor sets anymore due to budget cuts, and class updates are a rarity.
Shadowlands had the potential to be a great expansion, but it's noteworthy that this is the first expansion that didn't add a new class, or a new race. Other MMOs such as FFXIV are innovating far more quickly, without making previous-expansion features obsolete. Player housing, mini games, and much more exist in FFXIV, while Blizzard focuses entirely on its PvE-only formula, forgetting what it means to make video games, rather than subscription-based work simulators.
Still, if you're playing WoW with a group of friends and enjoy PvE content, World of Warcraft's combat and boss design arguably remains the best in the 'biz. There's just so little else to do that it's hard to recommend right now. If you're not the type of person who enjoys killing the same bosses dozens of times without getting an item, you probably aren't going to enjoy WoW's offering right now.
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