Best Answer: Now might be the best time to get back into World of Warcraft, with a gear reset, level squish, new starting zones for new players, a revamped tutorial experience, new customization, and an all-new story with the Shadowlands expansion. For more detail, read below.
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Should you play World of Warcraft: Shadowlands? TL;DR version
- World of Warcraft just got a massive update, dubbed 9.0, which revamps the entire game for the Shadowlands expansion.
- Now is a better time than ever before to get back into the game, thanks to a totally new leveling experience with a smoother story.
- New customization features add flavor, with new allied races to try out if you haven't played for a while.
- For recent players, Shadowlands features some of the best cinematic work Blizzard has done in a quest experience yet.
- Without spoilers, Sylvanas has destroyed the veil between reality and the afterlife, creating an imbalance that could see the spirit world of death, the Shadowlands, engulf the realm of the living.
- 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 new Shadowlands zones are interesting, with memorable characters and returning heroes (and villains) banished to the afterlife.
- We have an infinitely-regenerating randomized dungeon called Torghast, Legion Order Hall-like Covenants to build up and join, and new progression systems that thus far seem far more interesting than Battle for Azeroth's Warfronts or Island Expeditions.
- Making alts is easier, with the ability to bypass the story campaign and level via world quests.
- Endgame feels less rewarding than ever since Blizzard has reduced the amount of loot you get from direct boss kills.
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 World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, which 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.
State of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands (Patch 9.0.2)
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.
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, but the choices aren't as big of a deal for most classes as it initially may have seemed. Covenants are similar to Legion's class Order Halls, in that they give you a choice to make at the end of the story (which, by the way, has been pretty awesome thus far, in my opinion).
This Covenant "choice" ironically feels like, in some cases, 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.
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. 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.
Overall, though, 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 loot ironically mimics the plot's anima drought.
What does the future of Shadowlands bring?
With the Castle Nathria raid fully released for guilds and premade groups to experience and all Torghast wings now open, the grind for loot will start winding down as guilds start to wait for the next tier to be announced. Expect it to be revealed in full at BlizzConline on February 19, 2021. I expect Blizzard will introduce changes to the endgame loot abundance since there's growing discontentment about it within the community, alongside a new raid tier and dungeons.
Beyond that, we simply don't yet know. Shadowlands has a lot of 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, although you could argue we got plenty of those in Battle for Azeroth with Blizzard's "Allied races." Blizzard has previously noted that it would add races more randomly in the future than as big expansion features. As it pertains to classes, Blizzard has previously noted how difficult they find it is to balance the existing roster, without adding more into the mix.
As for what comes after Shadowlands? Only time will tell.
Still fun (with friends)
World of Warcraft goes to the afterlife
Loot RNG, under-tuned skills, and balance problems aside, World of Warcraft's raids, PvP, and dungeons remain a ton of fun to experience with friends.
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