The launch of a new World of Warcraft expansion feels a bit like Christmas. There's so much mystery and wonder to be had as you unwrap a new experience. The experience does have a honeymoon period, though, and after trying out all that an expansion has to offer, you might find out it wasn't as great as you expected. I'm happy to say that this isn't the case for Shadowlands. It's been around two weeks and I still don't find myself stopping soon—and I've put a hefty amount of time in it already.
In my impressions for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, I commended Blizzard for creating some amazing new zones and intriguing, fresh lore. My thoughts on Shadowlands' dungeons are mixed. While they are spectacular to look at with fairly gripping boss mechanics, dungeon layouts felt too wide open for my liking. Now that I've gotten into the loop of the endgame grind, I have some more thoughts on this expansion.
Torghast, The Maw, and More in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
One thing I disliked about World of Warcraft's previous expansion, Battle for Azeroth, was island expeditions. Sure, these little escapades felt fun for the first few times, but after they became very dry. You would embark on these randomly generated adventures and gather Azerite; but then, the rewards just didn't feel worth it at all. Torghast, a new feature in Shadowlands, came off the same way for me when I first heard about it. Thankfully, I was wrong and find this inclusion to be quite fun.
Torghast is a deadly, sprawling tower where players can tackle randomly generated dungeons. The twist is that these "dungeons" have upgrades that drop from enemies and other sources as you make your way up six floors. These upgrades greatly enhance your abilities and some might have strange effects; for example, as a Beast Mastery Hunter, I can pick an upgrade to increase barbed shot's damage. Another ability is that one of my pets can grow large and deal a massive amount of damage for a duration if I find treats for them.
I remember seeing that Torghast was inspired by roguelites, and it certainly feels that way. As a huge fan of roguelikes and roguelites, Torghast feels like World of Warcraft's take on Hades or The Binding of Isaac. It's a little mindless, but in groups, it can be challenging. I've had a lot of fun making my way up the floors and trying different difficulties with my friends. The rewards of these runs are certainly worth it, too. You gain a currency that can be used to craft legendary items.
Legendary items are relatively easy to get in Shadowlands, as long as you run Torghast every week and accrue currency. Items called "Runecarver Memories" drop from bosses and Torghast runs, which grant players powerful effects on items. Combining these memories with gear creates legendaries, and it's an exciting moment to craft such an item. It feels like Blizzard fixed the issue I had with Island Expeditions.
Island expeditions felt like a tacked on feature, but with Torghast, there is purpose.
Torghast is accessible through a zone called The Maw, a fifth zone I intentionally left out from my impressions. The Maw is a hellish landscape full of nefarious enemies harvesting the souls of the damned. In terms of visuals, The Maw, combined with Torghast, feels like Diablo's influence seeping into World of Warcraft. One thing I haven't quite figured out yet is why I need to go into The Maw other than to access Torghast. This area has several daily quests every day that gives you reputation with an NPC in The Maw, but nothing about it seems essential.
Navigating this area is a huge hassle, too. Mounts aren't allowed in The Maw, so if your character lacks mobility and is slow on foot, tough luck. It's a zone filled to the brim with enemies, as well, so it's not a pleasurable task to go after those daily quests every day. One other issue regarding mobility in Shadowlands is the lack of a flight whistle. This item would take players to the closest flight path when used. It's a staple of the last few expansions, and it was sorely needed for them. Zones are getting bigger and more complex. Strangely, this is missing in Shadowlands, and it's probably the most requested feature I've heard so far.
The Covenant Experience in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
Once players reach the maximum level in Shadowlands and finish off the main storyline, they gain access to one of four covenants. There's one faction in each zone, and each comes with a myriad of benefits and special abilities. The catch is that, while you can switch covenants at a later time, it'll come at a cost and impede your progression. Covenants are absolutely essential to Shadowlands and are at the heart of this expansion's experience. For the most part, they're also quite creative and offer new ways to enjoy World of Warcraft.
I'll begin with the downsides of picking a Covenant, since your choice will likely depend on the abilities these factions grant you. Players are granted two abilities with each covenant. As a hunter, choosing Maldraxxus' Necrolords gives me a Death Chakram which bounces around at enemies and regenerates my resource. This is specific to a class, but Covenants also come with their own, non-class specific ability. For me, I can make a shield from corpses to soak up damage.
Why is this bad? Well, it's quite clear that some covenants are way more optimal than others. Many hardcore players are choosing these factions based on the damage output gained from abilities rather than what they actually like. I liked the Necrolords and their lore so much that I had to go with them, but I'm taking a hit to my damage in doing so. I feel like I'm a bit of an outlier for doing this.
The balance of Covenant Abilities will be in a constant state of disarray as Blizzard attempts to make each choice optimal.
Choices aside, I say pick what you like to get the most enjoyment out of your Shadowlands experience. This is because Covenants seem pretty darn fun. You're given a variety of amenities to unlock such as a teleportation network and an interactive mission table. For the Necrolords, I can create abominations out of flesh I find in the field, which gives me unique companions to aid me in battle. There's a lot of thought put into Covenant identity, and the unlocks feel rewarding. Doing weekly quests for Covenants give players renown, which allows you to progress your storyline, unlock mounts and other cosmetics, and more. This expansion is also extremely alt-friendly, so there's no reason not to try all four and see what there is to offer.
So that's all well and good, but there's still a bit of a grind in Shadowlands. Whether you're upgrading your renown with a Covenant or gaining reputation, World Quests are inherently linked to all of this. World Quests are your dailies, which grant you rewards such as resources, gear, and money. There are so many every day, and you're basically forced to do them. The grind can get tedious, and after a while, I'm sure it will be tiring to do them, as it was in Battle for Azeroth. A month from now, I worry that I'll be very bored of doing these, and it makes coming back to World of Warcraft a bit more difficult because of this.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands Review | Final Thoughts
The general perception of each expansion is going to change as time goes on. Shadowlands' legacy is going to depend on a steady stream of content. Blizzard has the framework for such a thing already in place with Covenants and Torghast, but big patches are going to be needed in order to make Shadowlands memorable in the long run. For right now, I have thoroughly enjoyed my romp in the afterlife. The zones are the best Blizzard has to offer, the storyline and lore are intriguing (so far, at least), and the end-game has a decent amount of variety. This could go down as one of the best expansions for the longtime MMO, but time will tell if Blizzard can keep up this streak.
TechRaptor reviewed World of Warcraft: Shadowlands with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
- Torghast is a Unique New Inclusion
- Covenant Progression
- Excellent Zones and Story
- Very Alt-Friendly
- Travel Woes
- Covenant Abilities Vary in Usefulness
- World Quests, Again...