World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is shaping up to be the most intuitive and bold expansion we’ve ever seen in the game’s 16-year history. Blizzard understands the value of making the world more accessible while simultaneously increasing the complexity of its progression systems. Shadowlands will introduce a level squish (which reduces the max level to 60), skill trees attached to covenants, a whole new starting area and an infinite dungeon called the Torghast.
As Shadowlands’ beta is currently available for select players, I had the privilege of trying out some of the content added to the expansion. I completed the new starting zone and quested through a bit of The Maw within Shadowlands, and trust me, there’s a lot to go over.
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World of Warcraft: Shadowlands Exile’s Reach
Exile’s Reach is a solid introduction for new players who are unsure of what World of Warcraft is or how to play it. This questline successfully goes over how to use special abilities, which tab does what, how to emote and what to expect from dungeons.
For example, a notification popped up telling me how to loot the corpses of spiders after I had killed them. These sorts of moments surprise me with how the game intuitively detects when players most need help. Back in 2007, I vividly remember scrambling around for an hour, unsure of how to loot or what a “right-click” even was. These types of tutorials are going to be incredibly helpful for people who are like my 9-year-old self.
Not only does this area provide a useful tutorial for new players, but it’s also quite pretty. Exile’s Reach may be small, but it packs in a handful of unique setpieces, perhaps in an attempt to illustrate what new players can expect from the rest of the game. You’ll find yourself traversing an enchanted forest, a Murloc-infested beach, a webbed spider den, and a corrupt temple full of ogres.
I also appreciate how streamlined Exile’s Reach is. It doesn’t overwhelm new players with a gigantic area and expects them to understand what to do. However, as someone who has played World of Warcraft for 13 years, this simple gameplay is part of the reason why it didn’t stick with me as much. Because the area is treated as a condensed amalgamation of everything you can expect from the game, coupled with a handful of tutorials, it completely foregoes the openness and freedom that makes WoW so satisfying. Exile’s Reach is very linear, and while there is some openness, it’s not even remotely close to the scale seen in the rest of the game.
Exile’s Reach is capped with a tutorial dungeon where players enter an ogre-infested tower and fight an undead dragon boss. Unfortunately, the area is lacking in both detail and imaginative ideas, as the tower is full of empty circular rooms with ogres haphazardly placed about. The dragon at the top looks kinda cool, but even then, I expected more. World of Warcraft is typically known for its meticulously crafted environmental design, yet nothing within the dungeon had this same level of inspiration.
Once I returned to Orgrimmar on my Blood Elf, I was greeted by a tutorial that showed me how to purchase a mount and speak to guards when searching for specific areas in hub cities. However, this intuitive tutorial ended with me being immediately forced into the start of the Battle for Azeroth expansion.
I did some research, and apparently, new players will have to play through Battle for Azeroth’s content after completing Exile’s Reach. Since the beta account I was using only had one character available, it seems that this is why I was quickly pushed into the questline. This is a bizarre decision, as it means new players will be unable to engage with some of the game’s best expansions, including The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, without first completing this questline.
This choice does make sense to a degree. Since players will no longer have to push through every World of Warcraft expansion to experience Shadowlands anymore, it makes the most sense for new players to have to catch up with the most recent addition to the story first.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands The Maw
Once I finished the starting zone, I quickly hopped on a level 50 toon and began my journey into Shadowlands. The expansion's ravaged opening area, The Maw, definitely impressed me. While screenshots for this area looked great, I was unsure if it would feel as good to explore. My doubts were quickly put to rest when I experienced the true and present horror of this nightmarish realm.
I’m a huge fan of these ice-like spikes protruding from the rocks, as they provide a cool contrast with the dark orange tint of the skybox. Additionally, the sight of the Torghast looming in the background is quite threatening. Outside of just visual design, this area is teeming with mechanical terror. There’s an area with a handful of flying Kyrian circling an altar rife with terrified souls. Typically, players aren’t expected to handle more than a few mobs at once, so seeing dozens of baddies hovering around a single location stressed me the hell out.
Additionally, there’s a portion of The Maw where a large ghostlike being called The Magister hovers above a misty current siphoning the essence of doomed souls. When I entered this River of Souls, my screen became foggy and I could see waves of specters floating downstream. Not only are moments like these spooky as hell, but they’re incredibly striking and memorable.
The World of Warcraft: Shadowlands beta offered a solid taste of what we can expect from the official launch. I’m genuinely impressed by how Blizzard is working to make the game more accessible to new players and those who haven’t touched an expansion in many years. Furthermore, The Maw seems awesome so far and I anticipate the rest of the expansion’s zones to be equally compelling.