Wednesday, December 30, 2020

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands Impressions — Save Your Money


World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is not worth your money. While its opening sequence is strong, it quickly loses steam and becomes a boring slog I felt compelled to complete. Its biggest flaws are particularly glaring because they are usually WoW's strengths: quest design, lore, and combat.

Quest Design

World of Warcraft's zones have always been fun to work through, even at the game's lowest points (Cataclysm, Warlords of Draenor). They are usually open-ended with multiple quest hubs and branching storylines that come together to tie into something of greater consequence. Shadowlands is not like this; each zone is linear with few options to go off the beaten path. Your journey from 50 to 60 was meticulously planned by Blizzard, to the extent you'll feel little reason to stay in zones after you've out-leveled them. 

In the past, WoW's zones felt massive enough to where you could spend a lot of time in them, while the Shadowlands zones feel like they contain just enough content to get you to the next zone. This isn't necessarily bad game design, but it does make Shadowlands feel smaller in scale than it should be. Rather than feeling like you are exploring massive zones encapsulating different aspects of Warcraft's afterlife, you feel like you're on rails blazing your way through spaces that feel as constrained as Argus or Nazjatar. 

But none of this would be a problem if the quests contained good stories. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The quests in Shadowlands seem targeted for a younger audience, and rarely explore more mature themes. By the time you get to the final two zones, Ardenweald and Revendreth, this becomes extremely grating. 

Maybe it's a me problem, but I couldn't stay awake during Ardenweald's questline. The characters felt like they were copied and pasted from other Night Elf-themed zones, and the stakes never seemed to be very high given the significance of what was supposedly happening. The "Night Queen," like the other faction leaders, came across as needlessly capricious, annoyingly cryptic, and overall poorly written. As of now I cannot see her or her counterparts as anything more than more poorly designed Titans. 

Revendreth had a promising opening sequence, but it lapses into a cliched plot twist that everyone will see coming, and is marred by an especially jarring nadir involving a Revendreth native lamenting about his aversion to the light. It came across as parody, and that's not what I wanted given how serious the situation in Shadowlands is supposed to be. 

Lore

I'll be the first to admit that I enjoyed Shadowlands' initial quests, which sets the stage, introduces the primary antagonist, and hints at what you'll be fighting for. Unfortunately, none of this momentum is sustained through the expansion. What piqued my interest about Shadowlands initially was thinking about how it would re-shape Warcraft's existing lore. What are the ramifications of this new afterlife? How does it interact with other cosmic forces in Warcraft? Where does the Jailer and the Shadowlands fit in relation to Sargeras and the Void? Will there be connections to the lore presented in Wrath of the Lich King, particularly that relating to Yogg-Saron? 

It seems I let my imagination run too freely, because Shadowlands' impact on the lore isn't as grand as I hoped it would be. More questions are left unanswered than answered, and the Shadowlands in general feels too cramped and inconsequential to truly represent the Warcraft universe's afterlife. And, as suggested above, more of Blizzard's time was spent creating dull quests meant to appeal to children rather than to exploring the existential questions brought on by unlocking access to the Warcraft universe's versions of heaven and hell. 

Perhaps this will all be explored later in the expansion, or in some raid, but if so that's a shame. I'd prefer if the interesting lore and storylines are contained in the content the majority of people will play through. I completed all of the zones and I still can't tell you what the motivations of the main antagonist are, why an afterlife that draws souls from across the universe seems so quickly devastated by a "soul drought" and is filled with fewer consequential beings than a single planet (Azeroth), or why zones in the so-called afterlife have natural wildlife and mundane quotidian problems like any other normal zone in WoW. 

Combat

This one is probably going to be particular to me as I played through Shadowlands as a mage. But if you also play a mage, then you probably won't have much fun working your way through Shadowlands' mob-packed zones. Mages are one of Shadowlands' weakest classes, and indeed I found myself near death fighting basic monsters multiple times (I rarely died and I could still beat elites, but I was often forced to eat and drink after a fight). 

Laughably, this got worse as I leveled up, making it feel as though my efforts were making me weaker. I have years of experience playing a frost mage, so I was able to make my way through the content with some effort, but it was definitely not the enjoyable experience I would have had on other classes. 

The poor state of the mage class is what ultimately caused me to quit once I reached level 60 and completed Revendreth's storyline. You do such low damage compared to other classes, and with such terrible survivability, that I couldn't muster myself to suffer through the uninspiring world quests. This was further impacted by Blizzard's decision to make world quests far less rewarding than they were in Legion or Battle for Azeroth, which made the idea of killing dozens of monsters and completing other mind-numbing tasks entirely unappealing. 

Conclusion

To close, my experience with Shadowlands wasn't entirely negative. The initial prospect of learning more about the lore behind the Lich King was tantalizing. The zones, as constrained as they are, are all beautiful and enjoyable to traverse. And, while the lore presented to us was painfully shallow, there remains much room for Blizzard to put together some intriguing scenarios should they choose to. I wouldn't be surprised if Shadowlands becomes a worthwhile experience once it is patched, but as of now I wouldn't recommend it or call it a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

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