Best answer: In a previous incarnation of this article, I mentioned how difficult it was for new or returning players to catch up. Blizzard addressed all these concerns in Patch 9.2, which makes it incredibly easy and quick for players to gear up for the new raid tier. Patch 9.2 includes a large new zone, new story details, a full new raid, and new gear to collect, making it a decent time to return ahead of the next expansion.
Should you play World of Warcraft: Shadowlands? TL;DR version
World of Warcraft just got a large update, dubbed 9.2, which brings a new raid tier featuring The Jailer, a new zone, and very powerful catch-up mechanics.
For returning players, Shadowlands 9.2 makes it easier than ever to catch up to the current minimum item level requirements for Mythic+10 dungeons and Normal Raid tiers, making it easy to get back into the game.
The new raid reintroduces class-based tier sets, with powerful two- and four-piece set bonuses that dramatically change how your class plays.
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, the general direction features some truly mind-blogging character writing that makes little to no sense.
The new Shadowlands zones are interesting, with generally fun characters alongside returning heroes (and villains) banished to the afterlife.
For those who are entirely new to Shadowlands, it also includes a procedurally randomized dungeon called Torghast, Legion Order Hall-like Covenants to build up and join, and other new progression systems that are arguably more interesting than Battle for Azeroth’s Warfronts or Island Expeditions.
Blizzard’s obsession with time-gating mechanics continue to block progression arbitrarily, making the power gains a week-by-week drip-feed basis. In the endgame, you’re consistently left with little to do outside of Mythic+ dungeons and raid schedules.
If you’re unlucky with loot drops, the endgame can feel a tad anemic. There’s a larger emphasis placed on a randomized weekly loot chest, over getting loot from boss kills, although it doesn’t feel as bad as it did at the start of the expansion.
What is World of Warcraft?
The newcomer experience
The current state of WoW
The future of Shadowlands
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).
Yes, you can travel to those mountains.
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 endgame content after indulging in the latest 2022 patch for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, which initially launched on Nov. 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. Thankfully, you don’t need the best gaming PC out there to run WoW, since it runs on fairly low-spec PCs, which makes it pretty accessible. That said, 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 has addressed at least some 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 10 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 straightforward as of Patch 9.0, but Blizzard’s obsolescence cycle made getting into endgame for 9.1 overtly time-consuming and, in large part, simply boring. Blizzard addressed these criticisms in the latest free update, Patch 9.2, though. I was able to very rapidly catch up to the current endgame in a matter of a few hours while experiencing a new zone, new storylines, and checking out a range of other new content.
State of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands (Patch 9.2)
We’re now at the end of Shadowlands, with Patch 9.2 setting the stage for a shift towards the next expansion. Blizzard announced it would be revealing its next expac in April 2022, which is widely expected to revolve around dragons.
Patch 9.2 has lifted many of the frustrating restrictions that irritated players throughout the launch of Shadowlands. It’s now easier to swap Covenants to min-max for specific content. It’s easy to fully complete your Covenant’s storyline with renown catch-up mechanics. It’s also very easy to gear up and acquire your legendary gear, to prepare for the new Sepulcher of the First Ones raid — which is quite fun. While it’s lacking in unique art assets compared to some previous dungeons (the tier sets look very basic compared to previous art efforts), the raid itself is quite fun, culminating in a markedly tough battle with The Jailer.
Outside of raids, the endgame still revolves largely around Mythic+ 5-player 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.
You can play as a fox person now. For reasons.
Gearing and itemization is decent enough in Patch 9.2, and has proven better than some previous expansions. How you might want to gear up and build your class intersects heavily with Covenants. Initially, there was a lot of contention about how Covenant soulbinds and conduits work, which let you augment specific skills and abilities with socketed “borrowed power” items that will become obsolete when the expansion ends. Blizzard has unraveled a lot of the forced choices and restrictions that prevented players from fully min-maxing their characters for specific types of content. The Covenant you choose can have a profound impact on your endgame potency and experience, and previously, it was hard to switch to different Covenants, which aren’t particularly well balanced. It was an interesting experiment that ultimately didn’t pan out. Some Covenants and soulbinds offer players huge amounts of additional damage or healing-per-second throughputs, making the “choice” not a real choice.
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. Thanks to Patch 9.1 and 9.2, catching up and maxing out your Covenant is incredibly easy now, so the time-gating mechanics that frustrated the experience at launch are no longer an issue.
I joined the undead Maldraxxus Covenant, even though it wasn’t “optimal” for my spec, and the choice felt bad as a result.
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. Blizzard signed a deal with YouTube Gaming for much of its esports content, which has cratered viewership and interest in high-stakes World of Warcraft PvP, sadly.
Torghast is a more successful 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 complex than the Visions were, that’s for sure. Blizzard also lifted the weekly restrictions on running Torghast, and added a range of new cosmetic rewards to enhance the experience.
My main criticism of World of Warcraft remains, though. Too much of it revolves around weekly schedules and time-gating and makes it feel a bit like a job as a result. The pressure cooker of obtaining raider.io ratings to get access to random groups, and getting absolutely perfect gear from the layers of randomized systems has also degraded the sense of community the game used to have as well. World of Warcraft is in decline, but some of the Patch 9.2 improvements offer a glimpse of a hopeful future. Given that the team is under new leadership, and may also be acquired by Microsoft in the near future, freeing it from Activision Blizzard’s destructive shareholder culture.
For returning players, WoW is in a pretty decent state right now. But, it’s still difficult to recommend World of Warcraft to newcomers. The new Exile’s Reach new player experience really isn’t very engaging, and the on-ramp from Exile’s Reach to Battle for Azeroth doesn’t feel great either. Blizzard needs an entirely new approach with Cataclysm-style revamps to improve the experience for new players.
What does the future of World of Warcraft bring?
The new raid is now fully released, bringing Shadowlands to a conclusion. The Jailer’s plans have been unraveled, and while we wait for Patch 10.0 to bring us into the next expansion, Blizzard has revealed that it will create a new Raid Mythic+ system that will allow players to revisit all Shadowlands raids with increasing difficulty, much like the Mythic+ dungeon system. Blizzard will also pull select previous expansion dungeons into the Mythic+ pool as well, with the start of Season 8, which will kick off in a few weeks.
The next expansion will be revealed in April 2022 given the cancellation of BlizzCon. The event will offer a sneak peek into the future of World of Warcraft, with a story that is widely rumored and expected to revolve around dragons. World of Warcraft’s dragon flights were empowered with the stewardship of Azeroth in ages past, and have largely been sidelined as mortal races ascended in power and potency. That power and potency has arguably contributed to Azeroth’s destruction, in some ways, particularly in Battle for Azeroth, where the mortal races went to war with each other once again. Exactly how the next expansion will play out remains to be seen, as there are few hints in the current expansion about it. I suspect that Blizzard will use the next expansion to build a clean slate, given how poorly received this expansion has been received in terms of writing.
There are plenty of reasons to be disappointed with the current state of WoW, but 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 outside of that, though. If you’re not the type of person who enjoys killing the same bosses dozens of times for a chance to get a slightly more powerful version of an item you already have, then WoW doesn’t have a great deal to offer in terms of endgame variety.
Still fun (with friends)
World of Warcraft
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World of Warcraft goes to the afterlife
Shoddy writing aside, World of Warcraft’s raids, PvP, and dungeons remain a ton of fun to experience with friends, although the game is crying out for a revamp for new players, and needs more variety in its endgame content.