Two Kyrian from World of Warcraft; one standing, one sitting on a small hyena

Caved and Bought World of Warcraft: Shadowlands

Above: Heavenly-forged Kyrian armour probably weighs thousands of pounds, so this out-of-place hyena mount ain’t having it. 

Roughly five months ago, Blizzard delayed the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Shadowlands, by about a month. That delay was one of the reasons I decided to cancel my pre-order and miss the game’s launch entirely.

But old habits die hard, as they say. And since the COVID-19 pandemic still has me stuck inside craving a digital home, I found myself contemplating a return to WoW to see what I had missed.

After about ten hours of playtime, the answer is largely “more of the same,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Old Dinosaur; No New Tricks

Shadowlands is Blizzard’s eighth major content infusion for this 16-year-old MMORPG. And if you’re speaking in game years (this industry moves at lightning speed and Fortnite seems like a decade ago), WoW is a bonafide dinosaur. And you can’t really expect an ageing, leathery dinosaur to learn new tricks. Instead, most simply lumber around, biding their time until their inevitable extinction.

Similarly, Shadowlands does little to shake up the WoW formula. From what I can tell, there aren’t any earth-shattering new systems or gameplay tweaks. All these years later, you’ll still be tab-targeting monsters, collecting all manner of requisite items, and completing quests. Instead, Shadowlands offers players a handful of new zones, dungeons, and raids to explore and conquer.

For my money, that’s great. I don’t play WoW because I want a revelatory gaming experience. I play it because, since 2008, it’s felt like a digital home.

Two Planes of the Afterlife

And speaking of digital homes, Blizzard’s worlds of Warcraft are still among my favourite to explore, even outside the MMO genre. Over the years, technological advances have bolstered the studio’s ability to craft visually-striking game spaces that feel “lived in,” and Shadowlands is the latest reminder.

So far, I’ve only visited two of Shadowlands’ new zones: the angelic Bastion and the war-torn, sickly-green battleground of Maldraxxus. Both zones explore what awaits WoW’s denizens in the afterlife.

The blue tinted, angelic world of Bastion above the hostile, green-tinted battleground of Maldraxxus

I’m playing a demonic-energy-wielding Warlock, so I figured Maldraxxus would be my favourite of the two. After all, it’s hard to relate to pious winged beings who concern themselves only with the wellbeing of others when your job description involves tormenting your foes with foul, pernicious energies. But I’ve actually preferred Bastion’s serene and heartwarming landscapes to the hostile, rocky terrain of Maldraxxus. Perhaps Bastion scratches an itch for idyllic planes, particularly during this ongoing quarantine.

I’m still working my way through Shadowlands’ main questline, so it might be a while before I have anything noteworthy to say about it. But I’m certainly looking forward to playing more. Even though Shadowlands fixates on the afterlife, it’s proof that WoW still has some life left in it.

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