World of Warcraft: Shadowlands marks the eighth main enlargement pack for the storied MMO. Judging from a half-hour enjoying it at BlizzCon this 12 months, it looks as if a pure evolution of contemporary WoW that may run alongside the very-different WoW Traditional expertise for the foreseeable future. That mentioned, the largest change wasn’t a part of my hands-on demo—however don’t fear, that gained’t cease me from geeking out about it in excessive element.
Let’s be clear the place I’m coming from, right here: I’ve been enjoying World of Warcraft nearly repeatedly for 15 years. (I lapsed for a giant chunk of the Wrath of the Lich King period for IRL causes.) Whereas I perceive the enchantment of WoW Traditional, I’m very a lot a proponent of contemporary WoW; the sport has advanced over time to be extra accessible for me to play simply a few hours per week, as actual life now dictates. However I are likely to play solo or simply with one or two mates on a sporadic foundation, which implies I’m in search of one thing very totally different than the hardcore raiding or PvP crowd.
Inside that framing, I really feel WoW has gotten an increasing number of enjoyable over time. There have been some missteps, positive (I’m taking a look at you, Warlords of Draenor) however I felt that the semi-recent Legion was one of the best enlargement Blizzard has ever accomplished. My hopes are excessive for Shadowlands.
It’s exhausting to get a way of a whole World of Warcraft enlargement from 30 minutes of play. In my quick demo, I recreated my most important (a Beast Mastery Hunter) and performed by the introductory quests from the Bastion zone, a heaven-like aircraft from Azeroth’s afterlife. The minute-to-minute gameplay very a lot adopted the system of contemporary WoW questing, with quite a lot of duties like difficult particular enemies to duels, serving to craft issues in timed minigames, and naturally, killing 10 rats (effectively, not rats, however they may as effectively be.)
From what I may inform, not a lot had modified about my character’s construct; my DPS rotation was the identical as it’s in Battle for Azeroth. However we’re a 12 months out from launch, and previous expansions have taught us that loads of that small stuff can and can change within the coming months.
As at all times although, Blizzard actually delivered on the artwork entrance. Bastion is putting, with massive, stunning skies, banners realistically waving within the wind, and interesting characters like a humanoid, owl-like race that inhabits the zone. Blizzard artists informed me that they plan to help RTX raytracing, in addition to new sorts of real-time lighting, within the enlargement. I’m stunned by how good trendy WoW appears to be like on a high-end PC today, provided that it initially got here out in 2004, and it appears to be like like that work will proceed.
Since this was an early questing expertise and never an endgame one, I didn’t get a lot sense of how Covenants—Shadowlands’s new Order Corridor, Garrison, or Conflict Marketing campaign-like techniques—work. Neither did I’ve a lot time to dive into the story, although I noticed sufficient to know that, in the event you like the flavour of the current WoW expansions, you’ll most likely like this one, too. (I for one am glad we’re going to get a short respite from the Alliance vs. Horde battle storyline.)
However essentially the most fascinating factor Blizzard is altering wasn’t a part of my demo.
Taking it to a brand new (effectively, previous) degree
Frankly, the facet of Shadowlands I’m most enthusiastic about is an overhaul of the leveling system—one thing that wasn’t part of this demo in a significant manner. This type of breaks the principles of a hands-on article, however I need to take a possibility to speak about it and why I feel it’s fascinating regardless because it got here up in my interview with WoW builders.
After rumors about this chance for the final a number of expansions, Blizzard has lastly adopted by on a degree crunch. Whereas characters in the present Battle for Azeroth enlargement cap out at degree 120, the cap in Shadowlands shall be 60—simply because it was when the sport first launched and simply as it’s in World of Warcraft Traditional. Stage-120 characters shall be scaled right down to degree 50 when Shadowlands launches.
That may appear odd or damaging to those that aren’t presently enjoying WoW, nevertheless it’s really one thing a large number of right now’s WoW gamers have been asking for. As the degrees rose on this 15-year previous recreation that frankly wasn’t designed with a 15-year plan in thoughts, Blizzard encountered all types of irritating recreation design issues that gamers have been cranky about too. The WoW group has already crunched participant stats like well being and mana down on a number of events as a solution to postpone absolutely fixing the issue, so that is the end result of one thing that’s been underway for just a few years now.
And few issues have been extra problematic from a design perspective than the expertise of leveling a brand new character up from degree one. A level-based MMO this late in life seemingly has had three choices:
- By no means increase the extent cap, and attempt to entice gamers with different rewards apart from linear energy development within the endgame. WoW opted to not go along with this, although another MMOs (like The Elder Scrolls On-line) have adopted it to various levels.
- Preserve elevating the extent cap with no adjustments to the leveling expertise as much as that time. This results in ever-lengthening leveling ramps that make it extraordinarily troublesome for brand new gamers to get to present content material. That’s as a result of every enlargement provides one other a number of dozen hours to how lengthy it takes to get from the begin to having the ability to play with mates within the endgame. (Last Fantasy XIV has this drawback to some extent, regardless that it’s nowhere close to as previous as WoW.)
- Preserve elevating the extent cap however crunching how a lot expertise is required per degree as you do. That is the strategy WoW has traditionally taken. However as this occurs, ranges begin to appear meaningless. You achieve them ultra-quickly, and solely a smattering of them really introduce new skills or different perks. It additionally implies that you blast by the leveling content material at such a tempo that you just by no means end particular person zone tales; you solely end a small portion of an space earlier than you have got outleveled it and are prepared to maneuver on.
Blizzard’s new answer in Shadowlands is to return the extent cap to its authentic worth of 60 and to make present content material acceptable for ranges 50 by 60. New gamers begin at degree one, they usually all play by a brand new introductory zone constructed for Shadowlands based mostly on the search design classes Blizzard has discovered over time. As soon as they play by that introductory expertise, they’ll then degree as much as 50 to meet up with present content material by enjoying by the earlier enlargement (Battle for Azeroth) straight away (from round degree 10).
This skips all of the content material earlier than the earlier enlargement to provide gamers essentially the most trendy expertise from a quest design POV (and to verify the gamers are related with the present storylines). It additionally ensures new gamers have a shorter leveling ramp—Blizzard says will probably be as a lot as 70% shorter than it’s presently to get from degree one to the cap.
Under: Shadowlands idea artwork.
However it will get much more fascinating whenever you take a look at the way it will work for alts (second or later characters made by present gamers). New characters by present gamers may have the choice of leveling up the previous manner in all the identical previous zones from the beginning. However they will even have the ability to undergo the new-player beginning expertise if that’s what gamers choose.
Additional, as soon as the brand new character has accomplished the beginning zone, the participant can then select to degree as much as 50 in any earlier enlargement of their alternative—vanilla/traditional, The Burning Campaign, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor, or Legion. The enlargement’s content material will scale completely with the character degree, and every is tuned in order that reaching degree 50 includes enjoying by the content material at an identical tempo to an identical degree of completion as these expansions supplied after they have been present content material.
So, I may create a Mechagnome Hunter, play by whichever beginning space I would like, after which decide both Mists of Pandaria or Legion as my leveling enlargement for that character. As soon as I completed leveling by that enlargement, I’d be prepared for present content material.
Blizzard hasn’t talked about what it plans to do after Shadowlands. I speculate that the longterm answer could be to do that each enlargement—so within the subsequent enlargement, Blizzard would possibly transfer Battle for Azeroth into the multitude of decisions for brand new character-leveling experiences and push level-cap characters again right down to 50 to begin no matter enlargement comes after Shadowlands—an odd hybrid of conventional MMO and a seasonal mannequin frequent in loads of trendy multiplayer video games.
The result’s that leveling up new characters shall be much more enjoyable, and will probably be simpler than it has been in years for brand new gamers to select up the sport.
A brand new enlargement is thrilling, however WoW‘s power is arguably in its historical past—and revisiting that historical past is about to get much more enjoyable. Greater than new zones, raids, or endgame-progressions techniques, that is what has me excited to play WoW when Shadowlands launches late subsequent 12 months.
Itemizing picture by Blizzard