World Of Warcraft: Shadowlands Review-In-Progress: Lorehounds Are Feasting

As I write this, I have just woken up after a 12-hour WoW binge that started promptly at 3pm yesterday when the Shadowlands expansion went live. Launch day WoW binges are nothing new for me, but there’s something different about this one. Normally, I’m trying to rush to level-cap so I can unlock all of the new dungeons and start grinding their mechanics and boss fights. That’s still my ultimate goal this expansion, but something else has grabbed my attention — something far more pressing than ilvls or racing to be raid ready: Shadowlands is in danger, and I’m the only one who can save it.

Every WoW expansion is exciting. There are new places to explore, new systems to learn, and all kinds of new and challenging content to progress through. For me, the new story content never even makes the top ten list of exciting new things. Don’t get me wrong, WoW lore is fantastic and I enjoy learning about all the new places and characters in each expansion. I love lore. I even listen to WoW audiobooks while I grind. But when it comes to in-game story content, WoW expansions serve as tour guides through the new zones at best, and barriers preventing you from getting to max-level dungeon grinds at worst. Yesterday, when my Mag’har Orc Hunter earned the achievement for completing 1,500 quests, it occurred to me that that was 1,500 text boxes I never read. 1,500 stories I completely ignored. Now, in Shadowlands, my relationship with the story has completely changed. It’s not the endgame I’m working for — the story itself is what’s pulling me through.

Shadowlands changes up the expansion format dramatically. Instead of presenting the player with a bunch of zones that can be completed in any order, Shadowlands tells one continuous story that takes every player through all of the new regions in the same exact order. This has a huge impact on the quality and types of stories in Shadowlands. Rather than each zone telling its own self-contained story that vaguely ties into the bigger picture, the entirety of Shadowlands campaign moves forward in one direction. Every quest you take moves the story forward. It’s actually impossible to ignore the narrative of Shadowlands, and it’s the best campaign experience I’ve ever had in WoW.

When the story is pushed to the foreground in this way, and every task is meaningful, then every quest is contextualized. Yes, you’re still going to have to go kill five Googobs and collect their pelts, but it feels like you’re actually doing it for an important reason. Shadowlands has managed to eliminate busywork from questing by telling a story worth paying attention to. Virtually every quest I’ve been given has felt meaningful and pertinent. I’m eager to complete quests for the sake of progressing the story rather than earning XP.

Beyond the single-story structure of Shadowlands, other improvements have really helped bring the story forward. There is an abundance of NPCs with really good voice acting. The vast majority of the story is condensed into audio dialogue when collecting and turning in quests. Even if you don’t read the quest text, you’ll still have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. There are also what feels like many more cutscenes than usual, which are also a lot more digestible than reading Quest Logs.

In the Quest Log, there’s a new “Story so far” tab on the campaign banner. Here, you can get a constantly updating story summary, so if you just blew through a quest hub and ignored all of the dialogue out of habit, you can get caught up with everything that just happened in one paragraph. That’s important when telling one long story.

I think the element that is drawing me in the most is the incredible new zones. So far, I’ve quested through The Maw, Bastion, Maldraxxus, and part of Ardenweald, and I absolutely loved every moment of exploration through these realms. Compared to the zones in Battle for Azeroth, the jungle, swamp, and desert regions of Zandalar simply don’t hold a candle to the beautiful vistas in Bastion or the unbelievable skyboxes in Ardenweald. The regions themselves are an important part of the story and learning about them, their purpose, and their inhabitants has been a joy.

There’s still a long way to go of course. I’m about halfway through the campaign, I’ve only unlocked three dungeons. I don’t know what the end-game grind will be like and the rogue-like activity Torghast is still unknown to me. But I’m enjoying the process more than I ever have before, and more than anything, I just want to rescue the heroes of Azeroth and stop Sylvanas and the Jailer from doing… whatever it is they’re doing.

The full review will be available once I have truly gotten to sink my teeth into the end-game grind. Look for it sometime this weekend.

NEXT: World Of Warcraft’s Chromie Time Is Breathing New Life Into Leveling Toons

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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.

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