Having played video games for most of my life, and a wide range of them, I feel like I’ve seen my fair share of great games, crap games, games that showed promise but just fell flat, and everything in between. World of Warcraft, without question, has been the juggernaut of MMO gaming since its launch in 2004, and it’s somehow managed to stick around for 18 years with numerous expansions. The first two expansions, Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King were hailed as masterpieces in their own right, so much so that subsequent expansions almost seemed like pale shadows by comparison, even though they could be considered very good games in their own right if they had been separate releases.
The latest expansion, Shadowlands, is an example of the last few expansions, where it seems like Blizzard Entertainment, now owned by Microsoft, was trying to throw things against the wall to see what would stick. Now I’m going to assume most of the people who are reading this have played through most of the game, so if there’s any spoilers I apologize.
Essentially, Sylvanas Windrunner finally decided to wrap up her long game, which was to finally take her long-awaited revenge against the Lich King for making her a banshee. She had already done some highly questionable things leading up to this, like burning Teldrassil to the ground, launching a bioweapon attack against unsuspecting civilians, the list goes on, but she finally goes off the deep end, when she attacks the Lich King on his own throne and quite literally rips his helmet in half. This action tears a hole in the very fabric of reality and opens a gigantic unstable portal into the afterlife, the Shadowlands. She then kidnaps the leaders of both the Horde and Alliance, makes a pact with the Jailer, who is the keeper of the Shadowlands’ version of Hell, the Maw, to do some rather unkind things to our wayward heroes.
As your character, you have to go into the Shadowlands, navigate your way through the four covenant zones, which are Bastion, loosely based on the Elysian fields of Roman mythology, Maldraxxas, a putrid hellscape that looks more like something out of a Warhammer 40k area for Nergal, Ardenweald, essentially a retread of the emerald dream turned blue, and Revendreth, basically a copy of what someone would imagine from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. You have to pick a covenant among four groups, and gain anima, much like in previous expansions where one had to gain energy as a means to some end, only to lose it at then end of the expansion.
Overall, a lot of the aspects of the expansion, much like the last several expansions for World of Warcraft, have been hit and miss. The Covenant system was flawed, in that it tended to lock a character in to one single aspect of the expansion. Granted, they could change covenants, but then they’d have to essentially redo everything again with the new covenant, which can take days or weeks of effort. Also, the fact you had to go through a significant amount of your Covenant’s campaign, as well as the Chains of Domination questline just to get flying seems like a lot of effort just to get flying, whereas in prior expansions, one just had to get Revered with the different factions, and maybe one or two more achievements. Granted, you only had to do it once, but still, for more casual players, it was a lot of effort to go through just to be able to fly in most areas of the Shadowlands.
To give them at least a little small measure of credit, Blizzard did try to make things right by adding things like the Korthia and Zereth Mortis zones, trying to balance out the Conduit system, but a lot of fans of the game felt it was too little too late, and plus a lot of players just got burned out by the repetitiveness of having to, yet again, gain reputation with a faction just to gain access to better gear for the end game dungeon to go kill the Jailer.
Hopefully, with the sneak peak of the new expansion on April 19th, which is widely believed to involve the Dragonflights, and now that Activision Blizzard is a part of Microsoft, which has had a fairly good record as of late of releasing some very good gaming content the last few years, we’ll see a big improvement, and not just a retread of the same old thing. Lets keep our fingers crossed!