WoW Factor: Getting hyped for World of Warcraft’s Shadowlands

Get back.

That title up there isn’t sarcasm, folks. I want to actually get hyped up about the next World of Warcraft expansion and talk about all of the good things that have already been confirmed factors of the expansion. There’s a lot of stuff that was on display that once you move past a dumb answer about the end of Battle for Azeroth is just worth being excited about. So let’s get hyped! No, I’m not high.

One of the things that I mentioned a bunch on Twitter following the Shadowlands announcement is that while there’s definitely a lot of energy being taken from another expansion that everyone already knows about – enough that I could fill up an entire column by drawing the parallels, although I don’t actually want to do that – that’s not actually a bad thing. In some ways Blizzard has always functioned best when they have something to bounce off against, and there’s definitely more energy going into Shadowlands than seems to be common. So let’s talk about the many things that I am actually interested in, based on the announcements.

Again and again and again and...

Leaning in on alts and leveling

One of the things that strikes me as interesting – or at least unusual – is how frequently the developers of World of Warcraft have brought up the idea that the biggest weakness in leveling is that you don’t get to really see any of the expansion stories. I mean, it’s a true statement, but the actual problems have to do with a number of meaningless levels in a game overstuffed with them. Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter that the stated solution is for a problem that isn’t one because the result solves both issues at the same time.

The level squish, as I mentioned before, is one of those things that solves a problem but isn’t a complete solution to the game’s overall issues with leveling. However, this particular approach does at least set things up in a decent place. Rather than treating the game’s leveling as just something to squish down, it has actually been restructured across the board so that you can just go through content without having to worry about slowing down. It even lets you just follow the overall darn good story in several expansions (Mists of Pandaria and Legion stand out here) without hopping around. Or you can hop around if you’d rather; it all scales with you.

It also helps that there is a sharp disconnect between “I am leveling a character and have not played before” and “this is an alt.” One of the things that has been a real feather in WoW’s cap over the past few years is making it easier to at least access stuff on alts, and this only doubles down further. I like that element. And it gets even better with the Shadowlands themselves, where the whole flow of the zones is different; that’s just plain worthy.

More to the point, it solves the scaling problem that the game had with both Legion and BfA in that you no longer find yourself with zones that can be done in any order forcing them to exist in more or less isolation. Having a specific order for the first time creates a solid narrative; being able to relax that on subsequent runs is just as good. Full marks on all of this.

Plus, restoring abilities? Like totems and auras, two of the things I’ve missed the most? Oh, that makes me so happy. Come here, my darlings. You’re home again.

We all float down here.

The density of death

I’m a little surprised that the announcements didn’t play up spiritbonding as a mechanic a bit more, because it’s actually pretty neat for this particular expansion’s take on “talent tree but for this expansion only.” You pick an NPC, you specialize in exactly how that NPC helps your build out, and there’s a fair amount of choice involved in that. Combine that with the both spec-agnostic and spec-specific results of Covenants, and you have an expansion that offers a fair amount of tuning for just how you want to play.

Really, spiritbonding feels like the ultimate destination that the developers have been trying to get to for a long while, wherein you have a list of optional ways to customize yourself that is also easily moved to one side as the game moves on. There’s obvious going to be a lot that’s reliant upon execution, of course; it’s very possible that the end result of spiritbonding is a bit tedious, but I feel like this is at least a good place to start going.

The fact that you’re getting a grand total of two abilities from your Covenant (and one of them is just a generic movement trick) feels a bit less engaging, but it also contributes to the idea of selecting how you want your character to play. Diminishing spec identity for class identity helps here. You’re always going to be a Paladin, but you get lots of different little tilts that ultimately make your Night Fae Retribution Paladin bonded to Leafhead play very differently from your Bastion Retribution Paladin bonded to Justiceface.

(Note: I am just assuming that these are NPC names and I will be assigning someone these names when the expansion launches.)

Ultimately, this is the sort of stuff that I’m in favor of, especially as it’s something that the game has moved away from in recent years. As much as I liked Artifacts, they were rather unifying and flattening for the specs. Giving you more choices to make that add little bits of spice here and there until you have much more distinct entities means a lot to me, and while I can totally believe that you’ll wind up with “one spiritbond for solo stuff, one for PvP, and one for raiding/group content,” all of the systems here sound like good ones.

It they

Custom carry

More customization. Yes.

Let us play more trolls that aren’t actually different from existing trolls instead of just another allied race. Actual ethnic differences for humans. A character creator that isn’t anemic even for the time it came out. All of this delights me, and it’s all exactly the stuff I want, top to bottom, full stop. I want all of this.

This also ties into that last point, while we’re at it. Being able to add subtle differences means, well, you aren’t as uniform. Little differences of spice can have a big impact, and I look forward to playing with all of the new options as they roll out.

Sure, you can argue that this stuff should have been added to the game ages ago and you would be right to do so, but the point is that it’s being added now. I don’t want to get too hung up on “why only now” when I’m happy it’s here.

Spooky girl.

The not-actually-twinned tower

And then we get to Torghast and this is just… my jam. It’s basically building a scaling roguelike into the game to let you build custom legendary items. This is excellent. It’s still too early to know exactly how all of these things are going to play out and how the systems will be restricted, but the fact that it’s scaling across any group sizes and roles makes it feel like 8.3’s N’zoth content (which is similarly scaled) is a dry run for refining the kinks of this particular system.

I already like this. I’m a big fan of endless dungeons, I’m a big fan of stuff that scales to different group and role arrangements, and I’m a big fan of building your own items. This is tailor-made to hit all of those boxes, and I can see this basically being my endgame… depending on execution.

Since, you know, a lot of stuff comes down to execution.

But right now, we can’t judge on execution, and the announcements we’ve gotten are things that I’m all on board with. (Yes, I’m separating this from the garbage answer about the faction division; that’s an end-of-BfA thing, this is all expansion features.) There’s a lot to like here, a philosophical set of changes that could be really good for the game moving forward.

Of course, it does still raise concerns… but frankly, there’s enough to get hyped for that I didn’t feel the need to shoehorn those in here. I can do that another day.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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The game play loop, at least from what we know so far, seems more improved. It does not appear as focused on increasing your time played, but actually seems to reward your time spent in the game better, so it doesn’t feel like it’s wasted on boring chores.

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The leveling overhaul and saying all the right things about losing the RNG bullshit and replacing it with something more like real RPG progression was enough to get me to spring for the Complete Edition BFA + SL Preorder. Also the fact that it comes with a 120 boost which let me instantly drop in for the 15th Anniversary Event without having to actually do anything in BFA, which I entirely skipped.

I have five expansions that I never played through because most of them came out before I started WoW in 2015, and I’m looking forward to leveling up new characters, also on classes that I’ve never played. Particularly knowing that an actual full playthrough of the expansion story line will cover 1-50, and that it will take 1/3 less time to get there than it does on live today.

Shadowlands also sounds like fun for what it offers, but it’s really the leveling reforms and seeing all the old content in a meaningful way that sold me, and convinced me that they’re making real changes for the better.

It will have its problems as all expansions do, but on the whole, I believe from everything we have seen that it will be much less worse than what we had in BFA, and much more a step back to the bits that people loved from Pandas, Warlords, and Legion.

Rick Mills

Great piece – agree on being hesitant, but we can only hope, right?


This entire expansion looks meh. :( The last 2 expansions I have been playing WoW less and less. Part of me has just out grown this MMO and the other part is just bored to tears of ideas of the current design team.

I hate to be mean here, but I just think there is a serious lack of creativity now within Blizzard these days. With so many other awesome games and studios out there, it is getting harder and harder to justify spending money on Blizzard’s mediocre titles.


Thank you for writing a balanced article.

IronSalamander8 .

I do like the customization improvements, especially since they show trolls and trolls were my main race for much of my time in WoW.

Everything else, not so much. Some of the ideas sound decent but not enough for me to get hyped for.

Edit: As part of the customization discussion, good call out on how bad it was when it launched. CoH was already out (I was playing it when WoW beta was a thing), and after that game, and back then it didn’t have as much as it did later on I might add, it didn’t even have capes yet, WoW’s options were downright pathetic in comparison.


I agree, I am optimistic about Shadowlands. Ultimately how the expansions shakes out will depend on how well these features are executed in the details, but so far I like the ideas and philosophy behind what they’re going for.


Good article. Nice to see a ‘glass is half full’ approach…you’re swimming against the stream, but I have to say you did a nice job here.

Maybe it just signals how long I’ve been away from retail wow…but Shamans don’t have TOTEMS anymore? Wha…? What’s their…point, then?

Bruno Brito

Apparently they only have Cooldown totems as deployables. Most of the totems that gave passive buffs just became passives or something like that.

Dani Reasor
Dani Reasor

This was the devs’ response to years of player complaints about the mana cost and time investment of having to constantly replace the totems in fights where there was a lot of mandatory movement. The raiding game just kind of evolved away from being something where the Shaman fantasy of marking your ground and standing in it was viable anymore.


Could be fun, especially as they seem to be focusing on a much larger amount of world events like in mechagon and Nazjatar, if they plan this out well it could lead to some good zones.

My sub is about to run out and ill take a break til 8.3, I was leveling alts but now I know it will be changed it has put me off.

Many of the features sound like they may be good, but also way too early to see if they are complex enough to be interesting. Sadly it seems they are like Arenanet nowadays and rather than changing a feature like Islands or Warfronts/Warmode, they chuck it out or let it stagnate. But I will wait and see.

Wish they would add more BGs, having less than 1 added per expansion feels pretty bad.

Danny Smith

I can’t. I played WoW for more of the world i loved from Warcraft 3 and the reveal of shadowlands looks like one of the wrath era clones. Like a knock off of the knock off of themselves in their prime. I know they will keep farting out expansions as long as it makes money rather than some burning drive to tell the story they always wanted to tell but i’ve never gotten a ‘we got nothing’ first impression like this before with Blizzard.

Bruno Brito

I need an Allods classic server without P2W.


Hmm I should start collecting this type of comparisons, yesterday I saw this one here. Some people wrote that this is a stretch (the ff14 comparison), but I would be really interested to read an Eliot’s article on the matter of similarities between wow shadowlands and whatever he has in mind about Final Fantasy XIV.

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Even the name starts with “shadow”! o.O


Yep, shadow is a popular thingy this year.