WoW Factor: What if Shadowlands is also real bad?

WoW Factor: What if Shadowlands is also real bad?

At this point, we’re all kind of settling in for the long winter’s nap and also the spring’s nap and at least most of summer’s nap for World of Warcraft. If you’ve forgotten last week’s column, I’m very hurt, but I also noted during it that Visions of N’zoth is real bad… but among a lot of people there’s a sense of shrugging acceptance. Of course it’s bad; this expansion was bad. Time to settle in and wait until the next expansion when everything gets good again and everyone’s back anyway.

But, uh… quick question on that. Why, exactly, are we confident about that next expansion?

This isn’t a case where I’m holding myself as separate to the general consensus. Until I asked myself this question, my thinking was basically a resigned shrug and acceptance that yes, this expansion has been bad and pointless the whole way through, so it’s time to start focusing on the next expansion. But then I stopped and asked myself this question and it kind of felt like something blooming in the background, a sort of ominous bit of foreshadowing that no one really wants to talk about.

We all know why we expect that Shadowlands will be better, of course. The last expansion was bad, so the next one is good. This is the way of things with WoW, and it has been for a long time, so why even ask about it? Except that the more you think about it, the more it’s a case where “the way of things” holds little to no actual merit.

The game’s first two expansions? Both good. It’s only from Cataclysm onward that it’s been a pattern of “bad expansion, then good expansion,” and that’s kind of ignoring that if you look at the track record of WoW expansions, it’s only barely averaging out above 50% as “good.” It’s just a pattern, and it’s descriptive rather than prescriptive. There is no law of nature assuring us that every other expansion will be good any more than there was one saying that from now on the game would alternate between good and bad.

You all just hate me because you don't like me and I'm mean all the time.

Beyond that, though, the game’s developers have done the usual walk of shame in which things are sort-of-but-not-really apologized for, there’s a big show of people having supposedly learned just enough of the lessons about what players had been complaining about for two years now, so now you should come back and things will be better and… well, you get the idea. It all feels just a little bit rote, doesn’t it?

And it also still has that sense of being unsure if anyone really gets where the consternation comes from or whether or not we’re actually getting the changes anyone wants. Yes, I’m excited to have auras back as a Paladin, but an aura alone does not an interesting gameplay style make. What actually happens with class design and spec rotations? How will the game feel? How will spiritbonding work? What’s being done to address staleness in many parts of the game, including the fact that the story for the last expansion was a complete waste of time and largely a rehash of familiar points?

That’s not to say that all of this – or any of it – will actually be bad. I do not have the ability to see the future. What I do know is that it’s a problem to look to the game and think that this expansion sucks and that the next one will bring food and water and smite our enemies because that pattern requires only one failure to bring down the whole damn thing.

Heck, let’s not act like there’s some Good Expansion Team working on Shadowlands when the same people responsible for all the decisions that made Battle for Azeroth such a misfire on every level are also working on the next expansion. The same people are signing off on design decisions. Do you think that these are people passionate about the project? Do you feel like this is a team with a plan? Are you looking at Visions of N’zoth and thinking, “Gosh, I can’t wait to see what this team produces next; it’s going to be an absolute banger”?

Sure, you’re probably not looking at it at all if you’re playing on a Mac, but that’s part of the problem here in the first place.

The reason the question scares me a little bit, if we’re being honest, is that I suspect the development team itself is basically banking on the next expansion being good… but they devs have not yet put in any leg work to actually make that seem like it’s a thing that’s going to happen. Look at Legion for some clear contrast. That expansion was announced early and basically was screaming out from the start that you should look at all of the cool stuff going on within it. All the stuff you wanted for ages like Demon Hunters and so forth are being added to the game! We’re reworking playstyles and leaning in on cool ideas! Aren’t you excited?

I’m happy that Shadowlands doesn’t try to just go fanservice expansion 2.0, a strategy I already was dreading. But by contrast, it hasn’t really done much to sell the idea that this is going to be a much better expansion than its predecessor. Indeed, what little we’ve gotten so far has felt like a touch of foot-dragging. “Well, we guess you guys want old abilities back, so here, we’ll give you some. We’ll change the leveling, fine, but the level cap is still the important part. Maybe you’ll get a different way to gear up. Maybe.”

All things go, all things go.

Right now, there’s reason to hope that Shadowlands is good, but there’s no reason to expect it beyond patterns that happen to hold true. And ask yourself what the game is going to look like if it’s not. Ask yourself about the position this title will be in, both critically and commercially, if this winds up being another Battle for Azeroth in terms of quality and play.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me anxious about the long-term health of the game.

You can certainly explain why the messaging isn’t there yet, of course. It’s quite possible that we’re going to be getting content to pump up the buzz through February and onward, that we’ll get more features showing off the expansion’s playstyle and rotations and such, trying to hype people up before an actual launch date and reassure us once whatever pump was going to happen from the last patch has faded. Totally understandable.

But I think it’s important to ask this question: What if Shadowlands is real bad? It’s entirely plausible, and it might even be the more likely option based on who we know is working on the title and what the overriding design philosophy has tended to be.

And if it is bad? Well… this is going to be a really rough year if that’s the case. WoW has survived for an awfully long time in a state of alternating between good expansions and bad, but I’m not sure it has the strength to weather two bad expansions back-to-back.

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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I don’t think it matters that much. A subscription base as large as WoW’s won’t run dry during a single expansion. The trend is negative and will most likely stay that way but it will take a good long while before WoW is unsustainable by Blizzard. We will know as soon as Blizzard announces it’s next MMORPG.

Robert Mann

If it is truly atrocious they can always play a dad joke and comment everywhere “Welcome to Hell!” XD


If Shadowlands is crap they will release BC Classic Servers and they are good to go. Even if the next 3 WoW expacs are garbage they can float on BC, Wrath and MOP Classic before they are in trouble.


What if, what if, what if…
What about that old saying about crossing the bridge when you get there and all?

Hopefully it’s good, WoW desperately needs it, and looking at its other IPs, Blizzard overall does. I agree that it would be naive to expect it to be good just because this one is bad and it has been a pattern for a while now. I just hope, and we’ll see when we get there.

I don’t think the game will die for a very long time. If Everquest and the like is holding on, so will WoW, even if it’s just in maintenance mode. I’d love it to get new content as long as possible, as someone who has been playing on and off since TBC, but what can we do?

People have been claiming about the death of WoW and WoW killers and the playerbase moving on pretty much since the creation of WoW. Sure, it doesn’t bring the numbers it used to and realistically never will again, but I’m sure it’s still profitable and will remain so for a long time. Even if they put less money in and less people play, they’re always going to have a core base. It’s like people said in some of the other comments. A lot of us have been invested for more than a decade. No matter how good a new shiny MMO is, you can’t replicate that sense of “home”.

Zach Rohr

Not to be rude or an asshole, just actually curious here; shouldn’t the title of this be “What if Shadowlands is also really bad?” instead of “real bad?”

Robert Mann

Technically, it should be. Additionally, due to being in a sentence structure that is greater than the quotes, the ending ? in your sentence should be outside the quotes (or to be exact it should have another ? there, as you are including that as part of what you are quoting).

I hope this answers your grammar question today, and promotes learning! Have a great day Zach Rohr!

Joe Liker

It doesn’t matter one bit whether SL is good or bad.

WoW’s player base is deeply invested, financially, socially and emotionally, to the point where they feel like they can’t quit, no matter how bad the game gets.

After all, it will still be WoW, and at least they can be miserable together.


Guys, Blizzard is dead! The Warcraft Reforged debacle is the canary in the coal mine folks.

Vote with your wallet too.

Danny Smith

Find me a retail product Activision Blizzard has put out in the last ten years to inspire confidence that it wont, because i can’t name anything.

I mean shit the only selling point i hear people talk about is “but i can level alts faster” and nothing says top quality videogame like “i want to bum rush my guys to max level to sit in a town once i realise they are just doing the same world quests on another character”.

But we all remember the indie films made about WoW addicts back when they were seen as a novelty of the coming age and not sad sacks who needed help a decade ago so its still going to sell enough, i just dont think if BfA and Warcraft Refunded are anything to go by that it will be on the same budget of their previous works.


Hehe “Warcraft Refunded” I’m going to use this one.


If Shadowlands also is bad, exactly nothing will happen. The big streamers will continue to stream WoW and people will continue to play. Look at what happened with classic and how many people just returned to BfA despite the complaining and whining about the Addon. The player base is simply unwilling to vote with their wallet, they are just like a dog who barks loud but never bites.

Robert Andle

Ever since SL was announced, I’ve been expecting it to be bad. There’s just something about it that seems dull as anything and I can’t find any reason to look forward to it. The other ideas that were ‘leaked’ before its announcement – Bolvar losing control of the Scourge and it invading Azeroth or the rise of the Black Empire with the Old Gods returning – see much more exciting and when I saw the trailer for SL I was doubly disappointed. The new lich king defeated before he has a chance to do anything? MORE Sylvanas? No end of the factions and no new classes? Disappointing just doesn’t come into it.

As such, for the first time ever, I haven’t pre-ordered an expansion and might just let this one pass me by. Unless something really amazing gets announced for it, but going on the thin feature list already out, that’s not likely.

On the other hand, I’m having bags of fun with Classic and find myself actually looking forward to each patch, even if it brings nothing but content I’ve already played through loads of times. It’s depressing that after all these years, Blizzard’s game design has gotten so much worse.