WoW Factor: No, Shadowlands is probably not going to be terrible

Nothing else has worked.

I’ve noted many times at this point that World of Warcraft does not seem to have done a great job with Shadowlands, at least from what we’ve seen so far. A little prison of the team’s own making over here, a little bad philosophy behind redesigns over there, and not even a little salami as a treat. And we all shared a hearty giggle at the people working hard in the fanboy mines insisting that all is fine because it’s not like this design team has been sinking a ship since the day they came on board, right?

Here’s the thing, though. The people toiling away in the fanboy mines may be suitable targets for exasperated sighs, but this does not mean the people working for the Cherry Picking Logging Co. are exempt from notice. There’s lots of valid caution and critique to be leveled at what we’ve seen of Shadowlands so far, but assuming that it’s going to be the worst expansion ever isn’t a good look either just because that’s just moving in the opposite direction.

See, obviously this won’t be the worst expansion ever because we’re already currently in the middle of that one.

I joke, but only somewhat; it’s still important and worth noting that even if all of the worst possibilities about Covenants, Soulbinds, and so forth come true, Shadowlands is still not going to be the hot garbage mess that is Battle for Azeroth. I can’t speak to this from experience due to not being in this particular beta, but everything on public display thus far points to the expansion not sharing BfA‘s particular problems.

But that’s not actually a defense of the expansion; that’s just another kick in the ribs for BfA. It deserves all of that, but it doesn’t actually lionize anything about Shadowlands. And there is good stuff to look forward to here, despite all of the many pitfalls that are also on display.


For one thing, Shadowlands may once again be based around borrowed power layered on top of systems, but for the first time since Mists of Pandaria it does look like you’re not going to be walking into the level cap and grinding. You don’t have to work up your Garrison or farm artifact power. You just keep playing, and while your power does seem that it’ll get bumped up over time, it’s just… less focused around grinding and hoping and still leveling. That alone is welcome.

It also does seem to be genuinely addressing – or attempting to do so – the issues that the game’s endgame systems had since Legion. It wasn’t that Legion got World Quests perfectly right or anything; it was that BfA got them very wrong by doing the same thing again with half the effort. Things like the vault that rewards you gear choices not only gives you more chances at gear; it also does so while giving players an incentive to do more content than they might otherwise be inclined to do. After all, if you already did a wing of the latest raid, maybe you don’t really need more… but hey, another option for gear could be nice. Why not? Queue up another Raid Finder wing.

The fact that early reports seem to indicate you’ll be doing most of your world quests in the zone of your chosen covenant also helps things. Like… yes, this illustrates other problems, but it is kind of neat to think that you could have three Paladins who chose three different Covenants and wound up with wildly different experiences in actual play at the level cap. Even beyond different abilities!

Combine that with the fact that the Maw seems to be an effort at making an endgame zone with repeating experience from the start rather than patched in later and the addition of the new style of content in Torghast, and… yeah, there is stuff here that is at least different and at best potentially fun. And when you haven’t experienced it either way, why default to assume that it’s going to be terrible just based on descriptions?

Of course, we all know why. Because Blizzard lets people down with a determined intensity usually reserved for impressing people, and so by this point a lot of former players are just ready to assume this is going to be a mess ahead of time.

Oh look. Again.

To be entirely clear here, what I mean when talking about unalloyed negativity is not people pointing out that there are reasons to be concerned or critical. This is, as discussed, people who are already declaring that everyone will hate Covenants, rather than just pointing out that there are balance and design issues that are not great going on with Covenants. It’s the a priori assumption that Blizzard can’t make a good expansion, not just that the team might not have.

It also serves as something of a counterweight to people insisting that the expansions alternate between good and bad. That pattern, like everything else, is descriptive. Calling it a pattern implies that the development team just knew that BfA or Warlords of Draenor or Cataclysm would be awful, but what else could you do?

The truth of the matter is that all three of those expansions – each of which is worse than the one preceding it – represented the team genuinely trying to do a good job making an expansion for players to enjoy and just wildly screwing it up. Period end. No one clocked out early or tried to make something bad; that was just what wound up happening for a variety of reasons. And there’s no natural law preventing Shadowlands from falling into the same trap and being merely decent.

Then again, there was nothing preventing Mists of Pandaria from being just sort of all right. I think that expansion gets more praise than it deserves on a whole, sandwiched between two real nadirs for the game, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t genuinely enjoyed. Heck, that doesn’t mean there weren’t good changes on display and visible in practice in that expansion.

Do I think that Shadowlands is going to be a great expansion? Eh… no, not really. I think it has a lot of problems that don’t seem to be solved, and it suffers from the fact that the people making decisions before are still making them now. There are, in other words, going to be a lot of unforced errors from the word go.

Do I think it’s going to be terrible? Eh… no, not really. While it’s clear that the people making design decisions right now really need to be not doing that based on many, many years of evidence, that’s not inherently and unavoidably dire. While I feel quite confident that the issues that are already visible won’t help the experience of playing the game, I do think that we’re at least starting from a better place than we were before. And some of what’s on display looks pretty darn fun.

In the end, I think it’ll be worse than the latest expansion really should be, but much better than the current expansion. Not truly dire, but could use improvement. And hey, in a month I might get proven wrong.

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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Playing WoW Classic has reminded me what Retail has lost. Everything I achieve in Classic MEANS SOMETHING. Every green drop could be an upgrade. Going up by ten armor or one stat point matters. Retail is about this massive acceleration in power that gets reset with each new expansion. Forget about what the new horizontal progression deal of the day is, we all just learn to use whatever they’ve cooked up and we like or hate it to varying degrees. I’m talking about POWER.

When you start an expansion, you feel one of a couple ways. Either you’ve been feeling okay or maybe even pretty good doing open world content, in which case you’re going to feel seriously underpowered and annoyed, or you’re well geared and bored with open world content, in which case you’ll feel mildly challenged at first but not so much as would require you to pay attention.

Now the rush to upgrade is on. BIG, HUGE leaps in power. Upgrade three items, gain SIX HUNDRED STAMINA or TWO THOUSAND ARMOR, and suddenly you feel strong again. The number squish is going to fix that? Not a chance in hell. The numbers will be smaller, but the leaps and bounds will be the same because Retail players are addicted to that rush. Even though they know the crash is coming, they need another expansion because that’s the only place they’re going to get their fix of that POWER RUSH.

Meanwhile, over in Classic, you chug along. A point here, a level there, upgrade bit by bit. You know what? I feel stronger. Rather strong indeed, in fact. But I still have to have my wits about me because the only content you dominate is the Deadmines when you’re level 60. And the best part is? I’m not feeling the need for another rush of power, because there’s never been a rush. Just a slow, steady progression. And the secure knowledge that what I learn or earn today will still work and matter tomorrow.

That’s what’s wrong with Retail and that’s why it will never be Classic.


I typically prefer a pumpkin spice latte with my milquetoast.

Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor

WoW is occasional fantastic highs followed by a string of devastating mediocrity.


Looking forward to spent time in the Shadowlands in a few months. Usually I don’t start an expansion before a couple of patches are in, might just be around earlier this time as I have a couple of alts I want to get through the reworked leveling.

Dankey Kang

WoW’s a spent force. Once upon a time I loved it more than anything, but those days will never come back.


I personally think the Diablo 3 developers that were brought onto the team have changed the game into more of an action RPG akin to say Path of Exile rather than a MMO these days.

Kickstarter Donor
Richard de Leon III

Good or bad, itll probably be my last expansion. After earning artifact weapons, neck tiers, and corruptions and having them taken away in the name of resetting the field just hit me. If i earn something I want to keep it like most other rpgs. At best ill resub just to farm old content at this point onward.


In all fairness, this has been the pattern from Burning Crusade onward. Folks were coming unglued that their Classic Raid Gear was being made irrelevant by first-zone greens in Burning Crusade.

The main difference between now and then is that the gear is being initially nerfed explicitly and immediately, instead of implicitly as you gear up in the new content.

Either way, it is kind of ‘not fun’, but this way is much worse in my opinion since you don’t even have the option of using the stuff.

It essentially stinks of designing oneself into a corner and the only way out is to tear down the house.

Bruno Brito

It’s worse because the gear progression now makes you work towards a piece that sets with you for the xpac, and also makes your class complete, or add something better instead of just stats. Which means when you need to change it, you lose an aspect of your class.

The only reason no one is complaining about the HoA removal is because it was a hated mechanic which only gave you passive stuff.


applause for both – BrunoBito and IronWu headshotted the major issue of SL: gear scarcity.

the Classic influenca infected Retail – in opposition to Eliots pastel (but still somewhat fair) article Thorgast, Legendaries (rank 4 is about 196k in mats, while gold income has been massively nerfed via lvl squish, farm spots etc) and especially m+ and raid gearing r going to be a massive (and annoying) grind (like Classic).
less gear means less variety, fewer builds and less excitement, more queue competition and much more challenge for the final reward tiers. overall accessibility was reduced for meaningful choices: Make Gear Great Again!

(gear and choices already were great and felt meaningful.)

my prognosis of SL user experience is another repetition of history (WF/TF), after months of shitstorms (major issue being not WF/TF but RNG) corruption RNG turned out to be so much worse, Blizzney had to crash power curve with a (still somewhat userunfriendly) vendor. (original Ion: hf with ur broken system. ps: its wasnt my or any users system, but urs, Ion.)

Bruno Brito

Make Gear Great Again!

We could live without this specific slogan.


indeed, pls notify Ion :D


Insightful article Eliot. I agree the days of WoW being a load of endless fun are over. However, people will continue to play. God bless’em one and all!comment image

Oleg Chebeneev

How dare they to have fun!!

Malcolm Swoboda

I actually want this expansion more than ever since Legion.

Its just for more personal reasons than a whole ‘it’ll be awesome’ feeling.

And simply wanting it, doesn’t mean I’ll be getting it. Blizzard/Acti + the price + not having any IRL friends remaining that are attached to it = nahhhh.

Dug From The Earth

marketing 101… make something awful every so often so that the standards to improve upon the next time arent that high.

Or in blizzards case, every other expansion