First impressions of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, part two: Endgame experience

    
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First impressions of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, part two: Endgame experience

Once you get to max level in World of Warcraft, the game changes. This should not be a surprise, as it has been the case in every prior expansion and it’s kind of a given that it’s the case for this one as well. And that is still kind of a messy way to structure the game, so yes, that issue is still there.

What is a nice part of Shadowlands is that the developers do seem to genuinely have tried to pace things out a bit more. You go back into the Maw a couple of times during the main story to get you acquainted with the ideas behind it. You have a quick sojourn into Torghast as well. You get to try on the Covenant powers ahead of time. In many ways, these are meant to be glimpses into how the game is going to function once you’ve wrapped up with leveling.

Despite this, the bulk of the game systems like Soulbinds wind up being deflected until the level cap. And… as I mentioned in the first part of this review, oddly, this actually works out a little bit better.

Don’t get me wrong here; this is still a borrowed power system and as a result I still find myself more than a little irritated by its inclusion. But the fact that it’s tossed in after leveling makes it a bit less obnoxious for some reason. Since you don’t get accustomed to it beforehand, you’re sort of trained to accept that it’s just temporary.

But, you know, don’t mark that as “good.” This is Borrowed Power But I Don’t Hate It That Much Actually. If we gave scored reviews, this would knock points off.

Beyond that, however… well, a lot of it will seem largely familiar, but it has all gotten updated in various ways. Sometimes very subtle ones, starting with the fact that your Callings (replacing Emissaries) require you to travel to your covenant headquarters and take them manually.

ROBOT

On the one hand? That’s more work to get to the same basic content. But it actually does work out all right, especially since at least thus far it gives a bit more freedom to not just throw world quests at you so you always have something to do. “Fewer quests but more interesting ones” is the name of the game, and as a result the lack of auto-added emissaries encourages you to think a little more about what you’re doing and why. It also keeps your focus on your covenant.

Mission tables return with Adventures, and they are also a little more involved. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the “more involved” part really matters all that much. It’s nice to have this be more developed, but since you have what amounts to a fixed pool of units and the actual blow-by-blow is a bit tedious, it’s… well, a bit tedious. Still, it seems to continue on the expansion’s overall ethos that less is more.

I also do like how the main progress-ish metric, Renown, has a pretty firm weekly cap. Like, it’s executed in a very kludgey and arbitrary way, but it’s actually a good thing that there’s no Artifact Power grind or anything of the sort. Renown has specific sources, and when you’re done for the week, you’re done. No amount of additional content will fix it.

On the flip side, that does mean that you hit a point of diminishing returns wherein you’ve already gotten all the stuff you need and so you have less reason to log in. But that’s… kind of an all right thing anyhow.

All of this is secondary to the obvious end points, of course. You want to know about the Maw and Torghast. And the Maw itself is played up a lot on your way forward, with your one friendly NPC making it clear that the Maw is an unwelcome place where you can and will die. Your progress in it has a pretty firm daily gate.

This is actually fine because I don’t find myself actually needing to go into the Maw on a daily basis – or at least, not into the parts that threaten me with the gaze of the Jailer. This may be about how early in the expansion it is, but the various restrictions mostly make for a fun experience wherein you’re dealing with ever-ramping threats.

I say “mostly” because, well… the lack of mounts is dumb. I don’t find it useful or more dangerous, it just feels obnoxious. Especially now with so many players around, there aren’t usually so many enemies that I would otherwise just be skating past in the first place. The tower bombardment and roaming assassins would be more than enough incentive to lay low even without the lack of mounting, and it’s just annoying.

Torghast, meanwhile… is something else.

UNDEAD UNDEAD UNDEAD

The worst part about Torghast is simply that it doesn’t communicate very well how it works with regard to upcoming enemies and how long a given layer goes. But the actual experience of going through it is a lot of fun, letting the game’s mechanics sit up and do a dance that doesn’t pretend at balance. Some of the powers there are just plain fun. Sure, there are some duds (I don’t find Edgewalker very interesting), but I love the one that drops an additional random totem including deprecated totem. Or the one that makes every totem a healing wave. Heck, I like the one that gives you a big stat boost but stops you from jumping.

The result is that runs feel fun, even if they’re not terribly difficult. The counterbalance, of course, is that all you’re getting out of them is just materials for your legendary items; once you’ve gotten the legendary you need it becomes less relevant aside from cosmetics…. and not many of those, either.

But… again, that seems like a conscious design choice. The point here is that you aren’t playing a game wherein you have to get your daily Torghast run in; you have X amount of available Soul Ash in a week, and you want to get that through Torghast. Maybe hunt some cosmetics if you’re having fun, but the general attitude feels much more flexible than it has in prior expansions.

And I kind of like it. I like feeling like these things have weekly limits and past that point you can take a break, that I’m not as locked into having a firm rotation of daily Emissary quests to cycle through and a map awash in objectives.

The down side here is that the dungeons are kind of lackluster. They’re not awful, but Blizzard has once again made it clear that these things are designed to be a bit like blank slates. And that’s particularly notable because this expansions feels like it’s pointing at something.

No, I don’t mean speculating about the future; I mean that there’s a sense I can’t avoid as I play through the expansion. Looking at the changes and the systems, there’s one comparison that I keep feeling the need to make…

And I’ll do that in the next part to wrap this up. Look, these impressions are always three parts. It’s tradition.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?

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Jiminy Smegit

I like the concept of Torghast but the difficulty needs some serious tuning. If you play a tank or healer, it is a casual murder stroll. If you play a dps then you have to pray you get the right boss at the end or you just wasted your time clearing all those floors (Synod in particular is a nightmare). I read that the difficulty is scaled down for tanks/healers and this felt true, was super easy on my guardian druid and utterly impossible to do layer 3 on my hunter.

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texyFX

brief recommendation on the Maw:
daily Venari Rep for Torghast upgrades, Sockets and Conduits*, optimal in a raid. elite mobs and non-elite rares give less rep per Jailer Aggro than elite rares.

btw – y ride, when u can fly? at least i can in the whole Shlands: (gnomish engineering) Gnomish Gravity Well + Goblin Glider, Beth Gorrs Toy is limited to Maw, but with a standard streak of Gravity Jumps i ll cross the whole Maw.
also there r riders (and their mounts) everywhere, while the 2p Bonus of Maw set grants +10 movement speed.
portal stone for quick return to Venari,15-20min daily. (btw. WM does not give any bonus in the Maw)

*Conduits might be a deal breaker personally, cuz its RNG fest all-over again, iam never going to play heal, Blizzney. Conduits should respect loot spec at least.

dungeon design is another issue, while aesthetically fine, the routing is Side-Scroller, a one-way-road without any options. but mob design is great, synergy between casters (Death Winds), heals and melees, some switch their position etc., bosses r neat, arena boss pitches party members vs. each other for a winner buff etc. great options for party tactix.

my final verdict on the first impression is still undecided, but overall positive, although Legion release still feels King.

I WONDER y nobody recognized the zone split. the zones r no longer “naturally” (as in borderless) connected, but require a flight to switch.
personal speculation is client-side tech limits, as the graphx update forced me to switch to 1440p or endure fan noise (not if i turn the range of view down, but then i need to see Horde coming). Blizzney always tried to keep the system min reqs low.
is the zone split an issue? partially, cuz they feel isolated, narrow and ironically artificial(, while Broken Isles were more cohesive).

overall i think for SL Blizzney finally decided to go All-In on flavor, simplified systems, routes and progression (finally ilvl>secondary stats, no need to sim every upgrade), while buffing aesthetics, system and content synergy and overall RPGness.

btw – Blizzney tryhards to convince the community to acknowledge their feedback awareness, it was a major marketing tactic since Beta, esp. the various tuning passes (Balancing).

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Jeremy Barnes

Shadowlands feels like a mobile game. Oh, you’re enjoying playing the game are you? Welp, TIMEGATE! Haha sucker!

kajidourden
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kajidourden

And if it was uncapped you’d be here crying about it being too grindy.

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Jeremy Barnes

Timegating something doesn’t affect if it’s grindy or not. I’m sure you feel better trying to be an edgelord though.

Jokerchyld
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Jokerchyld

Well I’m still leveling, because I am not liking this linear leveling process. It feels too guided and the story while looking interesting hasn’t caught my full attention yet. I think its written well, the parts I do read are mildly engaging but overall I find my self skipping the remaining 4 pages because I know at the end of the day Im just collecting something or defeating a set of monsters.

Still in Bastion and the zone is beautiful, but I dont get that sense of wonder that makes me want to explore.

I’m hoping end game will give me the freedom I’m looking for, but getting there is painful so far.

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Kevin Smith

One note that many seem to miss. There are mounts in the maw but they are single use mounts. When you dismount they are gone you just have to kill another mob with one or find one. There is always at least one right by the zone in up the hill a little bit. Yeah not having your mounts there is a pain in the ass and a dumb decision but I really don’t see them listening and changing it any time soon so we just have to deal with it.

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Bruno Brito

I don’t get why the Maw isn’t just like a Timeless-Isle-like zone for PvPvE. If you’re going to put so many systems that are annoying, at least counterbalance it with some fun WPvP. Of course, that’s just me, i love zones like that.

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Kevin Smith

Only if you could flag for pvp. Imagine being on a server like I am where it is 99% horde an you are playing alliance. You could forget ever getting anything done there. That is how you end up with servers that are so lap sided to begin with a lot of the time in most games. People get tired of not being able to do things so they just reroll to the side with the most players. I never won’t to see forced pvp on pve servers ever. Think the war mode is good enough, just toggle it on.

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Bruno Brito

I’m talking about PvP servers, and i’m speaking from the perspective that the Maw should be a optional zone. Gimmicks are not good design for 2 years. And that’s what the Maw is.

Also, it’s Blizzard’s responsability to balance the population correctly. If you have a 99% Horde server, they’re not doing their job right.

kajidourden
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kajidourden

“Also, it’s Blizzard’s responsability to balance the population correctly. If you have a 99% Horde server, they’re not doing their job right.”

Lmao. Yeah, they should force people to play a faction based on population numbers! That’ll work out swell.

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Neurotic

omg cliffhanger!! I was really getting into it too!. :D

Carlo Lacsina
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Carlo Lacsina

Right? He’s got me hanging to his every word

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Neurotic

It’s a case of blogus interuptus if I ever saw one. :D

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TomTurtle

Hitting max level feels overwhelming with the amount of things to do, even with some of those features being introduced while questing your way to choosing your covenant. I feel bad for those players who will bounce right off because of that, though I’m liking the variety of things to do and how less mandatory it all feels. It feels more fleshed out in comparison to BfA’s start at least.

I guess I’m in the minority in that I like the Maw. It’s challenging enough to make me think about how I want to go about things, and it’s fun feeling like we’re in this all together. I’ll often aid fellow players with mobs they’re fighting. Plus, stuff gets unlocked the further you progress, a Maw-friendly mount too eventually, I think.

Torghast is surprisingly fun and even at layer 3, I’m already being careful to use my full toolkit. I love that it scales down to solo play.

The world quest system has been toned down to a smaller amount but each quest takes a while longer, which I’m not liking that part. Many feel too slow to progress.

I have so much to do right now that I’m happy with how things feel right now.

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styopa

Thanks for the good post.

I just hit 60 on my first toon, so not aggressively charging through content. I’m generally enjoying it more than BFA.

Pluses:
+ entirely subjective, but the stories engage me more. I’m *not* a lore or deep-read-every-quest-text sort of guy, but BfA just felt banal from start to lackluster finish. I admit I even choked up a little at one point in Ardenweald, dammit.
+ I liked the art direction in each zone. Not that each zone was to my aesthetic, not at all, but I thought it was reasonably cohesive and in each case well executed (BfA was pretty good artwise too, though)
+ I liked that they aggressively used geography to support the ‘single narrative’ and broke the zones into areas without it being too obvious. Even though, in the whole, it very much is “one middle thing with a ring of zones around it” ala every expansion following WotLK

– the Maw. Ugh. Forced-dismount zones are silly. Fine, give us a little questline to allow us a maw-specific mount function like Vashjr or whatever. But you can’t design a zone on the scale of the rest of the game then prohibit mounting.
– the Maw. Good intro zone. Not so great on your 2nd…3rd… 4th…alts? I saw someone mention they were on their 7th runthrough, well, I expect for that player it really did feel like hell.
– covenant abilities: I also hate borrowed power, that doesn’t change even when it’s as anemic as these. Hell, draenor garrison button was more meaningful.

I agree about the comparison, I expect you’re talking about FF14. Single mandatory linear questline. Torghast = WoW’s version of Deep Dungeon.

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Rick Mills

The only nice thing about it (just like WoD) is you’re almost level 51 when you get out.

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styopa

And even that’s like “wait, that was 1/10 of the content?)

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Rndomuser

I actually reached the end game since I still have my sub time left even though I cancelled it. And I tried all the new activities. Unfortunately for me, it’s just standard farming and standard daily quests. You farm for reputation, you farm for Anima, you farm for Stygia. Farm, farm, farm. And I just… don’t feel like I should be doing this. It feels like work. A very unenjoyable work, since there is no sense of danger (for me) at any step, just wasted time to see counters grow, where I can’t even spend any earned currency on anything outside of the game. I know some people enjoy those mindless activities and there is nothing wrong with enjoying something like that (if you really do enjoy this and not forcing yourself to do those “because friends are doing it too” or for any other reason) but this is definitely not for me.

B.t.w, I gotta admit that the whole theater performance part from Night Fae Covenant intro quest was a nice touch. I did not expect it and I am glad I experienced it. This is available on YouTube for anyone who is curious about it.

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Jeremy Barnes

They had big complaints about grind and their answer was…MORE grind. You have more things to grind, but now they limit how much you can grind every day so now you HAVE to login daily.

For me, I have more time to play some days than others so it’s really annoying that I’ve got to make sure I login daily.