First Impressions of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, part three: Influences and summation

    
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First Impressions of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, part three: Influences and summation

One of the things that I generally like to avoid doing is comparing World of Warcraft to other MMOs on the market. Even as we’ve moved on from the era when, by volume, the market was “WoW vs. everybody else” into a stage when it’s the big five, the fact of the matter is that the game is big enough and well-known enough to be context for itself. For that matter, it’s rarely necessary. The game has been around long enough and gone through wild enough design swings that half of the time today’s bad decision can be illustrated by pointing to yesterday’s good decision, so to speak.

Having said all of that… you can’t discuss Shadowlands accurately without noting that the game is trying to really take pages from other games. And I think there’s a certain sort of oddity to that; like Jack Kirby working on Jimmy Olson, it has the sense of a studio wanting to get the energy from another product but not having quite enough spine to fully embrace what was done elsewhere. In this case… largely Final Fantasy XIV.

It’s not just FFXIV here, of course; out of the aforementioned big five, the only one without a single defining story sequence was WoW up until this expansion. But there are a lot of things that feel very much borrowed from that specific game. Threads of Fate as a system feels similar to leveling your non-main jobs via side quests and roulettes. The Maw is akin to Eureka, right down to the mount restrictions. Choosing a Covenant is like choosing a Grand Company. The roguelike nature of Torghast is akin to the Deep Dungeons.

But… each time it pulls back from that. Sure, Torghast has its point of comparisons, but your gear matters way more than it does in any Deep Dungeon (and you get no special upgrades for that content). The Covenants define more of your gameplay than the aforementioned Grand Companies. Heck, the “main scenario” leaves you with a cliffhanger in all four zones, but only one of them can be wrapped up on a given character.

On the one hand, this is a good thing because it means that the game doesn’t feel like WoW in name only. On the other hand… it means that there are embedded elements that seem to still be in place even when there’s a better model to draw from.

Attached.

Take the whole “less loot” change that’s supposed to theoretically be a good thing because no more Titanforging! Except that lots of people have been clamoring to just be able to buy gear again, exhausted by the way that the game drips out random rewards. Less loot and no bonus rolls means that at the end of the day, you’re just getting less stuff, and the lack of a currency option to just buy upgrades feels all the more glaring in context.

But you do have the vault! Which… may or may not give you an upgrade, and if it doesn’t, you’re basically out of luck because it’ll drop a non-power currency on you. This is somewhat less than overwhelming.

Lest this seem like I’m somehow talking smack because the game is clearly getting inspiration from elsewhere, I want to make it clear that this isn’t the case. I’m glad at the thought of the designers taking the inspiration and energy from more recent titles that have embraced success in a post-WoW environment by doing things that WoW wasn’t doing. It’s more that the game’s design doesn’t seem willing to truly go after the inspiration it’s leaving on the table. It’s willing to go part of the way, but it doesn’t seem to absorb the lessons of why this had such an impact.

And the net result is that the game feels better… but like it’s still not willing to fully embrace a correction of flaws, which just highlights the fact that it’s gotten halfway to embracing a new philosophy and then pulled back. I love that the game has taken inspiration from its competitors, but it’s frustrating to see it treating this with a sense of begrudging obstinancy.

But then, is this really a surprise? All the talk of unpruning was talking a good game, but when half of the unpruned abilities for Hunter are useless for Survival, what did it really matter? It’s not addressing the core issues in place or the design issues lingering. Yes, my Paladin technically has auras again. But doubling down on Holy Power means that the actual play experience is more like a halfway point between Rogue and Arms Warrior, not the seal-and-judge gameplay of the class back when it was arguably at its best.

Brust

Despite all of this, if you’ve come this far feeling like my overall evaluation has been generally positive, that’s because it has been. I have really been having fun with this expansion. None of these criticisms change the fact that it’s been pleasant, especially compared to the equivalent period in Battle for Azeroth.

It’s more that we are in a post-BFA environment. And it’s hard to believe this is the new state of affairs, or even that the game is going to keep embracing these changes that are ultimately welcome.

So where does that leave us? With a pretty good expansion, ultimately, but one that occupies a similar spot to Mists of Pandaria. It’s definitely better than its immediate predecessor, and it’s the sort of thing that has a divisive premise but is actually a pretty good game in its own right. Indeed, it re-orients the game’s design paradigm in a way that could definitely benefit the players moving forward.

But it’s not going to knock your socks off right away. Indeed, I think a lot of people made their minds up about this expansion well before release. I’m glad that it has impressed me more than I expected from my status as an onlooker who was not in the beta. I’m looking forward to the next year of gameplay and think there’s a lot to like within.

At the same time, it’s hard not to feel like the game is trying to borrow elements from other titles without really understanding what makes those other titles work so well. You’ve got the notes of FFXIV (among others) without totally getting the music. It’s something I think of any time I wind up in a dungeon and get reminded of just how annoying it is to have the place full of trash that you’re supposed to skip, making their presence wholly superfluous and unnecessary.

I like Shadowlands. I’d like it more if I believed Blizzard really understood why it felt compelled to change elements of the game. And it’s not a bad expansion, but it does have this sense of inadequacy shot through every fiber of its being. It knows that something needs to change, but it’s unwilling to actually make any sort of permanent change, because next year the team might want to do something completely different.

So I guess I can actually use the joke I had come up with before playing it. It’s fine. This is fine. It’s fine.

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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styopa

One question: did nobody at Blizzard catch that calling us “Maw Walker” was a really terrible idea? We hear it from NPCs constantly which inspires very heroic imagery:
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I mean, if they don’t have Blartissimus, a huge raid boss that chases you around on a segway, I’ll be very disappointed.
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Bannex

I can appreciate the direction they went in a lot of ways but in all honesty the classes have never felt worse to me. I know they took some stuff off gcd but I feel like all my button pushing is relatively inconsequential and then something dies.

Maybe torghast will be interesting enough to get me checking back after the updates.

Overall I feel less compelled to play shadowlands than I did BFA…

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Bruno Brito

I feel like my biggest gripe are rotations. For some reason, the rotations feel very “Lich King” inspired, but also way less versatile, more mechanical.

I don’t know. It feels clunky.

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Bruno Brito

The problem with Blizzard is their affixation with pulling the “Blizzard polish experience” out of their asses when they try to copy stuff.

Their recipe was always to pick things that already existed and “improved” upon it. The issues appeared when the concept of improvement started to feel disjointed because the WoW team has a different conception of improvement than us.

HoTS was Blizzard attempt to casualize and improve upon mobas. It failed miserably because when you don’t calculate how volatile a moba enviroment is, and change core features for that equilibrium, you mess the entire thing: It made HoTS devolve into a team brawl game. The entire management side of mobas all but vanished, and the game is known for having one of the lowest skilled playerbases in the mobasphere because the game itself foster terrible behavior.

WoW has several of the same problems. Every attempt they do at copying systems are at best just copies, and at worse, an attempt to improve on a already existing feature in other MMOs and failing to account for their impact somewhere else in the game. Torghast is great because it’s literally a copy of a infinite randomized dungeon, a idea that exists for a while now in standalone games and in FF14. Covenants abilities are a idiotic idea because WoW hasn’t been a “meaningful choice” MMO for what is more than ten years now, ever since you had to pay 50 gold to respec if you had respecced a lot that month, which btw, is not really that meaningful of a choice.

This feeds in with the sense of superiority and detachment that the WoW lead dev team feels. They think everything they push on us is satisfactory, even riddled by holes.

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Neurotic

I noticed the lack of new, good loot too. The event armour my Arms Warrior got is still better than most of the things that have dropped so far, about 2/3 through Bastion. The greens and blues on my Druid, who didn’t do the event, are still better than the first few things that have dropped for her in the early parts of Bastion too. However, I expect that the loot situation might pick up a bit the further in I go.

jimthomasUS
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jimthomasUS

It’s still WoW and everyone else.

WoW remains the only culturally relevant mmorpg.

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Bruno Brito

WoW remains the only culturally relevant mmorpg.

That’s a really weird take. And also wrong.

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styopa

Srsly nobody posted it?

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Ironwu

Exactly! :)

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Dug From The Earth

Aside from the borrowed power and elements with bugs and balancing, SL will suffer from the same thing that ALL WoW expansions suffer from… content consumption rate.

Players will consume anything and everything SL has to offer much faster than Blizzard will pump out new things to do. Players will be stuck having to replay things that have already been replayed to death. Even good things done enough times get old. Despite this, Blizzard will try to stretch things thin… believing that subscriptions stay higher when players have to wait???

Regardless of why, its going to happen. A huge portion of their subscriber base are not raiders. Many dont even do LFR. They have been doing world quest after world quest for the last 5+ years now. What makes blizz think people arent going to get bored and complain by extending that to 7 years with SL?

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Sarah Cushaway

Yep. People are already complaining about “nothing to do because I got my daily/weekly chores done in 2 hours”.

It’s why I just can’t anymore. I don’t want to grind daily chores or level more alts through content I’ve seen a million times.

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Dug From The Earth

These games really need to revolutionize the way they can provide us our own ways to make our own fun in their virtual worlds. Its clear that the devs simply cant keep up with the rate that people consume created content. I honestly believe that the alternative is having systems in the game world that allow us to have more freedom and tools to do our own thing.

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Bruno Brito

I’ve been wanting housing in this EQ-like trainwreck for what it is the better part of ten years, Having Ion show up in their streams sounding like he knows exactly what i want pisses me off to no end.

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Skardon

i’d like to know the ‘big five’

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Dug From The Earth

If i had to guess it would be:

WoW
FF14
ESO
GW2
and maybe Swtor??

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treehuggerhannah

The last of the five is generally BDO rather than SWTOR, but otherwise yes.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

Yup, BDO is the fifth. Really RuneScape should be up there too, and apparently so should DCUO.

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Ironwu

I think your analysis has been spot on, Eliot.

The only thing I believe will be proved a little ‘off’ is how not-so-good Shadowlands is going to end up being over the long haul.

Ultimately, it has pretty much destroyed the game for new players. For current players, the near-zero loot design has made the initial game so boring and frustrating; a serious self inflicted wound. At the end, what is there? More of the same senseless daily quest grind. Blech.

For me, the story is so convoluted and obtuse that it requires actual work just to make sense of all the places, names, past events, current event, etc. I am suspecting that the story was written by folks that knew the WHOLE narrative line and forgot that everyone else did not. I just did not care after a while and had devolved into quest clicking without reading much.

The whole thing regarding half-appropriating better ideas is an astounding error in design.

kajidourden
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kajidourden

New player here: It absolutely did not destroy the game for me. In fact the SL pre-patch which included the new leveling system has been incredible.

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Ironwu

Tell us how great it is in a month or so time after you have been kicked from multiple dungeons for not knowing how to play your class. :)

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SmiteDoctor

I’m a tank, I don’t have that problem; I just miss out on a group of morons, block them all, and then get another instant que.

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Bruno Brito

So…like all the other xpacs?

WoW never taught people how to play. It made you comfortable with a spec, AT BEST.

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Bannex

Not arguing but how do you know it won’t be good over the long haul?

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Bruno Brito

I would say “History repeats itself”, but being honest with you, i’m a bit optimistic for Shadowlands, don’t really know why.

kajidourden
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kajidourden

The lack of any big tentpole feature additions is a bit disappointing, but overall I think this expansion is excellent. I have to contest your comparison to FFXIV in some respects though. The comparison between Torghast and Deep Dungeon is apt, as is the move towards a more cohesive story…but that’s it. Threads of fate and Covenants are completely different than the referenced FFXIV systems.

Threads of fate is incredibly different in its impact. FFXIV’s xp is so tightly controlled that you literally cannot level more than one class through quests. The MSQ does not provide enough xp to level through an expansion by itself, and since quests do not reset depending on job….they are gone forever once you’ve used them. WoW is giving you a choice, FFXIV does not. In fact this is one of the weakest aspects of FFXIV, leveling another job. Most people opt for deep dungeon, essentially circumventing all the other methods of XP because they are all incredibly inefficient. Once the MSQ and side quests are gone leveling is an absolute chore in FFXIV. By comparison I started playing WoW during the pre-patch and have 7 level 50’s (I was trying to figure out a main and play through the expansions) and not once did it feel like I was banging my head against a wall, because I had *options*.

As far as covenants are concerned, I don’t see how you could make this comparison and then say that they didn’t lean into it enough. If anything Covenants are FAR more impactful than GC in FFXIV which are literally just flavor.

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Bryan Cole

Well said, every time I hop in FFXIV I play a new character and get through the MSQ and when I go to level other jobs I “nope” on out of there due to the sheer boredom of running the roulette daily. WoW has made leveling fast and fun and TONS of options. I do enjoy FFXIV but if it fixed the side job leveling I probably would stay in it longer to enjoy each new content patch.

I too see no comparison to GC’s at all in the Covenant choices. If anything, Covenants are modeled after EQ2s Ascension system, lightly at that, but similar in its variation and different ability options based on which you level.

I’m enjoying this expansion, it’s definitely not as “large” as previous ones which worries me, but I wonder if this will help them get content patches out more consistently to help this along and keep people playing. For example, Torghast has 2 wings right now but for all we know they could be developing more to add to it which could be good to look forward to.

My only issue is time gating content. I’m not a fan of having to wait a week to do the next part of the main storyline, too many games coming up for me to constantly stay in the game when they hit. Looking at you, Cyberpunk, hehe.

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jealouspirate

FYI regarding Torghast: there are 6 wings total, two of which are active each week.

kajidourden
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kajidourden

I too don’t understand time-gating. I suppose it keeps engagement more regular, but the average and mean engagement numbers should theoretically be the same even if you’re not time-gated.

For me personally, I kind of like that I have a nice easy to reach goal each week/day that I want to play. Unlike some people I don’t feel compelled to max out every day/week. That said though, I would prefer the system be more open and flexible so that everyone can do what they want when they want.

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Vincent Clark

“The MSQ does not provide enough XP to level through an expansion by itself”…not necessarily true. Patch 5.3 earlier this year addressed the XP in ARR and HW zones. You can, literally, level to max level (for a particular expansion) by just doing the MSQ (which, of course, includes several dungeons).

I guess it depends on what your point of entry is, if you get my meaning.

kajidourden
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kajidourden

I just recently played through Stormblood. No, you cannot.

E: I should clarify. I finished Stormblood and I definitely needed side quests to reach max level for Stormblood. I am still not at the game’s max level either, so I will have to do MSQ and side quests in shadowbringers as well.

latorn
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latorn

That’s really odd. My friends and I leveled multiple classes doing MSQ and just a few side activities here and there. Was suuuper painless, maybe it has to do with rest exp and free company exp buff we had? (And that 3% food buff lol)

kajidourden
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kajidourden

That’s literally impossible. You were definitely doing side quests that you thought were MSQ if that’s the case.

latorn
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Kickstarter Donor
latorn

Nah, side quests give practically no exp. Just do a handful of roulettes and you’re more than good. A couple of my friends got the preferred server exp buff which allowed them to juggle 3 clasess to 50 with only ARR MSQ. Their problem was gaining exp too quick that they outpaced the MSQ xD I’ve ended up with 5 level 80s now, and it’s never felt grindy.