WoW Shadowlands review: This could be the best time to play Warcraft in YEARS
WORLD of Warcraft Shadowlands has been out for about three months – and it’s been wildly popular.
But is the latest expansion to a 17-year-old game any good?
I’ve been playing World of Warcraft since the tail-end of The Burning Crusade, so around 13 years.
The game has changed hugely in that time, but the core bits have stayed the same: levelling, killing big bosses, battling enemies and hanging out with friends.
Shadowlands loses none of that, and feels like one of the most refined expansions so far.
The story begins with longstanding warrior-queen Sylvanas Windrunner tearing open a hole into the Shadowlands – Warcraft’s afterlife.
You’re introduced to a brand new world with one of the biggest baddies to date: the Jailer, who rules the Hades-esque Maw.
There are six zones: Bastion, Ardenweald, Maldraxxus, Revenredeth, the Maw and a new capital city called Oribos.
Each one is unique and feels very different from other Warcraft zones.
For instance, Revendreth is a vampy land filled with gothic castle, while Maldraxxus is Ardwenweald is a magical forest filled with fairies and giant worm-creatures.
The zones are beautiful: Bastion and Ardenweald are particularly easy on the eyes.
And each zone is home to a Covenant, which you’ll meet and learn about during the main quest line.
Eventually you’ll choose to join one Covenant, which opens up a new Campaign at level 60 – and gives you access to unique abilities.
Balancing classes is tricky enough, but the addition of Covenants has made it even harder.
I’ve yet to meet a Balance Druid that hasn’t been Night Fae, and Restored Shamans seem to always pick Necrolord.
Similarly, Kyrian is by-and-large the default tanking choice.
Credit to Blizzard, Covenants do manage to feel impactful without feeling totally prescriptive.
If you’re in a high-end guild, you’ll likely have one choice – or two if you’re lucky.
But several specs could choose one of three comfortably without totally savaging their gameplay.
For instance, it’s perfectly possible to play as a Havoc Demon Hunter in Venthyr, Night Fae or Kyrian.
Many casual players can simply choose the Covenant that offers their favourite lore and play style.
I’m not a fan of these borrowed-power systems, but Blizzard has done a decent job.
Covenants are also very important for dungeons in the mid-to-high level.
For Sanguine Depths, you’ll absolutely want a Venthyr for a huge damage boost.
And having a Kyrian in Necrotic Wake or Spires of Ascension can make several mob packs significantly easier.
Each Covenant has two dungeons where they can offer some added utility, which is nice.
In terms of overall class balance, there are still some teething issues.
That’s no surprise: we’re still early into the expansion.
But Fire Mages seem unstoppably strong, Resto Shaman’s have ludicrous healing throughput, Vengeance Demon Hunters are mobility kings that have been the go-to tank for three months straight, while their Havoc counterparts struggle immensely with single-target damage – and are largely absent from the PvP world.
I’d expect to see some major nerfs and buffs in patch 9.1, which is likely a few months away.
If you haven’t been playing Shadowlands, that’s good news as there’s absolutely loads of content to burn through.
But anyway playing Shadowlands since day one will now be finding themselves with less to do each week.
Pushing increasingly-difficult Mythic dungeon keys is great fun, but many players will be reaching the limits of how high their raider.io scores can go.
Similarly with Mythic Raids, we’re now seeing the final push from the remaining guilds that will manage to kill Sire Denathrius and get the coveted Cutting Edge achievement.
PvP still offers some fun, but hasn’t changed significantly for Shadowlands. A new Arena added with the expansion is decent enough, but the Rated Battleground scene has hardly changed.
Then there’s the matter of Torghast.
It’s a procedurally-generated rogue-like style dungeon that’s proved controversial since day one.
To create Legendary gear, you need to run Torghast – but many players initially complained that it takes too long, and isn’t rewarding enough.
Despite nerfs to Torghast, it still suffers from similar issues, and doesn’t do enough to entice players. The general feeling seems to be that it’s a chore, which is a shame.
I’d hope Torghast could be made quicker and more rewarding without making it unchallenging.
It needs to let players test themselves without taking up an hour or two of their time for minimal gains.
The Sun’s gaming test rig
The Sun’s tech team uses a Dell Alienware Aurora R10 Ryzen Edition to test PC games and accessories:
- Dell Alienware AURORA R10 RYZEN EDITION
- Processor: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
- Memory: 32GB Kingston 2933MHz RAM
- Monitor: Acer Predator XB3 27" 4K 144Hz
OS: Windows 10 Pro
- Mouse: Logitech G903 Lightspeed
- Keyboard: Logitech G915TKL keyboard
Dell Alienware Aurora R10 Ryzen Edition – buy here
In any case, Shadowlands has been impressive overall.
The new storyline has got off to a good start, and has plenty of room to grow over the months ahead.
Castle Nathria still offers plenty of challenge to raiders, and there are loads of fun achievements still on offer around the new zones.
I had loads of fun in Bastion earnings the Silverwind Larion mount with a pal, which involved jumping to hard-to-reach spots to collect 50 crystals. Four hours well spent, probably…
Of course, if you’re new to World of Warcraft, there’s still loads of previous-expansion content, and the bundled access to WoW Classic to boot.
Levelling up has been made easier with a "level squish" to 60, plus a revamped system that makes it much faster to reach the end-game.
In some ways, it hasn't been this easy to hop into Warcraft in years.
And we’ve seen teasers for the next big update: Patch 9.1 Chains of Domination.
There’s a new zone called Koranic, some quality-of-life improvements to the Maw, a new raid called Sanctum of Domination, and a new Covenant campaign.
A new eight-boss dungeon called Tazavesh is coming, which lets you play through a heist in a Broker bazaar.
And there’ll be a new season for PvP and Mythic dungeons, which will bring about new challenges.
So we’re just at the beginning of Shadowlands, and there’s plenty more fun to come.
The Sun says: A game this big can never be truly “perfect”, but you get exceptional value for the money you’ll spend on Shadowlands – a brilliant expansion that proves WoW has life left in it yet. 4.5/5
- WoW Shadowlands at Amazon for £34.99/$39.99 – buy here
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All prices in this article were correct at the time of writing, but may have since changed. Always do your own research before making any purchase.
In other news, The Sun's favourite alternative to a games console is the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset.
Check out the wildly impressive Panasonic 65HZ1000 TV, which makes most tellies look rubbish.
And Dell's Alienware R10 Ryzen Edition is a gaming PC powerhouse that crushes both the new consoles.
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