World of Warcraft - Chains of Domination is a mixed bag of emotions
The next stage of the Shadowlands is here, but the free update is perhaps not what fans had hoped for despite the increased quality of life improvements.
On the surface, the 9.1 update serves as a tool to move the story of the Shadowlands forward, and in doing so, opens new areas and raids. The new Korthia area is connected to the Maw, and is very small, but full of daily quests to fulfil your time, as well as rare monsters to take down with other players. It also serves as the new story quest-hub, and more importantly offers improved travel options. It's from here that you can head out to Korthia in an eternal hunt for rare beasts, as these are the best sources of yet another currency needed to grind reputation, and for upgrading your items. Surprisingly, this design never gets old. I like the idea behind Korthia, and the story quests aren't half bad at all.
While you might be tired of grinding animals, the new update brings new currency to grind. Yes... Unless you're a high-end raider that has completed the previous top raid, your gear is probably now obsolete. It is a little frustrating, but at the same time, it makes it easier for casual players to catch up, even if they are in for a hard time.
Fun fact: the 9.1 patch was made entirely during a Blizzard wide work-from-home system. Not sure if that explains its lacklustre design, but I'm pretty sure this is the reason why our endless grind got extended, as 40 new renown levels have been added to the Covenant Campaign... geez.
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With the update, and following a quest line, you will now be able to fly in the Shadowlands, well, not the Maw, but the four Covenant worlds. And no, you don't get a speedup on renown etc. but, considering most regular players will already have reached exalted with at least their chosen Covenant at this point, it's not too much of an issue.
Following the story - in which The Jailer assaults Ardenweald - you will also partake in actual assaults on the Maw. With access to high-danger areas now simpler, thanks to more travel points, and improved gear making survival a lot easier, staying in The Maw is less of a challenge. I personally found the "dying might have an actual consequence, and most enemies need to be treated with respect" a fun part of the Shadowlands expansion, but all these updates combined have somehow removed that part. I don't fear for my life anymore, although having to run the endless randomly generated tower of Torghast many times, has taught me that fear is not an option. This is perhaps also why normal mounts have been allowed in the maw, letting you travel faster than ever before - although I really think a flying mount would be adding a lot more of convenience for the players.
So, nothing is challenging. Wrong. There are two new top-tier raids now available. The Sanctum of Domination is the story-Dungeon, featuring no less than 10 bosses, including our old friend Kel'thuzad, and the traitor Banshee Queen Sylvanas Windrunner. The new dungeon also comes with new gear, and new shards, or rather gems that enhance your gear, and will grant you powerful boosts. This again is forcing players to try out raids, if not in a raid group, then at least via the LFG system. As before, the dungeon opens in smaller steps, with the final wing opening in a month.
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Then there is a new "mega dungeon", Tazavesh the Veiled Market, and as always, dealing with the cartels of the ethereal, turns out to cause problems. It's an odd mix where the dungeon vendors are located right in the middle, which might be to compensate for it being tucked away in its own zone. It's an eight-boss dungeon, and there is no normal difficulty, we go straight to Mythic. Oh, and you get to fight a dragon with a pirate hat. Not sure working from home has been the best for the mental health of the developers, but it is a fun sight to behold.
I also want to add that enemies in Korthia still needs to be taken seriously, and often come in group and elite-variants. Oh, and there are naturally also other minor updates and improvements, and a new PVP season, and to keep things relevant, new legendary gear can be crafted, and the former gear upgraded - which is handy, as seeing a high-value legendary chest piece being outclassed after two hours of gameplay is sad.
So, a mixed bag for certain. I can't complain over a free update, but I still feel like they could have done a lot more with Korthia, added more quest hubs and NPCs across the land, and if anything, made it bigger. A lot of catch-up options are given to the players, and that is a nice touch along with the option for flying mounts, but it's hardly reinventing World of Warcraft.