Shadowlands might be one of the most relevant expansions in World of Warcraft history, as it shares many similarities with Cataclysm, an expansion that changed Azeroth and the game forever. Just like Cataclysm, some of Shadowlands more relevant new features and changes are not even tied to the expansion itself, like the level reduction, the new initial zone, and the reformulation of the whole leveling experience, allowing players to venture through the content they see fit. This is available to all players - with a lot of it free to everyone with a subscription - and means that there has never been a better time for players to try or return to WoW.
You can read more details of this new WoW experience in our World of Warcraft - 1.9 Patch review, but you are likely to be here to find out what we think of the actual Shadowlands content. We had already shared our first impressions in a pre-review article that you can read here, but now that we have moved farther into the adventure and tested new systems, we feel ready to finally put a score on the new expansion.
That said, it should keep in mind that Shadowlands is just the beginning, as a lot of content will be coming in the following months and even years, as has been usual in the latest expansions.
Shadowlands follows a very linear path, more so than previous expansions, as the new areas (there are five) have to be unlocked in a specific order through the main campaign. World of Warcraft usually presents its maps as a big open world, but Shadowlands works differently, presenting a central area - Oribos - with portals to the other areas - Bastion, Maldraxxus, Ardenweald, Revendreth, and Maw.
The areas themselves are large, with a lot to do, and have very different themes. Bastion looks like paradise, Maldraxxus is a devastated zone with undead and monsters, Ardenweald is dedicated to nature, Revendreth is basically a vampire zone, and Maw is a bleak and desolated nightmare, aesthetically one of the ugliest zones ever in WoW (it's supposed to be, as this is where the worst souls in the universe spend their eternity.
The four main zones, Bastion, Maldraxxus, Ardenweald, and Revendreth, include their own Covenant, with characters and stories for the player to follow. Upon reaching level 60 (the new maximum level), and after completing the main stories for each Covenant, the player has to choose one as his one, unlocking missions, skills, locations, and rewards, specific to the chosen Covenant. There is a lot to do after reaching level 60, with new upgrade systems for the character, specific objectives (like building an abomination in Maldraxxus or organising a gala in Revendreth), and more.
A big feature in Shadowlands is Torghast: Tower of the Damned, a tower inspired by the rogue-lite genre. The tower consists of several floors, with different creatures and traps, and in the end you have to face a boss to advance to the next floor. If you die, you have to start again, with a new randomised structure and layout.
Then we have the more traditional content, in the form of dungeons. Each area has a specific dungeon, lasting between 20 and 30 minutes, and features bosses with some interesting ideas. Castle Nathria will be the first raid, coming December 8, which means we haven't tried it yet, but the raid will be divided into wings, with different wings and difficulty modes planned for the coming weeks and months.
This means that, while there's a lot of content already available, there's still a lot of Shadowlands coming in the future, and that has implications for the story itself. While it was pleasant to follow the stories of each area and Covenant, we felt that the main story, involving Sylvanas, The Jailer, and the other central characters of World of Warcraft, could have been developed a little more. There are some surprises and revelations, but the interaction with these characters - especially the villains - is lackluster.
Blizzard's art department is one of the best in the industry, and for the new expansion, they have done their utmost. From the majestic plains of Bastion, to the Gothic palaces of Revendreth, Shadowlands glows with a fantastic art style. It is impossible to hide that WoW is a 16-year-old game, which naturally limits what's possible to do, but within these technical limitations, WoW has a spectacular visual quality. As for the soundtrack, the usual, it's epic, varied, and memorable.
With the update that came out a few weeks ago, World of Warcraft has re-configured itself, becoming more accessible than ever to new players. Shadowlands reinforces this idea, introducing a lot of good content for players to experience. We miss bigger new features as in new game mechanics, classes, and races, but considering the work Blizzard had to put into redoing the leveling up experience, it's understandable they choose to play it a bit safe. Shadowlands does not revolutionize World of Warcraft, but it is more than enough to keep the MMORPG among the best of its kind and in a highly relevant state as we prepare to enter 2021.