It’s been just over a week since the release of the latest World of Warcraft expansions, Shadowlands. I’ve played off and on since the release of Vanilla back in 2004 and had decided to skip this expansion. I haven’t played seriously since Cataclysm, BFA was a disappointment, but I was interested in playing again. A rather weak pre-patch event and talk of the covenant abilities pushed me away again. The second day after the release, I was in Discord with a few friends who were playing and my impulsiveness drove me to purchase the game so that I could hopefully enjoy one more adventure in Azeroth with my friends. So just like the rest of 2020, my decision to start playing was a roller coaster ride by itself.
Fast forward a week and I actually don’t regret my choice. I think that for players who have skipped some of the more recent expansions, Shadowlands is a good choice for a return. The leveling process has been revamped, so catching up to the new content is not an arduous process now. More than that though, Blizzard has continuously tried to create a game that appeals to a wide array of players, and so far Shadowlands hits that note pretty well. It’s the first expansion in a while where I don’t feel pressured or rushed to do everything as soon as possible. Maybe that’s the game, maybe it’s just personal growth, who knows.
So, let’s get down to business. For any of you who don’t know, while trying to avoid spoilers, the Shadowlands is pretty much the afterlife for the universe. So far, the player will see five pieces of what is, in theory, a vast and infinite number of afterlife realms. Four of them have pretty distinct themes, each presided over by a powerful being. The fifth one is The Maw, ruled by a banished being of Titan-like powers called The Jailer. The Maw is pretty much where the worst souls go who have been deemed beyond redemption. It’s dark, gloomy, filled with ghostly mists and jagged cliffs crowned by dark fortresses. It’s actually a cool zone and the inability to mount while inside of it just lends to that atmosphere of survival and hardship. You can’t just mount up and ride through everything with reckless abandon.
The other four realms, the Covenants, are extremely well-made and designed to appeal to different people. Bastion is a typical heavenly paradise, bright, green, full of holy custodians of souls, it’s a paladin’s dream. Despite the fact that it’s a beautiful zone, my warlock was not impressed. Maldraxxus was a little more to my liking, a land of perpetual war and struggle with an undead vibe, plenty of desolate plains, plague filled pools, and forests of giant mushrooms often overlaid by a green fog. The landscape didn’t appeal to me so much, but the storyline was a ton of fun. The realm of Ardenweald generally seems to represent the forest the Night Elves wish they had. Saving the faeries and the trees is not my cup of tea, and personally, I felt the questing there was the most repetitive and least engaging. However, the moment I flew through the portal I was instantly hit by the amazingly crafted enchanted forest vibe. If an enchanted forest is your thing, Ardenweald nails it.
By the time I made it to Revendreth, the fourth and final covenant on our journey, I had pretty much resigned myself to picking Bastion. The Covenant ability is perfect for my affliction warlock, the first soul bind is simply the best for PvE situations. Now, someone more PvP focused may feel differently, but for a PvE affliction warlock, Bastion gives you everything you want when it comes to a power spike. No one mains a warlock because they want to serve “The Light” though. From a logical standpoint, Bastion was going to be my new home, and that actually disappointed me. At the time, I was really impressed by the Maldraxxus story, I just couldn’t talk myself into accepting the covenant ability.
Revendreth changed everything.
From the spooky forest that reminds me of the woods from Beauty and the Beast to the soaring gothic-style castles, and even the wasteland of a place called The Ember, I was in love. It brought me back to the first time I went through the Dark Portal into Outlands. Aesthetically, Revendreth seems to combine so many of my favorite things. The work on the castles complete with towers and walls and gates, the bridges spanning misty ravines, everything was just so cool. I worked with giant gargoyles and insane vampire-like creatures called the Venthyr. I found myself caught in a poignant political struggle, in the midst of a rebellion and walking through a blood mirror that teleports me places. Did you say teleporting mirror? Yes, I did. I found myself justifying talent changes, arguing back and forth with myself about DPS loss, and trying to convince myself that Bastion wasn’t that bad . . . I mean, if nothing else, there is a set of cool dark wings you can get as a transmog right? Then I looked up the wings on Wowhead just to make sure.
Screw that, I’m going to go be a vampire. So that’s what I did. Now, if you’re interested in the min-max for Mythic raiding then your choice has probably already been made for you. For me, it felt like the first step towards playing the game just to have fun. I picked the Venthyr simply because I thought they were the coolest faction in the game, and their storyline was thoroughly enjoyable. Not only that, it actually feels like I’m helping to rebuild my Covenant, and that my decision was impactful. It’s not like the old Scryer vs Aldor decision back in Burning Crusade that had no real meaning. Picking your Covenant is actually a pretty big decision, and I don’t regret mine for an instant.
Unfortunately, I know that tuning Covenants will probably be a nightmare through the whole expansion. Probably my only complaint is that for many classes choosing the Covenant that you like the most won’t be considered the “right” Covenant to much of the community. In a cutthroat world of Mythics where a talent in the wrong place or a wrong covenant ability might cost you an invite, it’s a hard choice to make. If you’re willing to put those things aside, it’s a wonderful expansion so far, and I think that everyone can find at least one Covenant that they really relate to and enjoy. I haven’t spent much time in Torghast, and I’ve only done one dungeon, but most of the people I know seem to have really enjoyed that side of the content so far. As for me, between work and a really relaxed approach, I spent most of the week just questing.
Only time will tell if the Shadowlands is a strong expansion or not, but the journey through each Covenant was truly an amazing one.