Shadowlands, World of Warcraft's eighth expansion, finally arrived on November 23, and to our surprise... quite smoothly. We had no connection issues, huge queues to get into the game, or players 'stealing' our enemies and mission objectives. Everything went without a hitch, which allowed us to enjoy the expansion right from the get-go.
And how does the expansion begin? Well, if you have been following the recent WoW plot, or if you have at least seen the cinematic trailer (above), then you know that Sylvanas, by breaking the Lich King's helm, opened a huge fissure between the realm of the living and the realm of dead, precisely the Shadowlands. Not happy with just opening a giant hole in the sky, Sylvanas also used her new allies to kidnap some of Azeroth's most important leaders, including Horde's Baine Bloodhoof and Alliance's Anduin Wrynn.
The "champions of Azeroth" (the players) are then called upon to enter the Shadowlands and save the day, along with some of the other lore heavy characters, such as Jaina Proudmoore and Thrall. Entering the Shadowlands as a living being, however, is far from a peaceful process. The player and the rest of the characters end up at The Maw, an area of the Shadowlands destined only to the worst souls in the universe, a terrible place of suffering and pain from which no one can escape. You quickly realized however, that all souls regardless of what they did in life are now going to The Maw, giving more strength and power to WoW's new big baddie, The Jailer (that black hole in his chest is particularly creepy).
After a series of dynamic quests, similar in structure to Legion and Battle for Azeroth's opening hours (we assume it will be possible to skip this after you do it once), we managed to escape The Maw, allowing us to reach Oribos, the Eternal City. Oribos is a place of judgment for souls, where it is determined where each soul will end up, but it also serves as the player's hub, connecting all areas of the Shadowlands. You will also have access to trainers, vendors, and curiosities, if you decide to explore the city. That said, the hub cities in Battle for Azeroth were far more impressive and lively.
The first area you will visit after that is Bastion, a beautiful area with white and light blue tones, filled with floating structures and celestial figures. One might say it's the Shadowlands equivalent of a paradise, for noble spirits. Our goal, however, is to communicate with Bastion's leader, The Archon, but before that we'll need to prove worthy of "ascending", like all other souls. You can explore the Bastion History further by reading some documents and having small chats with other characters, but this is where Shadowlands enters the usual WoW rhythm, asking the player to complete a series of grind quests, such as killing X number of enemies and picking up Y number of objects. Eventually Bastion will be attacked by an enemy faction and... well, we won't reveal any more details, but suffice it to say that this "paradise" has some dubious rules and procedures, of which not everyone is a fan.
The plot seems to be Shadowlands guiding thread, focusing on voiced dialogs, cinematic sequences, and pre-determined game events. It had been like this with the latest expansions, but Shadowlands seems to go even further in it's plot heavy gameplay. We appreciate this focus on narrative, but we know that there are players who prefer something more grindy, where it would be easier to play with friends while ignoring the game world and characters. For those players, Shadowlands might be a little disappointing.
We, however, are enjoying these first hours with Shadowlands. The gameplay experience has been flawless, the story seems to be interesting thanks to a more ambiguous approach than we're used to seeing in WoW, and the game benefits from some amazing artwork and design, some of the best we've seen coming out of Blizzard - and we've seen a lot of spectacular things coming out of that art department. Good impressions then, even if there's still a lot to see, including the other areas, dungeons, PvP, and "End-Game".
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