I recently received an invite to the Shadowlands Beta. Many players were not happy with the last expansion, Battle for Azeroth and many promises have been made for improvement in this next expansion. Below are my opinions on the current Beta build.

Anyone who has read my articles on the last expansion will know that I wasn’t a big fan. However, information on this new expansion has been sounding quite positive. The addition of covenants, with the player being able to choose between them each of which has their own storyline and rewards. However as to where I have reached, having competed the Maw introduction and most of the Bastion area I have yet to be given the decision. From what other Beta players have said it sounds like you don’t get to choose a covenant until you hit level 60 with your first character, after which the choice is then unlocked for any alts when you start the expansion. I’ll admit, this is a bit of a disappointment for me, as I was hoping for a levelling experience closer to that in the Legion expansion, with the separate class halls quests unlocking as you level.

The levelling experience in the new expansion is feeling rather linear, to me. The player starts by completing a ritual to get to the shadowlands and ends up in the Maw. Normally, I view the environment designs as the saving grace of the World of Warcraft expansions. In every single expansion, I can think of at least a couple of areas that really stand out in terms of character, details and even beauty. The Maw, unfortunately, feels, to me, to be the most forgettable environment of recent expansions. It’s dull, desolate and colourless. This is, most likely, a design decision as, according to the lore, it’s not supposed to be a welcoming area. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it just isn’t fun to play through. While it is hard to judge the storyline with many cutscenes still in production, the storyline doesn’t feel particularly immersive. I didn’t feel any connection to the NPC characters I was supposed to be saving. I didn’t feel any excitement through the events. It just felt a near endless walk from pointless activity to pointless activity. Players are not allowed to mount up and have to travel on foot. The section, overall, just feels unnecessarily drawn out.

After you escape the Maw, you are sent to Bastion. Unlike the Maw, this area is pretty and memorable. However, again, the storyline feels lacking. Especially, in the first half of the zone’s main questline. You are, essentially, left following a chore list until the action finally kicks off. When I tested the BfA beta, I gave some allowances for the fact that cutscenes weren’t completed yet hoping the storyline would improve once they were added. However, even after release, the BfA story remained weak. Events in this new expansion carries on directly from those in BfA and a lot of the main characters are also carried over. It just feels, to me, that the storyline for BfA and now Shadowlands is being spread too thinly. Quests that before might have been set as side quests are now slotted into the main questline. This dilutes the action and pacing for the main storyline, to the point that it just doesn’t feel engaging, let alone exciting.

The Shadowlands expansion is still very early in the Beta phase and many improvements will be made before launch. I have heard good things from other beta players regarding later zones, so the story may well improve. Outside of the Shadowlands zones, the character creation screen has been revamped with new customisation options. This is something that players have been requesting for years and finally brings WoW’s character creation in line with other MMORPGs. The level cap has been reduced from 120 to 60 and a new zone has been added for those new to WoW. I took a spin through the new zone which looks great and, in my personal opinion, actually plays better than the Shadowlands intro. It just seems a shame that after this beginner zone, new players will be forced through what many regard as the worse ever WoW expansion, BfA. Existing players will be able to level through any of the previous expansions by talking to Chromie which I haven’t had a chance to check out just yet.

I will be continuing with the beta testing and I’ll be sure to feed back my later experiences in further articles. So, stay tuned if you want know more.