It’s no secret that World of Warcraft has had a tough few years. Shadowlands initially showed a lot of promise: Torghast looked intriguing and fun, new areas were colorful and fresh, and Azeroth’s afterlife offered plenty of opportunities to meet old heroes and villains.
But the shine of Shadowlands faded quickly, perhaps more so than any previous expansion. This puts a lot of attention on Blizzard as it prepares to officially announce WoW’s next expansion on April 19th. And now, more than ever, Blizzard really needs to learn from past mistakes and fix some of the biggest issues that have plagued Shadowlands.
Besides the inevitable direction of Sylvanas Windrunner Story Arc, there was the toll of the pandemic, and the Activision Blizzard lawsuit couldn’t have come at a worse time either. But there are other significant factors that spoiled the latest expansion, and those are largely in the hands of the current developers.
the Commitment system was a major sticking point from the time it was added at the launch of Shadowlands in 2020. It gave you the choice to join one of four factions once you hit level 60, granting you abilities specific to your class. Conduits were another way to customize your class and spec within your chosen Covenant. Sounds good, except it was nearly impossible to change your mind without falling behind.
Covenants have been supplemented with Legendary gear, again giving each player multiple choices with the passive effects offered. But the currency needed to craft them was initially locked behind Torghast, which was simple to clear for some classes but an absolutely miserable experience for others.
Then the Sanctum of Domination raid introduced Shards of Domination in patch 9.1, as a weird alternative to set items. In fact, getting the Socketed Domination gear gave players headaches like this might potentially conflicting with the armor slot where you equipped your legendary gear. Second, the shard drops you needed for your class were far too RNG-based, leading to many players feeling less powerful than their luckier peers.
All of these systems sounded exciting on paper, and I can understand the hope was to give players meaningful choice over how they play their character. But as has always been the case, and not just in WoW, players will always pick what are considered the best talents and gear by copying the best players, whether they’re doing LFR, Mythic Difficulty Raids, or the occasional timer. Mythic+. dungeon.
So even with the best intentions of giving us agency over how we want to play, it stopped being a choice – for most players, at least – as soon as someone figured out the meta. Making it difficult to switch between these systems to be optimal for different content, or if there’s a shift in balance in your class, just doesn’t respect player time.
Luckily, most of the problematic power systems have been fixed in recent patches, but the change seemed to come way too late. They’re still present in the game, but you can now freely switch between Covenants and Conduits without penalty, refund currency from unwanted Legendaries, and Domination Shards are no longer relevant in 9.2.
Even so, most of the friction in Shadowlands could have been avoided even before the expansion launched, when players began to question the restrictions around choosing covenants in the beta and PTR.
However, not all was bad in Shadowlands. The Great Vault is an evolution inspired by Battle for Azeroth’s weekly chests, offering up to nine gear choices if you complete the required activities each week. And the raids were also great, with some interesting bosses and mechanics, even though they were carefully tuned.
the permanent return of the mages tower was another highlight, and the Eternity’s End update finally saw the return of level sets, which we’ve been wanting for a long time. Granted, the current loot trading rules have made it harder to get the full four pieces initially, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
So I’m cautiously optimistic about the announcement of the upcoming expansion. And if the leaks are true, even better. We need a rest from our time in the afterlife, and it would be good to keep our feet firmly planted on Azeroth for a while. The lore-rich Legion expansion was the perfect answer to Warlords of Draenor’s unpopular alternate history, so ultimately visiting the Dragon Islands in 10.0 could work much the same. I just hope the team addresses the issues that have arisen in Shadowlands and makes our next adventure the best yet, as World of Warcraft may not fully recover from another big misstep.
If anything, the next expansion doesn’t have to try so hard to break the mold. At its core, World of Warcraft is already a great game – it’s fast approaching its 18th anniversary and there’s a reason it’s stood the test of time when so many other MMOs have come and gone. Things may not always go well, but when they do, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than Azeroth.