Shadowlands is the eighth expansion of the massively multiplayer online role-playing(MMORPG) phenomenon World of Warcraft(WOW), and it’s a breath of fresh air on top of the abysmal Battle for Azeroth expansion.
Blizzard has made a ton of changes to the core game systems and mechanics in Shadowlands, and for the most part, those changes feel great. So how did Blizzard suddenly grow wise after years and years of implementing highly unpopular systems such as Titanforging, Azerite Gear, and PvP Scaling?
Did they perhaps learn a thing or two from the surprisingly successful Classic version of World of Warcraft?
World of Warcraft Classic – Proof of original concept
in August of 2019, Blizzard released World of Warcraft Classic, a re-release of the original game as it was back in 2006, to unprecedented success. World of Warcraft Classic broke records on Twitch, more than tripled WOW’s subscription numbers, and has been brought up at every single earning’s call since it’s release as a major reason for WOW’s high concurrent player numbers.
So, was the game just better 15 years ago and that’s that?
No, not exactly. At least not in every way. Classic is a much more social game and it has key roleplaying elements that have been missing in the retail version for a decade. However, it also has blatantly broken systems, very easy content, and in some cases, straight-up braindead gameplay; such as mages and warlock are for the most part only using one ability in raids.
But no matter how you look at it, Classic proved that the core philosophy that World of Warcraft was built on back in 2004 works.
And if they work for a 16-year-old game with outdated graphics and mechanics, why wouldn’t they work for the upcoming expansion?
Allow me to go over the many ways Shadowlands is much more like the original game than retail has been in a long time.
Titanforging Removed – Reintroduction of BIS
How do you make sure your players achieve total apathy towards gearing in an MMORPG? You give all gear from all sources a random chance to become as powerful as the best gear in the game. And if that was not enough make all gear random in what stats they have.
This has been the reality of World of Warcraft gearing since Mists of Pandaria in 2012 and only been getting worse over time with additional randomness each expansion.
Classic’s Deterministic Gearing
Guy is really excited about a 4 strength, 4 stam leather belt.
In WOW Classic a piece of gear is unique. There is no titanforged version, there is no versatility-haste version, there is no randomness involved except for whether or not it will drop. Onslaught Girdle is Onslaught Girdle and you will never be anything but over-the-moon happy when you receive it.
In Battle for Azeroth, you would have to hope the gear dropped, that it rolled the correct stats, that it got at least some sort of item level upgrade, and that it would receive a gem slot. This means that almost all gear you receive is utterly useless and getting gear is almost never exciting.
But after 8 years of horrible gearing in World of Warcraft, random item level upgrades have finally been removed from the game with Shadowlands, and gearing up is finally fun again. You can still criticize the lack of secondary stats and relatively boring gear, but this is a huge step in the right direction.
PvP Scaling Removed – Gear matters again
Video Source: Rextroy, a WOW Youtuber famous for clever use of game mechanics.
If you wanted to make sure a Classic player would never touch retail WOW you would simply have to mention the PvP Scaling system that was introduced into the game in 2018 during the Battle for Azeroth expansion.
To explain it in simple terms it lowered the gap between well-geared players and fresh max level characters running around in green items. As a well-geared player, you might hit your opponent for 10.000 damage but in reality, it would only do 3500 damage. It was introduced to lower the barrier to entry for new players in PvP and to make the game more reliant on player skills than gear.
That might sound okay on paper but in reality, it resulted in apathy towards gearing and progressing your character – arguably the most essential part of any RPG. It was also a highly abusable system that the Youtuber Rextroy showcased numerous times. As an example, it was discovered that if you did not put gems into your gear(which is supposed to make you stronger), your character would be scaled more favorably inside arenas. PvP became one big mishmash of scaling abuse and theorycrafting as to which pieces of gear you wanted to be of a poor item level in order to get stronger.
In other words: PvP scaling was arguably the most anti-RPG game system to ever be introduced into World of Warcraft and even the idea is almost a crime against the genre as a whole.
Luckily Blizzard grew wiser with Shadowlands, and I wonder why.
Classic PvP is not balanced, but it’s is fun
When World of Warcraft Classic came out it was obvious to everyone that it was not exactly balanced. However, after years of playing PvP where your spells don’t matter outside of burst cooldowns and every class has a trillion ways of surviving whatever you throw at them, Classic PvP was a breath of fresh air.
The feeling of receiving a big fat two-handed sword from a raid and bringing that into battlegrounds to absolutely annihilate your opponents is a feeling that no amount of fine-tuned balance and integrate systems can compete with.
And this is a sentiment shared by a lot of people. With top PvP’ers and streamers such as Venruki, Ziqo, Sodapoppin, and more all admitting that they find Classic PvP more fun than what we have had in retail for a while.
World of Warcraft PvP has not been this fun since Cataclysm
With Shadowlands Blizzard finally decided to get completely rid of any and all scaling in PvP combat and allow the gear and progression to matter once again. Combine that with a completely fresh PvP gearing system that is arguably the best version of PvP gearing we have had in a decade and you have the best PvP expansion since World of Warcraft Cataclysm.
Shadowlands PvP is the most fast-paced and bursty WOW PvP has been in years and it’s not just more fun to play, I can also almost guarantee that it will be a lot more entertaining to watch. I have not been able to watch WOW esport for years but I will definitely tune into the arena championship in 2021.
Unpruning – Play the class, not just the specialization
WOW Classic often get teased for having overly simple rotations such as the infamous mage one-button Frostbolt spam. So why is it that I need a lot more keybindings to play well in Classic than in retail with retail having much more engaging rotations?
It’s simple really; In Classic, you are a mage, not a frost or fire mage. This means you still have your fire and arcane spells even as a frost mage. On top of that, there were also a ton of flavorful niche abilities that Blizzard later decided was too ”situational” and just removed them. The problem is that those abilities helped shape the fantasy of the class and to add flavor in niche situations. A druid being able to put beasts to sleep might not be useful very often but when it does it helps you feel like a druid and that your class matters.
In Shadowlands we get the best of both worlds. The classes, for the most part, have interesting and fun rotations that require finesse to get right while still having a lot of flavorful niche and cross-specialization abilities. Such as fire mages still having access to some frost abilities, arms warriors having the ability to equip a shield and mitigate damage for some time, and hunters getting Eye of the Beast back.
Level & number’s squish – Readable numbers
The past many years’ numbers in World of Warcraft have been a bit out of control with levels in the hundreds and damage numbers in the millions. These numbers are hard to read and you don’t have the same comprehension of whether or not the critical strike you just got was good or not. Leveling beyond level 100 also sounds like a lot of work to new players and have likely scared a few potential players off in the past.
With Shadowlands the maximum level went down to 60 again and damage and stat numbers are at a Wrath of the Lich King level. It’s a small thing but it’s a lot more enjoyable and you feel your abilities more when you have easily readable numbers on the screen.
Legendaries – Interconnected Crafting
While legendaries in Shadowlands is still very much a participation trophy it is now obtained through crafting instead of random nonsense like in Legion. Much like in Classic with Thunderfury and Sulfuras, legendaries in Shadowlands require materials from several different crafters to be completed which makes crafting more relevant than it has been in years.
Legendaries will probably never be ”legendary” again in World of Warcraft but this is at least an engaging way of obtaining them that feels a bit more like it used to.
Shadowlands is the best World of Warcraft expansion for Classic enthusiasts in years
If you, like me, have felt detached from the game for many expansions. Like retail WOW was more of a dress-up simulator than an MMORPG then Shadowlands might be worth trying out.
Don’t get me wrong, it still has those silly elements that you hate but the core systems and gameplay are solid and feels a lot more like the World of Warcraft from 2010 than the one from 2019.
Closing remarks – Optimistic for the future
If Blizzard manages to learn from Classic in time for The Burning Crusade Classic, in the same way, they learned from it for Shadowlands then World of Warcraft might have its strongest year ever in 2021.