Fooled by Shadowlands

Although it would be fair to say, I was almost certainly a willing participant in the deception. I’ve been here for WoW expansions before. Every single one of them, in fact. So I know how the concepts show up in reality. I know the scope to expect from a new expansion. I should have known the ideas I had built up for what Shadowlands would be were unreasonable.

I started reflecting on this after reading Kaylriene’s post on The Maw’s Design, and the differences in expectation, design intent and the reality of the execution. It made me think on where my expectations for the expansion lay based on what I’d read, before getting my hands on it.

My interested in Shadowlands came fairly late in the piece. Even as late as November — despite having already purchased the expansion and agreed to rejoin our guild’s raid team — I was having doubts about rejoining the WoW fold. So I hadn’t joined the beta. I hadn’t watched the streams or YouTube videos of anyone else who had, either. All I was running on was the trailer and the odd design / news article I’d read.

What I believed Shadowlands would be…

With all the gaps I had in my knowledge of Shadowlands, my brain started filling in gaps. For instance: How could we die in Shadowlands? We will have already made the journey to the great beyond so surely the whole mechanic of death would have to be rethought while we were there. Right? I mean… Breaking the barriers between the realm of life and death sounds like something that should change the world forever. Or at least until we fix it.

Well, no.

Not since we journey there physically, as our corporeal selves. No big deal. Everyone as you were.

OK, fine. But the Shadowlands is purported to be the realm of death for all peoples and planets of the universe. There sure is going to be a lot of these then. I still retained enough sanity to realise we wouldn’t be getting fully fleshed zones for an infinite number of areas, but hoo boy! So much we might hear about, so many places we might one day go!

Combined with the thought of how death might change, the concept of an untold number of realms of death, and a broken barrier between them and Azeroth my mind ran wild with the possibilities into the future, both in terms of patch content and additional expansions exploring this space.

True- there is still scope for perhaps some of this to happen and perhaps I’ll yet be surprised but suffice to say, the reality of what we received at launch and the treatment of it all has disabused me of the notion that anything I once thought is a likely outcome.

The space I thought I saw for Blizzard to innovate with Shadowlands ended up running instead down the well trodden path of everything we’re used to. So I fully expect everything in Shadowlands to be thrown out the window with whatever the next expansion ultimately ends up being.

As for the Maw and Torghast…

These are probably my greatest disappointments as they carried the greatest gulf between what I thought we were getting and what we did get.

I thought with the Maw we would be getting challenge mode content in the form of an entire zone. Content that would get more difficult the longer we spent there in a single visit; presumably with increasing rewards the longer you managed to stay there. A sort of Dark Soulsian risk / reward view of how it might operate.

I thought at the earliest levels it would be challenging but solo content, scaling ultimately into groups possibly culminating in that thing games do where what was once a boss becomes considered as a normal mob in some insane scaling. Full on world raid group stuff if you managed to stay there long enough!

That was cool and all, but Torghast was gonna be where it was at!

I happen to quite like rogue-lites. Like, a lot!

And from what I’d been reading it seemed like Blizzard understood the appeal of the genre. And from the plentitude of good examples that had been recently released, they had plenty of good templates to follow.

It’s easy: Make a system where completion isn’t expected on the first attempts but you are rewarded with ‘things’ that unlock ‘other things’ that help with subsequent runs. Add a dash of randomisation with the runs themselves, and walah!

*sigh*

If you’ve played yourself, you know this isn’t remotely close to the mark on what was delivered. If you haven’t- well; if you’ve read this far, you know it too.

In place of challenge in The Maw we received annoyance.

In place of a fun rogue-lite with progressive rewards we received… well; also annoyance. And a mandatory grind.

Not to say I haven’t had fun…

Because I did! For a time, I was the most into WoW that I’ve been in a long, long time.

But… I think once and for all, my hope in any true innovation ever coming to WoW is dead. I’m not even sure why I put any belief in Shadowlands being any different. Like I said earlier- I know what the previous expansions have entailed. I know that any system added for an expansion that sounds good on paper is ruined in execution and blown away for the expansion following anyway.

From this side of things I can see how illogical it was.

Still… When expectation meets reality in this way, it’s not exactly a pleasant experience.

I think I’m close to done with WoW again for a while. Let’s hope I can keep expectations in check for next time around. ;)

Naithin

Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

9 Responses

  1. Asmiroth says:

    On my golden sofa, it’s really impressive how much quality content has been thrown out with every new expansion, and then replaced with more and more time-gated/random-number generic bits. I’ve made enough comments on the Maw which reflect your point on expectations and delivery. The largest shame however is Torghast. All the way back in MoP with proving grounds and scenarios, Blizz has made attempts at smaller content packages that can be repeated. Legion hit such a high water mark (zombies + class quests + mage tower), it’s really impressive how far that has swung with expeditions and Torghast. Worse when you look at all the better industry options with rogue-lites… and Hades makes Torghast look like a lead paint chip eating second cousin.

    Shadowlands largest benefit is the removal of -forging. Less reliance on the RNG aspect, but more time gating. As much as I dislike time gating / energy mechanic, it’s so much better than 8 levels of RNG.

    • Naithin says:

      Torghast I think was really the final nail in the coffin of my old perception of what Blizzard was. That being, a company who could take an existing idea and refine the ever living crap out of it. Sure, some would argue in some cases the simplification knife would cut a little far but there was never ever denying the end result was a slick product.

      Perhaps it’s unfair to draw such a conclusion from what is essentially a mini-game within another game. I do recognise that on some level but even so, it does nothing to dissuade me from the overall view that this talent appears to have vanished.

      I’m still of mixed minds on the removal of forging — I get the argument you put forward to it, but I think my perspective was always one of receiving a nice bonus when it happened rather than one of ‘needing’ the absolute best in all respects. If the answer to the question: “Can I comfortably execute my role in my team with the gear I have?” was ‘Yes’, then I was happy.

      Although to be fair, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I was far more invested in WoW and MMOs more generally where the best possible was a serious driving force, so I can at least understand the alternate point of view of the additional RNG being more painful than anything else.

      • Asmiroth says:

        Forging is a complex issue. I’ll try to simplify it into 2 buckets – players and design. The carrot effect on players, as you mention, is a sort of neat bonus and gives you some reason to run content after you have the baseline items (aside from helping others gear up). If the content is balanced around base level items, then you’re good. More than enough examples where that was not the case…but still the point is valid.

        Design though, this is where it gets messy. Forging causes an ilvl increase, which for the content in which it drops, increases the available stat pool. Let’s say base is 100, forging is 130. For that given content level, things aren’t too bad. For the next content launched, it’s not balanced against people having 100 on the first boss, its balanced against some 130, so that a) the content has challenge, and b) people with ‘forged’ gear actually can see an upgrade path. This sucks for players, as the ilvl hill is much steeper, but worse for the design team as they keep needing to perform an ilvl squish (which always has issues).

        It’s a rant here, certainly, but yet another example of a good idea and poor execution. Hence why I think it was a solid idea to just scrap it altogether.

  2. Bmyers says:

    I went into the expansion knowing I would not enjoy the subject matter due to a great deal of personal loss. It has become so tedious and grindy, repeating the same general sets of quests for your covenant over and over. I log in once a week, maybe do a world boss if I’m in the mood to have to fight my way through packs of elite mobs for the big ole 250 anima.

    Woo. Exciting

    My wife’s been on once in 5 weeks. We got her 40 renown, then went back and did legion dungeons and raids on mythic. She walked away from raiding. The mythic dungeons design just sucks the life out of you, I would need to do a +10 to even start to possibly replace one piece of gear. It’s kind of sad that they have one basic game design build, just slap on a new story, and let the art department carry the day. I’m not really a fan of that either in the use of the ultra bright neon colors. And the vampire zone? I’ve got dead spots in a couple areas where my screen goes black and I need to turn the camera to make sure I don’t ride off a bridge. I don’t even bother reporting because I know it will never get fixed.

    The game is a long way from the passion that Wrath was made with.

    • Naithin says:

      You’ve nailed the absolute essence of the issue I have with WoW with: “It’s kind of sad that they have one basic game design build, just slap on a new story, and let the art department carry the day.”

      The core of the game is unchanging whereas my preferences certainly have. I just struggle to stay engaged with it for an extended period.

      The fact that Torghast or even the Maw this time around, expeditions last time, etc, even get announced and then without fail executed on so poorly is just salt on the wound.

      Going back to your initial thoughts; I could see how having a history of loss would make this expansion more difficult to connect with too. And it isn’t even the case that the subject matter is handled with any degree of grace or care.

      I recognise here I’m being very tough on a game I still got a couple of hundred hours out of in the not too distant past — a significant number for me — but still…

      I need something more if WoW is going to maintain a place in the list of games I’m excited about.

      • Bmyers says:

        I lost both my parents to cancer years ago, this past year I lost my mother in law, and father in law 5 days apart. I lost an aunt to Covid later in the year. It has really not been a great year. And to have an expansion dealing with death?? Yeah, definitely was not something I was looking forward to.

        When you look back to Warlords and Apexis crystals, it almost seems like that is where there was a change, but thinking on it we had Timeless Isle in Pandaria where we ground out charms. Maybe the issue has been there all along, it’s just compounded by them doubling down on more systems that require you to gather some form of currency. Anima just feels so unrewarding when you have to fight your way in to do a quest, fight to do the quest, and fight to get back out, for what, 45 anima?

        The maw? Do away with the annoying features penalizing you for completing trivial tasks. I stayed once working on things until the bar was full. That was painful and I finally hearthed out because I got tired of running back to my corpse to collect the stygia I dropped. I get that for many it’s fun and challenging and they have lots to work on. I’m to old and tired from getting up at 5am to be in work with an hour commute to get home at 5pm, and then log in to the full time job that WoW has become.

        • Naithin says:

          Apexis Crystals were in the original version of The Burning Crusade too, although sure, they were an even more optional pursuit back then with the Ogri’la dailies rewarding (if I remember rightly) possibly a few epics once upgraded again, that were still beaten by the raid content of the day.

          On the rest… I hear you. With the subject matter, and the work-feeling the game has taken on for you, definitely a time to reconsider.

          I think I might be soon to be done with WoW again… I know better now than to say forever for sure, but it’s a possibility. Again. Heh.

  3. Telwyn says:

    “It’s kind of sad that they have one basic game design build, just slap on a new story, and let the art department carry the day.”
    A very succinct summary of all that is wrong with WoW. The devs are so hell-bent on recycling the same tired systems every expansion (mission tables! world quest dailies! grind the same stuff at incrementally higher difficulties). Torghast could have been ok, but the rewards aren’t there.

    It’s a crying shame that such an overwhelming popular game has such a poor content cadence. Again and again we get new or rehashed systems, but where is the content to back that all up?

    • Naithin says:

      Recycling without improvement of the content is really a big problem for me. Torghast as is, I could possibly stand it as an MVP, or proof of concept.

      Perhaps they are risk averse to investing heavily into it before seeing the demand.

      But the absolute certainty that it will never be anything substantially more than it is now? sigh That’s the killer for me.

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