Last week’s announcement of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands was met with wild cheers and applause by BlizzCon attendees, many of whom suspected the expansion would see official reveal after a myriad of leaks made their rounds on the internet. The time is ripe for the next chapter of Warcraft’s story, as Battle for Azeroth winds down, entering its proverbial epilogue.
A huge sum of information was hurled at players from the BlizzCon stage like confetti from a cannon, and some Warcraft fans who missed BlizzCon entirely are probably curious where they might find all the information they need in one go. That said, Gaming Instincts has put together a list of fifteen things everyone should know about World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, whether current player, former fan, or someone just now looking to get into the game.
Before going through the list, however, it must be said that while Shadowlands has a tentative release date of “on or before December 31, 2020,” and is available for pre-order, development of the expansion is still in progress. Any of these features may be changed by Blizzard before release.
Without wasting any more time, here are fifteen things everyone should know about Shadowlands.
1 – The Shadowlands will consist of six new zones at launch, for leveling and endgame content.
While Legion and Battle for Azeroth introduced players to previously unexplored regions of Azeroth itself, Shadowlands instead takes place in an entirely different plane of existence. In Warcraft lore, the Shadowlands together make up the realm of death, situated on the edge of reality much like the Emerald Dream. When the life of any being in the Warcraft universe comes to an end, their souls cross through the veil between life and death, escorted by Val’kyr into the presence of the Arbiter. The Arbiter is the judge of all souls, and can see what those souls have done, accomplished, or failed at through their lives. She sees all deeds, good or bad, all sins, all flaws and virtues, then judges a soul accordingly, routing them to one of the main realms in the Shadowlands, where they spend their afterlife.
Each soul brings with them a vital source known as Anima, the product of all a person has done in their life. Great souls have more Anima, poor souls less. Anima is the lifeblood of the Shadowlands. It’s the force that makes the trees there grow, the rivers flow, and it is the power drawn upon by the Scourge and others who conduct the magic of death.
When adventurers begin the campaign, they will learn that the machinery of death itself is broken. The souls of all who have died in recent years are pouring directly into the Maw, rather than going before the Arbiter and from there to one of the other main realms in the Shadowlands. Overflowing with the dead and the anima their souls bring with them, the Maw is growing, swelling and churning into a tremendous maelstrom that starves the other areas of the Shadowlands of that precious resource, causing them to wither.
Here’s a quick overview of the main Shadowlands realms, where players will level their characters and experience the expansion’s story campaign.
The realm of Bastion is ruled by the Kyrian covenant, the forebears of the Val’kyr and spirit healers. The souls sent to Bastion by the Arbiter are souls who had some natural calling to service in their life. Upon arrival in Bastion, these souls aren’t quite ready to ascend to their role as a Kyrian, and work toward this goal by attempting to shed their past burdens through meditation, reflection, and understanding of self. When this is done, these souls are ready to ascend to an eternity of service as a Val’kyr, a Spirit Healer, or one of several other paths.
An example of a well-known soul who ended up in Bastion is the paladin Uther the Lightbringer, who players will encounter during their journey.
Despite being part of the realm of the dead, Bastion is a glowing, resplendent zone, full of floating architecture and gold and blue accents. It pretty much looks like a place one might expect a paladin or priest to end up once they’ve shuffled off their mortal coil, with clear azure skies overhead, and a sense of peaceful calm permeating the land.
Ruled by the Necrolord covenant, Maldraxxus is the heart of the Shadowlands’ military might. The souls here defend the Shadowlands from external forces, waging war on the enemies of death. These are the forces that were called upon by the Lich King to create the Scourge. While at first glance, one might assume Maldraxxus is a place where evil souls reign, that isn’t necessarily the case. Though some may use the powers of Maldraxxus for dark deeds, at its core this is a place of relentless spirits—those who spent their lives in an unyielding search for power and strength, both inward and outward.
An example of a well-known soul that ended up in Maldraxxus is the warlord Draka, mother of Thrall. Not an evil soul by any means, Draka was rather a woman who would never bow or kneel to anyone else’s power.
In appearance, Maldraxxus is reminiscent of the Eastern Plaguelands familiar to WoW players, but amplified a thousand-fold. Full of a mist and greenish miasma, the landscape is dotted with rotting fungus and bleak, decaying trees. Players will also see architecture similar to the Scourge ziggurats that dot the Plaguelands on Azeroth.
The Emerald Dream’s dark mirror, Ardenweald is ruled by the Night Fae covenant. As the Emerald Dream represents the burgeoning greenness and life of spring and summer, so Ardenweald represents autumn and winter. It is a place of rest, death, and rebirth, as the journey into death isn’t necessarily a permanent one.
Strong spirits of nature are called into Ardenweald upon their death, and an example of a well-known soul who ended up in Ardenweald is the demigod Cenarius. After falling before Grommash Hellscream, Cenarius’ soul traveled to Ardenweald so that he could rest and recover, then return to Azeroth and serve the wilds once more during the events of the Cataclysm.
Ardenweald is an enchanted mystical forest Blizzard described as a “faerie forest.” Massive, ancient trees cast their canopies wide beneath a shimmering violet night sky, speckled with an infinite amount of silver stars. Despite this beauty, however, some parts of Ardenweald are withering due to their connection to the Drusk, who were introduced in Battle for Azeroth.
Revendreth is ruled by the covenant of the Venthyr, vampiric punishers of the unworthy, and spirits directed to Revendreth upon death all have some sort of deep internal flaw, whether pride, greed, or any number of other things. These flaws present an obstacle that blocks and hinders a soul’s ability to serve the Shadowlands anywhere else, and so to Revendreth they go to atone and do penance. Some may be redeemed, moving on to another of the Shadowlands’ realms, while others will not.
An example of a soul who found his way to Revendreth is none other than the Sun King himself, Kael’thas Sunstrider. One setback led to another, and now he resides among the denizens of Revendreth, where players will get to encounter the prideful blood elf once again.
Revendreth is a creepy, gothic zone full of mist and foreboding castles topped by soaring spires. The realm’s denizens live within villages lying cold in their shadows, and terror and horror lurks around every corner.
Oribos, the Eternal City
Oribos is an ancient city of unknown construction that predates memory and the Titans. This place is the mysterious machine that powers the Shadowlands and serves as the home of the Arbiter. It is also a gathering point for brokers and soul-traders. Oribos is the center of politics within the Shadowlands, and will also serve as the main player hub of the expansion, even though it’s certain Khadgar would have gladly sent all of Dalaran there.
2 – The Maw has one rule – Nothing has ever escaped. Except players, of course.
Aside from the other realms of the Shadowlands outlined earlier, there is one more zone that can’t go without mention. A horrific prison for the most vile souls in existence, the Maw is ruled by no covenant, and is considered a place of mystery even to Shadowlands natives. The Maw is the domain of the Jailer—known only through whispers and seen as the boogeyman of the Shadowlands.
The Maw has one simple rule: Nothing has ever escaped. Journey through the Maw is one way, or at least it was until the player character arrived. Adventurers will begin the story campaign of Shadowlands by entering the realm of death through the Maw, with assistance from powerful NPCs such as Bolvar Fordragon.
3 – An explanation of covenants.
Covenants represent the four powers of the Shadowlands: the angelic Kyrians; the liches, warlords, and spies of the Necrolords; the Night Fae, shepherds of the natural cycle; and the vampiric, light-fearing Venthyr. As the number one feature of the expansion, each covenant will seek the aid of players, for they are powerful heroes who are still tethered to the land of the living despite being in the realm of the dead.
Players must make a choice of which covenant they will join at max level, and each offers its own array of powers and rewards for doing so. All four covenants also have their own unique, full endgame narrative campaign that gamers can play through. Covenants also supply those who join them with unique cosmetic rewards, including a new type of back cosmetic called “covenant cloaks.” Covenant cloaks are a set of cloak replacements and back attachments such as wings, halos, and other options that fit each covenant’s theme. In addition to all this, each covenant will also have armor and mounts with unique appearances for players to collect and show off as they explore the Shadowlands.
Those who disliked the artifact systems in the past two expansions will be pleased to note that there will be no artifact power to grind in the covenant system. The BlizzCon team stated they have heard player feedback, and want fans to have a world with goals they could work toward without necessitating a grind.
4 – Covenants each grant a unique base ability as well as a special class ability.
Each covenant offers players who join them two special covenant abilities: one generic ability given to all who belong to a specific covenant, and a second ability based on player class.
For each covenant, the generic ability granted is one that enhances player movement. The Night Fae have the power to shapeshift into a spirit fox, which increases their movement speed for ten seconds and additionally applies a buff that causes enemies to ignore their presence. The Kyrian’s ability is called “Unburden,” and much like the Spirit Fox ability from the Night Fae, Unburden increases a player’s movement speed for a short time. Necrolords have an interesting ability called “Transcend the Flesh,” which allows them to pull their souls out of their bodies, then walk around in the spirit world while leaving their body behind. Venthyr can create a door of shadows to walk through and exit a short distance away, much like Reaper’s teleport in Overwatch.
Class abilities are new, powerful combat abilities granted by covenants according to player class. The BlizzCon team chose to use mages as the example class to give an idea of what type of power each covenant will grant, such as Radiant Spark: a spell that causes arcane damage and a DoT effect, while causing the next four player attacks against affected targets to deal 25 percent to 100 percent more damage. Necrolords give mages an ability which causes spells to splash rot and ichor and deal area damage, while the Night Fae grant a power that gives players a haste buff and a damage aura. Finally, the Venthyr grant mages a spell called Mirrors of Torment, which summons three mirrors to rotate around a target, causing them to take damage and be rooted to the ground whenever they attempt an action.
5 – Players can bind their souls to powerful denizens of the Shadowlands for more buffs.
In the Shadowlands, any individuals can choose to bind their souls together, engaging in a symbiotic relationship where each gains power from the other. When players join a covenant, they can then form a connection together with one of that covenant’s powerful NPCs, gaining yet another ability or buff. An example given at BlizzCon was a Soulbind buff that increases one’s parry rating.
Adventurers can unlock new tiers of power overtime, customizing their Soulbind with a new type of item called “Conduits.” Conduits essentially provide players with talent trees for their Soulbinds, allowing them to customize these buffs to fit their personal playstyle. Gamers can switch Soulbinds whenever a new strategy is called for, and each NPC capable of Soulbinding has a backstory waiting to be heard.
6 – Players will help rebuild their covenant’s sanctum.
Throughout each covenant’s unique campaign, adventurers will help upgrade their specific covenants Sanctum, restoring them to glory much like Shal’aran and class halls in Legion. Sanctums will serve as covenant quest hubs, and will also contain special NPCs, vendors, and other covenant-specific things. Many players enjoyed the personal connection to the storyline they felt when their actions affected the appearance of Shal’aran in Legion, and covenant sanctums seem an excellent way to let fans feel this connection again in Shadowlands.
7 – Bolvar is not dead, and Sylvanas is in league with the Jailer.
The reveal cinematic for WoW: Shadowlands left the fate of hero Bolvar Fordragon ambiguous, but the Blizzard team revealed that he did indeed survive the Banshee Queen’s assault in Icecrown. Bolvar plays an essential part in the Shadowlands story, assisting the player in their descent to the realm of death.
The impetus for the player’s journey into the Shadowlands is, of course, the destruction of the Lich King’s helmet by Sylvanas Windrunner—an action which tore asunder the veil separating the realms of the living and dead. Long-term Warcraft fans may wonder just how Sylvanas has managed to grow so powerful in such a short time span. Once, she was a powerful and mighty dark ranger who still had to flee before the Lich King lest she lose her undead life. Now she is an unquantifiable entity, capable of smiting Saurfang with ease and standing off against Bolvar while barely breaking into a cold, undead sweat.
The World of Warcraft team explained at BlizzCon that Sylvanas has no master, for she is above that. Beyond that. She is, however, in league with the Jailer at the center of the Maw—his partner and equal. This allegiance to one of the great lords of death is what has enhanced her power to its current level, and her ultimate fate is still to come.
8 – Shadowlands is more alt-friendly than Legion or Battle for Azeroth.
One of the chief complaints WoW fans have voiced throughout the past few expansions is how difficult it is in the game’s current state to create and enjoy playing many alt characters. Artifact power grinds, reputation grinds, pre-requisite quests required to unlock endgame content and more obstacles stand in the way of players’ ability to enjoy more than one character at max level, without necessitating an inordinate amount of time dedicated to the game.
In Shadowlands, however, once a player has one character who has completed the story campaign, their alternate characters will be able to access what was described as a “New Game+ experience,” where one can choose their covenant right away when beginning Shadowlands content, gaining their covenant powers immediately to aid them in leveling. In addition, alternate characters won’t have to follow the campaign’s linear format, and can instead choose what zone they would like to level in. World quests will also be available to alt characters, who will earn endgame progression rewards as they level, putting them ahead of the game.
9 – Return to the Maw at max level and explore Torghast to earn legendaries.
While players begin their adventure in Shadowlands by entering the realm of the dead through the Maw, they will not return to that place until reaching maximum level. When stepping foot back into the Maw, adventurers will find an entirely different type of zone than what has appeared in WoW before: a fearsome place of free-form outdoor gameplay with no inns, nowhere to bind a hearthstone, and not a single NPC willing to sell them water or pink-frosted cupcakes.
The Maw features several new and unique zone mechanics. Nowhere is safe. The creatures, the land itself wants to murder adventurers, who are known as “Maw Walkers,” individuals who can transcend the grip of death. Anything gamers do in the Maw will incur the ire of the Jailer, who will punish them accordingly, changing the way the denizens of the Maw react to player presence. For example, the aggro radius of shadow hounds might increase, and then as one continues to draw the Jailer’s attention, he might send kill squads directly against them. The level of danger increases as players traverse the zone, giving it a dangerous, unpredictable, and inhospitable feel.
At the center of the Maw is Torghast, the strange tower that appeared to float over Icecrown Citadel at the end of the Shadowlands cinematic trailer. The center and anchor of the Maw, Torghast is the home of the jailer and his most dangerous forces, and does not obey the normal contours and rules of reality.
Torghast is a scalable, instanced dungeon meant for 1-5 players. Both player characters and their enemies alike grow in power as they ascend the tower, though players will gain temporary powerful abilities to help them in their climb. The first few floors of any run through Torghast may seem like standard dungeons, but higher up there will be traps, puzzles, and locked doors to impede player progress.
The layout of Torghast constantly changes, inspired by the random dungeon layout of roguelike games and also seen in the randomly generated dungeons of Diablo. Torghast runs are not timed, and players can take their time to hunt for anima, that same magical soul stuff that infuses the Shadowlands with power. Collecting anima will give adventurers buffs that will last throughout each Torghast run, such as increased health or mana, and even abilities that may deal damage or synergize with another ability earned earlier in the run.
Players brave enough to tackle Torghast will find that they can collect runes throughout the dungeon, items which they may then combine together to forge their own legendary items. With Torghast’s legendary system, gamers can choose what slot their legendary goes in, as well as what kind of power and even secondary stat distribution they would like, allowing fans to forge their own fantasy.
10 – Shadowlands introduces a “modern new player experience” so new players aren’t overwhelmed.
With all of the expansions and additions to the story released over the years, new players jumping into World of Warcraft for the first time are met with a confusing array of conflicting timelines and storylines. Among other brain twisters, new players can find four different Warchiefs of the Horde present at the same time in Orgrimaar, with no real idea of which one is the actual, current leader.
To help alleviate this, Shadowlands will introduce a brand new starting zone for all classes known as Exile’s Reach. New players will enter a story in which their faction has learned of an uncharted island and sent an expedition to explore it, but that expedition never returned or reported back. Player characters will join a rescue team and travel to Exile’s Reach, where they will experience a storyline involving an ogre necromancer who seeks to create an army of zombies, including a zombie dragon.
Exile’s Reach ends in a 2 boss mini dungeon that scales to match whatever party a player might have and can be completed solo or with friends as one desires. Once a new player has completed Exile’s Reach, they will be thrust into the storyline at the beginning of Battle for Azeroth, where they will start their leveling experience at level ten. This system is intended to introduce new players to the game while catching them up on the story and alleviating confusion.
11 – Shadowlands also introduces a new, streamlined leveling flow for existing players.
The BlizzCon team identified the major issues with leveling as it currently works in World of Warcraft, specifically citing that leveling takes too long and that not every level is rewarding. Shadowlands attempts to remedy this by changing the leveling experience for existing players as well as new ones.
When Shadowlands goes live, all existing level 120 characters will find themselves reduced to level 50, fitting in with the new level range of 1-60. Characters under level 120 will be scaled down to a matching equivalent. Level pacing has shifted, and players will find that it takes 60-70 percent less time to level from 1 to 50, a breath of fresh air for altoholics everywhere.
In yet another example of Blizzard offering fans more choice, existing players can choose their own leveling experience in Shadowlands. Upon completion of character creation, adventurers can select which starting zone they would like to play in, whether that be the new area of Exile’s Reach, or in one of the existing starting zones that have long been available.
Upon reaching level 10, long-term players will be visited by Chromie, who prompts them to select an expansion containing a storyline they wish to play through. One can level through any expansion storyline they wish, as all zones now will scale to current character level. This allows gamers to enjoy the full story of any given expansion rather than leveling out of it too fast to explore more than one zone.
The creation of this new leveling system was prompted by the lesson Blizzard learned back in Cataclysm, which is that players do not like it when massive changes are made to the existing gameworld and the iconic places they love. The streamlined leveling experience planned for Shadowlands allows Blizzard to keep the story current without having to destroy the entire world and rebuild it.
12 – Class identity returns, along with class defining mechanics and abilities.
For a long time now, characters in WoW seemed more defined by their specific class specialization rather than their base class itself. The BlizzCon team explained this by using the example of a priest in Battle for Azeroth. A player might create a level 1 priest, which is forced into discipline spec by default, and then when they make the switch to shadow specialization at level 10, they lose half their abilities and feel almost like a different class entirely rather than maintaining the base identity of a priest.
To alleviate this and give each class some of its identity back, Shadowlands will see the return of class defining mechanics and abilities. Once again, all paladins will have auras so that when a player looks at their active buffs, they will know a paladin is nearby. All shamans will have a set of base totems. Rogues will all once again poison their weapons. All warlocks will have access to a base set of curses to inflict upon their enemies. Once more all priests can access both the Shadow and the Light, and all new characters will begin their journey unspecialized until reaching level 10.
As if this were not enough, each class will also see the return of their most iconic abilities. Examples of returning skills given at BlizzCon included Frost Shock, Consecration, Death Coil, and Raise Dead. In addition, some iconic abilities that were made talents in recent expansions will once again be baseline for their specialization or class, such as Demonic Circle, Summon Gargoyle, Hunter’s Mark, Hammer of Wrath, Cyclone, Shattering Throw, Kill Shot, Challenging Shout, and Anti-Magic Zone.
13 – Eight dungeons and one raid will be available at launch.
The BlizzCon team revealed that Shadowlands will feature eight dungeons at launch, four available while players are leveling up, and four which are intended for the endgame. Leveling players can delve into the Necrotic Wake, Plaguefall, Tirna Scithe, and the Halls of Atonement. At max level wait the Spires of Ascension, the Theater of Pain, the Sanguine Depths, and the Other Side.
Castle Nathria is a 10-boss raid available at launch, located in Revendreth. Nathria is planned as a winged raid, where players will choose between two initial wings containing three bosses each. Once both of these wings have been cleared, players can ascend to the upper levels of the castle to face the final four bosses.
Details regarding what encounters players might face in these dungeons and within Castle Nathria were scarce, but the WoW team did reveal that one of these dungeons will contain a face familiar to players from Battle for Azeroth: Bwonsamdi, the deal-making Loa of the dead.
14 –Shadowlands introduces more character customization options.
In keeping with the expansion’s spirit of player choice and agency, Shadowlands introduces a bevy of ways fans can customize their characters, giving them much more individuality than possible before. Players will have more options to look and feel how they want, creating the avatar they’ve always wanted.
All races will be given new hairstyles, skin tones, and eye colors. In a long overdue change, a character’s eye color will no longer be tied to the shape of their face, something which WoW players have long desired. Dwarves and trolls were shown with new options for tattoos and body paint, letting gamers finally have that Wildhammer dwarf they’ve been dreaming of. Not to be left out of the fun, Forsaken players can cover up their bony parts or leave them exposed as they desire, whether they want to be a fresh corpse or one that has lain away, rotting and mouldering for years.
15 – Everyone can be a Death Knight.
That’s right. Everyone. All races in World of Warcraft will have the ability to join the ranks of Acherus, a welcome change for those who fancy themselves a Pandaren or Nightborne Death Knight.
From all the information given at BlizzCon, it seems that World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is set to be an expansion that puts a lot of choices back into player hands. It also seems as if the WoW development team has, indeed, been listening to player feedback, taking into account concerns regarding class identity, customization options that should be default in the current gaming era, and the general dislike gamers have for never-ending grinds. This is a welcome change, as many have felt that recent expansions continued to move further and further from what World of Warcraft felt and played like at its inception. While all games must evolve and grow, keeping a core sense of identity is integral to retaining long-term fan interest. With the release of Shadowlands, WoW may just be back on track, returning to the same feel and gameplay that once made it the most popular MMORPG of all time.