A New Chapter Begins

I meant to write this post a few days ago but, well, I was too busy playing the game. I’ve been having a blast playing Shadowlands so far and while it isn’t the perfect expansion and I have some gripes, I already love many things about it.

The Launch

The launch was relatively smooth in that I can’t really remember a better one save for the Legion launch – and even then lots of players on the EU servers did not have a smooth launch. For me, the transition to Shadowlands was pretty painless, except for the fact that the world server was down and players couldn’t teleport from Boralus to Stormwind (or from anywhere else) to start the beginning quest for about 30 minutes. Even so I was among the lucky ones as I had been logged into the game about 2 hours prior to the release, Guildies who were attempting to log in right at launch were having the familiar “character list not found” problem.

Some players were able to log in after an hour, while some continued to have login issues days after launch. It wasn’t pretty, but I’m almost positive I can recall worse launches (I’m looking at you WoD). One of the reasons this launch had minimal issues is due to Blizzard’s use of sharding, a relatively new instancing technology that allows them to break up realms into smaller groups of players to lessen the load. This was very apparent during the introductory quest in the Maw, where I only noticed a few other players in the zone with me at a time. A couple days after the launch, they relaxed the use of sharding which has helped make the world feel real again.

The leveling and zones

I planned on writing separate posts that analyzed each zone and the story found therein, but I was surprised to find how quickly I reached level 60. I may have rushed a little, since I need to be ready to raid in a week, but leveling is just really fast this time around. A nice touch is that the main story quests are highlighted both on the map and over the questgiver’s head, but that leads to some interesting results. Several people in my Guild reported running out of main story quests around level 57 and needed to level up before continuing the story. I’m not sure if this is a result of plainly marking the story quests so that’s all most people will go for, or if the leveling experience is unbalanced. Something about it felt awkward, but I still enjoyed each zone.

Bastion is a beautiful depiction of Blizzard’s version of the ideal heaven, with rolling golden fields and inhabited by actual angels – the Ascended Kyrian. My favorite thing about Bastion is its nod to Greek mythology and how each Kyrian NPC has an ancient Greece-inspired name. The adorable Stewards are a very close second; delightful owl servants who work as helpers to the Kyrian – every single one of them is just the best. The story was focused on the trials and sacrifices new souls must overcome when sent to Bastion, as well as the doubt rapidly spreading among the aspirants. It was a great story but even so my least favorite of all the zones, but did a great job of introducing players to this new world.

Maldraxxus had the most memorable opening quest for me, as I was thrown into the Theater of Pain arena and fought my way to victory. I felt like a gladiator fighting for my freedom, it was just awesome. While the landscape is barren and kind of gross, the Maldraxxi are a vibrant and kooky bunch. The story here is centered around the different Houses, and their fall into civil war. The quests ended with learning some very interesting information about the Jailer and his origins, definitely a good setup for plotlines in the future.

Champion of the Arena!

Next I was sent to Ardenweald, the wondrous moonlit forest of my dreams. I love everything about this place – the lovely trees and glimmering waters, the mischievous fairies, the music. The whole place seems to be inspired by a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and also Ori and the Blind Forest somewhat. The quests involving the Drust are fascinating and the last questline with Ysera made me cry. Ardenweald is my favorite Shadowlands zones and perhaps one of my all-time favorites, and I couldn’t be happier by choosing it for Aurashot’s covenant.

Lastly was Revendreth, yet another fantastic zone. Revendreth and the sinful Venthyr differ from Ardenweald in pretty much every way, yet I loved exploring this zone as well. The vampiric architecture, music, and personalities of the NPCs remind me of Castlevania and Dracula – another fun theme. The dredgers with their accents are among my favorite new things, and I actually had a hard time picking between Revendreth and Ardenweald for my covenant. The story went into detail on the process Venthyr use to punish the worst souls, serving as a last chance before spending eternity in the Maw. Revendreth is also home to the expansion’s first raid, and thus had one of the stronger campaign stories. I look forward to returning to Revendreth for world quests and exploring, and I can’t wait until one of my alts joins this covenant.

the Covenants

I had high hopes for this major Shadowlands feature and so far I am not disappointed. Ardenweald feels like my home, and it gives a similar sense of belonging as the Legion Order Halls. While this is still week 1 and many things such as renown levels and covenant story quests are being time-gated, I enjoy what I’ve played so far.

My induction to the Night Fae covenant was THE BEST
Torghast and the maw

I’m enjoying the Maw and how it truly feels like a dangerous place. You do your dailies, get in and get out. The story unfolding with Ve’nari is intriguing and I look forward to finding out why she’s been in the Maw and how she has eluded the Jailer for so long. The place is huge, even more so because we can’t use mounts, and only half the zone is explorable right now.

Torghast has also been super fun, even if I don’t fully understand its purpose yet. I mean, I get that we need to clear floors in order to collect Soul Ash to give to the Runecarver to use to craft our legendary armor with. Other than that, it just seems like a blast killing bad buys and seeing how far you can make it. I hope they add more incentives to it – like mounts, pets, and possibly gear to collect. For now, I’m enjoying the unfolding story of the Runecarver.

The Upper Reaches level is so cool

Besides everything else, I’m excited to raid Castle Nathria. I’ve only done a couple normal dungeons so far, but I like what I see, and I’m very eager to get back into the routine of raiding.

Battle for Azeroth Retrospective

Tomorrow Shadowlands will be here, and I’ll be on my way to uncover a new story in a world unlike anything on Azeroth. There will be new stories, favorite characters, and the new endgame to discover. Today, however, I’m taking the time to reflect on everything I’ve experienced in the past two years. I’m a nostalgic person and, as always, I look forward to these kinds of posts.

Story

BfA made several advancements and improvements in storytelling that I loved; including the use of more cinematics in the middle of quests, and cut scenes that show your character being directly involved in the story. There was more focus on narrative and story that was improved on in Legion, which had excellent storytelling as well. The first thing that comes to mind as an example of this is the storyline with Jaina on the Alliance.

We are introduced to Kul Tiras for the first time through Jaina; feeling her shame and embarrassment after attempting to return to her homeland and heal old wounds. It doesn’t quite go as she planned – her own mother, Lord Admiral of Kul Tiras at the time, sentences her to prison. Though Jaina isn’t present for our questing experience, we see Kul Tiras for what it had become in the aftermath of the Second War. Broken, and its ruling houses in shambles.

Only through our deeds in Kul Tiras and eventually freeing Jaina does everyone begin to heal. We see the conclusion to Jaina’s story arc when she ultimately overcomes the demons haunting her, and reconciles with her mother who names her the next Lord Admiral. Blizzard did a great job with that, and the overall theme and feel of Kul Tiras. Even today I can sit idle in Boralus for hours and listen to the amazing music or take in the buildings and scenery.

-War Campaign

The war campaign was the major quest chain that spanned most of the expansion. It served to be the backbone of the power struggle between the Horde and Alliance – a narrative that would eventually shift into Old God territory as the true plot of the expansion revealed itself.

Even though the war campaign was no substitute for the awesome Suramar story in Legion, it served its purpose. Its job was to fill in the gaps leading up to the first raid Battle of Dazar’alor, and showing the battles and telling the stories of characters who participated in the Fourth War. It was shorter, but it peppered in content that prodded the players to explore Zandalar and uncover secrets and treasures in the hopes that the war would turn in our favor.

While plundering Dazar’alor’s vault with Shaw and Flynn, Aurashot was going through her Goth phase
-Questing

Questing was awesome during BfA, and was an improvement to the already-awesome questing of Legion. Questing through Kul Tiras on Alliance and Zandalar on Horde was a smooth experience, and was very fun. Drustvar was fantastic and just knocked it out of the park, while Tirigarde Sound had many memorable moments and was almost as good. My favorite questlines include the Norwington Estate, stowing away on a pirate ship with Flynn, and pretty much all of Drustvar.

I didn’t enjoy Stormsong Valley to the same extent, and still think that there was some wasted potential there. During the last chapter of the Tirigarde story we meet Brandon Stormsong, son to Lord Stormsong, who has been charged with overseeing Anglepoint Wharf. The Wharf has fallen victim to a group of corrupted Tidesages led by Lord Stormsong himself, but after we help Brandon escape and defeat the threat we never see Brandon again. The story was building him up to be an important character in our journeys though Stormsong Valley, and I was sad we never got to continue that story. I already have posts on Tirigarde, Drustvar, and Stormsong Valley, so I won’t continue to ramble on here.

My experience questing through the Horde continent of Zandalar was just as good. All three zones were amazing and the first zone I chose, Zuldazar, did a great job introducing me to the story. My favorites were Vol’dun and Nazmir. In Vol’dun I teamed up with the Vulpera to fight against the Vulpera across a beautiful desert backdrop, and in Nazmir I braved Old God horrors in order to meet powerful Loa to aid us. I also have posts on Zuldazar and Nazmir, but I somehow missed Vol’dun (I had a great time there though).

My favorite Loa
Leveling & Zones

The pace of leveling in BfA was great, and as always Blizzard continues to improve this process in every expansion they release. I continued to enjoy leveling on my alts and didn’t find it to be an experience that dragged on. I don’t have much to say about leveling, but I thought it would be important to note that it continued Legion’s trend of great leveling experiences.

Kul Tiras and Zandalar were designed beautifully, and I always found something new to explore every time I revisited them with alts. Both capital cities are just astounding and massive areas on their own, not to mention the lands they are nestled in. The first time I went to Zandalar as part of the Alliance war campaign quests, flying mounts weren’t added in BfA zones yet. I remember wandering through the jungles and getting lost, just like what would happen in real life. It’s a world all on its own and, especially as a fresh level 120 with low level gear, dangerous. Just like in Legion, all of BfA’s locations are places you want to spend time in, whether it be doing world quests or gathering herbs. As I write this I feel sad that after tomorrow I won’t visit them as often anymore. Not because I’m bored of them, I’ll just be distracted by the new areas Shadowlands has for us.

-Mechagon & Nazjatar

These two zones were introduced in patch 8.2, and served as a place for max level characters to quest and continue the expansion’s story. Nazjatar was a direct tie in to the upcoming raid, The Eternal Palace, where players finally confronted Queen Azshara. Nazjatar was an important zone because during this patch, the expansion took a notable departure from the Horde vs. Alliance theme and further highlighted the underlying Old God threat that was introduced in patch 8.1 with Crucible of Storms. Besides that, Nazjatar is a beautiful zone with lots of secrets. It was, after all, where Azshara made the deal with N’Zoth after her empire was lost under the sea. As someone who loves Night Elf lore, it was a dream to finally see Nazjatar in the game. The music that plays as I approached a section of the ruins of Zin-Azshari was emotional and told the story of an ancient tragedy.

While the zone looks amazing, it feels kind of empty at the same time. After completing the new war campaign chapters there, I didn’t find much reason to stay. Nazjatar was built up in my mind so much that when I finally saw it, part of it felt disappointing. I wanted more story; more Night Elf stuff, whatever that may be. If you’ve read part one of Aurashot’s history you’ll know that returning to her former home would have been hard for her. I wanted something more, and I realize part of that is my personal feelings towards it, something Blizzard couldn’t have given me.

On the other hand, Mechagon blew me away. I wasn’t expecting much from it, and didn’t fully understand what it was about until I went there. I love the goofy personalities of the Mecha Gnomes and their unique voice lines. The quests were great and the junkyard crafting feature was a lot of fun. I enjoy content that involves rare bosses and awesome loot, and that’s what Mechagon turned out to be – a small island filled with lots of different things to do. I’ve spent way more time in Mechagon than in Nazjatar, and found myself flying back to the island whenever I was bored but still wanted to play WoW.

Warfronts

My experience with Warfronts is mixed, and part of that comes from some confusion on what a Warfront was supposed to be. When they were announced, they were described to be a strategy game kind of like Warcraft 3. Players would command troops and send workers off to gather resources, and upgrade buildings. Those things still happened, except you had to join a group and the players themselves fought against the enemy and gathered the resources. It ended up being cool, but it was different from how it was initially pitched to us at BlizzCon. In particular, I found the Stromgarde Warfront to be boring.

When the second Warfront, Darkshore, came out it was greatly improved from the first one. The fact that the Darkshore Warfront took place in Kalimdor and was focused on the Night Elves’ struggle against the Horde might also have something to do with it.

Island Expeditions

Sadly, I didn’t really start running expeditions until the end of BfA. Island Expeditions didn’t seem very interesting in the early days of the expansion, but I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that Blizzard was working to improve them. I tried expeditions again with my guild and had a blast with them; little scenarios where you kill as much stuff as you can and take their loot. What’s more is each island had its own little story playing out, and even then a single island has a set of random scenarios that play out. The primary reason for doing expeditions is to get Azerite to level up the Heart of Azeroth, which in turn unlocks more traits on Azerite Armor. The other reason is to collect mounts and pets, and I’m all over that. I only wish that I spent more time doing expeditions, but I hope Blizzard will introduce a way to continue farming them after the Shadowlands launch.

Dungeons & Raids

BfA was a special expansion for me because I joined a raiding guild, which is something I haven’t really done before in this 16 year-old game. I got to experience raids and dungeons in a way I haven’t in the past, and what a great expansion it was for raiding. My favorite raid of this expansion was Battle of Dazar’alor, and we spent many hours running it and perfecting the boss fights. To me it has the most memorable boss fights, ending with an epic fight against Jaina Proudmoore herself. Set in Dazar’alor, capital of the Zandalari, it was golden and brilliant. I had so much fun editing the videos for this raid.

The other raids were all great, even if I did want a little more from the Eternal Palace. I wanted more lore-inspired boss fights, and even the fight against Azshara herself felt lacking. The raids were all wonderfully designed and had fun fights. Because of my experience in BfA, raiding Castle Nathria in Shadowlands next month is one of my most anticipated activities.

The dungeons this time around were no less amazing. From Kul Tiras, my favorite is Waycrest Manor; and Atal’Dazar over on Zuldazar. Waycrest Manor is one of those dungeons that I’ll continue to run just for the fun of it. I love that the whole dungeon takes place in a gigantic haunted mansion that reminds me of playing Luigi’s Mansion. It sums up the theme of Drustvar perfectly. Atal’Dazar is sunny and gold, and I love it for the same reasons I enjoy Battle for Dazar’alor. I’m looking forward to what the designers create in Shadowlands.

visions of n’zoth

Visions, introduced in patch 8.3, gave players re-playable scenarios that scaled depending on the amount of players participating in it. Running a Vision can be done solo, but is usually much more fun in small groups. I had some issues with Visions that caused me to stop running them after a while, but I love the direction Blizzard is going with content like this.

I really like the idea of being able to run content that is dungeon-like, yet have the choice of going solo or in a group of up to four other layers. What I don’t like, however, are things that are timed. The major mechanic in Visions was basically time, and how long players could withstand the corruption levels before they had to evacuate. I was also pleased when I discovered one of the major mechanics in Shadowlands is Torghast, which is re-playable content that can be done solo or in a group but without the time element.

Systems

BfA’s systems mostly branched from the theme of collecting Azerite. At the beginning of the expansion, players were given a quest that rewarded us with the Heart of Azeroth. The Heart would increase in power every time we gathered Azerite from quests, rare bosses, dungeons/raids, or island expeditions. We needed to level up the Heart in order to unlock Azerite traits on our Azerite armor, special armor for our helm, shoulder, and chest slots. Azerite traits increased the power of the gear, and boosted players’ stats and gave additional passive abilities. As the expansion progressed, more systems that worked with Azerite was introduced.

-Azerite Traits

Azerite traits were in the game from the beginning, and aren’t complicated or difficult to understand. Every time you get your Heart to a certain level, that will unlock a trait on a given piece of armor. The item level of the armor and how you acquire it determines how many traits the armor will have. Armor that drops in a raid will require a higher Heart of Azeroth to unlock the traits, but the traits will also be more desirable. Each “tier” of traits has three different choices so that there is a degree of customization – even though most players pick the trait that benefits their class and specialization the most. Traits were simple to use, but found that I always picked similar traits. It wasn’t particularly exciting, but it was a good system for enhancing gear.

-Azerite Essences

Essences came later, and could be added to the Heart like sockets rings and armor. Essences were found through raiding, quests, and PvP. You could set both a Major and Minor essence. Major ones often had a spell that could be added to a rotation, whereas Minor essences had passive effects. My personal favorite is the Concentrated Azerite Beam, which fires a beam of Azerite energy in a cone and does tons of damage. Plus it looks cool and it’s fun to use. I got used to having essences and I’ll miss them in Shadowlands.

-Mission Table

Missions played a smaller part in BfA than in Legion, and had less features. This time around, Blizzard made the mission table almost unnecessary besides running missions for a chance at Azerite or other small rewards. I actually enjoyed missions during Legion, where we leveled up our followers and gave them better gear and items that gave them various abilities. Missions have always had a mini-game feel to them, and lots of people don’t like that. I like having that idle content and having missions running in the background while I’m questing or doing other things in game. Missions definitely shouldn’t be a main focus, but I like them for what they’re supposed to be. I’ve heard good things about their replacement in Shadowlands, and can’t wait to learn them.

-Corruption

Corrupted armor was introduced in the last major patch to BfA, and added a risk vs. reward element to the gear system. Corruption worked independently from the Azerite system. Any gear you got from quests or the Nya’lotha raid in patch 8.3 had a chance to be corrupted with Void energy, and granted players increased power. At the time time, building up corruption had consequences. Reaching certain levels of corruption had adverse effects for your character. What starts as a small annoyance builds into multiple enemies spawning and killing you. I was pretty good about balancing my amount of corruption. but many people would take all the corrupted armor they could in order to get all the benefits.

Conclusion

Battle for Azeroth was a great expansion, for many reasons. One of the most subjective being that I joined a raiding guild, and had tons of awesome experiences I’ve never had before. I enjoyed the dungeons, questing, and the story of Jaina overcoming her tragic past. The zone design on both Kul Tiras and Zandalar is amazing, and it was always fun to revisit them whether it be for herbing or leveling new alts. The continuation of the story of Azeroth the dormant Titan World Soul and the threat of the Old Gods was nice, although the Old Gods part did seem sort of rushed. There are things that I didn’t like so much, but that’s normal with every expansion. I look back at the last two years of WoW and remember the great times I had playing the game, which is the true test of a good expansion to me.

Looking to the (very near) future, I hope Shadowlands is just as entertaining as BfA if not more so. I can’t wait to pick up raiding again and choose my first covenant – Aurashot will be going to Ardenweald, but I haven’t locked in choices on my alts. Even though I’m eager to start a new journey, I’ll try to slow myself down today and appreciate all of the awesomeness already in the game.

Shadowlands Pre-patch Week 2

Zombies and Scourge Invasions are back! This week’s events conclude and wrap up the transition into the new expansion, coming in just a few days. This week’s content is a throwback to the WotLK’s Scourge Invasions and although Blizzard has apparently rehashed this event before, this is the first time I remember participating in it since WotLK.

The invasions this week are just pure fun, and its great seeing so many people working together to either spread the invasion or fight against the zombies. The Horde invaded Stormwind and even Goldshire, which was almost entirely populated by zombies when I was there.

The Stormwind portal room is a popular haunt

There really wasn’t too much new this week besides the invasions and a few new quests in Icecrown, which investigated the mysterious Valkyr-like creatures that descended from the sky. It’s been good fun, especially with the turn out of players enjoying the new content alongside me. I have some idea of the things that are coming since I got a beta invite a while back, and I’m psyched for them to be in the live game soon.

“Hello fellow cultist!”

Since PvP is automatically enabled in capital cities during the event, I’ve been reminded of why I stopped queueing for battlegrounds. It’s fun at first, but quickly raises my blood pressure. I much prefer to experience PvP in small doses, like what the Scourge Invasions are providing. Although, having seen the PvP sets for season 1 in Shadowlands, perhaps my opinion can be swayed, and I can learn to like it again…

With most of my characters geared up for Shadowlands, I’m slowing down on farming gear from the rare bosses spawning in Icecrown. I’ll enjoy these last few days of BfA being the endgame, and continue to prepare for the beginning of something new.

Shadowlands Pre-patch Week 1

Shadowlands is finally on the horizon and as such Blizzard has released the real pre-patch event which leads us into the story of Shadowlands. This time the pre-patch only spans two weeks instead of BfA’s three week event, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I wrote about BfA’s pre-patch I commented that there really wasn’t enough content to warrant three weeks, and I still agree with that statement. BfA’s pre-patch had some great stuff in it, but I think it would have been received better if the quests and story wasn’t stretched as thin as it was. Shadowlands seems to be a short and sweet event, with a gear catch-up system that involves killing Scourge in Icecrown – a location from a fan-favorite expansion.

I started the event by accepting a quest from Genn Greymane to kill Nathanos Blightcaller, who was sighted at his home in the Eastern Plaguelands. He was apparently waiting for all of us adventurers to stop by and take his loot, a challenge I happily took.

Nathanos is there somewhere, under all the magic effects

After a pretty cool cinematic involving Tyrande and Nathanos’ neck, I left for Icecrown to help with the Scourge that are quickly getting out of control. On the way there I couldn’t help but wonder what Nathanos’ plan was – he’s no doubt on his way into the Shadowlands, but why didn’t he just tag along with Sylvanas to begin with? Questions that will most likely be answered in just a couple weeks.

The rest of the content for this week involved a funny quest where you help a Gnomish engineer (it’s always a Gnome) test out his mind control device on a Ghoul, dailies that reward currency which can be turned in for gear, and timed spawning throwback WotLK bosses throughout Icecrown.

The new customization options for Night Elves are insane!

Even though there hasn’t been a ton to do during the event yet, I’ve been having fun with what we have. I had so much fun flying around Icecrown to get to the next world boss, and hanging out with TONS of other players while we wait for them to spawn. There is palpable excitement and energy in the game leading up to a new expansion launch, and I’m happy to be a part of it every time. I expect that things will get even crazier next week when the Scourge invasions unlock, and players will be able to turn into zombies via crates of infected grain in capital cities. I remember taking part in the zombie mob back in WotLK, and I look forward to the hilarity it’ll cause this time around.

Waiting…

Keeping the other things I mentioned in mind, possibly my most favorite update from the pre-patch is the addition of map pins! This is a feature that is common in many other games, especially those with large maps or lots of places to explore. It’s a welcome and overdue addition to WoW, and I love that players can link their map pins in General chats. For instance, when asking where the next world boss will spawn in Icecrown, people will just link their map pin which creates one on your own map. It’s a small feature, but it makes a huge difference.

I look forward to Tuesday and the chaos that the weekly reset will bring, if only for a short time. When it was announced that Shadowlands was going to be delayed, in the back of my mind I knew there was a possibility that it wouldn’t release this year. I would have been fine with that if that’s what it took to polish the game enough for release, but I’m also pretty impatient and pretty happy that we’re at the 10-day mark. I’ve played some of the beta, and while I avoided most of the spoilers I could, what I saw looked pretty good. I couldn’t help myself from trying out Torghast, and I’m glad I did. It’s a blast and I expect it’ll be even better in the live game.

Soon!