Literally right as I finished my hype train post that went up…yesterday, now, I mentioned I hadn’t gotten into the Shadowlands Beta but that invites seemingly hadn’t gone out. Well, as soon as I hit Publish in the godawful new WP.com editor, what do I see on my Battle.net Launcher but the option for Shadowlands Beta!
So I updated the post, installed it, played an hour of Super Bunny Man with my fiancee, and then dove in.
When starting, I had a bunch of template choices for pre-rolled characters, and after goofing around with the new character creation settings and UI (it’s really REALLY good, guys), I dove in and made two Demon Hunters – one with Intro Experience as the template, starting at 50, and one with covenant choice, starting at 60. I haven’t yet actually played the level 60, and while I presented this as a conscious choice I made, it was actually done because my level 50 crashed in the first quest and I logged out to give some room, only for the 60 to crash at login. Beta is…not particularly stable!
But, once I got going, I took my level 50 character through the entire starting experience, escaping the Maw, and then through the whole Bastion leveling experience minus a few optional quests right up to the point where you can run the first dungeon. I hit level 53 and a half, showing me that the pacing of levels so far is not going to be the limiter, but rather, story progression.
Here are my highlights:
Bastion and Oribos (but ESPECIALLY Bastion) are Beautiful: Sure, I saw it at Blizzcon last year, and I’ve been loosely following datamining coverage, but once you see it in person on your own PC (particularly a high-end one like mine) and it looks absolutely incredible. Bar none, it is the zone I have gawked at the most in WoW ever already. I took over 100 screenshots in beta already and about 80 are just gorgeous spots in Bastion. While I am not a fan of the leather Kyrian covenant set, the zone look may very well make me take it anyways – it’s that good!
Storytelling is On-Point in Bastion: Can’t speak to other zones yet, but Bastion has a nicely woven story that ties in a lot of different elements of the plot of the expansion along with revealing the interesting nature of how things work for the Kyrian. There is a loose thread or two at the end of the zone, but overall, it works out fairly nicely and you get a real sense of how things are breaking down in the Shadowlands.
Questing Structure is Tighter than Before with Better Delineation of Optional Quests: Bastion has a central quest structure and plot that requires you do the main story quests (now called “Campaign” in the game’s tracker UI), but does so in a nice enough way. The required quests are tightly bound to your main path through the zone, and as you complete those quests, optional quests will pop up in the bounds of your line of sight. You might find out about a ritual offering at a shrine, and suddenly an NPC will pop to attention and want you to gather some materials for one. It feels more interconnected and real, in a sense – as you integrate into Kyrian society and norms, they begin to introduce more of them to you and involve you in more. The natural setup of how things work in Shadowlands as is – being ferried to your destiny by decision of the Arbiter – means that the game doesn’t have to do as much legwork to make sense of why you’re being welcomed into the zone. We’ll have to see how that carries over into the remaining 3 story zones, however.
Item and Level Squish Feel Pretty Okay: With a few exceptions I’ll note further down in the post, level and item squish feels pretty alright already. My Eye Beam ticks at level 50 in item level 75 (current item level 340 equivalent) were just north of 200 damage a tick. Everything feels far more readable, simpler, and straightforward.
The Kyrian DH Covenant Ability is Pretty Good: While the core concept hasn’t changed from that first demo at Blizzcon 2019, having a reliable AoE soul fragment generator serves a good purpose for both specs in different ways and with some changes I’ll discuss below, having that available for Havoc was needed more than I would have said back at Blizzcon, when I thought it was kind of meh. I like it a lot more in the current state of balance!
So with that, let’s talk negatives:
Item Squish Creates a Pretty Big Power Gap for Current 120s: If you hit 120 on an alt around BfA launch, geared them to 350ish, and then benched them – or if you benched the whole game and are coming back for Shadowlands, the experience is not really currently tuned for that player. It works…okay enough, I suppose, but under current scaling, there is a gap of like 40 item levels between a BfA fresh 120 from patch 8.0 or 8.1, and a grizzled 8.3 veteran who’s been playing content in BfA. The tuning of Bastion content felt okay enough – and got better as the zone boosted my item level with quest rewards – but the early part was rough.
The Maw Experience is Awful: For the intro experience, you do some quests in the Maw after having entered the Shadowlands via Icecrown Citadel (no other spoilers). Let me be perfectly frank here – it blows. The mobs are overtuned for the premade characters, the enemy templates are cool enough but also very on the nose fantasy afterlife dead stuff (lots of skull motifs), and the quests just aren’t that engaging. It does little to pull you into the fantasy of the Maw and so much more to create a sense of relief once it is over. It doesn’t even have any fun little bits you can do like the doodling with gunpowder you got in the Tanaan Jungle starting experience in WoD. I sincerely hope you can skip it on alts, because it offers nothing but tedium and frustration. Oh, and until the very end, nothing drops loot either, not even vendor trash, just nothing. There’s one other point I’m saving for a third section where I am going to vent more…
Havoc Demon Hunter Feels…Wonky?: I’ve been maining a DH for 4 years now, primarily Vengeance, but I’ve spent a good amount of that time outside of raids as Havoc. The spec doesn’t feel bad, I guess I would say, but it does feel weird in beta. It got some (sadly, I have to admit, needed) nerfing, but it kind of feels off. I can’t quite put my finger on it – I think it right now remains a combination of gear values on the premade template 50 being bad, low Haste, and a lack of bonus damage sources like Azerite traits, Essences, or good trinkets, and me just not being familiar with all the changes they’ve made over Alpha into Beta from a hands-on perspective.
Oribos Is Cool, but Sort of Bland: Oribos is a cool concept for a zone, and I enjoy the idea a lot. In execution, however, it has far too many featureless circles with a lack of distinguishing markers. It isn’t particularly fun to navigate, and while the circle layout is a sure winner with bored players who used to do laps in Dalaran, it also doesn’t have the character that the flying mage city does. There are interesting things happening in it and it visually appeals, but it desperately needs some landmarks visible from each entry and exit point to navigate by.
Leaving Oribos Chains You To A Fake Flight Path: When you leave Oribos for one of the zones of the Shadowlands via the supplied portals, the game pops you on the Collector’s Edition mount (nice exclusivity there, Blizzard) and shoots you down a featureless tunnel with a trail of anima light guiding the way. At first, my inner techie screamed “this is how they’re hiding loading screens, each zone is a standalone continent!” but then portals back to Oribos, when available, are instant. If you take a flight path out of a zone and into Oribos, you get the same trip in reverse and on the zone-specified mount of the flight path you took. So I’m not sure why the portals aren’t just, well, portals. In the case of coming back from Maldraxxus to Oribos via portal, there wasn’t even a loading screen – I literally just popped right in, which is why I doubt my theory of “hidden loading screen.” Either way, it was cool for about 12 seconds, and then felt kind of dull and unimaginative.
Lastly, I need to end this post with a rant. So, here’s the bullshit I encountered in beta:
The Maw Absolutely Fucking Sucks and I Hate It: You, indeed, cannot mount in the Maw at all, whatsoever. Your first hour of the expansion is running around on foot in a dull gray hellscape, with too many mobs patrolling around, being told to do busywork you expect from boring cookie-cutter WoW quests, but “ooh, it’s scary, no one has ever left here.” Well, I’m sure it isn’t from a lack of trying, because the zone is terrible. It fucking sucks to play in, running around on foot is never actually fun and never heightens the feeling of danger, instead just making it incredibly tedious and annoying. Mobs are overtuned as hell – like, listen, I’m not a WoW pro, I’m just a normal > Heroic raider who thinks he has a grasp on the fundamentals of the game from 15 years playing and having leveled and played every class at cap in multiple expansions, and I fucking died like 8 times in the Maw. There’s a bullshit boss 3 quests deep who has an uninterruptable chain debuff that eats through your health like a fat kid through his Halloween candy and he racked up 3 kills on me alone. My winning attempt was a kamikaze, where I used the quest mechanics to finish him off after I died, because fuck if I was doing that a fourth time.
Also, worth stating, did you know WoW can have dangerous ground? No, not lava, not falling from high heights, GROUND SPIKES. There is a section where ground spikes suddenly appear and take a not-insignificant amount of your health if you stand on them. I can hear you now, “well, don’t stand on them!” Yeah, no shit Sherlock, but the game funnels you down to the next quest so effectively, and adds these so late in the zone, that you are just thinking of your wife and kids and how much you love them and how much you wish this nightmare would end, and then the game pokes your character in the feet, and it surprised me so much I thought it was a mob attack (because I had an 8 mob paintrain riding my ass), because all the mobs caught me because I can’t mount and I ran the tightest line I could through them to avoid aggro because I was already fucking sick of the Maw and I got to 5% health before they evade bugged and left me be, so I sat on the spike bridge in a safe spot eating food wondering if I should just cancel my sub now or if I should at least try the zone at 60 to see how I feel.
I’m only being slightly hyperbolic here for effect. I absolutely loathe the Maw starting experience, and if it reflects what awaits at 60, I might pass on the expansion if that is a significant chunk of what I can expect to have available to do. My worst fears about the zone manifested before my eyes and I actually did get really contemplative about if this was going to be something I wanted to support and play. I did my beta tester level best and provided bug reports, confusion reports, feedback left and right as I played, because if the whole point of beta is testing the design vision in full implementation, I am going to have to scream very loudly that the Maw, is, as the kids say, “not it, chief.”
I’m glad I got through it to see Bastion on the other side, but I wonder how much of that was a reflexive sort of appreciation based on how much the first hour of the experience drained out of me.
Anyways, if the Maldraxxus starting quest isn’t broken tomorrow, I’ll probably play it and return with more feedback!