Friday, November 27, 2020

My Life As A Gamer: Shadowlands- Should You Play It?

Question: Is it worth your time and money to play World of Warcraft: Shadowlands?

Short Answer: Not yet.

Longer Answer: If you don't mind Games As Service mechanisms with aggressive timegating and a player community that is very tryhard, you'll be fine. If you're very casual and don't care about the endgame, you're fine. If you're anywhere between these two ends, you're better off doing something else and taking that money with you.

Let me break this down.

World of Warcraft is not the game it was betweeen 2004-2006 (thought that is available; play Classic). It is not a proper RPG. It is not really a proper MMORPG. It is a series of poorly-connected minigames, whose audiences don't crossover much and thus don't tolerate each other much; there are people who care only for PVP or raiding (etc.), hate everything else and resent having anything to do with it- and if those players didn't drive the metagame (and thus developer attention and resources) it would be hilarious in that black humor style seen in warzones.

When I say "minigames", I mean it. Earlier this week I said that what you experience leveling up is not what the endgame is like. That's because leveling is a minigame to itself, just like how PVP is a minigame to itself, raiding is its own thing, and dungeons only vaguely related to anything else. Professions? Definitely its own thing. We do not have a cohesive and coherent whole game here that everyone plays; we have a game as fractured as the dysfunctional culture that created it.

The leveling minigame might as well be a single-player game, as that's how it is designed and experienced now. That experience, from Level 50 when you enter Shadowlands to the cap at Level 60, is a single-player experience that just happens to go on where you see other players doing stuff that you may opt to participate in here and there. This experience took me about 12 hours on my first playthrough, and I expect if I play through it again it will be faster now that I know what not to do.

Yes, this experience is on rails and mandatory your first time through. It is optional on follow-ups with other characters; you have to do the introduction sequence involving leaving Azeroth for the Shadowlands, but once you arrive at the new hub of Oribos your screen goes all Black & White for a moment and a NPC gives you a choice: replay the campaign, or go into a Diablo 3 style of Adventure Mode called "Threads of Fate". (You can opt into ToF at anytime, but it's a one-way trip; ToF auto-completes the campaign and pushes you into an endgame state, replacing leveling with "fill the progress bar" bonus objectives that pay off with massive XP gains and unlocks all dungeons at once.)

Most of the quests you need to do to fully unlock and enable your endgame gameplay loop is likewise entirely a single-player experience. You do not need other people at all for anything that isn't an Elite quest target or a dungeon- depending on your character's Class, Specialization, and gear level. This endgame gameplay loop is where the timegating kicks in good and hard, locking you into daily and weekly loops with hard caps; if this is not your thing, wait until a major patch between six months and a year from now when that gets relaxed or eliminated and you can go as fast as you like.

No, you can't fly in the Shadowlands- not now. When Flight is enabled, you'll see that the zone design is deliberately aimed to waste your time going around obstacles and take the long way around to avoid stupidly-dense hostile mob packs. (Seriously. I would get jumped by one mob, kill it, take two steps, get jumped again, repeat until you're dead or you fled.) No, they don't put Flight Masters right next to the dungeons most of the time. No, the Flight Whistle doesn't work in Shadowlands so you'll have to fight your way out of wherever you went to if you can't teleport out and your Hearthstone is on cooldown. This timewasting is deliberate design. It is a loathesome practice and should be condemned.

In short, the experience goes stale fast. You'll enjoy the first playthrough. Watch the cutscenes, see the sites, etc. but getting things done is bothersome, tedious, and meant to waste your time. This does not stop once you reach endgame; you have a Covenant Campaign to do, and that is very strictly timegated in several ways so you can't go at your pace and get it done as you like.

Meanwhile, the actual gameplay part of the game--the dungeons, the raids, even PVP--is not nearly so gated. Normal and Heroic Dungeons as well as unrated PVP are available now, Normal and Heroic raiding opens next week after reset, and Mythic Raiding as well as rated PVP the week after- by which time Mythic Plus is available to provide stopgaps where the main rewards are not forthcoming.

In short, all this cockblocking is just a way to keep people from doing what they actually want to do because the devs can't be bothered to use proven solutions to the problem of players just wanting to focus on the actual game and not the makework bullshit that the devs think is required.

Verdict: If you don't mind Genshin Impact, play it. Retail WOW is not that far off from such games now.

Bonus: The narrative has Death Cult signs--Blizzard is a California company--but nothing concrete Clown World yet.

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