World of Warcraft‘s next expansion, Shadowlands, features several new zones in the realm of death itself, but many of its core features look towards cleaning up WoW‘s past. In addition to squishing the level cap from the unwieldy 120 down to the game’s original cap of 60, the entire leveling experience has been overhauled to provide more rewards and a feeling of increased power every level, as well as significantly speeding up leveling through previous expansions in general.
That’s all well and good, but from a storyline perspective, leveling through WoW‘s multiple incarnations, continents and storylines has made less and less sense over the years, twisting the player back and forth through time several times over.
Consider a Nightborne player character: he or she will experience the effects of the Cataclysm, then jump into the Dark Portal to Outland to experience events that took place before the Cataclysm. Then, it’s off to Dalaran (version 2 of 3) to stop the Lich King, Arthas, who was stopped years before Nightborne were even discovered by the Horde. After that, it’s off to discover Pandaria and the ways of the monk for the first time, even though the Nightborne him or herself may be a monk themselves, somehow already taught the ways of the Pandaren before the rest of the world ever discovered them. After a quick pit stop in an alternate universe to clean up the mess caused by Garrosh, it’s to the Broken Isles, to discover the continent the character is from. All the while, the Warchief in Orgrimmar phase shifts from Vol’jin to Garrosh to Sylvanas — sometimes, all three warchiefs are present, even though that can’t be possible.
Got all of that? Me either.
For years, this issue was dismissed as an unavoidable consequence of an episodic story over the course of multiple expansions, but in Shadowlands, Blizzard has found a clever way for all this to make sense from a storyline perspective: Chromie!
We’ve had Chromie and the Bronze Dragonflight altering time for years now, so it makes sense to treat excursions to Outland, Northrend, Pandaria, and every other continent/planet of past expansions as an actual glimpse into the past. New characters will now level from 1-10 in either the typical class starting zones, or a new zone called Exile’s Reach, an uncharted island where new recruits are sent to test their mettle. From there, the possibilities diverge based on whether or not this is your first character. If it is, you will play through the events of the previous expansion, in this case Battle For Azeroth, from 10-50, before moving onto Shadowlands content for 50-60. If you have other max-level characters, however, Chromie will approach you, recognizing you’ve seen this all before, and giving you the chance to re-live the events of an expansion of your choice to level you from 10-50.
It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s much more elegant than the current mishmash timeline players go through now — and it sounds like much less of a slog to boot. Right now, say you go to Pandaria at level 80. You’re likely to be ready to move onto Draenor after finishing Jade Forest and maybe half of one more zone, leaving the Pandaria story unfinished and making even less sense than it did before. Now, choosing one expansion will at least allow you to immerse yourself in that expansion, instead of just cherry picking a random collection of quests across multiple timelines to slog through to the current expansion.
While Shadowlands lacks some of the sizzle we’ve come to expect from expansions — no new class, no new core race, no AP grind (okay, that one’s a huge plus) — it seeks to tighten up the game as a whole, rather than simply focusing on the current patch, a myopic viewpoint that got us into this mess in the first place.