World of Warcraft isn’t dead, but this expansion spends a lot of time focused on the concept. Shadowlands is the eighth major update for Blizzard Entertainment’s long-running PC game. Since 2004, we’ve have seen the world shattered, fought back the Burning Legion, traveled to alternate realities, and even fought the very soul of a far off planet. Now it’s time to conquer death itself.
No One’s Ever Really Gone
At the end of the last World of Warcraft expansion, Battle for Azeroth, former Horde leader Sylvanas Windrunner finally made her major power play. Following a fight against the Lich King, Sylvanas tore the Helm of Domination off his head and shattered it, tearing a hole in reality. It’s up to you to rescue Azeroth’s greatest heroes after they’re kidnapped and thrown into the rift by demon angels.
You find yourself tossed into the Maw, one facet of World of Warcraft’s afterlife. Think of it as turbo Hell, the place where the worst of the worst are caged forever under the Jailer’s watchful eye. Something is wrong, though. It turns out every soul is now heading into the Maw, good and evil alike. Once you free yourself from the Maw, you’re sent to Oribos, the Undying City. This is Shadowlands’ main hub, the place you return to between sorties into the death realms. From Oribos, the Arbiter judges souls and sends them to their proper places. But the Arbiter is silent now. Shadowlands’ main narrative thrust involves discovering why everything’s gone wrong.
The Colors of the Dead
You’ll journey into four other realms, each with a different aesthetic and way for dealing with the souls of the dead. The Kyrian occupy Bastion, a land of calming, halcyon fields casting in bright blue and yellow. These angelic stewards prepare souls for an eternity of service, forcing them to give up their burdens and memories, and recast themselves anew. Maldraxxus is a rotting region, glowing green with cancerous growths, ruled by the Necrolords. They forge souls into warriors to defend the Shadowlands, through gladiatorial arenas and endless conflict.
In Ardenweald’s sleepy glade, souls are tended to in a massive grove, growing until they can be reborn. The Night Fae are gardeners and hunters that keep their charges safe from harm. Finally, there’s the gothic spires of Revendreth, which is the home of the Venthyr. These vampire-like creatures torture the souls of the craven, angry, and sinful; those who are evil, but not evil enough for the Maw. Through this torture, these souls might be redeemed.
It’s four very different views on death. Untethered from building realistic worlds, developer Blizzard Entertainment gives the regions personality. Blizzard’s art team does an incredible job with all four areas, giving them a strong visual flavor. I fell in love with the Revendreth’s gloomy towers and vampire soirees, while I have friends who strongly prefer the Ardenweald’s forests or Bastion’s sleepy plains.
Unfortunately, the main campaign’s narrative isn’t the best. That’s not to say the writing is bad, but the few hours that you spend in each region are all largely the same. You meet the major faction ruling the area, receive a summary of how that version of the afterlife works, find out someone has betrayed their oaths to work with The Jailer, and fight back against the oath breakers until you move onto the next region. Most of the campaign feels like a lengthy tutorial, rather than an engaging story, and that makes it a slog at times.
Your Soul Is Mine
That’s because they are tutorials. Shadowlands really comes together in its endgame, once you’ve reached the new 60 level cap and overcome each region. At this point, you’re tasked with choosing a Covenant, an allegiance to one of the four ruling factions. It’s a weighty decision, and the main campaign is largely there to give you all the information you need to make this choice. That’s good, because you’re mostly locked into the choice once you make it; there’s no flip-flopping between Covenants depending on your mood or the content you’re tackling.
Once you make your decision, you’re given a faction-specific endgame questline, and the ability to unlock faction armor, mounts, and side missions. You’re also given two very powerful unique abilities: one for your faction, and one for your specific class. As a Kyrian, I gained the ability to summon a steward that brings me a potion that removes all Curse, Disease, Poison, and Bleed effects. As a Paladin, my Divine Toll ability let me hurl five Avenger Shields, one of my most powerful standard abilities, at once. If I went Venthyr, I could teleport, use shadows to deal damage, and heal my allies in my immediate area.
You’ll also unlock unique faction Soulbinds. These are characters that you’ll meet on your journeys who can tie their souls to yours, giving you further character customization. They’re essentially an in-world explanation for various skill trees, which you’ll progress deeper into by completing missions for your chosen Covenant.
Finally, choosing a Covenant gives you access to its Sanctum. This is a home base that you slowly build up over time by completing daily quests and world quests. It’s here where you tweak your Soulbinds and accept further missions. More importantly, you’ll also access unique quests by unlocking new Sanctum sections. Take the Venthyr Ember Court, an area where you throw a huge party to talk up guests and keep everyone happy. You’ll make choices about the guest list, servants, and available entertainment. It’s a weird mini-game, but it adds flavor to each Covenant, giving you satisfaction for making a decision.
The Endless Halls Await
The rest of the endgame content lives in the Maw. First, there’s the Maw itself, a harsh, unforgiving expanse. You can’t mount within the Maw, having to hoof it everywhere until you unlock the Corridor Creeper. There’s also a hefty risk-and-reward system; completing any activity in the Maw or killing enemies increases the Jailer’s ire, which is represented by a Sauron-like eye gazing your way from the user interface.
The idea here is that you’ll push deeper and deeper into the Maw, taking on headier challenges for resources you can use to improve your character. At higher threat levels, The Jailer sends assassins your way, and eventually comes to curb stomp you himself. It sells the feeling of looking over your shoulder and really deciding if you want to engage with an enemy. Still, I’m not a Maw fan. It sometimes feels like you’re being punished for tackling enemies you can’t avoid, and the rewards aren’t as strong as its companion endgame content. The Maw has unique monsters to slay, but I mostly sped through it to unlock Shadowlands’ best feature: Torghast.
Torghast, Tower of the Damned is a roguelike dungeon, the first added to World of Warcraft. Every time you enter Torghast, you get a new, randomized layout to tackle. As you defeat enemies and explore each floor, you’ll also unlock temporary abilities that last as long as you’re in Torghast. Similar to a game like Risk of Rain 2, depending on how your luck shakes out, you can end up with wildly overpowered combinations of abilities, which simply feels fantastic. One run may see you stomping everything in your path, while another may have you being a little more strategic.
Torghast is fun, and feels amazingly replayable this early into Shadowlands’ lifespan. Blizzard has also said that it’ll improve the mode over time with new abilities and new dungeon pieces to slot into the randomizer. Even better, Torghast runs net you resources like Soul Ash, which you can use to craft Legendary items. That’s right, instead of hoping the Random Number God errs in your favor, you can aim at your chosen endgame items. Fantastic.
Can Your PC Run WoW: Shadowlands?
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is available on PC and Mac. WoW has been around since 2004, so its minimum system requirements aren’t too demanding. You PC needs at least an Intel Core i5-3450 or AMD FX 8300 CPU, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 or AMD Radeon RX560 GPU, 4GB of RAM, and 100GB of hard drive space. The recommended specs bump that up to an Intel Core i7-6700K or AMD Ryzen 7 2700X CPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 or Radeon RX Vega 64 GPU, and 8GB of RAM.
My gaming desktop packs AMD Ryzen 5 3600X CPU, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, and 32GB of RAM. With a few tweaks, I ran WoW in 4K at close to 60 frames per second. The game looked fantastic, and suffered no issues whatsoever. WoW doesn’t support ray tracing or DLSS 2.0 tech, but the flip side is that weaker gaming PCs can run the MMO with ease.
Battle for Azeroth, the previous World of Warcraft expansion, stumbled in its endgame after an engaging campaign. This time around, Blizzard Entertainment comes at things from the opposite angle. Shadowlands’ campaign is rote at times, but the endgame is full of new features and meaningful choices. If there’s a major problem, it’s that you’re locked into your Covenant selection, and the powers aren’t balanced.
That said, the endgame foundation is a winner. Hopefully, Blizzard will continue to improve it with new Soulbinds and Torghast dungeons to tackle. Competing MMOs, such as Final Fantasy XIV Online and The Elder Scrolls Online, are fast approaching from behind, but World of Warcraft isn’t dead yet.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands (for PC)
The Bottom Line
While its endgame suffers a few stumbles, Shadowlands prepares you to make one of the more meaningful narrative choices in a WoW expansion. Shadowlands thrives at its level cap, though, with new gameplay elements that combine to make an excellent experience.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands (for PC) Specs
|Product Games Genre||Role-Playing|
|Product Price Type||Direct|
|Product Games ESRB Rating||T for Teen|
|Product Games Platform||PC|