World of Warcraft‘s Shadowlands expansion may have been delayed until sometime later this year, but the expansion’s pre-patch is already live. While you won’t be able to explore Shadowlands‘ new zones, dungeons, bosses, gear, and other upcoming content as part of this patch, many of Shadowlands‘ core upcoming changes (including changes to the MMO’s leveling structure and classes) are already in the game.
It’s around this time that many people start wondering whether or not this is a good time to return to World of Warcraft or even start playing it for the first time. After all, there’s theoretically no better time to jump into an ongoing game than around the release of a new expansion when even veteran players are navigating new content.
At least that’s the question I found myself asking. As someone who never really played World of Warcraft until I spent hundreds of hours with World of Warcraft: Classic, the idea of jumping into the “Retail” version of the game was as appealing as it was daunting. After all, is it really possible to feel at home in a game that’s been growing and changing for the last 16 years?
To help answer that question, here’s a brief look at some of the key points new players need to know before they consider starting their World of Warcraft adventure with Shadowlands.
Shadowland’s New Starting Zone is Welcome but Underwhelming
Shadowlands introduces a new starting area called Exile’s Reach that is mandatory for new players (which, in this case, means you don’t have a World of Warcraft character at or above level 10 on your account) and optional for veteran players. It’s basically a glorified tutorial area that you’ll stay in until around the time your character reaches level 10.
While it’s nice that World of Warcraft now has a proper tutorial area that offers a (nearly) universal leveling experience for new players, the results leave something to be desired. This area will teach you the bare basics (accepting quests, attacking enemies, managing equipment, etc), but unless you’re entirely in the dark about how World of Warcraft and MMOs work, you may find yourself mindlessly jumping from quest to quest waiting for the real game to start.
Exile’s Reach is a better alternative to the old system (which dropped players into unevenly designed starting areas based on their chosen race) but it may still leave you with unanswered questions regarding the more meaningful basic mechanics of the game and how to really take advantage of the playstyle of your chosen class.
Leveling By Expansion Is an Acceptable Solution to A Bigger World of Warcraft Problem
What happens if you’re past the mandatory requirements for Shadowlands‘ new starting zone? Well, you’ll always have the option of starting a new character at Exile’s Reach, but veteran players are also able to essentially “jump” to any previous WoW expansion and level their characters to 50 by following that expansion’s storyline.
It’s a cute idea, but the execution is a bit of a mixed bag. You’ll never really be able to truly recreate the process of leveling through each of these expansions (unless Blizzard releases “Classic” versions of each of them), so this option seemingly just exists to offer a little variety to veteran players leveling their character alts as well as a way for new players to experience the basic lore of old content.
So far as that goes, this mechanic really works best as a novelty implemented for variety’s sake. Not only would it take quite a while for new players to go through every previous expansion just to experience the lore, but the truncated versions of those leveling processes means that you’re still probably better off reading/listening to an explainer if you want an overview of what’s happening. This change doesn’t really address the problem of new players feeling like they’ve missed out on 16 years worth of content updates and storylines. Besides, those looking to level an alt character will likely stick to the newer expansions which offer much quicker leveling experiences.
Shadowland’s Level Squish Makes Leveling Much More Enjoyable
While it’s easy to assume that Shadowlands offers less leveling content now that the level cap has been reduced from 120 to 50 (soon to be 60 with the full release of Shadowlands), the opposite quickly proves to be true.
This new system ensures that reaching new levels in Shadowlands feels more meaningful. There are still some levels in the game that don’t reward you with anything more exciting than a passive ability or a skill that you’ll almost never use, this new leveling system at least sustains the illusion of role-playing progress.
That being said, it’s entirely possible that new players will feel a little overwhelmed by the number of new skills they acquire throughout the course of this revamped leveling process. After all, Blizzard revived a lot of the skills and talents from the previous World of Warcraft expansions and incorporated them into the streamlined leveling process, so you actually end up with quite a few mechanics to manage. The good news is that “problem” is addressed somewhat by the next point we should discuss…
Reaching The Level Cap Really is Faster Than Ever
For the purposes of discussion, let’s say that first time players will go from 1-50 in the Shadowlands pre-patch in about 24 in-game hours. That number is going to vary wildly from player to player, but somewhere around that mark seems to be the average.
Honestly, that’s not bad when you consider that the average journey from 1-60 in WoW Classic typically sets you back closer to 100 hours. More importantly, the game’s relatively quick leveling time makes it clearer than ever before that modern WoW is really all about the end-game. That means that new players shouldn’t necessarily fret over whether or not they feel like they’ve mastered their character by the time they reach the max level. The reduced leveling time also means that it’s easier than ever to level multiple characters to 50 (and eventually 60), which is great for those who want to explore different classes and find what works for them.
It’s entirely understandable if you miss the slower journey of the old leveling process and the adventures you have en route to the level cap, but so far as accomodating new players go, the much-improved leveling speed is a welcome addition.
Solo Play is Easy but Limits the “Massively Multiplayer” Aspects of Shadowlands
Aside from the new starting zone, one of the most noteworthy accommodations the Shadowlands pre-patch makes for new players is a “Newcomer Chat” system in which new players can talk amongst themselves and even ask approved veteran guides for help.
It’s a neat idea that works well enough if you just want a basic answer to a simple question, but generally speaking, the community aspects of WoW’s early game still feel weak. You can fairly easily solo your way to the level cap, which means that you probably won’t find yourself really needing to work with other players until you get into raiding and other, deeper forms of end-game content.
I wish I could tell you what the perfect solution to this problem is, but at the moment, World of Warcraft suffers from the fact that not all max level players are made equally. Some have been playing the game for 16 years and others just started. The idea is to find a group of players that match (or accommodate) your experience, but because the game doesn’t really encourage social play until the end game, learning to find and work with other players feels more complicated than it did in the early days of WoW Classic when social play was spread more evenly throughout. Hopefully, the early days of Shadowlands‘ full release will encourage people to group up and solve early challenges together.
Overall, it’s clear that Blizzard crafted Shadowlands with the new player experience in mind. You won’t have a hard time jumping into the game at this point, but whether or not you decide to stick with it is really going to come down to the strength of Shadowlands‘ proper debut and how much you enjoy the World of Warcraft experience once you’ve hit that level cap.