World of Warcraft: Shadowlands

With the release of the Shadowlands expansion for World of Warcraft, Blizzard made a slight tweak in its quest design that emphasizes story quests.

Normally, a quest giver will have a yellow-ish exclamation point over their head. With Shadowlands, however, some quest markers have an exclamation point with a background behind them, like so:

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands

The indicator is a simple quality-of-life change for the expansion, but it’s also important to note that in order to traverse through the four covenants (and their zones) of the Shadowlands, you need to complete these story quests.

Working through a zone’s storyline isn’t new; it’s something that’s been around since Vanilla World of Warcraft 16 years ago. Over time, however, the importance of narrative has grown. Having played eye-bleeding amounts of Classic since last August, it was jarring to return to Vanilla and level through Battle for Azeroth zones. Sure, there’s been a more cinematic experience in terms of questing dating back to Wrath of the Lich King and its famous Wrathgate cinematic, and Warlords of Draenor‘s opening scenario contained important nuggets of storytelling, but Battle for Azeroth seemed to take it one step further.

(Side note: I didn’t play during Legion. and my limited time questing through Legion seemed to have its story quests in line with what I experienced in Warlords).

With Battle for Azeroth, storyline changed from something that happens while you also are tasked to kill 10 boars and loot 12 of their hearts (even though only 17.431% of boars will drop a heart) to a more focal point of your experience. The expansion’s future events were foreshadowed as you quested; it made sense that the Champions of Azeroth would later encounter Azshara and N’Zoth because the not-so-subtle seeds had already been planted during the level-up experience.

All this said, it was possible to hop from zone to zone without ever finishing the storylines.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands

That has completely changed with Shadowlands. Now you’re locked to a zone until its story comes to completion. Design-wise, this fits perfectly with one of the major themes of the expansion: choosing to ally yourself with a Covenant and gaining a key ability to use during the entirety of of the expansion.

Now, it seems a bit silly to be “forced” to complete a Covenant’s story, but it’s, you know, probably a good idea to make sure you’re all about said Covenant before joining it, especially since I’ve come across a lot of people joining them for roleplaying/lore reasons. Sure, abilities are nice, but do you really want to align with some sketchy people? Then again, as a wise man once said: “Greatness, at any cost.”

As for the storylines themselves, they serve as origin stories of sorts. Because of this, each of the narratives has an ending that’s open-ended — though some more than others. This will undoubtedly leave people divided: feeling like you have to complete four times the content to get the “full story” sounds kind of tedious.

Thankfully, the time-gated Renown caps make it easy to catch up. You’ll very easily hit your weekly cap by simply playing the game, so you won’t feel pressure to spend every waking moment playing the game in order to see everything that’s out there.

In this early stage, Shadowland‘s story has the feel of a delicious appetizer: something small and tasty enough to get us excited for the rest of the courses. We’re given just enough to be satisfied, but we’re definitely wanting more. Here’s to hoping that Blizzard can continue to deliver as we progress further into the Shadowlands.

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