Finally, I have something nice to say about this upcoming expansion. Ravendreth is, in my opinion, far and away the best zone of the expansion. It looks great with its gothic, graveyard style and has bags of atmosphere. Beyond all that, it also has a solid main questline with a good storyline. It doesn’t even feel as repetitive, in terms of the types of quests available, as the previous zones.
Unfortunately, an issue with the EXP distribution in the Beta version meant I was unable to experience the end of the zone’s campaign. I completed the pre 60 questline at late level 57 and the final quest is greyed out until level 60 which is unfortunate, as it’s the only zone I felt compelled to see through to the very end. The EXP issue has been fed back to the development team by quite a few Beta players and I’m fairly confident that it will be fixed before launch. Suffice to say that with only a handful of side quests left and with dungeons not contributing much EXP, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to grind the final two levels to complete the zone’s final quest.
So, does this zone save the expansion for me? Well, not really. The levelling progression in the expansion is entirely linear and there is no scaling before hitting level 60. It means that anyone with alts will be rerunning the exact same experience as their previous character. I don’t think Blizzard realises the breakthrough that scaling zones was back in WoD. It might not hit many peoples’ favourite expansion list, but it introduced an element of choice in the levelling path. You would unlock the next zone while only halfway through the current zone and could then choose whether to complete the current zone, as there was less penalisation for over levelling, and then skip the next one or to go on to the next zone early. There were a few zones that I didn’t like in that expansion that I was able to skip most runs through. Legion introduced even more choice by making all four levelling zones scale from 100. I was able to level an alt to 110 by only completing two of the four zones which left me two different ones for the next character. That’s not possible Shadowlands as the next zone only unlocks once the main quest chain for the current zone is complete.
I think that, particularly for alts, Shadowlands’ levelling experience will be particularly painful. Once you hit level 60 then you get to choose a covenant which then launches you off on a unique set of quests for each covenant. With four to choose from, it could mean different end game experiences for up to four characters, as you can only choose one covenant for each character. It seems that in this expansion Blizzard has changed its focus from providing a customisable levelling experience to a customisable end game experience, instead. It just seems a shame that it has to be a choice of one or the other, as levelling is a part of the game that few people can afford skip.
There is still a couple of months to go before launch but as it is right now, without any major overhauls, I would list the levelling experience as dull and repetitive. I think the trade off in terms of linear progression, likely done to aid storytelling, is not made the most of. Having played Final Fantasy 14, which is entirely linear in its levelling experience but makes up for it with its much deeper and more engaging storyline, I can see what Blizzard were trying to achieve but, for me, it just doesn’t get there. The storyline just isn’t strong enough to make up for the trade off in lack of customisation of a player’s path. If the levelling experience feels repetitive the first playthrough then I dread to think what it would feel like by the fourth. Unless, there are drastic improvements by launch, I can’t see myself investing in this expansion. The last expansion, BfA, was not Blizzards best work, but I had held out hope that they would get it right with this one but, alas, not for me. I have been able to make a level 60 on a different Beta server, so I will be continuing the beta in the end game. However, no matter how much better the endgame might be, I just can’t see it being worth the drudgery of the levelling experience to get there. If I’m proven wrong then you all will be the first to know.