Shadowlands, A Year in the Land of Death

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands released a year ago today. Can you believe we’ve been adventuring in the after life for a whole year? For only a year? What is time even?

We thought we’d mark the occasion by looking back at our experiences with the expansion so far and talking about what it’s been like to play in WoW‘s eighth expansion.

New systems

Eppu: The new mission table seems hardly to have changed from its previous iterations, but since my playing time has been very limited during this expansion, I can’t say I’ve really understood all of the mechanics of leveling and missions. I can say, however, that accumulating companions is surprisingly speedy. However, the animated-by-default battle at the conclusion annoys me—considering what a minuscule part of the game it is, that’s a waste of processing power and having to always bypass it with a click is a waste of time.

Soulbinds is a more interesting case. Essentially, they’re a version of the old talent trees, with the exception that you can have three separate ones and that switching between them is easy. Accumulating a good smattering of basic conduits via world quests is simple, too.

Anima, unfortunately, is where Blizzard over-corrected in this expansion. The system is clunky and complex and not intuitive. For example, gathering anima for X purpose is added to the quest tally when you complete a quest that grants anima rewards, as opposed to Y purpose it’s counted when you empty the anima rewards from your inventory into the reservoir.

Erik: Anima really seems like a step back. We’re getting a lot of clutter in our bags this expansion after Battle for Azeroth did a much better job of streamlining its power-accumulation systems. Conduits are another piece of bag clutter I could do without, but the overall soulbind system works pretty well. It allows a fair amount of flexibility in customizing your character’s play style with some interesting trade-offs to think about.

Blizzard keeps tweaking the mission table, but it’s never been particularly interesting. I do it because it’s a low-effort way of getting small amounts of anima and reputation, but it’s never been a compelling part of gameplay. After four expansions, I still don’t understand why I am sending other people off to have adventures instead of having them for myself.

I have to say that after a year of playing in this expansion, I still don’t feel like I really know what I’m doing with a lot of my covenant sanctum things. It’s at least partly because anima has been so hard to get that I haven’t activated or upgraded most of what’s offered. I supposed that fits the theme of the “anima drought,” but it also makes anima a really unwieldy game mechanic.

The one new system I like the best is renown. It feels much more accessible and rewarding to build renown levels with a covenant than to grind out reputation.

Eppu: Renown is a nice change from grinding rep, you’re quite right. For such a long time, everything used to be a grind; it’s nice to have some variety.

What do you think about the transport networks within covenant zones?

Erik: I like them, and I also like that they are thematic to the zones they’re in. It’s a good combination of artistic and practical designs. (And we get to hang out with a cheerful old mushroom guy.)

Torghast

Erik: One new system that stands out from the rest is Torghast, the randomized, size-flexible dungeon. I have to say that Torghast is one of the best things in Shadowlands for me. I really like that there is content that is so replayable, with so much flexibility for difficulty level and group size. I’ve done a lot of solo running through Torghast, and we’ve done plenty of it together. For such a long time I have wished that there was content in WoW of a comparable challenge level to running a dungeon but tuned for two players instead of five, so that we could do something challenging but doable together. Torghast is finally that. I hope this is a system they keep developing for future expansions.

I also love how adaptable Torghast is. If I just want to go squish monsters and get fun new powers, I can set it low and crash through; if I want something that pushes me to use my skills an abilities to their fullest, I can set it high and enjoy the tactical challenge.

The one thing I wish were different about Torghast is that I wish there were some reward to running it beyond gathering materials for the legendary system. As fun as Torghast can be, it doesn’t really feel worthwhile to play when I know I won’t get any gear or new transmog appearances at the end, or much else to reward me for my time and effort.

Eppu: You’re right; for me, too, just about the only major flaw in Torghast is the lack of any fun transmog gear. (Otherwise, I still stand by my previous opinion.)

New zones

Eppu: I quite like the design of three new zones: Ardenweald, Bastion, and Revendreth. The really fascinating feature about the Shadowlands landscapes is how aggressively height differences—ledges, ridges, ginormous trees, stupendously tall buildings, levitating platforms—are used to squeeze questing areas side by side in order to keep the whole zone from ballooning out to an uncontrollable size. Blizzard has used the same principle before; in Shadowlands it’s really matured, but I don’t think you could take it any further without land shapes turning ludicrous. (Then again, this is fantasy, perhaps they could do it and make it work!)

It’s an interesting choice to tweak each zone’s color scheme so far, though—it’s not unheard of to have a subtle overall color in zones (e.g. Icecrown, Suramar, or Drustvar)—but this time Blizzard really pushed it. There have been times when I’ve switched zones after a while, because I’ve wanted more variation in the colors around my toon.

Lastly, I’m irritated that moving between covenant zones only can take place via Oribos. (Forced hub-centered travel is one of my pet peeves in the real world, too.)

Erik: I agree about wishing for ways to get between zones that don’t rely on Oribos. I understand the idea of Oribos as a central point, but we’ve seen individuals travel directly between zones in the questing experience, and I see no reason we as players couldn’t have gotten some options for that, too.

The artistic design of the zones is really strong this expansion. Each zone feels very different not just in terms of color palette but landforms and buildings. There are some that I like (Bastion, Ardenweald) and some I don’t (Revendreth, Maldraxxus), but every zone feels like a deeply concentrated expression of an idea. I find that Bastion and Maldraxxus feel small, while Ardenweald and Revendreth feel big. I wonder if that’s intentional, or just an effect of how I experience the zones.

And then there’s the Maw. All I can say is that they did such a good job designing the zone to feel like a bad place to be that I spend as little time there as possible. If the Maw was supposed to be what kept our characters occupied once they got to max level, it missed the mark.

Although my favorite covenant is the Night Fae, I think my favorite zone to spend time in is Bastion. Do you have a favorite?

Eppu: Hm. Ardenweald or Bastion, for both have strong pros and some cons. Although I have to say none of the areas feel quite right for hanging out with my numerous female Dwarves.

WoW Shadowlands Bastion Near Heros Rest

Story

Erik: I’ve enjoyed the story of Shadowlands on the whole. It’s interesting to go to a new place we’ve never known about before and start figuring out just how it all works. We have met a lot of compelling characters and seen some great moments along the way. They’ve done a lot with the characters we interact with to help us understand the nature of the different realms of the Shadowlands, from the earnest soul-searching of the Kyrian aspirants to the gung-ho warmongering in Maldraxxus, the intertwining of despair and hope in Ardenweald, and the crumbling ancien regime in Revendreth.

The parts of the story that haven’t worked for me have been the overarching plot involving the Jailer and the Maw. I know some people really enjoy digging up secrets and spinning tin-foil-hat theories about the nefarious motives of cosmic powers, but I’m not among them. The Jailer is just one more generic villain to me. I am also utterly uninterested in Tyrande’s super-powered vengeance rampage or the emotional life of Sylvanas. As so often in expansions past, I find the little, ground-level stories in Shadowlands much more interesting than the big story of the overarching plot. Give me more Kyrian buddy cops and Night Fae drama nerds, not another giant villain vaguebooking about their plans to conquer reality.

Eppu: I’m trying to figure out just why I felt that playing through the zones differed from previous expansions. The basic progression through all of the covenant zones is surprisingly similar from area to area—until you hit Maldraxxus. There we get an item with runes periodically slapped on along with the story reveal, which felt more drastic to me than reveals elsewhere. The other areas felt more or less like the usual quest grind. Combined with the utterly unique landscape design ethos, Maldraxxus really stands out to me.

Have a take of your own? Do chime in!

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

WoW: Reminiscing about Past Feature Additions

Our home is finally starting to function and look like a home (instead of a storage area for n+1 boxes) after our transatlantic move. We’ve been even able to play World of Warcraft a little in the midst of cleaning and organizing and bureaucracy and starting work again.

That got us reminiscing about the various expansions, specifically their new features we liked or loved at the time that have since become—begging your pardon for the pun—quite vanilla.

Below are some of my favorite changes, listed in expansion order.

(FYI: I just couldn’t remember and failed to find online the exact timing for some features, so I’ve given my best guess. If you know, please let me know in the comments!)

The Burning Crusade

-Ahh, the amazing, breathtaking sky over Hellfire Peninsula!

-Multiple flight points per zone—what is this awesome magic?

-Expanding the availability of paladins (one of my favorite classes).

WoW BC Hellfire Peninsula Skies

Wrath of the Lich King

-In Northrend the environmental design definitely progressed from lumps of mashed potato. (Overall, though, they really didn’t know what to do with the icy zones, Icecrown and Storm Peaks.)

-Improved music, especially the Grizzly Hills intro music. That’s still one of my all-time favorite WoW themes.

Cataclysm

-Changes to Orgrimmar and Stormwind. It took me time to get used to, but I wouldn’t go back.

-Flying in old world zones.

-Phasing, but only when it doesn’t mess up the rest of the gameplay.

Mists of Pandaria

-Pandaria is where the environment design turns truly good. By this I mean natural-looking shapes in the landscapes, undergrowth with variety (including height), mountains that look like actual mountains, etc. To be sure, Cataclysm tried very hard as well, but graphics just got so much better by MoP that it was more feasible to do better. (Trees still look clunky, though.)

-Area-of-effect looting. The shift-click looting did help, but, man, I NEVER want to go back to picking. Each. Individual. Loot. Item. One. At. A. Time—AOE loot helps so much.

-11th character slot per realm. Obviously it’s changed again since, but at the time it was big.

WoW Pandaria Jade Forest Arboretum

Warlords of Draenor

-The toons’ new and improved looks. I didn’t like losing some of my favorite female Dwarf faces, but overall the change was good.

-The little gold coin marker for vendor trash in your bags. Hated it first, grew to love it.

-No fighting over gathering nodes anymore, since more than one player can get the same one. (If it was WoD? Or was it Legion?)

WoW Arms Warrior Roar

Legion

-The new transmogging system that automatically saves all applicable reward looks into your wardrobe. Oh, and being able to hide certain gear slots in your mog.

-Trees look so. Much. Better!

-Worldquests.

Flight Master’s Whistle.

WoW Legion Druid Classhall Xmas Gear Dec 2018

Battle for Azeroth

-Allied races.

-This is slightly esoteric, and definitely not a gameplay feature, but I love the penguin sledding world quests!

-Overall my favorite expansion, by the way.

Shadowlands

New customizations for the core races (skin, hair, jewellery).

-After opening Shadowlands with your first character, being able to choose whether you do the storyline or not on subsequent toons.

Torghast, of course.

I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting a lot. Love to share your favorite tweaks to the game? Comments are open!

Images: screencaps from World of Warcraft.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Mini-Opinion of Torghast in WoW: Shadowlands

I’ve been meaning to post about my first impressions of Shadowlands, the latest World of Warcraft expansion, but there’s such a high demand for my spoons this spring that I haven’t gotten it done yet. (In fact, I’ve barely had time to play, never mind writing about it!)

One thing I can mention, however, is Torghast. I simply LOVE the fact that it was designed as either solo or group content. Erik and I can either group up just the two of us or run it separately as mood or moxie mandate.

Blizzard Watch shadowlands-icecrown-torghast-cinematic

Being constrained for time and energy (both physical and mental) AND living through a pandemic, with the stress it places on people everywhere, I find I have very little tolerance for energy-wasters. If a project or person turns out to be more trouble than it’s worth, out it goes! It’s already been years since I’ve run PUG dungeons; this spring I really don’t have the patience for random idiocy. Ergo, only carefully curated groups in game.

And because of the layers to determine the difficulty, I can decide upon entering whether I want to just crash through everything for a bit of destruction therapy, or whether I’m in a good brainspace for a more strategic approach. Not only that, the random selection of anima powers keep the runs unpredictable and new every time. The multi-prong approach to flexibility works really well for me this year.

As if that’s not enough, the funniest thing in Shadowlands so far is found in Torghast: the Scroll of Elchaver anima power. It doesn’t proc often, but I have seen a mob turn into a chair, and others report boots, crates, or even a porkchop. (Someone even said if the mob was a skinnable type pre-transform, you can still skin them after.) What a hoot!

I’ve only had the power come up for me once, though. Here’s hoping for more!

Image via Blizzard Watch

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Blood Elf Subtlety Rogue Mogged to Hide in Shadows

I don’t typically role-play in WoW, but for some of my characters I have a broad outline or concept figured out. My Blood Elf rogue is one, and the new Shadowlands prepatch character customizations really allow me to make the most of it.

She’s a pragmatist and bit of a girly-girl subtlety rogue who is, however, not too fussy about her looks. She’s more concerned about her outfit being practical, but if it can also be pretty, yay. Her name has the element shadow in it, which I wasn’t able to do much with previously.

However, now that we’re able to tweak our toons’ skin colors so extensively, I was able to make her skin the blackest black (like the shadows), with dark grey hair, one green eye (a carryover from her previous look) and one blind one, and some silvery jewellery to go with the gray hair and eye.

WoW BfA BE Rogue in Barber Shop

I’ve hidden most of the gear slots (head, shoulder, cloak, bracers, gloves, and boots), but otherwise I’m carrying over the green scheme from her earlier look (but with different pieces for a change). If interested, you can have a look at the set in Wowhead’s Dressing Room.

And even though the dressing room now gives you the new physical toon characteristics, here they are separately for posterity:

  • Face: 4
  • Skin Color: 14
  • Hair Style: Full
  • Hair Color: 14
  • Eye Color: 13
  • Ears: Long
  • Earrings: Dangles
  • Necklace: None
  • Armbands: Phoenix
  • Jewelry Color: 2
  • Bracelets: Silver Chains

The 1-hand weapons are both mogged, one to a dagger and the other to a sword model (Starshard Edge and Ethereum Phase Blade). Although, I’m considering re-mogging the Starshard Edge. I might turn both into the Ethereum Phase Blade because it’s so beautiful, but I’m not sure if that’s too much repetition. Any suggestions are welcome!

Images: screenshots from World of Warcraft

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Halloween Tentacle Cupcakes Headcanon into House Stormsong

The newest World of Warcraft expansion, Shadowlands, was supposed to be released next Monday, October 26, 2020, but Blizzard decided to postpone it for an unknown time. Bleah. Well, these Halloween cupcakes do actually fit better with the House Stormsong aesthetic from Battle for Azeroth:

nikki-wills-tikkido-horror-cupcakes-6_0

Visit the tutorial by Nikki Wills at Tikkido to find out how to make yours!

Geeks eat, too! Second Breakfast is an occasional feature in which we talk about food with geeky connections and maybe make some of our own. Yum!

More Silly WoW Battle Pet Names

A while ago Eppu shared some of her best silly names for her battle pets in World of Warcraft. In that same spirit, here are a few of mine. (Be warned: some terrible puns ahead.)

First, let’s start with my Erudite Manafiend, which is name Garkthyn. “What’s so silly about that?” you might be wondering. Well, Grakthyn accompanies my warlock, whose voidwalker is called Grak’thyk. You could say they’ve been through thyk and thyn together. (Don’t worry—it gets worse.)

Male Turkeys (which are the ones who display their fan of tail feathers like this) are called toms, which is all I’m going to say about why mine is named Bombadil.

My Fossilized Hatchling is named Boneyparts. (Yes, that’s a Napoleon reference.)

When there’s something strange in the old barn yard, who ya gonna call? Goatbuster! (Ghastly Kid)

My Lurking Owl Kitten is called Hootenanny, because why not?

The Anubisath Idol stands with its hands poised ready to strike. Why else would I call mine Idol Hands?

Some of my pets are named in Finnish. My Sinister Squashling is named Kauhea Kurpitsa, which is Finnish for “horrible pumpkin.”

Another one is Lentokone, my Ancient Nest Guardian. This pet is a mechanical type that can temporarily turn into a flying type. “Lentokone” is the Finnish word for airplane, but litterally it means “flying machine,” which felt appropriate.

Maybe someday Dark Whelpling will grow up to be another Smaug, but for now it’s just a Smig.

Got any good pet names you want to share?

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Dwarven Fire Mage Transmog

I mentioned in the past that my fire mage got a hidden artifact appearance as a random drop back in Legion. I also mentioned that I’d made a new mog for her, but never posted a better screencap of it. Tut tut, bad librarian!

Turns out I liked her mog so much I kept it even after we moved on from Legion artifacts. Since it’s likely I’m going to change it after World of Warcraft Shadowlands drops, here, finally, is the mog saved for posterity.

BfA Dwarven Fire Mage Transmog

The wand and legs aren’t mogged, and I’ve hidden the head, shoulder, and belt slots. Like with my surv hunter mog, I used the wrist armor to add another stripe of turquoise into the set.

If interested, you can have a look at the set in Wowhead’s Dressing Room.

Image: screenshot from World of Warcraft

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Night Elf Survival Hunter Transmog

As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to spend a lot of time in the barbershop after World of Warcraft Shadowlands drops. I’m likely to change not just some details of my toons’ appearance but also some of their transmogs—I like to rotate some of my characters’ mogs since I don’t have an absolute favorite, and for others I’ve never found anything particularly fitting. So I thought I’d save a few mogs for posterity by posting them online.

Here is my female night elf survival hunter.

BfA F NElf Survical Hunter Transmog1

I go back and forth with a headpiece I like and a hidden head slot like here; the polearm is also unmogged. Other armor slots, however, are mogged, including the the bracers, which I usually skip; this time I found a way to add a slight chevron line just above the glove edge with the bracers.

BfA F NElf Survical Hunter Transmog2

If interested, you can have a look at the set in Wowhead’s Dressing Room.

Images: World of Warcraft screencaps

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Dwarven Windwalker Monk Transmog

As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to spend a lot of time in the barbershop after World of Warcraft Shadowlands drops. I’m likely to change not just some details of my toons’ appearance but also some of their transmogs—I like to rotate some of my characters’ mogs since I don’t have an absolute favorite, and for others I’ve never found anything particularly fitting. So I thought I’d save a few mogs for posterity by posting them online.

Here is my female dwarf windwalker monk.

BfA F Dwarf Windwalker Monk Transmog

The head and shirt slots are hidden and the bracers aren’t visible. Not sure how well the gloves work, but at least the gold more or less matches the other pieces. It was neat to be able to use two fist weapons in this mog.

If interested, you can have a look at the set in Wowhead’s Dressing Room.

Image: World of Warcraft screencap

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.