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WoWJun 26, 2020 10:00 am CT

Hands on with the Maw, the intro experience for Shadowlands

As always occurs in these testing phases, there are some bugs in the current implementation of the Maw on the Shadowlands alpha, but with some persistence — and a lot of repetition — I was able to complete the intro experience for Shadowlands. Bugs are hardly a surprise. it’s an alpha test, that’s what they’re for, to find and suss out bugs before the game goes live. The bugs were less prevalent when I was doing it at 2 am, which could mean that the experience has issues with too many players. I’m not sure. But either way, I did it, and it was crazy and fun and interesting and has lots of ramifications for Shadowlands itself as well as stuff from Legion and Battle for Azeroth.

Spoilers for Shadowlands. The entire post, really. The intro might even be a spoiler.

The current introduction to the story of Shadowlands starts with you arriving at Icecrown Citadel with the Ebon Blade after Sylvanas has already blown up the Helm of Domination. There’s a brief exchange with Darion Mograine, who points out that while Sylvanas blowing up the Lich King’s hat did tear a giant freaking hole in the sky, and there’s some folks missing, at least Bolvar doesn’t have to be the Lich King anymore so there’s that. Darion escorts you into the presence of the Highlord (who is going by that title again) and the assembled leaders of the Horde and Alliance… missing a few people. Calia Menethil is there, representing the Forsaken on the Horde side and trying to soothe tempers… and Tyrande Whisperwind is there, royally angry that Sylvanas has not only escaped her vengeance but she’s escaped her into another plane of existence.

How do we get into the Maw?

It turns out that Sylvanas, or her agents, have managed to drag Jaina, Thrall, Baine, and Anduin into the Maw as well. But while this is bad, there’s still hope. Sylvanas yeeted herself into the Maw with them, but when she did, she bound herself to the shattered fragments of the Helm of Domination, and while the Lich King’s hat may have been destroyed, the pieces still contain immense power (much like when Frostmourne got destroyed) and Bolvar spent years bonded to the thing. He can feel where Sylvanas is, and can use the power of the fragments of his broken hat to send you into the Maw itself.

This is of course ridiculously, terrifyingly dangerous. Highlord Bolvar tells you up front you probably won’t be coming back. But it’s not all bad — Darion Mograine and a host of Death Knights have volunteered to have Bolvar send them into the Maw with you. It’s dangerous. The former Lich King does not know a way back out of the Maw, but it’s the only chance they have to get Baine, Anduin, Jaina, and Thrall back and foil whatever it is Sylvanas is planning. So, because you’re the hero — and more importantly because there’s no other way to get into all that new expansion content — you say yes, and arrange the pieces of the Helm of Domination to open the way into the Maw.

And then Tyrande jumps in just before you can. Seriously, Tyrande, I love you but you need to learn when to think things through. It’s just like when you killed Maiev’s Wardens outside Illidan’s tomb. Hey, maybe you’ll run into them!

Jaina explains it all

Anyway, we arrive in the Maw and things are not going well. There’s no sign of Tyrande, and several of the Ebon Blade have been taking a beating. We join up with Darion, rally the Ebon Blade, kill some Mawsworn which are apparently robots made from dead people’s souls which is just all kinds of Wraith the Oblivion and I say that as a guy who actually wrote something for Wraith the Oblivion. Darion and you fight your way through to eventually beat a Mawsworn miniboss, find clues including frozen soul robots and sheep that were once monsters, and eventually find Jaina herself standing over the burning corpse of a Stygian Giant (think a giant, but dead, and not happy about it) holding off a host of Mawsworn Kyrians while Thrall lays there and tries to bleed quietly.

Jaina lays it all out for you after a lot of black angels get set on fire — she and Thrall have escaped captivity and standing around in the open is a great way to get recaptured again. As you run to a cave she knows, she makes several statements that indicate she’s been in the Maw for weeks or longer, even though you literally just left Azeroth to come get her and she hasn’t been gone for even close to that long. Thrall echoes these sentiments. After more Kyrian dive bomb attack your group, and you fight off an attack from a big Kyrian, you retreat into a cave and Jaina explains the situation in more detail.

Finding the rest of the crew

It turns out that Jaina, Anduin, Baine, and Thrall have been the personal guests of the Jailer, the Malevolent-with-a-capital-M figure who rules the Maw. He’s been torturing them — Thrall says the tortures have almost been like tests, but he doesn’t know what the Jailer is interested in finding out — and Jaina’s been escaping and trying to free the others over and over again, only to get recaptured trying to get them out. But with you and the Ebon Blade to back her up, she thinks maybe now they can pull it off. Thrall opines that while the local spirits haven’t told them how to escape yet, some of them have been there for a very long time and may know something.

Jaina points out that the souls in the Maw are mostly evil and insane, although Thrall counters that they’ve seen noble souls unjustly imprisoned there. Darion says it doesn’t matter — the Ebon Blade knows how to make the dead speak, and he has you accompany him on a fact finding mission out into the Maw proper. This is where he reveals that the shattered Helm of Domination in your bags can still do exactly that — dominate the souls of the dead. You go off, beat up some evil dead, but they’re too fragmentary to know much so Darion figures you should beat up a really big evil dead and use the hat on that instead. You do, and it works, because if Darion Mograine knows anything, it’s how to beat up a crazy evil collection of ghosts jammed together with raw necromantic power.

You return to the cave and let Darion get to work slapping around that horrible fused together monstrosity of ghosts while you, Jaina, and Thrall go on a risky but necessary mission to bust Anduin out of a local tower. Jaina always failed to do this before — she implies she’d tried it several times — but with you there to back her up she thinks there’s a chance. And since you ain’t afraid of no ghosts (which is good, because seriously, there are a lot of them in the Maw) you agree. A rush to the top of the evil tower reveals that Sylvanas is up there mocking Anduin and promising him he won’t be leaving, and then a cutscene that isn’t in the game yet happens and she vanishes, presumably to tell the Jailer you’re there. It’s what I would do anyway.

You kill some Mawsworn for keys, including the one who has the special key to Anduin’s chains, and escape the tower. Darion had indeed been busy beating up a pile of angry ghosts and it’s now willing to tell you exactly how to escape… except that there is no way to escape except for a broken old stone thing up past all of the Jailer’s Mawsworn that doesn’t even work anyway. However, when have things like a numberless army composed of the worst souls ever to exist hammered into golem-like walking weapons, fallen angels, and the wailing dead ever stopped you?

Crossing the bridge, fighting the dead

Upon crossing the bridge on the way to the Waystone, you run into an old friend, namely, Helya. She’s not happy about that whole killing her for Odyn thing, and it turns out she’s traded up her Val’kyr servants for the Mawsworn Kyrian that have been attacking you since you arrived. She knocks you off the bridge and into the River of Souls, which you just barely escape. Then you look up a hill, see the Jailer atop a tall tower sneering down at you, and end up after a cutscene going with Thrall to find a special dagger that was used to torture Baine (oh, and you apparently found Baine in a cutscene being tortured by the Mawsworn) as well as an axe.

Thrall is extremely picky about what weapon he wants, btw. You find crossbows, staves, even a big two hand sword, but nothing will do for Thrall but an axe. He even sneers at the Alliance’s obsession with using swords. I was very tempted to stab him, but sadly, he was not stabbable. Anyway, we bring Baine back to health by breaking the torture dagger and killing the Mawsworn spirit living inside it, and then Jaina uses her magic to turn us invisible because of course she does, she’s literally the only useful one of the four faction leaders we found in the Maw.

The Waystone turns out to be called a Waygate. It looks suspiciously like a Titan Waygate (like the ones in Sholazar and Deepholm, but not entirely the same) and it responds not to any of Azeroth’s leaders, but to you. Before you can power it up, the Jailer comments on how strange that an artifact of the ‘First Ones’ as he calls it would respond to a mortal and sends his entire army after you. There’s a long fight (I almost died because Thrall’s not a great tank) as you attempt to power up the Waygate and escape. You manage to get it powered up…

And then you show up in Oribos, and I’m not sure if that’s how the Intro Experience is supposed to end, or if that’s as far as it gets right now. Does anybody but you manage to escape through the Waygate, or do you leave Jaina, Anduin, Baine, and Thrall, as well as Darion Mograine and all those Ebon Blade who helped you in the Maw? Where does the Waygate actually go? What happened to Tyrande? Since it seems like time passes much slower in the Maw, did she arrive there a day or two ahead of us, and where did she go? Helya’s back, and she’s got Kyrian servants now! Is she the one who brokered Sylvanas’ deal with the Jailer? What was the Jailer after with his torture tests? Why did the Waygate work for you, and not anyone else?

All these and a host of other questions wait to be answered. I wrote this with a little tongue in cheek, but the truth was, I had a lot of fun and was engrossed in the story. It leaves more questions than it answers and I’m desperately curious to see how it all works out.

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