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WoWFeb 17, 2021 2:00 pm CT

Shadowlands seems to want players to do a little of everything, whether we enjoy it or not

World of Warcraft is a game with a lot of content, and at max level players have a lot of activities to pursue. There are raids and dungeons; there’s soloing and world content; there are callings and world quests; there’s Torghast with its roguelike gameplay style. And that’s only scratching the surface.

All of it seems to be calling, saying hey, have you done me yet this week and I find myself wondering: do I have to do it all? I didn’t even mention PVP there, but that’s out there too. There’s a real significant amount of repeatable content for level 60 players in WoW. And that makes me wonder — how much of it should I, should anyone, be expected to do in a week?

Should you be able to raid Normal or Heroic without ever setting foot in a Mythic+ dungeon? Should you never need dungeon loot if you want to be a dedicated PVPer? How important should group content be to a solo player who wants to focus on pushing Torghast? Well, quite frankly, if you never want to PVP or go to a dungeon then you’re gonna be waiting for a while for Renown to push your World Quest rewards up high enough that you can really push that Torghast content, but it will eventually become doable.

Do we have to do absolutely everything? How much Warcraft do we really have to play in order to play Warcraft?

WoW’s loot treadmill has changed in Shadowlands

I think this why gearing and gameplay in Shadowlands feels different than its predecessors. It’s more difficult to gear up, and solo activities offer fewer gear rewards. If you want to raid, the fastest and easiest way to gear up is currently via PVP. And if you aren’t willing to PVP, you’ll have to run some Mythic+ dungeons to even qualify for LFR.

In previous expansions, especially Legion and Battle for Azeroth, it’s probably fair to say that you could stay more in your lane, at least for people who raided or ran Mythic+ dungeons. PVPers have long felt a bit pushed to run group PVE content, and Shadowlands has simultaneously made gearing easier for them if they stay in PVP spaces — though some PVE trinkets and weapons still feel like better PVP gear options. And it’s fair to say that there’s pressure to do some PVP grinding for even the most dedicated PVE players for weapons and other item slots you’ve had bad loot luck with. The gearing game has changed, and we’re strongly encouraged to participate in everything the game offers us at max level, whether we’re interested or not.

The fact is, we’re all on the loot treadmill in WoW. But the treadmill slowed down this expansion, and for a lot of players, they feel like in order to get where they want to be they need to also jump on the elliptical or even start doing squats, and that’s not what they signed up for. Forgive me this metaphor, because it’s already a bit out of hand.

And everybody wants a Legendary, so everybody is farming Soul Ash in Torghast. I’m not sure what exercise machine that would be in this scenario, but you understand the point — people who have, over the past four years, comfortably worn a groove into the particular style of gameplay they enjoy now feel like they’re being asked to play well outside of their comfort zone to get to where they want to be.

Shadowlands is pushing us all towards group content

I know for some people the multiplayer part of massively multiplayer online role-playing game has felt like it’s been less of a priority for World of Warcraft for the past few years. I would even be willing to agree that the game has slowly moved towards being a more solo-friendly playstyle. But even if you’re just a player who logs on a few times a week and has no interest in group content or min-maxing, there’s a lot of pressure to participate in it.

Should solo players have to run group content to successfully play the game? The argument for this is usually a variation of well, if you’re a solo player why do you need better gear — and it ignores the roots of RPG games that spawned the MMO genre and World of Warcraft. Even in solo games, players climb on the loot treadmill. There are a lot of things a solo player does — World Quests with elite mobs, or overpulling when solo farming, or trying to get through a higher layer of  Torghast — all of these activities simply require better gear.

Plus — and I think this is important to consider — there are people who play WoW who are not great at socializing. For the past several years the game has provided them an outlet, where they can still engage in social aspects of the game if they want them, but don’t have to if they are prone to anxiety or otherwise can’t always deal with what we can charitably call the more abrasive aspects of the game and its player base. I’m a fairly hardened person by this point, but even I get tired sometimes of dealing with people in PUG dungeon runs or LFR who just insist on shortcuts that aren’t shortcuts at all or who take the time to be unpleasant during the run.

Forcing players who have come to expect WoW to be their safe space to engage with these aspects of the game feels regressive. Yes, back in 2008 we all had to run Shadow Labyrinth, but it’s not 2008 anymore. The game and its player base have changed. Trying to bring back too much socialization too fast can be disruptive.

Should we be forced to group up to advance?

Even though the game seems to be pushing us all towards group content, the web of advancement options right now is probably the best the game has ever had. There are lots of different activities to do at max level, and the game encourages and rewards you for a bit of stepping out of your normal haunts. I’ve been doing more group content this time around — I’d have to admit that I’ve run more dungeons, done more LFR and even tipped my toe into PVP in Shadowlands, and I probably will continue to do so despite my general tendency to want to avoid talking to other human beings if I don’t already know them.

So perhaps it’s working, and Shadowlands has succeeded in moving to a more social model where players are willing to group up and run content they’re not accustomed to. Or perhaps the expansion is pushing players into activities they don’t want to participate in, and will eventually push them too far — meaning it needs to ensure that players don’t need to step so far from the content they want to pursue. I think elements like the Renown system provide players the opportunity to play completely solo, if they’re willing to wait a while to catch up to what players who push group content are capable of doing, so perhaps that’s a sufficient safety valve for the real introverts out there.

But I don’t know what PVPers who feel pushed into Mythic+ can really do, or what to tell raiders who are PVPing not because they love competition but because they can’t get a weapon drop. I don’t know if it’s ultimately for the best if players do content they don’t want to because they feel they have to. I don’t know how Blizzard can make an MMO that caters to everyone at once without some friction about what we’re expected to do in it.

Is Shadowlands asking too much of players? I think a lot depends on how long we’re going to go before the next big content drop/reset period. If we get new content (and new gearing opportunities) in March or April, it will be a very different situation than if we get one in June or July. In the end, players who feel forced to do some things they don’t want to do tend to stop doing everything. If you just don’t like PVP, or raids, or Mythic+ no amount of in-game pressure will make them fun for you.

At level 60, players all have a long list of things they could — or should — be doing to advance. But do we have to do all of them? Should solo players have to group, PVP players have to PVE, LFR players have to M+? Right now the game seems to be saying yes, and that’s a type of gameplay that solo-friendly WoW hasn’t had for a while.

For better or for worse, Shadowlands is pushing players to work together. Whether that’s also pushing players to a breaking point … well, we’ll find out soon.

Originally published 1/4/2021. Updated 2/17/2021.

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