Even though Blizzard postponed the Shadowlands expansion release to an undetermined date (it's still coming in 2020), the corresponding patch, 9.00, is now available, and has brought with it many new features. There are class changes, new content for top level players, Ray-Tracing implementation, and much more, but the highlight is the complete redesign of the levelling experience.
Until a week ago, the max level for WoW: Battle for Azeroth was 120, which implied a gigantic journey from new players or those willing to level a new character. With the 9.00 update though, the maximum level was "crushed" from 120 to 50 (Shadowlands will allow you to rise from 51 to 60), and with this change, the levelling process to the max level has become faster and smoother, while also more fun, and personalised.
All races in the game have undergone visual improvements, and the character creator has been completely overhauled with several new options. The Forsaken can determine how rotten their bodies are, Worgens can independently customise their Worgen and human forms, and Night Elves can display a variety of adornments. These are just examples of how more than ever, WoW allows players to create their own unique characters, and if you're not happy with the outcome, you can always visit a barber to change your appearance - now including the character's gender.
After creating your character from a vast number of races and classes, another big change comes into play. As a veteran player you will be able to choose between starting the game in your race zone, as usual, or you can start the adventure through a new zone, Exile's Reach. If you're a new player, you will start automatically in Exile's Reach. This zone is a contained island, which will take the player to level 10, meaning you won't be able to return after you complete it. Horde and Alliance have their own versions of the island, but they are both very similar experiences, minus a few plot details.
The main purpose for Exile's Reach is to instruct the player on the basis of World of Warcraft gameplay. Through a story that involves rescuing members of your crew, which the Ogres intend to use as a sacrifice to resurrect a dragon, you will learn how to use skills, the navigation systems, how to handle multiple missions simultaneously, how to deal with multiple enemies at the same time, and more. In the end you will even have a small dungeon to perform, albeit with the help of non-playable characters, which prevent players from dying.
When you finish Exile's Reach you should be level 10, and you will be transported to the main city of your faction, either Stormwind if you're Alliance, or Orgrimmar if Horde. There you will be granted a small guided tour, including the unlock of your first mount, and a trip to the local inn to earn your Hearthstone. After that you will be summoned by your faction leader, and the game will kick off the Battle for Azeroth expansion. In the process you will reach level 50, making you ready for Shadowlands both in level and plot.
This is a very welcomed new player's experience, and it is a significant improvement over the previous one. Having to level a character up to level 120, going through multiple expansions in a complete mess of a timeline, was not exactly a pleasant experience, especially for those just starting out. Going up to level 50, within a single contained expansion, and with ease also in terms of progressing professions, is a far less daunting experience and a much more enjoyable one.
That said, you are not required to follow this route if you're not a new player. Imagine that you're interested in the Pandaren. You can create a Pandaren and start your adventure in their mysterious moving island, as you did before. However, thanks to the new structure, you no longer need to wait hours to reach Pandaria and resume the Pandaren storyline, as you can now go directly to Pandaria as soon as level 10, and continue your journey there. Alternatively, you can create a Demon Hunter and jump right into Legion. It's your call where to start and where to venture.
As for the game itself, it more beautiful, dynamic, and accessible than ever. There are, of course, some limitations, as despite all the massive improvements and additions throughout the years, underneath it all it's still a 16 year-old game, but while we wait for a "WoW 2", World of Warcraft still remains a great game. It's a world filled with memorable stories and characters, with cities that beg your exploration, hiding secrets, curiosities, and unique opportunities.
Best of all, in addition to having a free trial up to level 20, you no longer need to buy anything to play up to level 50. As long as you pay a monthly fee of €12.99 (£9.99), you will have access to all content and all expansions, including Battle for Azeroth as of last week. This is, of course, until Shadowlands, as the expansion will cost €39.99 (£34.99), with 30 game days already included.
We don't know if Shadowlands will be a good expansion, but patch 9.0 brought with it much-needed changes to the game, especially for new players, or players wondering if they should return (you should). Whether solo, with friends, or with strangers, World of Warcraft is still a fantastic RPG, that even the dated graphics engine and gameplay mechanics can't tarnish. And if it's still not clear, yes, you should play WoW in 2020.
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