World of Warcraft: Shadowlands reminds me why I love the franchise so much

The classic MMO keeps evolving with the latest expansion being announced at Blizzcon 2019

By ETHAN WRENN

The trailer for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands showed up on my Twitter feed, and I just had to watch it – and I don’t regret anything.

Seeing Sylvanas walk up to Icecrown and show Bolvar what was what was incredible enough. But, there was a moment after she pulled the helmet from his head that I could have sworn she was going to put it on and become the Lich Queen everyone (ok maybe not everyone) knew she would. But, instead she just rips the helmet in half? She can do that?!

It’s no secret that there’s a bit of animosity going on in the WoW community ever since Battle For Azeroth launched back in August 2018: the story took a decidedly unpopular turn, and there were a ton of gameplay mechanics that weren’t exactly beloved – Azerite, anyone? This trailer, however, is reminiscent of some of the best expansions the game has seen.

Blizzard hasn’t been too specific when it comes to the specifics, but it has painted a pretty clear picture of some of the big features coming to the game in a blog post. And, while I desperately want it to change the global cooldown (GCD) back to where it was before Battle for Azeroth, some of these features sound amazing. 

First off, there’s Torghast, the Tower of the Damned, which might be the coolest-sounding feature I’ve ever seen worked into the game. Basically, it’s this multi-leveled tower that you’ll be able to fight through. Each level will be randomly generated, a là Diablo III, and will get progressively more difficult the further you get. And, of course, because this is World of Warcraft, you’ll get rewarded with loot that will get better the further you get. 

The best part? I’ll be able to do this by myself, or with a couple of friends, rather than having to carve time out of my busy schedule for raiding.  

In order to get to this tower, players will have to make their way through a zone called “The Maw”, which may end up being the most difficult-to-survive zone ever implemented in the game. Word on the street is that there will be no innkeepers, with little to no NPCs, and the more you interact with this zone, the more monsters you kill, the harder it will be to survive. Could this be the Dark Souls of World of Warcraft?

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World of Warcraft has consistently added new technology to the engine as time has moved on, mostly to make sure it plays nice with the latest PC hardware (and, of course, to make it look better). And, with Shadowlands, we could see ray tracing make its way into the game according to an interview with WoW developers Michael Bybee and Patrick Magruder on MMO-Champion.

According to the interview, “the engine team is working on taking advantage of RTX”. Now, we obviously don’t know what ray tracing might look like in World of Warcraft, but looking at what developers have been able to do with the technology in games like Quake II and Minecraft, we’re sure it’ll be jaw-dropping either way.

And, if you’re looking at this worried that your old machine will finally be aged out from playing your favorite MMO, you can rest easy. World of Warcraft will continue to run well on all kinds of systems, as the developers “believe that the more machines that can run WoW, the better”. So, you don’t have to worry about upgrading your old clunker of a gaming PCnot yet at least. 

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Ray traced shadows would significantly change how the game looks, but wouldn’t be as much of a performance hog. Keep in mind that World of Warcraft is a bigger open world than pretty much any other game out there. You have access to entire continents without loading screens between areas. Whichever flavor of ray tracing Blizzard goes with, it would have to be light enough to play nice with that world design. We might even see Blizzard implement Deep Learning Super Sampling (or DLSS) to help lighten that load. Shadowlands is going to be launching in 2020, so we just have to wait a little bit longer to see Azeroth ray traced. We just hope that folks with an RTX 2060 can handle the game at 1080p with ray tracing.

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