Ahead of the release of the highly anticipated World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
, the game’s latest major expansion, Blizzard has also brought some of the biggest changes we’ve seen to date to Azeroth. Some of which come down to, well, that 15-year-plus longevity.
With well over a decade of new content, the long-awaited level-squish sees over 100-levels of progression brought down to a more manageable 60. And with so many years of WoW, Blizzard has also created a new starting zone called Exiles Reach - an idyllic but troubled island locale designed to give players both new and old a quickfire taste of what WoW is all about.
From questing to storytelling to the eternal conflict between factions, Exiles Reach even concludes with a group dungeon - bolstering and highlighting the social side of WoW as being as broad and vast as Azeroth itself. Kevin Martens, Lead Designer on World of Warcraft, notes that Exiles Reach has been a longtime coming.
“The way that we develop is we do an iteration pass, and then we hand it off to play testing, and then we come back with the play testing information and redo it,” Kevin tells me. “It was probably at least a year. We went through several iterations and we had a lot of new players play through it. Friends and family in the company, basically, would play it and give us feedback so we could really work on the tutorial elements of it and the clarity of the storytelling, and then the dungeon itself.”
“Azeroth is the main character of the game, so putting the best foot forward for that was our main goal.”
“Azeroth is the main character of the game, so putting the best foot forward for that was our main goal,” Kevin continues. “We wanted to have a simple story that involved monsters that were classic to the setting and were fan favourites from over the years. And that's why we decided we would do an Island. So we could have a shipwreck and you could wake up on a beach with Murlocs taking your stuff.”
Getting to play and adventure through Exiles Reach following our chat, it was wonderful to see so many of these classic Warcraft elements present - from Murlocs to Ogres to magic and even dragons. Plus, the fun and humour that is Blizzard to a fault - with one of the new quests involving testing out a shrink/size ray on unsuspecting boars. To trample a threat and increase the odds in your favour.
“Having an ogre mage and a dragon and a dungeon at the end, that’s an epic ending to your first experience,” Kevin explains. “And a taste of things to come. Slowly building up the complexity of combat and giving people a chance to learn a new ability before the next one comes along. Because as we are re-levelling the game, the pace of things picks up quite a bit, so we wanted a nice, slow ramp up.”
Of course there’s a lot of complexity to be found, especially when you factor in all of the classes and playstyles - something the design of Exiles Reach and its core combat and quests lean into. Plus, the old Horde versus Alliance conflict - a central pillar in World of Warcraft alongside a rich history full of characters and epic story beats.
“There's all of these named heroes, like Thrall and Anduin and Jaina, but everyone that plays eventually becomes an epic world-saving hero along the way, and no matter what the story is or where it goes, the charm of Azeroth is your throughline,” Kevin says. “We wanted to show the world, first and foremost but the second most important thing is the factions - Horde and Alliance. Those were the two main elements we wanted to hit [world and conflict].”
“With the focus on the faction story, this gives you a personal place in the Horde or the Alliance, a reason why you're there, a reason why you can get set off on these grand adventures, considering that you're essentially a new recruit,” Kevin continues. “Ending with a short dungeon is something we’ve never done before and gives new players a grand ending to Exile’s Reach, and a view of what’s to come.”
“Having an ogre mage and a dragon and a dungeon at the end, that’s an epic ending to your first experience, and a taste of things to come."
A view that begins with mountains, forests, rivers, and an ocean teeming with life. Exiles Reach for newcomers serves as the door leading into the most recent World of Warcraft story - Battle For Azeroth. But, perhaps an addition as impressive as Exiles itself is the choice given to players to continue their journey anywhere they see fit. With the ability to jump straight into any location and past-expansion Pandaria to the icy confrontation with the Lich King.
With World of Warcraft: Shadowlands set to send players to the afterlife - this new beginning - available now - is a wonderful entry into the wider world of Azeroth.