WoW director promises Shadowlands “best time to start playing since 2004”

Isaac McIntyre
Varok Saurfang standing in a field in World of Warcraft.

Shadowlands will be the “best time to start playing World of Warcraft since all the way back in 2004,” game director Ion Hazzikostas has promised ahead of the 16-year-old MMORPG’s eighth expansion release later this year.

World of Warcraft is one of the longest-running gaming franchises in the world. Blizzard has regularly updated the hugely-popular online fantasy title for nearly two decades straight with mega-sized expansions and game updates.

While constantly updated titles and releases are what every fan dreams of, the constant new content for WoW has caused a few problems. One of the biggest has always been new or returning players can find themselves “overwhelmed.”

World of Warcraft orcs march to war.
There’s already 15 years of World of Warcraft history players need to learn if they start playing in 2020.

“This game has been around for 15 years, that’s awe-inspiring. I’ve been playing it for all 15 of those years. At the same time though, that same richness, depth, and history of content can also be an obstacle,” Hazzikostas told IGN after the tell-all Shadowlands livestream held on July 8.

“It’s intimidating for new players, and part of what we found over the years is that we have hundreds and hundreds of hours of stories to tell, but we didn’t want it to take hundreds of hours to catch up to your friends, or play the latest stuff.

“That led to us speeding up the game over time. That, unfortunately, took us to a place where the pacing of our game wasn’t what it should be. It was particularly overwhelming for all the new folks coming in at that stage.”

That’s all set to change coming into Shadowlands, according to Hazzikostas. As well as the new expansion story ⁠— which will see franchise villain Sylvanas open a portal to the undead world ⁠— old plotlines should be “more accessible” as well.

“Shadowlands is probably the best time to jump into World of Warcraft as a brand new player since all the way back in 2004. It’s something that has been a focus for us as we approached this expansion,” WoW’s director said. “It’s what our goals were.”

Sylvanas sneers at the Lich King in the Shadowlands cinematic trailer.
Shadowlands should make World of Warcraft more accessible to new players moving forward.

One solution, Hazzikostas revealed, is that WoW will be adding a brand-new introduction line experience, called ‘Exile’s Reach’. This “new-player mode” will introduce the Horde, Alliance, and “what World of Warcraft is all about in 2020.”

New players will also get a run-through on all abilities, classes, basic quests, and gameplay elements important to the title. Once players have completed this early-stage section of the game, they will then play Battle for Azeroth.

“Battle for Azeroth is an accessible, standard Horde versus Alliance World of Warcraft story that will continue to teach you about this world,” Hazzikostas said. 

“This will be a couple of dozen hours [all up] for new players. Then you’ll be ready to go right into Shadowlands along with everyone else, armed with all the knowledge ⁠— gameplay-wise, and lore-wise ⁠— to succeed in that environment.”

Anduin Wrynn looks at his glowing World of Warcraft sword.
World of Warcraft “newbies” will play the Battle for Azeroth expansion before unlocking Shadowlands.

Blizzard is set to release World of Warcraft Shadowlands later this year. The expansion’s beta will begin this week. Here’s everything we know about the MMORPG’s huge eighth expansion ahead of the official release.