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World of Warcraft: Shadowlands release date, map and new class

Here's the thing: the last expansion of World of Warcraft, Battle for Azeroth, hasn't exactly been a fan favorite. There were issues with gameplay and controversial plot points that longtime fans took exception to. Is Blizzard really making Sylvanas, and by extension the whole of the Horde, evil? Not quite. We finally got to see what's next for our Banshee Queen and all of Azeroth thanks to some recent announcements.

At BlizzCon 2019, we got the news we've all been waiting for: there is indeed a new expansion coming to World of Warcraft, and soon. Called Shadowlands, this new expansion goes where no other has gone before. Rather than adding in new, undiscovered lands, this expansion unlocks an entire realm: the Shadowlands. The barrier between the world of the living and the land of the dead has been broken, giving players access to new zones and new features thanks to Blizzard (and Sylvanas).

The release date for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands

After months of speculation, the release date for Shadowlands was finally revealed at Gamescom 2020. Players were told they'd begin exploring the new expansion on Oct. 27, 2020. Thanks to another delay, that date became Nov. 23, 2020.

The game is already available for pre-order, with a few different versions to choose from, the Base, Heroic, Epic and Collectors edition. The Heroic version gives max level Character Boost and the Ensorcelled Everwyrm mount. Epic includes these perks and an Anima Wyrmling pet, 30 days of game time and new cosmetic effects for weapons. The Collectors Edition is a physical version of the Epic edition that includes the game's soundtrack, a four-piece Covenant Sigil pin set and a book of art developed during the creation of Shadowlands

While players are waiting for Nov. 23 to arrive, they can check out some animated shorts that help flesh out the storyline of Shadowlands. One shows Uther's ascension to Bastion while the other depicts Draka's path as a protector of Maldraxxas. Players who want an even more in-depth understanding of how the Shadowlands function can also pick up Shadows Rising, the prequel novel to the expansion by Madeleine Roux.

The trailer for Shadowlands

Throughout Battle for Azeroth, we watched as Sylvanas lost all semblance of hope: the Horde's Warchief no longer saw any redemption for the world and, scarred by her own death and rebirth at the hands of the Lich King, any need for scruples. War crimes are cool now, apparently. After fighting, and killing, Saurfang by fighting dirty, she spirits herself away from Orgrimmar. Her destination? Icecrown. 

Once there, she fights Bolvar Fordragon, who currently wears the crown of the Lich King. He previously sacrificed himself in order to render the undead harmless and sealed himself on the Frozen Throne, so he's not exactly evil. Sylvanas has been giving off hardcore evil vibes lately, and Bolvar warns her of the burden of the Helm of Domination, which gives the wearer control over the undead. Surprising us all, Sylvanus chooses to break the helm in half. This rips open the veil between the land of the living and the Shadowlands, where the dead dwell. According to her, this is her way of setting "us all free" of this prison of a world.

Yeah, okay. Whatever you say.

What is in the Shadowlands?

If you've ever died while playing World of Warcraft — we're willing to bet you have — then you have already crossed into the Shadowlands. Rather than a quick visit in this misty place as you run back to your mortal body, the Shadowlands features five new extensive and diverse areas that players will explore in this expansion.

The Shadowlands can be both beautiful and horrifying. The more beautiful, dreamy areas include Ardenweald, a beautiful forest glowing with bioluminescence, and the sunny wheat fields and shining towers of Bastion. Revendreth is the epitome of gothic aesthetic, populated by vampire-like creatures. Then there is Maldraxxus, which looks like an afterlife dreamed up by Tim Burton, all spiders and skeletons. Finally, there's the Maw: a place where only the worst of souls linger. Here, players — if they dare — can ascend Torghast, the Tower of the Damned, a roguelike dungeon where the sadistic Jailer tortures the most wicked of spirits. The halls there are ever-changing and contain some legendary loot that adventurers may not be able to pass up.

Is there a new class for Shadowlands?

Technically, there is not a new class in the Shadowlands expansion. Before you get too bummed out, listen to this: everyone can be a Death Knight now. Previously, only a choice few races could be Death Knights. This is because Death Knights served the former Lich King, and the new guy Bolvar didn't make any after ascending the Frozen Throne. Thanks to Sylvanas tearing the world a new one, Bolvar has apparently deemed it necessary for there to be new Death Knights. 

According to senior game designer Paul Kubit, there just weren't any new classes that really jumped out at developers when crafting Shadowlands. To make up for this, the team decided to focus in on character customization. Playing as a plain old human? Expect there to be a wide range of new options when Shadowlands is released. The same can be said for trolls and dwarves too, so get hype for a diverse new range of possibilities when designing your short but scary Death Knight Dwarf.

Shadowlands makes big changes to leveling

One of the most critical changes that Shadowlands will bring to World of Warcraft is an overhaul of the leveling system. Each expansion has pushed the level cap upwards to its current maximum of 120. Shadowlands will reset the level cap to 60, the same as it was in 2004.

If this sounds like a power reduction for the characters you've spent years building, don't worry. It's more like a level squish, explains lead engineer Patrick Magruder. All current World of Warcraft characters will retain their current abilities, and new skill trees will make them even more powerful. Characters that are maximum level will be set at level 50, and playing through Shadowlands will get them to level 60.

The changes to level limits will also have an impact on previous expansions and original content. Old areas will still be accessible, but will now scale to the level that your character is at now. This means that players can use Chromie Time, which is already live in the beta, to visit any area just for fun or to level a new character up.

What are Covenants?

Okay, so there are no new classes in the Shadowlands expansion, but there is an exciting new feature: Covenants. Think of them as super-exclusive clubs within the Shadowlands. At Level 60, players will be able to decide which of the four Covenants call to them: the guardians of nature known as the Night Fae from Ardenweald, the angelic Kyrians of Bastion, the undead and untrustworthy Necrolords of Maldraxxus, or the vampiric punishers known as the Venthyr from Revendreth. 

No matter which one tickles your fancy, joining a Covenant comes with some serious perks. Thanks to your new club, you'll gain class-specific abilities, and there is some pretty sweet swag in it for you like armor sets and upgradable mounts. Depending on your choice in Covenant, you'll perform missions and help out their cause. The Kyrian, for example, are a heavenly host focused on guiding the dead. Harming the dead is the MO of the Venthyr, who torture unworthy spirits, while the Necrolords use the dead as an army for the protection of the Shadowlands. The Night Fae are ardent protectors of nature.

The Shadowlands beta is active

If you don't want to wait to dive into the new content that Shadowlands is bringing to Azeroth, you can join the open beta and start exploring the new zones right away. Anyone with an active World of Warcraft account has an invite waiting for them from Blizzard that will let them join as soon as slots open up.

Like all betas, signing up does not guarantee access, and players should join with the expectation that the expansion probably has some kinks that Blizzard is still working out.

In addition to offering a chance to try Shadowlands early, Blizzard is also holding a contest to decide which new mount arrives for free with the expansion. There are five mounts to choose from: a giant caterpillar, a flying book, a treelike Ancient, a spidery Nerubian and a Saber Cat covered in ooze. Don't be too disappointed if your favorite doesn't make the cut. The last time Blizzard let players vote on a new mount with the Azeroth Choppers event, all of the concepts were eventually made available in-game.

The pre-patch update features a zombie invasion

Regardless of whether you decide to join the beta, Shadowlands changes are coming. The first thing that most players will notice is a sizeable pre-expansion update.

Every live World of Warcraft account will receive a substantial update to ready the game's servers for the launch of Shadowlands. That update arrives before the Nov. 23, 2020 release date and will prepare the world for the new leveling system and changes to existing areas.

The pre-expansion patch will accompany some extreme in-game events to signal the opening of the Shadowlands. Players will have to survive a scourge invasion and a zombie infestation, similar to the events that occurred before the 2008 launch of The Wrath of the Lich King

However, in response to some backlash regarding the event, this time around players will have an easier time avoiding these undead intruders if they prefer. The invasion is restricted to the population centers of Orgrimmar and Stormwind, letting players avoid the scourge and continue their normal World of Warcraft pursuits.

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