Blizzcon 2019 has finally come and gone to uproars of applause. After the tepid convention that was last year’s Blizzard-Activision trade show with the heavily controversial release and management if Diablo Immortal, the company desperately needed to make this convention a landmark release experience. As you’ll see throughout all our coverage this week, they certainly nailed it out of the park. For many, first and foremost it began with World of Warcraft’s newest expansion: Shadowlands.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is the recently announced 8th expansion to the 15 year old MMORPG. Taking place right on the heels of Battle for Azeroth, disgraced warchief Sylvanas Windrunner pursues her quest to command death itself. Advancing on Icecrown Citadel, the seat of the undead Lich King, she endeavors to take his crown by force or otherwise. Laying waste to his forces and even chaining the Jailer of the Damned, she took up the unholy crown, the Helm of Domination, for her own.

Declaring that the world itself was a prison she took the Helm, the key to keeping the endless undead Scourge from destroying Azeroth, and tore it in half. In doing so, Sylvanas ripped the Eternal Veil asunder; the barrier between the world of the living and those of the dead. Throwing the Shadowlands, Warcraft’s afterlife, into chaos, she escaped to the dark recesses of its eternal prison. Uniting with her partner in the Maw, the mysterious Jailer has begun to draw souls and Anima, the essence of life, in earnest from the Shadowlands. If he is allowed to continue uninhibited, and the Shadowlands are left unclosed, all of Azeroth if not the universe will be fed to the Jailer’s unending hunger.

Heroes of Azeroth will be venturing through the inescapable Maw, a prison for the worst souls in existence, into the Shadowlands themselves. While there players will be exploring four new zones and the Covenants who rule over them. The Kyrians rule over Bastion, one of the first zones players will encounter. Angelic beings who revel in truth, duty and accept only the most virtuous souls, they assist the mysterious Arbiter in ferrying souls to the afterlife and sorting them after their judgement. With the drain upon the Shadowlands, those attempting to gain their wings through their trials have suddenly been unable to progress. With numbers of Kyrians dwindling, the Shadowlands are becoming more and more deprived of souls.

The Ardenweald is a place of nature and rebirth; a dark mirror to the Emerald Dream. Here, those souls connected innately to nature come to rest and find peace before being reborn into the cycle. Ruled over by the Winter Queen and her Night Fae, this place of nature is being hit the hardest of all. With both souls and their inherit living energy, Anima, being drained into the Maw, the Ardenweald is withering day by day. Soon the Winter Queen will need to decide how she rations the precious resource of the dead, and who may rest in the cold forever.

"Bastion, the realm of the Kyrians. They accept only the most virtuous souls into their ranks."

Maldraxxus is the dark domain of the Necrolords, masters of the Shadowlands’ standing army. Here in their soul forges do they forge their forces into engines of destruction. It is not cruelty or evil that rules this land, but strength and power. Used in part to defend the Frozen Throne and the gateway to the realm of the dead, now this army has fallen into dissaray and chaos. While its soldiers stand ready to defend the souls of millions, its leader has mysteriously vanished. Now the five most notable Necrolords are vying for the position, and the responsibility for bringing death across the cosmos. In an effort to combat the other, each is building an army that will soon outgrow the normal standing forces of Maldraxxus. Soon, all out war will be unleashed…

Revendreath is the purgatorial realm of the Shadowlands and the domain of the Venthyr. At the dawn of creation they were charged with purging those sent to them of sin, draining it from their souls a drop at a time. Having gorged themselves on Anima for millenia, the Venthyr have become slovenly and gluttonous, much like those they are charged over. Content to whittle away their existence, rumours have begun to arise of the unfitness of the realm’s master. If he were to be replaced, perhaps Revendreath may find itself changing course to a better future…

These four Covenants will be the main drawing point of Shadowlands. Players will progress through each zone in a linear fashion, working cooperatively with each ruling body to reunify their disparate forces. As they do so, you’ll be able to unlock two abilities for aligning with that faction, both of which will change if you change your Covenant. One is a movement related ability for outdoor use, while the other is a class-specific combat ability much like Legion’s artifact powers. Each faction will have unique cosmetic rewards and armor tied to each, from winged cloak replacements to upgradable mounts.

[caption id="attachment_336336" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Plate Covenant Armor Rewards, From Left to Right: Necrolords, Venthyr, Kyrians, Night Fae[/caption]

Each Covenant will also have a Sanctum which game director Ion Hazzikostas described as a melding of Legion’s Class Halls and progression that players participated in with Suramar’s Shal’aran. As players work to return their Covenant to its former glory, they’ll recruit allies, establish portals, and develop their new domain into a symbol of hope for the Shadowlands. Tied into the allies you will recruit is the new Soulbind system.

Choosing one of your newer allies, players may bind their soul to them to gain new perks and abilities much like passive talent trees. These will be empowered, as well as several other Covenant tools, by Anima. Collected throughout a player’s adventure in the Shadowlands, this Anima will be used to progress through the talent tree and unlock relic-like slots for players to input passive effects into. On stage Hazzikostas confirmed, much to the roaring applause of the crowd, that Anima would not be an infinitely grindable treadmill such as what players experienced with Artifact and Azerite power in Legion and Battle for Azeroth.

All of this will lead up to players returning to the Maw, the infernal domain of the Jailer once more. Intended to be an endgame experience for max-level players, the Maw is an inhospitable and unfriendly wasteland; there are no innkeepers. There is NO safety. It is only yourself, those you take in with you, and the unnerring gaze of the Jailer and his forces. The rewards of venturing in can be risky and great, though anything you do can earn the gaze of the realm’s dark guardian. Should the Jailer notice you, he may send kill squads to engage you, rain fire from his tower, or more.

[caption id="attachment_336337" align="aligncenter" width="560"] An in-game rendering of Torghast, the prison for the worst Souls in existence.[/caption]

In the center of the Maw stands Torghast, the Tower of the Damned. An infinitely generated experience, this 1-5 player scaling pseudo-dungeon is based off of elements from roguelike games such as The Binding of Isaac. Each time you enter the halls of the ever-changing complex, it will be different in both it’s layout and what enemies are generated. The deeper you progress into the Jailer’s domain, the harder it will become, but the rewards will be great if you can make it out alive.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has an open release date of 2020, putting it a little over a year away at most. Players can pre-order the expansion now for exclusive rewards, including the ability to make a Death Knight of ANY race with the launch of Patch 8.3.