Questing is the bread and butter to every video game, especially in the MMO genre. Despite my excitement, the idea of venturing into the wilds to kill twelve boars and return their livers for some copper pieces is not quite the adventure I had in mind. In the spirit of role-playing, I viewed this as paying my dues as a low level warrior in World of Warcraft. As time went on, I found myself doing similar yet different tasks over and over again. I would venture into a town, grab the laundry list of quests and venture on my merry way, returning when my bags were filled to the brim with various body parts and contaminated dirt. Upon my start into Shadowlands, I have seen this traditional take on storytelling change.
World of Warcraft has always had a basic quest structure that never really deviated from the past. Whenever you meandered into a town, you would be lambasted with an array of quests, making you go around and grab each one like a sale at Target. Eventually upon completion, you would turn them all in for a massive amount of experience points. Each quest would be slightly different, deriving from the nuance of “kill (a certain amount) of (a type of enemy), and none of them really stood out. Most of all, I couldn’t really tell which one of these quests felt tied to the overall story. I would just do things until a big moment happened, and then pretend that I knew exactly what was going on the entire time.
Upon my first visit into Bastion, I realized that there was an absence of the needy NPCs beckoning for me to heed their call. Instead I would be greeted by one, maybe two characters with quests. These quests seemed to be rather involved and had a level of depth that I haven’t seen in quite a while. I was lured into actually paying attention to what was going on because story elements were just tied to blocks of text, they were injected into what I was doing, and they just didn’t feel important at all. This time around, I got to experience the denizens of Bastion attempt to make me into a lifeless husk devoid of all human emotion.
That was the moment I noticed Blizzard’s massive change, finally understanding the concept of “quality, not quantity.” In the past, everyone wanted to quest-chain their way to max level and engage in endgame content. Shadowlands took an entirely different approach to the experience. For some reason, I have been paying more attention to characters and story elements as opposed to collecting quests and completing them as fast as I could. My pace is now much slower and nuanced. I am interested in what I see, which is a far cry from my own past experiences.
I never basked in the story elements that were hidden behind the tasks given to me. Killing Rob Zombie-like mariners until I found a horn never interested me. I never questioned why I had to do it, nor did I care. I simply did what the walrus man told me to do, which is a wonderful excuse to use in the real world, might I add. Looking back on past experiences, it all felt like filler, that got in the way of what I needed to do so I could continue to kill the Lich King. Of course, I was too ignorant to care about why I had to kill a fish under the sea in order to continue forward.
Shadowlands made me invested in what I was doing because the quest list became smaller and the tasks became more focused. I could feel the urgency of Importance behind every major plot point, making the stakes feel more tangible. Despite the feeling of constant danger, I could still breathe while understanding what was happening around me. I didn’t feel lost as I felt in past expansions, most of the time in Bastion and Maldraxxus, I knew exactly what was going on, and I actually cared about it.
I found a lot of World of Warcraft’s appeal to be found in the environments, and the enemies I was fighting. I could have done more to explore these story elements in the past, but somehow things felt disjointed to me. The quests themselves didn’t make me feel compelled to pay attention to the minor story elements, instead, the world made me feel obligated to pay attention to the quest. The problem was, there was nothing in the past that felt as impactful as the various cutscenes and pivotal moments found in Shadowlands.
What drew me to this epiphany this time was Blizzard’s clear-cut distinction between main and side quests. This sense of simplicity helps to better understand when I am taking part in a major story arc or trivial moment. While main quests are filled with immense depth and overarching narrative, sidequests had an interesting yet isolated element to them. On occasion, these main quests will feature a unique segment such as riding a giant undead flesh golem that would punch and throw up on things much like a small child would. Even though the side quests in Shadowlands didn’t feature hulking beasts, there was something else present, and I could only chalk it up to charisma.
At one point after a major plot hook in Maldraxxus, I ventured to my next part of the main quest. On my way I found a crate which then led me to a suspicious character, waiting for me to approach them. Even though I wanted to progress the story, this character convinced me to take part in an event that would have me climb a tower. Upon completing a small set of nearby tasks, I was able to get into the tower, only to find it filled with animated books attempting to kill me. After doing some parts of the quest there, I went to fight a boss at the top of the tower. Upon its defeat, I was told to jump off the roof of said tower. For a side quest, this was unlike anything I have experienced. It was isolated from the main story, and it was fun. I will always take more endearing short stories like this over killing a single mob any day of the week.
Not every side quest was as immersive as the cursed Barnes and Noble, but it was a nice surprise to see some love given to something that could ultimately be seen as trivial. How many others simply saw this quest and walked passed it in favor of pursuing the main objective? Most of all, I am glad that it wasn’t something so devoid of interest and instead had a real sense of character, something sorely needed in this world of death and green sludge pools.
Moments like this make me appreciate the dedication that Blizzard has for questing. Even though Shadowlands has a lot of neat features waiting for us at the endgame, and the urge to quickly rush there looms over us all, I am glad to see this level of quest variety from the team. Having a mix of things to do almost makes up for the lack of systems that coincide with your adventure. I only hope to see this momentum carry us through the next two years of World of Warcraft.