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Is World of Warcraft still worth playing in 2021? Blizzard’s long-running MMORPG has certainly gotten up there in age, but the commitment to making changes to improve the game’s overall experience, including the approach of Patch 9.1.5 for Shadowlands, has meant playing the game in 2021 is still worthwhile. In fact, the MMORPG seems to keep getting better – and, considering the last several years for context, it’s definitely possible that Shadowlands is at least the game’s best showing in its modern era, even with all the recent controversies surrounding Blizzard.
Answering whether or not World of Warcraft is worth playing can be difficult since the answer varies so dramatically based on what players want. With that said, those looking for hyper-specific, niche benefits to playing may not always find what they’re looking for, even if the general consensus surrounding the MMO’s overall gameplay is positive. There were plenty of players who enjoyed Warlords of Draenor, after all, despite that expansion’s less-than-stellar reputation within the game’s larger community. Ignoring the fact that there will inevitably be no unified opinion, however, the question of “is World of Warcraft worth playing in 2021?” can be broken down into two separate responses: one detailing whether new players will enjoy it, and one discussing the experience of returning veterans.
The answer to both those questions is yes, albeit each group may find World of Warcraft worth playing in 2021 for different reasons. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands reviews were positive, player engagement is waning but still strong, and the world of Azeroth is still very much alive. Here’s why WoW is worth playing in 2021, regardless of a player’s previous involvement with the MMORPG.
For new players, “is WoW worth playing in 2021?” boils down to “how hard is it to get into World of Warcraft in 2021?” The answer to that question has been “not very” for some time now, as Blizzard consistently worked to make its MMORPG more accessible to newer players. However, the massive overhauls that came with Shadowlands have set a high bar for the new player experience in WoW, making it easier than ever for beginners to start their adventures in Azeroth.
The Shadowlands release brought with it a completely revamped leveling system that makes World of Warcraft progression feel smoother and more meaningful. Blizzard reduced the inflated level cap to a much more reasonable 60, condensing the game’s scattered abilities, talents, and upgrades into a much tighter path of progression. The result is each level earned feeling like a meaningful addition to a larger experience, and the game’s introductory levels have also been streamlined, making what was once a daunting experience a much more digestible endeavor.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – Shadowlands’ level squish also fixed the game’s story. World of Warcraft progression pre-Shadowlands wasn’t necessarily a mess, but the result of years of expansions being stacked on top of each other (with tweaks that only directly considered whichever one was most recent) made for an uneven narrative. Players progressed through cool environments way too rapidly, often departing stories mid-way through because they’d out-leveled the adventure. Part of the reason WoW has been so successful over the years is the way it marries its storyline concerns to the way players progress to its endgame, and emotional investment in characters like Thrall and Jaina is hard to build when they’re jumping in and out of the player’s arc at seemingly random times.
Thankfully, Shadowlands introduced a much tighter narrative progression system, one that sees newer players guided through the story content that’s most relevant to the new WoW expansion prior to engaging with it. If new players decide to reroll a character afterward, they’ll be able to choose a zone to make their focus leveling, letting them stick to one story arc and see what it has to offer without feeling like their progression path is suboptimal or outright nonexistent. It’s a welcome change and one that’s likely had even veterans revisiting their favorite expansions with new characters just to relive iconic story beats.
For the most part, Blizzard has World of Warcraft down to a science, which is why WoW is still popular in 2021. Character arcs, class roles, itemization, and more have all been carefully honed over the years and are now implemented with mostly minor hiccups. If there’s one thing that has seemed virtually unsolvable in World of Warcraft’s long history, though, it’s how to make the WoW endgame fun for the entirety of an expansion – if that’s even possible. For veteran players, “is WoW worth playing in 2021?” is almost certainly a question that can only be answered by an assessment of its current endgame design.
How Shadowlands endgame feels probably depends a lot on a given player’s reception to the Great Vault mechanic, but it’s got some strong characteristics going for it. The Great Vault essentially provides a hub for endgame players that helps them sort out which content they’re “meant” to be doing in a given week, giving players loot based on the content they did in the week prior. The Great Vault also gives players choices – the more content they complete in a given week, the more options they’ll have with regards to the loot they acquire from the system, removing some of the frustration of reward gear not being a good fit for a player’s needs.
The Great Vault also helpfully keeps track of what a character has accomplished that week, further reducing the frustration of missing out on one of WoW’s endgame loot cycles. There are still some concerns over the Great Vault – like whether or not it’s enough of a reward for those sinking in the most time – but by and large, the system is a new idea from Blizzard that’s helped make the Shadowlands endgame more accessible without making it feel too simplified or mundane.
There’s also Torghast, the World of Warcraft answer to rougelike dungeon exploration. Torghast mixes up the way endgame progression usually goes, randomizing more than just loot drops while also offering Torghast-specific character builds that grow more powerful the deeper a player gets in a run. Torghast hasn’t been for everyone, and it can still be a vexing element of the game whenever runs go awry, but it’s yet another addition to World of Warcraft’s endgame content that has improved and diversified its experience.
Since Shadowlands launched last year, WoW has gotten bug fixes and balancing updates, including the most recent fixes to the Sanctum of Domination on September 24. Of course, the recent lawsuits and controversies surrounding Activision-Blizzard have likely diminished some of the goodwill players felt after Shadowlands’ release, but looking at the game solely as an MMO, WoW still holds up incredibly well. In the meantime, fans are eagerly awaiting Patch 9.1.5, which will add a number of player-requested changes to WoW. For these reasons, World of Warcraft is still very much worth playing in 2021.