A large ominous spire dominates the skyline, bursting through the clouds and breaking the sky itself. Around the rim of the sky is shattered glass-looking particles as the way to The Shadowlands is made open to morals.

What’s Coming in the Shadowlands Pre-patch?

Whether you’re a returning veteran or someone who is fresh off of the boat to Azeroth, the new upcoming expansion, World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, is shaping up to be hands-down one of the best expansion launches that I’ve seen in a very long time. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, but the sheer amount of quality-of-life improvements coming to the game is staggering, whether it’s the complete overhaul to the leveling system to make it more approachable to new players, or the intense end-game content available for battled-hardened dungeoneers and raiders.

First off, what is a “Pre-patch”?
The pre-patch, coming October 13th, 2020 is the patch before the World of Warcraft: Shadowlands expansion becomes available to the public on October 27th, 2020 (the launch of Shadwowlands has been pushed back to an undisclosed date as of October 1st. Blizzard will release a patch (version 9.0) which contains a lot of sweeping game-wide changes into the current version of the game. So the “pre” is in regards to “before the expansion comes out”, and the “patch” means “an update to the game which contains changes”.

Most notably is the alterations to the way classes operate (new spells, talents, and rotations), which most people will not be used to. Pre-patch is a system which allows people to spend time learning their “new” character changes before the next expansion actually releases. This is not an exhaustive list of all changes happening within the v9.0 pre-patch. Instead, this is a list of what I find to be the most relevant and impactful changes to the broader community of new and returning players to the game.

Pre-patch is set to launch October 13th, 2020

A void elf priest priest on the left begins casting a spell as a female dwarf enhancement shaman readies her weapons with a flaming totem in the background.

1. Class Changes With A Focus On Class Identity

Easily the largest change happening in Shadowlands is the sweeping updates being made to every class and specialization in the game. Each class is seeing widespread updates and overhauls to how they play, with a big focus on adding more spells to every specialization. The overarching theme of this has been called “the great un-pruning”, due to the sheer amount of spells which are being added back into player’s toolkits.

As an example, Shaman are known for their ability to use Chain Heal  which was previously only available to the Restoration specialization, but in Shadowlands (and the pre-patch) all Shaman will have access to cast Chain Heal regardless of which specialization they are. Warriors are similar, with all specializations getting access to Ignore Pain/Spell Reflect/Shield Block. All Death Knights will have access to Raise Undead to summon pets. All Hunters get access to Hunter’s Mark, and so-on-and-so-forth. The full list of changes is extensive, but for an easy birds-eye glance at class changes, I’d recommend checking out the official Blizzard News post on Class Changes to get more information about your class specifically.

Why are they making large changes to classes?

The main goal seems to be giving all specializations within a class access to the hallmark spells of that class. This class-wide identity helps create a unique play style from other classes, so Warriors feel genuinely different to play than other melee classes such as Paladins. It also helps to keep the game interesting, by mixing up gameplay and keeping play styles both fresh and challenging. The class changes also pave the way to make other classes more interesting to players who might not have played them previously. Altering the way a class operates can remove prior frustrations as well as introduce new features which might make the classes more appealing to new player bases, making pre-patch a great time to check out other classes if you were in the market.

These “identity” spells set their class apart from other classes, even if the spells have historically not been associated with all specializations.

2. Level 60 Squish: Max-Level Reduction

The maximum level for Shadowlands will be dropping back down to Level 60, which was the old limit from when the game first came out. This means that during pre-patch, all currently max-leveled characters (level 120) will get scaled down to Level 50, with the Shadowlands expansion covering levels 50-60, and Level 60 being the new end-game content. If you have characters which are not maximum level, they will have their current level reduced to match the new limit, which is roughly a 2.4x reduction (120/50=2.4, or ~41%). Other relevant stats revolving around players’ power will also be scaled down significantly, including Item Level of gear being lowered by ~3.5x (ilvl 150 vs ilvl 475), and DPS numbers being reduced by ~95% (4-7kdps vs 100kdps+).

Why lower the level cap to 60?

One of the biggest problems that World of Warcraft faces as a whole is that it’s increasingly difficult to get new players to try the game, let alone continue playing it. As time has gone by, the amount of time required for new players to join the game and reach end-game content has increased significantly since every expansion pushes that finish line further and further away. This means that newcomers are often met with a desolate, isolating experience while leveling since they spend the bulk of their time leveling through zones which are no longer populated with players. This is in contrast to other MMORPGs on the market, such as Final Fantasy XIV has you surrounded by the community at all steps along the way.

As an MMORPG, if you don’t feel the “multiplayer” part of the game, then it can feel isolating, lonely, and boring. You need players to see and interact with each other.

There’s a lot of potential rationale behind why the level squish is happening (including reducing number bloat, streamlining the lore to skip stories that are over a decade old at this point), but my main belief at this time is that the level reduction is geared at allowing more players to get to end-game content to keep the feeling of community alive for the game by increasing the likelihood that someone will actually reach the endgame, instead of facing a daunting 120 levels of loneliness.

A Kultiran woman in golden armor prepares to skirmish with a troll fury warrior in Warsong Gultch

3. Changes to the Leveling Experience

Speaking of new players, one of the changes that I’m most excited for is the complete overhaul of how players will be leveling after pre-patch launches. Most notably is the addition of a new player onboarding area, called Exile’s Reach.

This new zone will be the default option for new players when they get started with the game, replacing the traditional race-based starting areas. The setting of Exiles Reach places players on an island in Battle for Azeroth, having them recover from a shipwreck after washing upon the shores. The island offers players an interactive tutorial which outlines the major categories of how to play the game, including how to place spells from your spell book onto your action bars, how to interrupt spells, how to avoid standing in fire, as well as optional tutorials on how to perform the various roles (DPS, Healing, and Tanking).

After leveling through Exiles Reach players will be roughly level 10, after which they will immediately be placed into the most recent prior expansion, Battle for Azeroth. So the rough outline on how new players will level follows:

  • Exiles Reach (levels 1-10)
  • Battle for Azeroth (levels 10-50)
  • Shadowlands (levels 50-60)

Why the changes to leveling?

Much like the level squish to 60, the main goal of this seems to refocus the gameplay of leveling on one that makes players feel successful, engaged, and up-to-speed on what is happening in the game. Currently when new players level through the game they often find themselves confused on the storylines of old expansions since the stories often get half-told. Most of the overarching stories while leveling do not get closure unless you enter old raids (which most players will not see while leveling). The overall result is that players feel lost on the story, so these changes to leveling essentially offer a soft-reset on the lore for new players, refocusing it so that they are aware of what happened in Battle for Azeroth by giving them 40 levels (10-50) to experience the full story of the expansion and feel engaged with the lore. After players wrap up Battle for Azeroth, they are then immediately ready to jump into the next expansion, Shadowlands with the rest of the community.

I’m excited about this because it means that World of Warcraft is becoming more approachable for new players, something which was desperately needed. Trying to explain modern WoW to even ex-players was surprisingly difficult

Important Note on Leveling Zones:
Players who have previously played the game, as well as all newly created Allied Races, Death Knights, and Demon Hunters (ie: any race/class which requires previous game experience to play), will instead be sent to their faction’s relevant capital city and prompted to talk to Chromie, who will then offer a choice to them on where they want to level, including all of the previous expansions as options. This feature is known as “Chromie Time” and more information can be found on WoWHead if you are interested.

Three woman human heads showing off various customizations including hair styles, skin tone, and eye/mouth shapes.

4. New Character Creator and Customizations

This has minimal impact on gameplay, but is an absolute treasure trove for the ability to differentiate your character from others, or make your character represent what you might look like in real life. The biggest change which people have been excited for is a more diverse representation of skin tones, hair styles, piercings, jewelry, tattoos, and other customizations which are race-specific. Some of the notable additions are more options for Asian and Black skin colors on humans, sub-race customization options such as the Wildhammer dwarves, new ear-length options for Blood Elves and Night Elves, and the ability to change your characters sex at any time through the in-game barber (no more real-life monetary cost).

Alongside the race-specific offerings, the overall Character Creation screen has gotten a complete overhaul with its user-interface, allowing for easier browsing of character creation options and animations which reflect the class that you’ve chosen. When choosing a Shaman your character will surround itself with totems and begin shooting lightning and summoning large lava balls around its fists. Priests will call upon the light and begin hovering in the air. Warriors crash into view while casting Whirlwind in a reckless fury. Rogues appear from a puff of deathly smoke and monks roll into view as they begin an onslaught of quick punches.

I could easily spend 3+ hours in the new character creation screen making characters which I’d never even play. They’ve done an absolutely crack-job with this new creator and the new process of making characters makes you feel more invested in your character before you even begin playing. There’s a bit left to be desired in the IRL racial representations of various underrepresented communities, and the creation screen is far from accessible (zero keyboard support), but I welcome the efforts of the team here and cannot wait for them to continue making improvements to the first few moments of creating your new characters. This is a very needed update and one that can only stand to become even better over time.

Angelic statues of Batsion rise above the background with wings spread, weapons held, and bathed in light. They span the courtyard, creating a semi-circle of ominous but welcoming figures in this castle-in-the-sky.

5. Other Minor Updates

There’s many other features being added in the upcoming Shadowlands pre-patch, but I wanted to touch on a few other notable changes that I’m looking forward to in a succinct manner. This is not an exhaustive list of changes, so I would highly encourage everyone to seek out a full list of updates happening by following along with the Blizzard News and checking out third-party resources such as the WoWHead Shadowlands Overview if you are craving more knowledge of what is coming down the pipes shortly.

  • Allied Races no longer need Reputation to unlock, so you only need to do their relevant quest line to gain access to them.
  • Mists of Panderia Garrosh Weapons and WoD Heirlooms can be equipped at Level 1
  • Magical-based horses will now be able to fly, such as any Prestigious Courser, Unicorn, or Nightmare horse
  • PVP Currencies and Vendors are returning after much demand from the PVP community
  • Updates to in-game navigation interfaces, making it easier to distinguish Main Quests from Side Quests and giving an Augmented Reality overlay to show you where quest-objectives are located
  • Limited-time Scourge invasion event (fun to participate in, offers decent gear for alts to quickly get up to speed before expansion launch)
  • Removal of Battle for Azeroth‘s “Corruption” system (thank goodness)
  • Removal of all “Ahead of the Curve” (Heroic) and “Cutting Edge” (Mythic) achievements for current raid tier (Ny’alotha)

A few dryads walk in front of the twisting, magical branches that make up the purple and blue-hued trees of the Night Fae area.

Thank you!

If you found this guide helpful, or if you have any feedback or comments regarding what was covered, please feel free to let me know on Twitter or on Instagram. I provide these Guides as a way to help the greater World of Warcraft community, whether you’re an experienced battle-hardened veteran, a new friend to Azeroth, or someone who identifies with the infinite facets in-between. Hrothmar.com is made possible by readers like you and the wonderful individuals who I have the opportunity to chat with on my live streams. Stay safe, stay hydrated, and I look forward to seeing all of you in the Shadowlands.