World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, the eighth expansion, isn't due out until some time this summer, but Blizzard just announced that its closed alpha will begin later this week. Though invites will be mostly limited to "long-time WoW players with active accounts in good standing," this will also be the first opportunity for players to datamine Shadowlands and find out new details that Blizzard hasn't yet discussed.
In a blog post, game director Ion Hazzikostas announced the closed alpha and gave details on what players can expect when they first jump in. Because Shadowlands is still in development, the alpha will initially be limited to the starter zone of Bastion and its corresponding dungeon, The Necrotic Wake.
New zones will be added over time—Hazzikostas said Revendreth and Torghast, Tower of the Damned should be added later in April, with the rest following on a regular basis. Once the majority of Shadowlands' new features and areas are released in alpha, the servers will be wiped and the beta phase will begin with bigger waves of invites sent out to players.
The launch of a new expansion is an exciting time, and Shadowlands sounds promising. When it was first announced back at BlizzCon 2019, it was clear that Blizzard had taken to heart some of the criticisms players had of Battle for Azeroth's loot and progression systems. For example, the core resource used to increase your character's power and abilities won't be infinitely grindable like it was in previous expansions, alleviating some of the pressure to constantly grind to keep up with other players. Legendary equipment is also coming back, but this time you'll craft it instead of hoping for the right one to randomly drop from monsters.
Hazzikostas also pointed out some new features in his blog post, including big changes to class abilities that will see spells removed in earlier expansions added back into the game to give players more tools to play with. The quest interface is also being tweaked to better distinguish between option and mandatory quests.
Even if you're not invited to the Shadowlands alpha, there's still reason to be excited. This will be the first real chance players have had to dig into the game files to find details on new equipment, mounts, abilities, and more. When the alpha goes live later this week, you can expect a huge info dump on websites like Wowhead.
Hazzikostas is warning players not to take everything at face value, though. Given that Shadowlands is still early in development, the files contain "numerous experiments and discarded ideas" that might mislead players.
PC Gamer will have access to the Shadowlands alpha, so you can look forward to our ongoing coverage over the weeks and months leading up to launch.