It's slightly embarrassing that I find myself once again becoming a mere vessel for experience, reputation and the countless currencies that drive Azeroth and its adjacent realms. After swearing that I was finally done with World of Warcraft following the launch of Shadowlands, I'm back. I feel like the last person to arrive at the party, but I'm having a blast.
Playing WoW at the end of an expansion, especially if you're a newly returned player, is an unusual experience. For instance, I finished the Necrolords Covenant campaign in just two short evenings. Previously, this campaign gated progression through the story via renown, forcing you to pause one adventure to embark on another: the adventure of grinding. But with WoW gearing up for Dragonflight, that grind has effectively vanished.
These days, the rate at which you get renown has jumped up so much that you can unlock new chapters long before you need them. Renown also unlocks mounts, cosmetic appearances and a whole bunch of other things, all of which will be flung at you at a dizzying rate.
Granted, this can be a tad confusing. I unlocked the Necrolord flying mount before I'd even started the Chains of Domination campaign, which follows the Covenant campaign and is where you get the item that unlocks Shadowlands flying. Naturally, this meant I had to stay up late to finish one campaign and get far enough into the next, because there was no way I was going to bed before I could see my Death Knight zip around on a giant, hideous insect.
I also kept getting quests for later campaigns before I was even done with the Necrolords, which were unfortunately accompanied by some wee spoilers. Nothing too major, but slightly annoying nonetheless. But I'll happily accept these oddities if it means I can finish the Shadowlands story without doing any grinding.
This is not to say that the grind has been excised completely. There are still myriad achievements, mounts, pets and pieces of gear that demand hard work. You'll need anima to unlock all your covenant's fancy rewards, and the story quests give you an absolutely pitiful amount. I've got my eye on a couple of items, but with Dragonflight only weeks away, I know I don't have a hope in hell of getting every tempting, shiny object before dragons and evokers steal me away from my tasks.
It's actually pretty liberating. I know that most of this stuff will still be attainable when I'm no longer revelling in the new expansion, so I don't feel compelled to grind away now. I wouldn't make much progress, so what's the point? Absent this daunting list of tasks, I can focus on just finishing up the important bits, all while I'm doing the equally important work of levelling up my many alts.
A 50% XP buff has been in place for a while now, and the WoW Anniversary buff adds even more to it, as well as increasing your reputation gains. There isn't a better time to spread the love. That goofy tauren druid you made 2 years ago and then forgot all about? Now it's their time to shine.
More diligent players are, naturally, spending this time mopping up all the last bits of Shadowlands, so you'll have plenty of company if you're trying to knock out some achievements and get some hard-to-earn goodies. And with these players comes plenty of wisdom—or at least advice on the fastest route to getting what you need.
Quiet realms are busy again, and there's this buzz of optimistic excitement. Whenever anyone whips out their fancy Tangled Dreamweaver mount—the expansion goodies were doled out with the Dragonflight pre-patch—it's a reminder that big things are coming. It's the end of an era and the start of a new one. One where you can become a bipedal dragon who also flies bigger dragons.
I fully expect to grow sick of WoW again. Possibly even before I finished the Dragonflight campaign. But for the time being, where I'm living it up at the intersection between expansions, enjoying the freedom offered thanks to the reduction in grind and rate at which I'm unlocking new distractions, I'm having a whale of a time.