In the last month, I've gone from finally being free of World of Warcraft, swearing that I was really done for good, to getting all of my characters ready for Shadowlands. Yes, I've been ensorcelled yet again, so I'm fully invested in the next expansion and ready to head into the afterlife. First, though, there's the pre-Shadowlands event, a crisis that's steeped in nostalgia but leaving me a little bored.
The Scourge menace is once again causing problems for the Alliance and Horde, and nowhere is safe from the curse of undeath. The heroes of Azeroth have to put on their deerstalkers and investigate this zombie comeback, heading back to chilly Mordor knock-off, Icecrown. It's all very Wrath of the Lich King, which makes me a very happy boy, or at least it did until I started spending most of my time waiting for rare elites to spawn.
Now in its second week, the pre-expansion event will take you from the conclusion of Battle for Azeroth to the beginning of Shadowlands, gearing you up in the process. There's a brief quest chain, which got a few more quests added to it this week, that will have you flying around warning people in your respective faction, before sending you to help the Argent Crusade in Icecrown.
After the initial sense of panic and urgency, the quest chain flounders a bit, and then ends with a quick fight and learning something you already knew. It's nice to have an excuse to fly around Icecrown again, though. It's one of those zones designed exclusively to be explored from the air, so it's mostly full of wasted empty space, but it's still a dramatic, intimidating location, and a natural place to set anything related to the Scourge.
Once you're done with the main quest, you're left with a few daily quests and elites. The dailies are varied enough that I'm happy to keep doing them all, but the bosses are where you'll find the rare loot, including Shadowlands-ready gear, and piles of Scourgestones that can be exchanged for more gear. You can buy yourself a hideous pet, too. Blizzard has thankfully reduced the spawn time for bosses, so they now appear every ten minutes, which means less waiting around than there was last week.
It's a grind, but not an especially arduous one. All of the Scourge in Icecrown can drop Scourgestones, and the quartermaster prices are pretty low. Gear costs 15 commendations a piece, and you can get everything, pet and a broom that clears the Scourge plague included, for 170 commendations. Even if you're just starting now, you should have enough time before Shadowlands begins on November 23 to get everything. The gear's ilevel is 100, but you can get higher level gear from elites.
Collecting Scourgestones for the Argent Crusade is not, it turns out, a particularly exciting way to get ready for a new expansion, but it's not the only thing happening during this event. There's also the final showdown with smug arsehole Nathanos "Step on me, Sylvanas" Blightcaller, for instance. It's been a long time coming, and I won't deny it was satisfying, even if the final blow goes to someone else. It's the Scourge plague that's the highlight of the event, though.
For the third time in the game's history, the Scourge plague is turning players and NPCs into violent, infectious zombies, so you can ditch the whole hero malarkey and just join the Scourge. Clearly the undead are making a comeback, so you might as well get in on the ground floor and accept the new world order. As a zombie, you can then bring your friends and basically anyone around you into the fold by infecting them, which is a good thing, as individual zombies ain't much of a threat.
Crates that give players the infection can be found in Ogrimmar and Stormwind, but they're also teeming with high level guards and NPCs, not to mention the high level players, who can make short work of zombies. It's certainly still possible to charge through the capitals and turn them into zombie wastelands, however, and players have been ganging up on big shots like High Exarch Turalyon and, yes, even Sylvanas.
The Scourge plague has also spread far beyond the capitals, to other cities across Azeroth and beyond. Even Shattrath is in trouble.
Unfortunately, most of the zombie invasions I've witnessed have been put down before they got interesting. Some planning helps. Understandably, it can't be too easy to drown the whole MMO in walking corpses, as that would make it rather difficult to do basic things like visit an auction house or do some quests. It's fun when you're a zombie—but it's a drag if you're just trying to finish off some stuff before the expansion drops.
Big events like this should cause a bit of a mess, though. It's the end of an expansion and the beginning of something new, so there should be a shake-up, a bit of chaos. Last time, that 'something new' was Wrath of the Lich King, so I can only hope that this Scourge invasion is heralding something equally great. We'll find out how Shadowlands stacks up next week. In the meantime, it's already had a positive impact. The pre-expansion patch completely overhauled the levelling experience, cutting out years of bloat. It's a seismic change, but a very welcome one.