The state of World of Warcraft in 2022: There's a lot of work to do

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
(Image credit: Blizzard)
The state of PC gaming

Sylvanas Windrunner

(Image credit: Blizzard)

To kick off 2022, we're taking a look at the major games, genres and platforms that make PC gaming to see where they're at as we begin a new year. 

The first full year of World of Warcraft's Shadowlands expansion has come to a close, and despite a promising start, 2021 was far from a good year for Blizzard's MMO.

The lawsuit that's currently raging between California's Department of Fair Employment and Activision Blizzard certainly hasn't helped. Much of it pertains to the behaviour of former World of Warcraft higher-ups, and the knock-on effect for the community as a whole has been confusion, anger, and in many cases, decisions to stop playing the game entirely. 

Even if you put the lawsuit to one side, World of Warcraft is still sitting on shaky ground. Shadowlands pre-sales were high, and the usual excitement for a new expansion was certainly rife. But concerns over Covenants, a choice you had to make at max level and one you couldn't easily change, were one of the sticking points early on. It also quickly became clear that Torghast, the new 'endless' dungeon that rewarded you with the resources required to make legendary gear, was unfairly balanced towards certain classes.

In short, power systems—the Covenants, Soulbinds, Conduits, Renown, and legendary gear—felt like they were more numerous and complex than usual at the beginning of Shadowlands. This was made worse when the 9.1 patch, Chains of Domination, arrived in June and risked trivialising the effort put into legendary gear over the previous six months.

Of course, if you don't care about the endgame grind and are happy levelling alts, collecting mounts or chasing achievements, most of the concerns with Shadowlands post-launch may have passed you by. But the reality of what most of us hoped Shadowlands would be versus what the expansion gave us over the last 12 months is starkly different.

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

So, how is World of Warcraft right now? 

Things are… complicated. World of Warcraft is right in the middle of the expansion cycle, which is never a good time to experience the best the MMO has to offer. Players naturally start to fall away as the novelty of new content wears off and there's less to do—it just so happens to be more pronounced right now.

Still, if you haven't played at all during Shadowlands, there's a lot to get caught up on. We are two raids into the expansion, with a third set to arrive with the next patch. Many early inconveniences have been addressed, too, making it easier to catch up. Covenants can now be swapped easily—providing you've maxed out your Renown on at least one character—and you can unlock flying in many of the Shadowlands zones, making it much quicker to get around.

Of course, the levelling process is far more streamlined these days too—the max level was squished down from 120 in Battle for Azeroth to 60 in Shadowlands. If you want to level a character from scratch, you can choose which expansion zone you want to play through once you hit level 10 and up to level 50.

What's been happening recently? 

  • A 'Community Council' was implemented. In an attempt to make the communication between developers and players easier, the idea of the Community Council was born, giving players the chance to have their say and submit feedback.
  • The Mage Tower returned with Legion timewalking. This solo challenge mode, tuned to specific classes was a huge hit during the Legion expansion. It returned with the Legion timewalking event, late last year.
  • The 9.2 update, Eternity's End hit the PTR on December 2. Whether you follow Wowhead's datamining discoveries closely or are just happy that it means the next update isn't far away, this is good news. 

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Are the players happy? 

In a word: no. There's always going to be something you think Blizzard could've done differently—or avoided entirely—or that some class could be better balanced or an item shouldn't have been nerfed. But Shadowlands has highlighted some of the big issues concerning the endgame grind and the many systems and currencies you need to navigate to feel effective while playing in a group.

While some of the sting has been taken away with catchup mechanics, it's almost seven months since the last significant patch. The 9.2 update is currently on the PTR for testing, but even that has frustrated many when datamining revealed that you'll need to grind a new faction's reputation to Revered in order to equip two legendary items.

It's a balancing act that Blizzard has struggled with recently. You want to be able to do everything in-game, and you want to feel like your character is progressing and getting stronger in a fun way. What you don't want is to feel like you're being weighed down by endless, time-gated power systems, meaning you risk falling behind if you can't log in for one or more days.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

When is the next big update happening? 

The 9.2 Eternity's End patch is the next major update, but there's no official word on when it will go live. It's been on the PTR since the beginning of December and updates generally spend around two months being tested there before release. The general consensus seems to point to February or early March as a release date.

9.2 will introduce a new zone, Zereth Mortis, Shadowlands' third raid, Sepulcher of the First Ones, a new Mythic Plus/PvP season, and various updates to classes and professions. Class tier sets are also returning with the update, and you'll gain the ability to equip two legendary items simultaneously, though as mentioned above, the latter appears to be locked behind a reputation grind.

As with any big update, 9.2 is likely to herald an increase in numbers as players return to the Shadowlands to check out the new raid and see what else there is to explore. It's as good a time as any to jump back in, and if you're a new player looking to take the plunge, there's still over 15 years worth of content to explore.

Whether World of Warcraft can fully recover from the events of 2021—both in-game and on a corporate level—remains to be seen. The surprise news of Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard may help with the latter, and we have seen WoW recover from disappointing expansions in the past.

The MMO redeemed itself after the unpopular Warlords of Draenor and came back fighting with the excellent Legion expansion, so there is hope for the future. And as the Sepulcher of The First Ones is the final Shadowlands raid, I'm hopeful that we'll get a new expansion reveal sometime soon.

Sarah James
Guides Writer

Sarah started as a freelance writer in 2018, writing for PCGamesN, TechRadar, GamingBible, Red Bull Gaming and more. In 2021, she was offered a full-time position on the PC Gamer team where she takes every possible opportunity to talk about World of Warcraft and Elden Ring. When not writing guides, most of her spare time is spent in Azeroth—though she's quite partial to JRPGs too. One of her fondest hopes is to one day play through the ending of Final Fantasy X without breaking down into a sobbing heap. She probably has more wolves in Valheim than you.