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World of Warcraft: Shadowlands release date, beta and everything we know

World of Warcraft Shadowlands
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Shadowlands is World of Warcraft's eighth expansion, and will continue directly from the events of Battle for Azeroth. Originally announced at BlizzCon 2019, Shadowlands will have us follow Sylvanas Windrunner into the afterlife as she wreaks havoc in the realm of the dead.

As with any new World of Warcraft expansion, we can expect a whole host of new features to keep us busy, but Shadowlands also has big changes lined up for the residents of Azeroth. The max level will be squished from 120 down to 60, various character customization options will be made available for the first time, and there will be a whole new levelling experience to enjoy.

There's a lot to get through, so below we've broken down some of the most important things you'll need to know before the release of Shadowlands. 

But before you dive in, treat yourself to the stunning World of Warcraft: Shadowlands cinematic trailer below.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands release date

At Gamescom 2020, Blizzard announced that World of Warcraft: Shadowlands will be released on October 27, 2020.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands beta

There is a Shadowlands beta currently in progress, but it's restricted to invite-only, with Blizzard sending out waves of invites every few weeks. You can opt in to the beta by heading to the official site and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands editions: what you get if you preorder

Shadowlands is available to preorder now and comes with a few nifty bonuses, depending on which version you want to go with.

Base Edition ($40/£35): This will nab you World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, as well as access to Pandaren and Allied Race Death Knights right now.

Heroic Edition ($60/£50): As well as World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, this edition comes with a level 120 character boost, the Ensorcelled Everwyrm flying mount, and the Vestments of the Eternal Traveler transmog set quest.

Epic Edition ($80/£70): This edition includes everything from the Heroic Edition, along with the Anima Wyrmling pet, the Wraithchill cosmetic weapon effect, the Eternal Traveler's Hearthstone, and 30 days of game time.

Where is World of Warcraft: Shadowlands set?

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Shadowlands will take players away from Azeroth as we know it and place us in the world of the dead. Sylvanas Windrunner has destroyed the Helm of Domination, along with the current Lich King Bolvar Fordragon. In doing so, she has torn the barrier separating Azeroth and the Shadowlands beyond.

Sylvanas Windrunner has always been an ambiguous character, but in recent expansions, she has been making increasingly questionable choices. This has culminated in her showdown with Saurfang in front of the gates of the Horde capital, Orgrimmar, in the latter part of Battle for Azeroth.

After fleeing to Icecrown, and destroying the veil separating Azeroth from the Shadowlands, players are left with no choice but to follow her. But this is the land of the dead, so players will be able to enlist the help of familiar allies – and old enemies – to put an end to Sylvanas' plans, whatever they may be. 

New zones in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands and their Covenants 

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As with any World of Warcraft expansion, there will be new lands to explore and Shadowlands offers players five new zones to quest in.

Oribos, the Eternal City, will act as the main hub for both factions and is where you'll arrive when you first enter the Shadowlands. Then there's Bastion, Ardenweald, Maldraxxus, Revendreth, and the max level zone, The Maw.

If the Shadowlands was operating as it should, each new soul that entered would be directed to the relevant zone – and its Covenant – determined by that soul's experiences and accomplishments in life. But the Shadowlands we find is in turmoil and all souls are being funnelled directly to The Maw, a place reserved for the very worst souls.

And this is where you come in. Four of the five new zones have Covenants associated with them.

Bastion is governed by the Kyrian Covenant. The Kyrian seek out those that have accomplished great deeds in life and look to ascend to become part of the Covenant and all it stands for.

Ardenweald is linked to The Night Fae Covenant and looks for those with a connection to nature. The Night Fae retrieve Anima from mortal souls and look to infuse slumbering spirits and gain knowledge of old.

Revendreth is host to the Venthyr Covenant and search for those souls who lived a life of sin. They sit in judgement to determine if they are worthy of redemption in the Shadowlands.

Maldraxxus is ruled by the Necrolords Covenant and seek out battle-hardened souls and those who were strong in life. Weaker souls that don't quite make the cut become fuel for Maldraxxus' own weapons.

When you reach level 60 in Shadowlands, you'll need to choose which Covenant you want to join and support. Each Covenant will offer the player unique abilities, upgradeable mounts, and other endgame features and activities.

In addition to this, each Covenant will offer a number of Soulbinds to choose from which will allow you to enhance your skills.

New animated shorts explain the four Covenants of Shadowlands

Blizzard is releasing a collection of animated shorts to explain the four Covenants of the Shadowlands, the first of which premiered at Gamescom 2020, which introduces Bastion. 

More shorts will be forthcoming as we get closer to the October 27, 2020 release date. 

Endgame content, including Torghast, the new endless dungeon

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As well as various new raids and five-man dungeons, Shadowlands will introduce Torghast, Tower of the Damned, a procedurally generated dungeon that will scale from one to five players. 

Four new dungeons will be available while you level through the Shadowlands content. These are The Necrotic Wake, Plaguefall, Mists of Tirna Scithe, and Halls of Atonement. Four additional dungeons will then unlock once you hit level 60 and are Theater of Pain, The Other Side, Spires of Ascension, and Sanguine Depths. 

The first raid, Castle Nathria is located in the Revendreth zone and will also arrive shortly after the launch of Shadowlands.

Here's how Torghast works. As players progress through the procedurally generated levels, the content will get increasingly difficult and, because of the nature of the dungeon, no two runs will be the same making it difficult to plan ahead. There is no time limit on Torghast content so you'll be able to take your time as you clear those levels either solo or with a group of friends.

The level 60 cap and new levelling experience in Shadowlands

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The current level cap for Battle for Azeroth is 120 but the maximum level players can reach will be reduced to level 60 in Shadowlands. When Shadowlands launches, players at 120 will be squished to level 50 and will have to make their way to level 60 in order to access the endgame content.

The reasoning behind this decision is partly that player levels were starting to feel a little too high, and while levelling a character from scratch isn't currently a particularly lengthy process, the huge number of levels required may seem off-putting for a lot of potential players.

The actual levelling process is being overhauled too. Currently, certain areas and zones will scale to your current level so you have a choice when it comes to whereabouts in Azeroth you want to quest. And as there are so many expansions to potentially play through, that gives you a lot of choice but also means you're unlikely to play through and complete an entire storyline. This leads to a disjointed levelling experience, especially for newcomers who may not be familiar with everything that's happened over the last 15 years.

As a solution to this problem, you will be able to choose one of the previous expansions to level through in order to reach the start of the Shadowlands content at level 50. So if Wrath of the Lich King was your favorite, you'll be able to quest your way through Northrend, or if you have a soft spot for Legion, you'll be able to level your character through the storylines in the Broken Isles.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands will feature improved character customization

The character creation in World of Warcraft hasn't seen a great many changes over the years. Various races have had tweaks and improvements to their overall visual appearance and spell animations, but the character creation screen has remained largely the same.

Shadowlands will see many improvements to character creation, including new skin tones, hairstyles, and facial hair options for most races. And, an interview with Eurogamer reveals that players will no longer need to pay to change their character's gender, as this will be available via the in-game barber shop. 

There are also some race-specific changes that are worth highlighting.

Humans will receive more diverse customization choices, including face shapes and skin tones.

Both Blood Elves and Void Elves will have the option for blue eyes, something that has always been associated with High Elves in Warcraft lore. Additionally, Void Elves will be able to choose the same skin tones available to their Horde cousins, the Blood Elves.

Undead characters will be able to choose their level of decay. Currently, Undead are pretty grisly-looking skeletal figures with bones sticking out and generally look, well, undead. In Shadowlands, you'll be able to opt for a more human-looking version, or if you prefer, you'll be able to pick something between the two extremes.

Any race can be a Death Knight in Shadowlands

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Death Knights were first introduced in Wrath of the Lich King as the first hero class and have always been restricted to the original races. This has excluded both Pandarens and the new Allied Races that were first introduced in Battle for Azeroth.

But in Shadowlands – or now if you've pre-ordered the next expansion – this restriction has been removed and any race will be able to play as a Death Knight.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands should be a great experience for both new and returning players

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands will bring with it what is possibly the biggest overhaul we've seen to the MMO since the Cataclysm expansion back in 2010. 

Of course, we're getting the new content and systems that we've come to expect from a new expansion. But Shadowlands brings with it huge changes to players across the board with the level squish, character customization, and the way players will level those characters through the vast world of Azeroth.

So if you've been away from World of Warcraft for a while, or you've been put off starting because of the intimating level cap, Shadowlands should mark a great time to jump in and make that cute (but deadly) Pandaren Death Knight you've always wanted.