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World of Warcraft’s new starting area is way more newbie friendly

Blizzard’s new Exile’s Reach experience is as good as a World of Warcraft tutorial could be

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Exile’s Reach new player experience World of Warcraft Image: Blizzard Entertainment via Polygon
Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

Every World of Warcraft fan knows the struggle of trying to pull a new friend into the game. The MMO is 16 years old, is about to have its eighth major expansion, and currently has 120 levels to grind before reaching the endgame. It’s nearly impossible to get into as a new player, but Blizzard is making some major changes to the onboarding experience in the game’s upcoming expansion, Shadowlands.

We tested the game’s new starting zone as part of the Shadowlands alpha, and even sat down with a new player to try it as well. The result was more welcoming than the beginning stages of World of Warcraft have ever been.

What is Exile’s Reach?

Exile’s Reach world of warcraft alpha
The tutorial starts very simple
Image: Blizzard Entertainment via Polygon

Shadowlands’ new player experience is called Exile’s Reach. After the expansion goes live, all new players must start in this questing zone, with veteran players able to opt in or out when creating a new character.

My new Shaman starts on an Alliance ship, and tutorial images pop up to show me how to move with WASD — yep, it starts with the real basics. After I destroy some training dummies with my lightning bolt spell and do a bit of sparring on the deck, disaster strikes, and we’re shipwrecked.

When I wake up, I’m on the beach with a load of injured Alliance soldiers. I pick up some bandages and interact with each of the injured members to get them back on their feet. The game is quick to hold my hand, but lets me get back to playing after it explains what I need to do.

I push forward with my allies, picking up new quests and defeating new enemies. My quests are varied, giving me a kind of “greatest hits” of World of Warcraft quest types. I hunt for lootable items off enemies, interact with objects around the world, and eventually use a vehicle to quickly mow through an army of foes.

At the end of Exile’s Reach, the game takes me through a miniature dungeon, pairing me with an NPC tank and healer. We take on two bosses and some trash enemies. It’s easy, but it gives me a taste of the feeling I get from running a normal dungeon. At the dungeon’s end, I’m level 10, and ready to start my journey in Azeroth.

[Note: Exile’s Reach testing is currently only available for Alliance players, although we expect the Horde experience to be very similar.]

It’s fun for veterans, but also helps new players

Exile’s Reach world of warcraft alpha
The new experience even pits you against a dungeon boss at the end
Image: Blizzard Entertainment via Polygon

As a veteran player, Exile’s Reach is fascinating. It’s surprisingly fun for a tutorial — I’m always being pulled in new directions, with new quests in visually distinct areas.

But to truly test the power of this new tutorial, I made my wife sit down to try her hand at a bit of World of Warcraft. I’d tried to get her into the game before Battle for Azeroth, but without a proper tutorial, it was almost impossible for her to not immediately bounce off the archaic MMO combat.

But Exile’s Reach produced a different result. I sat quietly behind her and watched her play, purposefully not adding my own comments or suggestions as she went along. The learning process was remarkably smooth, and I watched her pick up skills, complete quests, and equip new loot the way any normal player does.

“I feel like I had a clear sense of where I was supposed to go, what I was supposed to do, and how to do it,” she told me. “I like that it seemed to show me a variety of different quests to do, and the dungeon at the end — I felt like I got a full picture of what it would be like to play WoW.”

After an hour of Exile’s Reach, she understood why World of Warcraft appeals to me and so many others — even if it’s not necessarily for her. The zone does a great job starting new players on their journey, and giving them enough tools to have fun without overwhelming them with over a decade of content.

Exile’s Reach goes beyond simply adding a new player experience; it makes me comfortable recommending the game to friends.

Between Exile’s Reach and Shadowlandsreduction to the overall leveling time, Blizzard is creating a new entry point for its flagship game. We won’t know how good the complete package of Shadowlands is for quite a while, but Exile’s Reach is a near-perfect tutorial experience for new players.

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