World of Warcraft: Shadowlands’ endgame puts a timer on your exploration

On July 8, Blizzard published a short stream, detailing plans for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands’ upcoming beta, including its experimental endgame zone: The Maw.

The Maw is the very pit of hell in the Warcraft universe, and it has a brand new mechanic that makes it different from other endgame zones in World of Warcraft. Instead of adventuring at your own pace, The Maw will eventually kick you out of the zone for the rest of the day.

Players looking to get quests and objectives done there have to move with purpose, or they’ll need to come back the following day. In a pre-beta test, we got the chance to adventure through The Maw and got a taste for this new time mechanic.

The constant debuff in The Maw explained

Ve’Nari, the player’s only ally in The Maw
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Shadowlands starts by throwing me into the afterlife. I land in The Maw, a zone designed to be extremely difficult and punishing. After a short intro scenario, I escape this dangerous zone and start my adventure in Shadowlands’ four other zones. But at max level, I return to The Maw in an attempt to thwart The Jailer — the primary antagonist of Shadowlands — and aid in the growth of my Covenant.

As I adventure around this new zone, completing certain actions attracts the attention of The Jailer. The longer I stay inside The Maw, the harder it is to stay alive. The Eye of the Jailer debuff is a tiered system: At level 0, nothing happens, but as soon as I’ve stuck around long enough to increase my Eye of the Jailer level, I start accruing penalties.

The first penalty causes Soulseeker enemies to attack me on sight. At level two, The Jailer’s towers start bombing my location, dealing damage to me and chaining me to nearby posts I have to click on to destroy. Eventually, The Jailer will send assassins after me and constantly drain my health until I’m dead.

This debuff normally resets after just a day, but on the test realm we were able to reset it as much as we wanted.

How annoying is all of this?

Concept art for a Death Elemental, one of The Maw’s most common enemies
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

The Maw is gloomy and hard. I can’t use my mount to get around fast, and I’m surrounded by enemies. It reminds me of Sam and Frodo’s adventure through the heart of Mordor in Lord of the Rings, when they face their most dangerous trials just miles away from Mt. Doom.

World of Warcraft normally lets players set their own pace. But there is an urgency to The Maw.

When I was just hanging around in The Maw, the Eye of the Jailer debuff moved at a snail’s pace. Adventuring around, taking in the sites, looting some chests, and killing some enemies barely got me half-way to level one. Just to test the debuff, I sat, motionless on a rock in The Maw for about 45 minutes, and still only increased my Eye of the Jailer tier by a level and a half. I’m sure that completing World Quests and other events will increase the Jailer’s ire much faster, but in my early questing, I ran into very few situations that actively bumped up my rank.

The Eye of the Jailer left me feeling appropriately hindered. It’s enough to make the zone unique without making me hate all the time I spend there. It just asks me to play more cautiously in The Maw, and think twice about where I AFK before making myself a sandwich.

I was skeptical when I first learned about this mechanic, knowing that sometimes I enjoy wandering around a questing zone, mindlessly farming World of Warcraft junk. But based on my time playing, I think The Maw will feel special in Shadowlands. It’s not that I can’t adventure there the way I want, it’s that I have to be more careful.

As I progress in the expansion, I will almost certainly upgrade my powers and increase reputation with characters, letting me survive in The Maw for much longer — or maybe negate the Eye of the Jailer debuff entirely. But until then, The Maw will feel like a truly hostile environment in Shadowlands. And after an overly safe expansion like Battle for Azeroth, my character could use a little more danger.

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