The short answer is no, World of Warcraft‘s Shadowlands expansion is not free to play. However, WoW does have a generous free trial that allows you to play up to level 20, but to unlock the full Shadowlands experience you will need an active subscription.
Now let‘s take a deeper look at the ins and outs of whether Shadowlands is free and what options you have as a new or returning player.
WoW‘s Free Trial
The base World of Warcraft game is free to try up to level 20. This gives you access to starter zones, races, and some beginner dungeons to get a taste of the WoW experience. However, it does not provide access to Shadowlands content.
The free trial has some limitations including:
- Level capped at 20
- Limited chat and communication options
- No forming groups or joining guilds
- Restricted auction house and in-game mail use
- Gold cap of 10 gold pieces
So the free trial lets you explore Azeroth as a lone adventurer to level 20. But if you want to enjoy group content, unlock allied races, level to the new cap of 70, or experience Shadowlands zones, you‘ll need to subscribe.
Paying for an Active Subscription
To unlock the entirety of World of Warcraft including the Shadowlands expansion, you need an active subscription. This costs $15 per month and gives you unlimited access with no level cap.
A subscription immediately unlocks all previous expansions in addition to the current one which is Shadowlands as of writing this. So as a new player, subscribing gives you access to:
- Battle for Azeroth
- Warlords of Draenor
- Mists of Pandaria
- Wrath of the Lich King
- The Burning Crusade
That‘s eight full expansions worth of content, zones, dungeons, raids, spells, gear, end game systems etc. As you can imagine, hundreds if not thousands of hours of gameplay!
For veteran players who have taken breaks from WoW over the years, resubscribing provides instant access to all expansions you missed. No need to purchase them individually anymore.
And when a new expansion launches, like the upcoming Dragonflight, a subscription immediately grants you access to it as soon as it goes live. No need to buy the latest expansion separately if you stay subscribed.
Was Shadowlands Temporarily Free?
For a limited time in 2022, Blizzard offered the Shadowlands expansion for free to returning players who met specific criteria. To qualify, your Battle.net account had to:
- Have a previous WoW expansion license attached to the account in the past
- Not already own Shadowlands
If you met the above criteria, you could claim a free Shadowlands base edition copy along with a level 50 character boost from April to early September 2022. This promotion has now ended.
Do You Still Need to Purchase Shadowlands Separately?
Previously, the latest WoW expansion had to be purchased separately even if you had an active subscription. That is no longer the case as of September 2022.
Blizzard bundled the Shadowlands expansion into the core World of Warcraft subscription itself. This removed the need to buy it separately.
So as of now, a subscription gives you access to the complete Shadowlands experience including:
- All five new Shadowlands leveling zones
- The max player level increased to 70
- The new Covenant campaign questlines
- Torghast Tower end game activity
- New dungeons and raids
- Legendary crafting system
- Shadowlands-specific spells, abilities, gear, mounts etc.
Everything major introduced in the Shadowlands expansion is now included simply via the core World of Warcraft subscription fee. No separate purchase required.
Can You Skip Buying Shadowlands as a New Player?
For brand new players looking to get into WoW, you only need to purchase the latest expansion which is Dragonflight releasing in November 2022.
By buying Dragonflight, you automatically get access to all previous expansions like Shadowlands simply via the subscription. No need to buy older expansions individually.
Blizzard learned long ago that requiring new players to purchase every single past expansion was extremely cumbersome. So now the latest expansion serves as the gateway to all previous ones.
Expert Analysis on Why Shadowlands is Now Free
According to longtime gaming industry experts and analysts, there are a few key reasons why Blizzard likely bundled Shadowlands into the core subscription:
- Reduce barriers to attract new and lapsed players
- Smooth the transition between Shadowlands and Dragonflight
- Incentivize players to return and stay subbed until Dragonflight
- Boost Shadowlands participation for the remainder of the expansion
With Shadowlands being bundled for free now, it essentially serves as a massive extended free trial for the new Dragonflight expansion releasing later this year.
Based on Blizzard‘s track record, this strategy often works to increase overall engagement and retention across an entire expansion cycle. They utilized similar approaches during the transitions from Warlords of Draenor to Legion, and from Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor.
So in summary, while Shadowlands is no longer free to play indefinitely, folding it into the core subscription removes friction and should provide greater value for both new and returning players.
Key Takeaways on Shadowlands Free Access
Here are some key points to recap on whether or not Shadowlands is free now and what your options are:
- WoW remains free to play up to level 20 indefinitely
- Shadowlands requires a paid subscription to access all content
- Subscribing gives you access to all previous expansions too
- Shadowlands was temporarily free for qualifying accounts in 2022
- It is now bundled into the subscription at no extra cost
- New players only need to buy the upcoming Dragonflight expansion
So in conclusion, while Shadowlands is not permanently free to play, there are more options than ever for both new and returning players to get into the Shadowlands content through the subscription bundles and promotions.
I hope this detailed guide cleared up whether WoW‘s latest expansion is free or not! Let me know if you have any other questions.