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Is WoW Shadowlands Free to Play in 2023?

The short answer is no, World of Warcraft‘s Shadowlands expansion is not currently free to play. However, Blizzard did offer it for free for a limited time in 2022, and there‘s a chance it could be folded into the base version of WoW later in 2023. This guide will explain everything you need to know about getting Shadowlands for free, trying WoW as a free trial, and maximizing your playtime.

As a fellow gaming enthusiast, I totally get wanting to score the latest WoW content without spending more money. Let‘s dive into the details so you can make the most informed decision!

Understanding WoW‘s Payment Structure

First, a quick refresher on how WoW‘s payment system works. WoW is subscription-based, meaning you need to maintain an active subscription to play past level 20. Here are the main ways to access WoW content:

  • WoW Subscription: $15/month recurring subscription
  • WoW Game Time: Pre-purchase 30-180 days to add to your account
  • WoW Base Game: One-time purchase to permanently own base WoW content
  • WoW Expansions: Separate purchases like Shadowlands to unlock specific expansions

So if you want to experience Shadowlands, you need both an active subscription AND the Shadowlands expansion purchase on your account.

Key WoW Subscription Stats

  • Over 3.4 million subscribers as of early 2022
  • $180+ million in subscription revenue per quarter for Blizzard
  • Around 1 million new or returning players added in Q4 2021

Shadowlands saw a huge jump in subscribers when it launched in late 2020, but numbers dropped off later in 2021. The recent promotion offering Shadowlands for free seems aimed at winning back players.

Recap of the Free Shadowlands Promotion

For a limited time from August to September 2022, Blizzard gave away free copies of the Shadowlands Base Edition ($39.99 value) to eligible WoW accounts. Here are the key details:

  • Accounts needed a previous WoW expansion license attached to qualify
  • Promo also included a level 50 character boost
  • No game time was included
  • Offer ended September 5, 2022

This gave lapsed WoW players a chance to return and try Shadowlands for free. But what if you missed out? Let‘s go over your options.

Comparing Shadowlands to Past WoW Expansions

Looking back at previous WoW expansions gives us clues about Shadowlands‘ future. Typically, old expansions get rolled into the base game when new expansions launch.

For example, Warlords of Draenor became part of the base version when Legion launched in 2016. And Legion was included with the base game after Battle for Azeroth in 2018.

So based on precedent, Shadowlands will likely become part of the base version of WoW when the upcoming Dragonflight expansion drops. But nothing is guaranteed yet.

Some Key Comparisons

  • Warlords of Draenor: Widely seen as a weak expansion, subscriber numbers dropped over its lifespan.
  • Legion: Viewed as a comeback expansion, surpassed 10 million subscribers at launch.
  • Shadowlands: Initial hype but mixed responses later. Subscribers dropped below 4 million in 2021.

While every expansion is different, Shadowlands seems more reminiscent of Warlords of Draenor in terms of reception. So expecting it to follow a similar pattern of becoming free with the next expansion seems reasonable.

Waiting for Shadowlands to Become Free

Based on the evidence, waiting for Shadowlands to hopefully become free later in 2023 when Dragonflight launches is a viable money-saving strategy. Here are my expert tips as a frugal WoW player:

  • Keep playing the trial up to level 20 in the meantime. Totally free!
  • Watch for Dragonflight announcements indicating Shadowlands will be rolled in.
  • Be ready to claim your free copy as soon as Blizzard makes the announcement.
  • Consider pre-purchasing Dragonflight to get near-instant Shadowlands access.

The downside is you won‘t experience Shadowlands endgame content right away. But with some patience, you could save $40+!

Buying Shadowlands Now

If you want to play Shadowlands ASAP without waiting, here are some ways to get it for cheaper:

  • Watch for sales around the holidays when it could be 30% off or more.
  • Buy a six-month WoW subscription via Amazon to get Shadowlands included.
  • Use WoW Tokens purchased with in-game gold to redeem subscription time.

I don‘t recommend buying at full price if you can avoid it. With some deal hunting, you can unlock Shadowlands now for reasonable cost.

Maximizing Your Free WoW Playtime

Don‘t forget the base game remains free-to-play up until level 20 on as many characters as you want. Here are some tips to enjoy WoW for free:

  • Experiment with all the different classes and races to 20. Lots of variety!
  • Focus on professions like fishing, cooking, and mining to earn skill points.
  • Enjoy the pet battle system – it‘s totally accessible for free players.
  • Run dungeons using the group finder while you level up.
  • Chat and form social connections even without access to guilds.

The trial gives you a good taste of the WoW experience. And buying even just one month of game time unlocks a ton of additional content.

The Bottom Line on Shadowlands Free to Play

While Shadowlands still requires purchase for now, I recommend hanging tight to see if Dragonflight makes it free to play later in 2023. With some patience and deal hunting, you can experience Shadowlands at little to no cost.

In the meantime, enjoy the solid free trial. And if you simply can‘t wait, look for discounts on purchasing Shadowlands to access its endgame content now. Let me know if you have any other WoW money-saving tips!