In brief: Fans of Blizzard's excellent long-running MMORPG World of Warcraft were eagerly looking forward to playing its latest expansion, Shadowlands, last month. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19-related productivity issues as well as balance concerns, the expansion was delayed indefinitely. Fortunately, we finally have a new release date now: come November 23, we'll all be able to delve into Azeroth's afterlife realms.

November 23 is an important date for World of Warcraft, but not just because of Shadowlands. On that day, over a decade and a half ago, World of Warcraft was born. That's right, Blizzard has chosen to release Shadowlands on the game's 16th birthday -- there's something poetic about that timing, given that this expansion will focus on death.

The good news is, you won't have to wait until November 23 to sink your teeth into some of Shadowlands' changes. The first major phase of the expansion's "pre-patch" kicked off a few weeks ago, and it brought a wide array of tweaks to the WoW experience.

The leveling experience was completely overhauled, and the level cap was "squished" for the first time in WoW history, bringing it back down to 50 from 120 (Shadowlands will raise it up to 60, though). Yeah, the numbers were getting a bit out of hand.

On top of that, most of the playable races got new customization options (another new thing for WoW -- players have been stuck with the same hairstyles for years). There's also an entirely fresh new-player experience in the form of "Exile's Reach," a level 1-10 zone that introduces you to WoW's core mechanics.

It also includes quests specific to your class to teach you some of its basic abilities and features.

The second phase of Shadowlands' pre-patch begins on November 10, and it will task players with fighting off a Scourge (undead) invasion. In doing so, players will undoubtedly earn cosmetic rewards or "catch-up" gear (equipment doled out toward the end of one expansion but before the next) to aid them in the battles to come on November 23.

If you're completely new to WoW, a free trial is available now, which lets you fight your way to level 20. If you're a seasoned veteran, you can pre-order Shadowlands' Base Edition now for $39.99. There are also Heroic and Epic Editions, but those aren't really worth getting unless you want a max-level character boost or some assorted in-game cosmetics.