In seven weeks, brave heroes of Azeroth will venture into the Shadowlands to confront the forces of the mysterious Jailer and discover the nature of Warcraft’s afterlife. As our development shifts from implementation of new designs and content, towards polish and tuning of the world we have crafted, I would like to offer a roadmap for what to expect over the coming weeks on our Beta servers.
First, on a technical note, players paying close attention to the Beta client may notice that this week’s update bears the designation “9.0.2.” Unlike recent expansions, this time around we will have not one but two client updates, aka patches, in the weeks prior to the official release of the expansion. Development of Shadowlands -specific content (the zones and dungeons of the Shadowlands, covenants, etc.) will proceed with weekly Beta updates in the 9.0.2 branch, while our Public Test Realm runs patch 9.0.1. This approach allows us to get features like the new character customization options and the streamlined leveling experience into your hands sooner in 9.0.1, while allowing the team the maximum possible time to keep polishing the level 51-60 Shadowlands experience in 9.0.2. Our Beta environment will continue to receive weekly 9.0.2 updates, and patch 9.0.2 will go live shortly before Shadowlands officially launches.
As we first announced at BlizzCon last year, while everyone’s first trip through the Shadowlands is driven by a linear narrative campaign that grants access to endgame features such as covenants, world quests, and more, we want to offer players who are leveling alts a much more flexible experience. We have had a version of that experience available in Beta for the past few weeks, as alts select their covenant immediately upon first arriving in Oribos, and then can tackle the four zones in any order they choose.
However, we’ve received a couple of points of feedback that have led us to refine this approach: First, a number of testers felt like they weren’t necessarily ready to pick a covenant right away on a new class, and wished they could replay the narrative arc that let them “test drive” each of the active abilities along the way. Second, even for players who were familiar with the overall story by that point, it felt confusing or wrong to play through portions of some zone campaigns out of order or while already a member of a covenant (e.g. doing the main Revendreth arc while already being a member of Renethal’s venthyr).
In this week’s build, alts emerging from the Maw for the first time will be met in Oribos by the mysterious Fatescribe, who now offers an explicit choice between replaying the narrative arc as first-time characters experienced it, or following the threads of fate to their inevitable conclusion and beginning the journey at a point following the climactic events at the end of Revendreth’s story. Characters choosing the latter option will enter the Shadowlands in a state where the entire narrative Campaign has already been completed, with new Bonus Objectives available in locations that were previously central to the Campaign. Lucrative zone-wide objectives for each of the four zones will provide additional structure while allowing alts to roam the Shadowlands as they prefer, earning gear and experience through their choice of a zone’s side quests, bonus objectives, world quests, dungeons, or rares and treasures.
Our goal with this alt experience remains offering more flexibility than ever before on repeat playthroughs, while also allowing alts to begin making progress towards their endgame goals, earning Anima for their covenant’s reservoir or catching up on Renown so that they can hit the ground running when they reach 60. We look forward to hearing feedback on how the new experience feels!
A number of players in the past couple of months on Beta have raised concerns about what seemed like excessively lengthy introductory questlines in Torghast, which at their worst could feel like five or six successive tutorials that had to be completed before players could access the “real” feature. In a coming build (likely next week), we’re restructuring the way Torghast is unlocked, such that players can gain full access to the main wings of the tower after completing just a single introductory run that also grants access to the Runecarver. The remaining quests to locate and rescue Jaina and Thrall will be incorporated into a larger questline that spans the six main Torghast cell blocks, rewards legendary crafting materials, and eventually unlocks the Twisting Corridors section at its conclusion.
Speaking of Twisting Corridors, as we finalize tuning, Twisting Corridors should come into its own as the “Challenge Mode” wing of Torghast, offering eighteen-floor runs at a higher level of difficulty than the rest of Torghast, with cosmetic rewards for clearing certain thresholds.
Covenants are the centerpiece of Shadowlands and have been the subject of passionate discourse across the community over the past weeks, which has been mirrored by discussion and debate within our team. From the system’s first conception, selecting a covenant was crafted to be a weighty decision, shaping a character’s abilities, cosmetic rewards, and access to endgame story arcs and sanctum systems. A weighty decision almost by definition comes with some amount of stress, whether anxiety about making the “wrong” choice, or just evaluating various pros and cons and wishing there were a way to just get the best of all worlds.
In designing this system, we’ve done what we can to minimize the burden of regret. Those measures should be fully enabled by next week’s Beta release. While picking a covenant at the end of your journey to max level is a weighty choice, it is not a permanent one. If you find that, whatever the reason, you are unhappy with your initial covenant pick at level 60, you need only return to Oribos and you can immediately switch to a different one. Now, if you later wish to rejoin a covenant that you have left, that is slightly more involved: There is a path to redemption consisting of a series of two weekly quests to atone for breaking your vow and to rededicate yourself to that covenant’s cause. These quests are now available for testing in Beta; they are still being tuned, but the intent is that they are largely ceremonial rather than feeling like an arduous grind.
We have also taken steps to ensure that a player who switches covenants, as well as one who reaches max level later on in the expansion, never feels permanently behind as a result. Renown measures the strength of a player’s connection to their covenant and is the main vehicle for unlocking additional Soulbind powers and various covenant perks and rewards. Players primarily earn Renown via weekly quests to gather anima from across the Shadowlands, and to rescue souls from the Maw and restore them to their rightful place in the covenant. If a player has missed any of those quests, however, they will find that they can earn Renown directly through a range of activities such as dungeons, world quests, and PvP, until they are fully caught up. This system will be functional on Beta in the coming weeks.
In short, a player who regrets their covenant choice, and who wants to change their mind, should be able to do so straightforwardly at any point during the expansion, and will be able to reach a state with no long-term drawbacks or disadvantages compared to someone who had been in that covenant all along.
We’ve also heard from many players who, rather than being worried about regretting their choice, would prefer that they not have to choose at all; they have advocated that we offer a way to switch among the various active abilities offered by covenants without friction. But these covenant systems are thoroughly intertwined: Covenant abilities are often modified by covenant-specific conduits and soulbinds; most of those soulbinds in turn are unlocked through covenant-specific narrative campaigns. Granting access to one of these without the others would lead to an incomplete or confusing result. In short, pulling on that thread (or cord, as it were) would unravel the entire fabric of the system. Even so, we would embrace the work required to rebuild the covenant system along those lines if we agreed that it would be an improvement, but we ultimately do not share that view.
Before starting an arena match, engaging a raid boss, or entering a dungeon, a character in Shadowlands can change their specialization, talents (and PvP talents if appropriate), legendary item, other equipment, active soulbind, and chosen path within that soulbind. When it comes to customizing your “loadout” – the set of tools you’re going to take into a given encounter – WoW offers more options than ever before, and you can almost entirely reshape your character on the fly to suit the moment. But as malleable as those choices are, none of them, other than perhaps your specialization, defines your character – they aren’t who you are, but rather what you happen to be doing at any given moment.
Rather than add yet another layer to that decision matrix, we’re trying to do something different here, and let players more meaningfully define their character’s identity and set themselves apart from others who play the same class. And that identity entails a blend of aesthetic preference, narrative experience, and mechanical strengths and weaknesses. From the earliest sketched designs of the covenant system, our goal was for the answer to “what do you play?” in Shadowlands to be “Kyrian paladin” or “Venthyr paladin” rather than just “paladin.” And given the central role of combat and power progression to World of Warcraft as a whole, achieving that goal for most players requires that there be player power implications to covenant choice.
None of this is to say that development on covenants and their powers is finished, or that we are not open to further changes. Far from it. We understand that when we offer a choice between competing packages of strengths and weaknesses, if we’re not careful, especially given social and community pressures, weaknesses can easily overshadow strengths. The satisfaction of having an edge in one type of content doesn’t make up for the frustration of being excluded entirely from participating in another. But while tearing down the entire system may seem to some like the simplest way to avoid that pitfall, we’re committed to working with the community to ensure that players feel viable regardless of their covenant choice.
If you really want to go Kyrian on your rogue, but can’t justify it because every guide currently says that the Necrolords’ Serrated Bone Spike is too good to pass up, or if an otherwise appealing covenant has benefits that seem irrelevant in PvP, those are exactly the sorts of imbalance we want to fix, and your feedback is essential to that process. In the coming weeks, we’ll be doing numerical tuning, making changes to underlying ability designs when needed, and potentially leveraging covenant-specific conduits if a covenant needs some targeted shoring up to ensure that they’re viable in a particular type of content. As our combat team shifts its focus primarily to tuning, we’ll be rolling those changes out to Beta servers ASAP for further testing and iteration.
We have been following the constructive feedback about the range of gear available on our PvP vendors, and we agree with the underlying concerns. While WoW is an interconnected ecosystem of different content and systems and we feel that the very strongest characters should be the ones who participate and excel in a wide range of activities, each individual progression path should offer the majority of the tools required for success in that path. The current PvP vendors fall short of that goal.
We are considering a few different solutions, such as reworking the stat coverage of the vendor gear and/or providing PvP-specific bonuses through those items. As soon as we’ve settled on a direction, we’ll share our plan for feedback, and get the changes up on Beta for testing.
While we eliminated Warforging and Titanforging in Shadowlands , with the goal of increasing clarity and player agency over rewards, the question of how to handle sockets was not quite as clear-cut. A certain critical mass of sockets across all player gear is essential to support Jewelcrafting as a player profession, and in recent expansions the chance for any endgame item to upgrade to a socketed version gave players of all playstyles the opportunity to interact with the Jewelcrafting tradeskill. At the same time, sockets unquestionably constitute power, and can be every bit as impactful as Warforging.
Trying to balance these considerations, the approach we’ve settled on for Shadowlands is to keep sockets as a random item property, but to allow players to add sockets to their items via a consumable sold by Ve’nari in the Maw (similar to Gouged Eyes in the recent Visions of N’Zoth update). This way all players can take advantage of gems and seeing a socketed item drop offers a short-term efficiency advantage, but in the long run competitive players can still make steady progress towards a best-in-slot gear setup without relying on an additional layer of randomness. Finally, in order to limit the total impact of gems, and the power gap between players with full sockets and those without, in Shadowlands only Helms, Rings, Necks, Bracers, and Belts can have a socket randomly generated or added by Ve’nari. These changes should all be active by next week’s Beta update.
The one thing all the above topics have in common is that they have been driven by your passionate feedback throughout the development process, which has helped shape the game for the better over the course of the past year. And a special thanks to all the testers reporting bugs on Beta – we’ve already fixed thousands of issues based on your reports, and are continuing to work through those reports as we aim to make Shadowlands the best experience it can possibly be when it arrives on October 26.