Did you catch the World of Warcraft: Shadowlands Developer Update? The world beyond the veil sounds pretty large at the very least, so let’s not waste any more time in peeling back the curtains even more with ION HAZZIKOSTAS, Game Director.
A CHOICE TO MAKE
There will be four Covenants that future Champions will need to decide among, to see which one they will throw their lot in with:
- Night Fae
Before the Covenants, they first built the world with the idea of having four realms within the titular Shadowlands, each with their own themes to reflect the different aspects of death and the afterlife. They then had to decide on the ruling order of the realms, their motivations, structure and aesthetic for the Covenants. When they got the identity and backstories down pat, it became the guide to designing all the Covenant’s unique abilities while also implementing them based on how “cool” they were.
Once players reach the max level, they will need to decide on a Covenant, with some presumably favouring certain builds. However, they’re trying not to make the latter be true, wanting all four Covenants to have abilities and perks that are attractive to every role and class.
“That’s why each covenant is about not just a single active ability or two abilities, but a full set of the traits that you get through your soulbinds, etc.”
They want you to choose a Covenant based on how strongly they speak to you, rather than merely a choice by the numbers. You’ll be able to try out every Covenant’s abilities as you level up, meeting their leaders and champions, learning their personalities and aesthetics, and fight with them. You can change Covenants, the process assured to be relatively straightforward. It’s returning to a covenant that will be more difficult.
“Leaving a covenant means, in a sense, breaking an oath that you’ve made to them.”
It is possible for them to forgive you, but it won’t be done lightly. They’re not expecting players to be swapping Covenants willy nilly as it’ll just become another talent system – decisively saying they “already have enough of” – and lore-wise, it’d be removing a part of your identity.
As such, the current plan will see you unable to use anything you’ve unlocked – from cosmetics to skills – be unusable should you move to another Covenant. If you return, it’ll remain unlocked as you’ve already earned them. The decision to lock the cosmetics and skills may change, but it would cause a dissonance if you’d be able to use another Covenant’s skills when you’re pledged to something else, considering the lore. Where would you be standing in the war? If you haven’t earned it by being a part of them, it would undermine the identity of the Covenant.
Soulbinds would be the next big thing in changing class gameplay, which could both add more depth and simultaneously possibly overcomplicate things, due to the Unpruning; namely, the return of previously removed skills. We are told that the Soulbinds on their own won’t give new active abilities. Joining the Covenant, however, will give Two new active abilities: one specific to your specialization, and one common Covenant member skill.
Soulbinds are meant to provide heavily themed universal benefits regardless of role and class, from light utility perks to significant combat benefits – cheat death, or combat bonuses. The Soulbind trees can be modified by using conduits to fill the slots, which are essentially simple, passive modifications to class abilities.
A PLACE TO CALL… HOME?
Each Covenant will have their own Sanctum, but there will also be Oribos, a standalone zone in the center of the Shadowlands. It is the sanctuary city for all factions, and is pretty much the central hub with important quests, PVP vendors, and your weekly Mythic+ and Raid rewards. The devs do expect most to be starting and ending sessions in the Covenant Sanctums, likening it to the Legion Class Order Hall.
Going into Shadowlands, a wider range of character customization will be available to all base races, with some that can be earned through in-game achievements. Think of the unique night elf appearance and facial look you get from a short questline connected to the Night Warrior. Nevertheless, they’re not looking to make you earn the cosmetics, saying it’s for special cases where it makes sense in regards to player character customization. They will still likely attach quest requirements on cosmetics for mounts, pets and such, though.
The Jailer is being set up as the ultimate boss of Shadowlands, requiring players to grow quite a bit and learn more about the mysterious foe before the actual confrontation. Before then, they’re more than happy to introduce new raids, powerful bosses and innovative mechanics, bringing up the Castle Nathria Raid. At launch, players can experience this raid and find bosses that make unique use of their environment, Lord Denarius being highlighted. Find Denarius in a room purpose-built for the raid, with disconnected platforms and teleportation devices to move around with and see how you fare in this encounter.
NEW FRIENDS, OLD FRIENDS
For those who were dreading the lengthy flying quest, Pathfinding’s requirement for Draenor and Legon will be removed so long you’re at the appropriate level and have the Riding skill. The old Pathfinder achievements will still remain, rewarding unique mounts where applicable, but they wan’t to make sure players get a choice to play through different expansions this time without being made to acquire a specific skill.
No new allied races are planned for the start of Shadowlands, since it is the afterlife. You could be meeting new allies, but you can’t tell yet if they will want to go to Azeroth with you to join either the Alliance or the Horde. What you can be sure now is that you will have new responsibilities in a new expansion, meeting new players. Brand new players to World of Warcraft will find themselves in a custom zone known as Exile’s Reach, where they will learn the modern WoW universe, about playing their class, interacting with the game mechanics before sending them off to the most recent Battle for Azeroth content to be caught up to friends in Shadowlands. The levelling experience is now much faster for newbies, with stories also better paced accordingly. Players can play the other expansions when they’re ready, instead of rushing through six different expansions. Shadowlands is being considered a good time for players to enter the WoW universe.
You’ve gone this far and the Horde or Alliance haven’t really been mentioned. Their conflict was key in Battle of Azeroth, but now, they’re putting aside their differences to overcome a greater foe in the Shadowlands – to an extent.
They’re not completely at peace, and certainly aren’t actively friends working together with a lot of deep, hard feelings on both sides.
The races aren’t able to forgive the actions inflicted upon each other, but this deep-seated conflict will be taking a backseat as the story focuses on the Jailer and Sylvanas, with the threads to be picked up at a later time.
Speaking of threads, the Emerald Dream – specifically G’Hanir – and Shadowlands‘ Ardenweald are both the forces of nature of the Warcraft universe, except two sides of a coin: the Emerald Dream being the spring and summer of rebirth, while Ardenweald is the autumn and winter, the time of decay before being reborn. There are definitely connections that you will discover as you adventure through Ardenweald, especially pertinent to druids and players interested in the nature of these forces.
The Shadowlands provides an opportunity to see dead NPCs, but they don’t want to overdo this.
“We don’t want to fill the world with every character you’ve met to interact with again, as it maybe cheapens the feeling and permanence of death.”
They do acknowledge they can tell some powerful stories by giving characters closure, you could find significant characters interacting with long gone spirits to know about their future.
There’s some clarification regarding the passing of time in Shadowlands: souls perceive time differently, not necessarily that time moves at a different speed. The closest analogy would be akin to waking up from a dream which you felt spanned far longer than the time you spent asleep. It explains how you might meet souls who have undertaken a journey of self-discovery even though to you, you’ve only recently come to terms with their loss.
CROSSING INTO THE UNKNOWN
You’ll be crossing over to the Shadowlands at the Ice Crown Citadel, where the veil of life and death is the weakest, seeing Sylvanas face the Lich King. You don’t start out knowing what will happen when you enter the Maw, the domain of the Jailer, but you somehow make it out and arrive at Oribos. From there, a connection can be made back to Azeroth, creating a portal back and forth between the realms. Oribos becomes a base of operations as you prepare to face the Jailer in the depths of the Maw, escape from which will definitely be tricky at best.
Before that, you’ll probably be heading to the Theater of Pain. Inspired by the zone of Maldraxxus, this new dungeon will see different warring factions trying to prove their strength. You’ll be arriving in the midst of a high stakes political intrigue, seeing the greatest of champions wanting to prove their strength. Choose which faction you want to overcome, and then face down the champion of the whole melee, and see if you can come out alive. The dungeon will be open for the first time in the upcoming beta, and the team are excited to see how players will experience it.
Shadowlands will go through seasonal affixes, though designs are currently still a work in progress, with tweaks to them and effects to tune. They will get the dungeons up for testing and make changes based on feedback. Mythic+ rewards are meant to be something to give players something to show off their achievements. More than one dungeon can be run over the week, then find options within a weekly chest so that you have better chances to get what you want instead of relying on RNG, to make it feel more rewarding and show tangible progression.
With all that said and done, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, and some way or another, it does affect development in some way. The interview was done virtually rather than in person, and the team has to be working from home as well. The creative brainstorming process is considered one of the hardest parts of working from home, even with all the transition and support for this working environment.
“We’ve had to develop new methodologies to encourage more freeform thinking and less structured meetings.”
Over the years, they’ve learnt how to make systems that are suited to players on different playing schedules, whether you can only put in an hour or two or you get to play everyday. Catch-up mechanisms are in place so that players who come in later can always get caught up and not enter story beats blind.
“We want to make sure it doesn’t feel that it’s mandatory, making sure that you’re doing it because you WANT to and not feel excluded.”
It really is as simple as “playing how you want to play”.
The biggest threat to Azeroth yet looms over the heads of everyone who lives in this world. How long will the Horde and Alliance be able to put aside their differences in order to stop Sylvanas? Will they be able to find an end to their war in the midst of another? There’s plenty of questions fans can ask and speculate as they await beta access to the next expansion to the Warcraft universe.
Sixteen years since the launch of World of Warcraft, the world has undergone many changes and additions, and both the players and development team have grown together with this rich, dense lore. Azeroth’s Champions will be making their way into a new chapter, visiting ghosts of the past in this afterlife. Time will tell how this story will stand up to the others.
Shadowlands will launch in 2020.