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BlizzCon 2019 - World of Warcraft Shadowlands Interview

Robin Baird Posted:
Interviews 0

During BlizzCon, I had the opportunity to interview World of Warcraft's Patrick Magruder, Lead Gameplay Engineer, and Michael Biden, Senior Game Producer who works primarily with the design team. We discussed a wide variety of aspects of the coming Shadowlands expansion and some of how we get from the events in Battle for Azeroth to crossing the veil into the realm of death. It was a fun opportunity to delve a bit further into various aspects of the expansion. So, let’s jump right in.

The first topic I brought up was the questline with Vol’jin to find out who told him to pick Sylvanas as his successor. For anyone who hasn’t played through this questline, as this is Horde only, players could accompany Vol’jin, now in spirit form, to question Bwonsamdi, the Lich King, and Eyir Queen of the Valkyrie. We very quickly learn not only did the Loas have nothing to do with telling Vol’jin to pick Sylvanas, but Bwamsandi is none too happy with her being in power because she tips the balance between life and death too far. The Lich King also had nothing to do with it but offered up the tidbit that Vol’jin’s spirit has been greatly altered. Of course, he couldn’t just say how Vol’jin was altered, that would have been too easy. Eyir gave us a clue about Vol’jin himself because he’s a different kind of spirit. She said he was sent back by someone of immense power and specifically said he’s “been touched by the hand of valor”. Vexingly she wouldn’t say who had done this.


During the Shadowlands What’s Next panel, they talked about the Kyrian covenant and how they are very duty and service-oriented. I got to wondering if perhaps one of them is who had sent back Vol’jin for whatever purpose. Perhaps he’s supposed to help rectify his choice of selecting Sylvanas and maybe has some role in taking her down? Of course, they couldn’t comment on this specifically as it’s probably pretty big spoilers. However, Biden did say they did all of that for a reason and that all of these loose threads are tied together. He also mentioned they think players will enjoy all the different past characters we will encounter in the Shadowlands. This makes me think it’s more likely Vol’jin still has a part to play, but he won’t play it until sometime after the expansion hits.

We then talked about how often the storylines for the Horde and Alliance are often the same basic storyline just told from a different perspective and how sometimes each side sees different parts of the story. In Shadowlands, this won’t be the case. The storyline and a lot of the quests will be the same for both Horde and Alliance. However, Magruder pointed out that there will be some flavor differences. For example, both Horde and Alliance will meet Uther, and he’ll for sure have different reactions to members of each faction. So, although our stories will be aligned there will be some small differences. Instead, the variety of storylines will come from different covenants and their separate endgame campaigns.


Magruder also brought up one of the more interesting aspects of the expansion will be seeing how players combine their different abilities from their covenants to get some interesting synergies. They, unfortunately, they couldn’t give specific examples here because they are still very much in the process of working out what those abilities will be. One thing which does have me concerned is there’s a real chance of groups wanting people based on what covenant they are. Not so much in raids, because those are large enough covering all four covenants probably won’t be too much of an issue. However, in both Torghast and M+, it’s a real possibility, especially since during one of the panels, it was mentioned there might be certain areas only members of certain covenants can gain access to.

On the same note, I’m also concerned with the possibility that since the special abilities each class gets is based on their class rather than their spec, it’s possible for players to feel pressured to pick certain covenants for the specific ability. For example, if the Kyrians offer a cool defensive ability to a class, people who play DPS might feel like it’s a waste to go with that covenant if a different covenant offers a really strong DPS ability. Magruder said they are absolutely aware that’s a potential problem, and it’s something they’ll be focusing on a lot. They want the choice of a covenant to be a meaningful choice for players rather than an “oh I gotta min/max” choice. It’s a narrow line to tread to keep the abilities feeling interesting and powerful while not being unbalanced. Hopefully, they won’t end up going the route of just making all the class covenant abilities DPS abilities, though that would probably be the simplest way to ensure they are all balanced.


One thing I was also wondering about is if the first time we go to the Maw if that experience is a scenario since the zone is a max level area and extremely inhospitable. As a result, being there at level 50 seems like it wouldn’t work well. Biden responded that they hadn’t settled on how exactly the first foray into the Maw would work, but it would be some type of directed experience. He also mentioned the current thinking is something similar to the Tanaan intro experience. This is interesting because the last few expansions the starting experience has been a scenario, and I’m a bit curious why they are leaning away from that this time. Either way, hopefully, we’ll still get the option to skip it after doing it once, especially since it seems like leveling alts will be interesting and less punitive this time around.

So what are you looking forward to the most? Any aspect of Shadowlands which has you particularly concerned at this point? Let me know in the comments!


Robin Baird

Robin loves RPGs, MMOs, JRPGs, Action, and Adventure games... also puzzle games... and platformers... and exploration games... there are very few games she isn't interested in. When it comes to MMOs she focuses on WoW and GW2 but will pick-up other games as they catch her fancy. She's a habitual returner to FFXIV because that game is an all-around great MMO.