During yesterday’s developer livestream Ion Hazzikostas, World of Warcraft Game Director, shared a bit of a preview of the content we can expect to see at max level in Shadowlands. Up until this point, alpha has focused on the new player experience, intro questline to get to Shadowlands, and all four of the leveling zones in the expansion. As Blizzard prepares to move to beta next week, max level Maw and covenant campaigns will start to be available as well. I had the opportunity to spend most of the day playing through those experiences and also participated in an interview with Ion Hozzikostas to delve a bit more in-depth on some of these topics.
Venthyr Campaign and Covenant Perks
When I played through the storyline for Revendreth during alpha, I, unfortunately, encountered a bug near the end of the questline, which prevented me from actually completing the zone storyline. Nonetheless, I have a reasonably decent understanding of how things must end in this zone. After all, we know Denathrius is the final boss in the first raid, so there’s only one real possibility. To that end, the Venthyr campaign seems to be taking care of the prep work needed to take him on. This makes sense because Revendreth is the last leveling zone in the expansion. This does make me wonder if the other covenant campaigns will dovetail with the Venthyr one is someway.
I’m not sure if all of the covenant campaign was implemented or not yet, but it seems to be fairly short thus far. I’d honestly put the Venthyr campaign on par with the various leveling storyline in terms of the amount of time it took me to go through it. All of this isn’t to stay the storyline isn’t well done, it’s just a bit shorter than I thought it would be. However, the campaign follows the same format as the war campaign, and class hall campaigns did in the two most recent expansions. As such, I’d be shocked if the covenant campaigns didn’t have more added to them as Shadowlands progresses. Afterall, covenants are meant to be a key part of our character’s identity in Shadowlands, so It’d be disappointing if their story stopped soon after the expansion launched.
Soulbinds are the big surprise for me when it comes to what I was expecting. I figured they would be either utterly convoluted so that they’d be more frustrating than they or worth, or downright boring. To my surprise, they seem to walk a pretty fine line between overly simplistic and convoluted. Each of the NPCs who I could soulbind with offered unique abilities, which enhanced how I play but didn’t force a particular playstyle on me. For example, Nadjia’s ability Dauntless Duelist caused the first enemy I dealt damage to in combat to get a debuff, which reduced their damage to me by 2% and increased my damage to them by 4%. As a tank, that’s pretty helpful. Plus, once the target with the debuff dies, the next enemy I deal damage to got the debuff. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s cool and has a neat red skull animation which showed me which target was getting the debuff but wasn’t overly distracting.
During the preview, all the talents and soulbind NPCs were already unlocked for us. However, from the way the campaign story progresses, it’s likely the first one unlocks early, and the other two will unlock as story steps are completed. Additionally, during the interview, Ion Hozzikostas confirmed the individual talents in the trees would unlock as a player gains renown in their covenant. He also confirmed players would be able to freely change who is their active soulbind while in their covenant sanctum, but talent tree respecs will cost a small amount of anima. Each of the soulbind NPCs has very different talent sets. For example, Nadjia is very combat-focused, while Theotar is more profession/QoL focused. Having each set-up for a different activity seems ideal.
I honestly had a lot of fun working on the covenant campaign and messing around with the soulbinds available. I’m still unlikely to pick it over the Night Fae, but it was far more fun than I expected. I’m not sold on the new scouting mission set-up, though. The whole way it’s set-up feels weird, and when a mission finishes, I would come back to the board, and instead of just collecting rewards, I’d have to sit there and watch the fights play out in a style reminiscent of Hearthstone. This whole animation can be sped-up, but it felt superfluous as it’s still a passive activity once the choice of who to send on a mission has been made. Having the animations didn’t make the mission board feel more interactive or exciting.
Max Level Maw and Torghast
Ok, the first thing about the max level Maw experience is the way we get back into the Maw. I had to go to Oribos and head up to the second level, where the portals to the various zones are located. From there, I didn’t go through a nice cool portal, oh no. Instead, there is this big pillar of anima that’s running through the middle of the city. I had to jump into that and get sucked down with all the other souls being drained into the Maw. As hilarious as this is, it’s also emblematic of the fact we are busting our way back into this zone, and no one wants us there anyway.
Well, there is one person who seems to happy to see us, Ve’nari, who is one of those weird creepy merchants which inhabit Oribos. She has gotten herself stuck in the Maw, and that’s just lucky for us because, with our help, she’ll set-up a barebones home base for us in this incredibly hostile zone. I’ve been relatively unnerved by these merchants since the first time I went to Oribos and saw them. Something about them feels off, and Ve’nari doesn’t help things at all. The whole reason we go to see her is she’s holding someone important to us captive in the Maw and won’t let us take them away without doing things to help her. And yes, helping her helps us too, but her whole manner feels slimy. Plus, there’s something she does in this questline, which makes me question just how powerful she and her kind are, and what are they really up to?
Running around in the Maw is just as dangerous as it was during the intro quests, but stealthing still gives a significant advantage in terms of quickly getting around. However, stealthing doesn’t help avoid the gaze of the Jailer. There is a literal bar that tracks the amount of attention the Jailer is giving you while in the Maw. It will continue to rise even when just standing around or stealthed, so having a plan of what I was doing did matter. Additionally, while I was running around, I decided to kill an elite mob, which filled the bar a quarter of the way, which was way faster than for anything else I did. Once this bar fills up, soulseekers will attack you on sight, which will probably be problematic, but right now, it didn’t cause any issues. I sadly didn’t have the time to check out the other tiers of the Jailer’s attention, but there are five of them, and each one is intended to be progressively harder to deal with.
Another thing which makes me wary of Ve’nari is she’s also the one who gets us back into Torghast. Seriously, she’s just chilling in the Maw no big deal, and oh yea happens to have a portal into the ultimate jail from which no one escapes?! Something is not alright with any of this. Of course, we want to go back there to find our friends we couldn’t rescue when we first arrived, but still, she feels wrong. The first questline took me through a couple of the six-floor versions of Torghast in search of the missing heroes who were stolen away at the beginning of the expansion. One other cool thing I hadn’t noticed before, I was able to change talents in the Torghast lobby freely; didn’t need a tome or anything.
Odds and Ends
Another big topic of conversation during the interview was all the new character customizations and how completely overhauled the whole character creation UI is. Hozzikostas pointed out a lot of what was holding them back from being able to give more character options was the underlying architecture holding everything together. One of the reasons they rebuilt it the way they did was so that they can keep adding to it in the future. So while we might not see any new options above and beyond what’s already implemented/planed for Shadowlands, we can look forward to more in the future.
We also talked about the switch back to a more linear storyline for leveling after two expansions where players got to choose what order they progressed through the zones in. He mentioned that it does allow them to tell a more focused story that builds on itself, but also a more linear leveling experience also helps to preserve the feeling of power growth while leveling. The power growth aspect is something I hadn’t considered while leveling, but I can see how having enemies scale with you while leveling can be a bit of a letdown. On the upside, alts will not only get to choose their covenant right away, but they will also get to choose the order they progress through the zones.
Sadly, there’s no launch date outside of “this fall,” but at least beta is going to be starting soon. Now that most of the big pieces will be in place, we’ll probably see more of a focus on balancing not only classes a bit, but the various covenant powers, especially once raid testing starts kicks off in earnest. I can wait to see how Shadowlands continues to progress, and so far, they seem to be listening to feedback and acting on it where they can (yay no keys for Torghast!).