Announced this morning during the opening ceremony, Shadowlands is the 8th expansion for World of Warcraft.
Following the conclusion of the War Campaign during the Battle for Azeroth expansion, the reveal cinematic showed Sylvanas Windrunner approaching the Lich King as he rested at the top of Icecrown Citadel. After a brief contest she is able to take the Helm of Dominion from him and destroy it.
As the helm breaks the normally grey, cloudy sky above the citadel splits and another world is revealed: the Shadowlands.
The Shadowlands are the realm of the dead. Normally the Shadowlands are split into separate realms, each one representing a way of life one lived while among the living. As people died they were delivered to the appropriate realm for how they lived:
Each of these realms is represented by a different Covenant. Through the course of the expansion players will join a Covenant, granting them access to abilities specific to that Covenant, as well as class-specific abilities tied to that Covenant.
With the breaking of the Helm the dead are instead funneled into The Maw. The Maw is the home of Torghast, Tower of the Damned, a cursed prison where the most wicked souls of the universe are kept. Players will be able to journey into The Maw and it’s ever-changing halls to help free the spirits within while fighting the minions of The Jailer, obtaining legendary treasures and freeing the spirits within.
Shadowlands will also introduce a new leveling system designed to include meaningful advancement. There will also be a stat and level crunch as a part of the pre-expansion events and current max-level characters will begin the expansion at level 50, leveling to a new cap of 60.
During the World of Warcraft: What’s Next panel the development team dove deeper into the expansion and revealed more detailed information about what we can expect from the Shadowlands.
The first thing Ion said was that this would be different from previous expansions because it’s not like other expansions where we just find a mysterious unmapped island that was previously ignored. We’re exploring an entirely new plane of existence.
In the Warcraft afterlife souls cross between life and death and are brought to the Arbiter.
The Arbiter lays bare one’s soul. Success, failure, triumphs, and defeats. The soul is then routed to one of its realms (listed above). There are infinite realms but this expansion focuses on four to start with. Souls bear with them a vital force: Anima.
One realm is Bastion. Bastion is ruled over by the Kyrian Covenant. Kyrian are ordered and purposeful, waiting to be called to service. Here their souls shed past burdens and seek virtue. When he died Uther the Lightbringer is one soul who ended his journey in Bastion.
Next up is Maldraxxus, ruled by the Necrolord Covenant. This realm contains the heart of the Shadowlands’ military might. The souls here are not necessarily “evil”, but are more about relentless, unyielding spirits who believe in the survival of the fittest. Draka, mother of Thrall, can be found here in a position of “some prominence”.
The third realm is Ardenweald. The Night Fae Covenant rules Ardenweald, an enchanted mystical forest and the mirror of the Emerald Dream. This is a place of rest and rebirth. The soul of Cenarius can be found here. The Drust are also tied to Ardenweald.
Revendreth is the fourth realm, ruled by the Venthyr. Revendreth is a land of Gothic spires and dark secrets. Flawed and prideful souls can be found in this realm, atoning for their sins. From here souls can be redeemed and make their way to other realms. The soul of Kael’thas can be found in this realm.
The final zone for the expansion (so far) is The Maw. There is no Covenant in this zone. It is described as a horrific prison for the most vile souls and a mystery even to Shadowlands natives. It is the domain of the Jailer, but nothing is known of the Jailer because the journey into the Maw is a one-way journey.
The main city for the expansion of Oribos, the Eternal City. An ancient city that predates memory, the Arbiter stands at its core.
Covenants are the ruling powers of the Shadowlands. They are also one of the main features of the Shadowlands, similar to Garrisons or Order Halls. They are a central part of the expansion and their progression through the expansion, and each seeks your aid.
Each Covenant offers power and rewards to the heroes during their journey. They include a full endgame narrative campaign which opens at max level. They also offer two active abilities. One universal, one class-specific.
The endgame progression system is called Soulbinds. Heroes can bind their soul to a resident of the Shadowlands. This is not an Artifact or Heart of Azeroth power grind. There are also an array of cosmetic rewards from each Covenant, and a Sanctum to restore to glory (similar to an order hall or the city in Suramar).
As the premise of the expansion: Sylvanas has succeeded. Death is broken. Souls are pouring directly into the Maw, meaning the Shadowlands are withering with no new Anima coming into these zones.
Leading into the expansion: the Scourge will be marauding across Azeroth. The Helm of Domination is broken so they are out of control. The forces of Azeroth will head to Icecrown. Bolvar is still among the living, but has seen into the Shadowlands and understands some of what is happening.
The heroes start our journey in the Maw, from which no one can escape. The narrative for this expansion will cross all the zones. During the leveling experience we will work with each realm’s leaders and borrow their powers. At max level we will choose a Covenant and begin our progression through the endgame story.
Once a player has one character at max-level their alts can select a Covenant immediately and level in any zone they choose through the narrative experience, world quests, or however they choose, without having to follow the initial story arc. Players can also earn “endgame” progression as they level on alts, meaning that once an alt hits max level they will be ahead of where their first character was when they hit max level.
Once players reach max level we can return to the Maw.
At the center of the Maw is Torghast, Tower of the Damned. This is defined as the second “major” feature of the Shadowlands expansion. Players can enter solo or bring up to four friends. As players ascend the tower we can earn Anima, which empowers us within the tower, and also earn rewards which can be used outside of the tower.
There will be 8 new dungeons in Shadowlands. 4 leveling dungeons and 4 max-level dungeons.
The four leveling dungeons will be
- Necrotic Wake
- Mists of Tirna Scithe
- Halls of Atonement
The four max-level dungeons are
- Spires of Ascension
- Theater of Pain
- The Other Side
- Sanguine Depths
The first raid will be Castle Nathria, described as Dracula’s castle in WoW. It will be a 10-boss raid found in Revendreth where for once we won’t be entering through the sewers.
Systems will be redesigned as well, to focus on player agency.
Profession updates will include the ability to use gems in the creation of armor to guarantee an item has the stats the player wants instead of the randomness we have now.
The weekly loot chest will also be changed. The system will recognize the content a player has completed and, instead of spitting out a random item, provide players with a list of a few items to select from that they may not have obtained.
Legendaries will return for Shadowlands but in a different fashion than Legion. Players will be able to earn access to Legendary powers and then craft the one they want instead of randomly obtaining ones they (often don’t) want.
There will also be a return to class identity (as opposed to spec identity). Abilities that were changed to be spec-specific may be returned to class abilities, and abilities that were completely removed may return.
As stated previously, the max level cap will be crunched so BfA players will start Shadowlands at level 50, with 60 being the end-game level for Shadowlands. This should provide a better pace for content, as well as skills. Every level should unlock something.
This will be a modern new player experience while providing an unprecedented experience for alts. Players can level through any expansion they choose, then start into the Shadowlands. The experience from completing an expansion storyline will be rebalanced to where it should be sufficient to bring you to level 50 and the Shadowlands.
Character customization will also be improved. New skin tones, the ability to change eye-color individually from facial expressions, and significant additions to racial options.
Also as a part of this expansion, the Death Knight class will be available for all races, including new Allied Races.
More information on the system updates will be provided during the Deep Dive on Saturday morning.