On Saturday we got a deeper look into the changes coming in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands during the Deep Dive panel at BlizzCon.
During the panel Senior Game Designer Paul Kubit, Lead Game Designer Kevin Martens, and Lead Game Designer Brian Holinka broke down the upcoming changes to World of Warcraft in the Shadowlands.
As we quest through the four leveling zones we’ll learn about the four covenants outlined in the introductory post yesterday. Each Covenant rules over a different zone and represents a different set of values from when the characters were among the living.
Each Covenant has a Sanctum with an art style representing that particular Covenant.
Aligning with a Covenant also grants you two abilities specific to that Covenant. One ability is not class specific. Everyone in the same Covenant gets the same non-combat ability. The other ability is a class-specific combat ability. It will feel similar to abilities from the Artifact Weapons in Legion.
Each Covenant also has Soulbinds. Players can bind their soul to existing NPCs found within their Covenant to provide passive buffs to their character. As a player’s Soulbind increases in power they can improve the buffs provided by selecting the Soulbind best suited for the situation.
Each Covenant also has specific armor and weapons that reflect their art style. There are also backpack-style cloaks, upgradeable mounts, benefits in the world at large, and a full Covenant campaign.
Players do have the ability to change Covenants but it will take some time and effort to do so.
New Leveling Flow
The first thing the team did was break down issues with the current leveling system.
Leveling takes too long, not every level is rewarding, there are confusing timelines & stories (which scaling was designed to mitigate), and expansion stories (specifically Pandaria) get lost in how quickly players level. In Pandaria specifically players make it through roughly one and a half zones before having to move on to the next level band.
The goal was to streamline leveling, allow players to choose the story they want to play,
New level range is 1-60. This is to provide good level pacing. Every level will unlock access to something. Leveling will be 60-70% faster than it currently is. Players can choose the story they want to play.
Everyone will start in a new zone: an island called Exile’s Reach.
Players currently level 120 will be scaled down to level 50, other levels will scale to their similar equivalent.
Your character power will not change. If it takes you two hits to kill something now, it will still take you two hits after this scaling.
Current starting zones will also be available.
Exile’ s Reach is a new starting area. New players are sent there following a previous expedition to determine what happened. The team has filled the zone with some of their favorite enemies.
The story is that an ogre has captured the forces that have been sent to the island and is planning to sacrifice them to resurrect a dragon and ends with a two boss mini-dungeon. Once players complete this storyline they will be sent to their faction capital city to continue their journey.
New players will be forced into this starting experience and once completed they will be forced into the Battle for Azeroth storyline so they are aware of the most recent events happening in the world prior to the Shadowlands.
Once players have completed the leveling experience on at least one character they can go back on other new characters and select from other starting zones and story questing experiences.
Allied Races will start at level 10 and be able to immediately choose which expansion experience they want.
When comparing Battle for Azeroth to Classic, the team realized that something had definitely been lost in the years between when players first started and the leveling experience now. While the changes that had been made were good for the game and well-intentioned, they also went too far with removing abilities.
The Artifact system made this apparent because they really played into the fantasy of the characters and their specs, but they also lost some of the class flavor in favor of spec flavor.
Moving forward the team wanted to restore a sense of class identity and re-calibrate player expectations. They want to fix the problems players have, but they also need to do so in a way that they’re worth disrupting how characters currently play.
Moving forward: every level will be rewarding. You’ll either get access to a new spell, new content, a more powerful ability, or some other type of reward.
In Shadowlands players start at level 1 with no spec and access to some class abilities. At level 10 players will pick a spec.
Class-defining mechanics will be maintained or brought back.
Specifically: Paladin Auras are back, persistent Shaman Totems, Rogue Poisons are back for all specs, and Warlock curses are back.
The team also wants to bring back class range. The example here is Mages with their different schools of magic, or Priests with their different schools and roles. They also want to bring back different weapons for different specializations.
Certain iconic class abilities are being returned as well.
Talents and Honor talents are also being revamped to make some abilities baseline instead of being a “mandatory” selection row in talents.
Torghast and the Maw
The Maw is an endgame outdoor zone and our access point to Torghast. It is the home of the mysterious Jailer and a prison for the vilest souls. More recently it has been an unjust prison for millions of souls who were sent directly there instead of to the various Covenants.
Players possess the power to enter and leave the Maw, unlike others.
We use our power to help our covenant, freeing our allies that have been captured and eventually fight the Jailer directly.
The Maw is very dangerous, with creatures, mechanics, and abilities who are all trying to harm players.
As players engage in content in the Maw the Jailer will notice you and the difficulty will ramp up.
Torghast is the center/anchor of the maw. It is the home of the Jailer and does not obey the normal laws of reality. It is a scalable dungeon. As players progress both players and enemies grow in power, and our progression unlocks new challenges with additional complexity.
Floors are built for exploration. This is not a timed experience, but instead encourages players to explore to find treasures and anima.
Finding anima allows players to enhance their characters various abilities or provides buffs that will allow them to proceed further into the dungeon.
For climbing the tower players can claim runes which will be used to forge Legendary items and provide additional backstory on Frostmourne and the Helm of Domination.