This might be my first real dedicated WoW content post in a few months!
Tomorrow marks the rescheduled date of Blizzard’s planned Shadowlands livestream, one that was previously hyped as containing new and exclusive information.
I predicted fairly quickly after the announcement that the main point of the stream was to unveil a release date, and I will stick with that. However, there are a ton of other things we can start to look towards, and I think a stream solely for that is not all we have on deck.
So rather than discussing my goal progress in FFXIV or the surprising amount of time I dumped into the Spyro Reignited Trilogy as someone who never played the original games, for this week, another “special” hype train as we discuss this stream and make some predictions about what is in store when Blizzard goes live tomorrow!
Release Date: Just to keep it in my list in the body of this post, I think the main purpose is to give people a release date. The finality of knowing when BfA expires will push people to play. Brutosaur mount farming takes a new shape with a defined end date, and the use of the Winds of Wisdom experience buff for leveling would then also have a looming deadline. Knowing that the 8.x patch cycle is drawing to a close will be enough to bring some people back in for end of expansion goals – AotC and Cutting Edge achievements on N’Zoth, farming those last bits of gear to overpower leveling content, leveling professions, capping alts, and getting a last look at the BfA dungeons under Mythic Plus all have value to people depending on what they’re into.
However, I’ll take it a step further and say a date. I think we’re looking at a November 10th release. Why? Well, firstly, the rumor mill has started pointing to November 2020 in general, and paralleling Shadowlands with WoD (in release date only) would mean the second week of the month is a solid date. It’s two weeks prior to the US Thanksgiving holiday, and based on the release date of Cyberpunk 2077, I’m going to stake a claim that it will be earlier than the next-gen consoles and that particular title, allowing for Season 1 content to be switched on in December prior to the holidays and also allowing players enough time to level and run some endgame content prior to outside distractions. I also base this on the thought process that the game likely encountered a 2-month delay. FFXIV’s patch 5.3, originally planned for June 2020, has been moved to August 2020 because it took the team 2 months to get people working from home, and then to establish a safe protocol for social distancing and sanitization to bring the QA team at Square Enix into the office for testing in the locked-down, set environment they have and with the test beds they have in the office. It is just conjecture on my part, but I fully expect that Blizzard encountered similar struggles. When I visited the campus in 2018, one thing I noticed is that a lot of the design team would work on the game and then seem to play content through what appeared to be their WoWEdit windows. I fully expect that enabling this type of functionality remotely was a challenge that needed solving, and while Blizzard pushes the playerbase to test through lengthy alpha and beta phases, there is a non-zero amount of internal QA that must happen to ensure things are working properly and to ensure design principles hold true in the final product – a point I’ll revisit later.
The Maw Preview: Absent from all current datamining, curiously, is The Maw, the endgame zone around which at least a portion of our main activity revolves. All other zones have been tested and Torghast is available on alpha to all player classes at this point, so the only remaining zones we have yet to see are a few dungeons and the Castle Nathria raid, the Covenant halls, and The Maw. Given how they described The Maw at Blizzcon 2019 (hey, remember when people could be together in public in close quarters?), it sounded like an interesting take on an endgame zone, one with at least a few custom and unique new features specific to it. My belief is that given all of that, it would behoove Blizzard to be the first ones to present the zone publicly, and to do so with full context as to how everything works as currently implemented. If there are timers or difficulty modifiers or whatnot and Wowhead datamines it first and shares a splayed out and bisected version of the content, it may confuse and/or enrage players. Given the reception to how certain seeming timer mechanics worked early in alpha in Torghast, I think Blizzard would be wise to sidestep that presentation and to share the gospel truth on what the design intent is and how it all works, so at least if we’re mad, it is over a complete version of the information!
Raid and Dungeon Previews: A fair number of dungeons have been seen on alpha already, but there are dungeons we have yet to see. Likewise, while the encounter journal for the Castle Nathria raid has been constantly updated with juicy morsels of content, we have yet to see the actual raid itself. A highlight reel of footage from inside could whet the communities’ appetite. On top of that, more information on how reward systems are intended to function in this content would be wise, as the tidbits that have been pushed out via interviews have led some (perpetually overreacting) commentators to suggest with half-baked cases that “Blizzard is killing raiding” and so getting in front of that would be wise. While I will write about that in particular more this week, let’s explore that reward point further…
Reward System Details: A lot of the endgame systems of the expansion remain undefined publicly, none more glaringly so than the rewards for play. WoW is, fundamentally, a game about getting better loot to tackle harder challenges which perpetuate a cycle of reward > challenge, but the most mouthwatering bits of news out of last Blizzcon was that Blizzard was intending to take us off the treadmill in many ways – semi-deterministic chests for Mythic Keystone weekly rewards, World Quests 2.0, the Torghast legendary system, and then later via interviews and posts, the later-expansion return of class tier sets. However, all of these have been discussed in a hypothetical matter – prefaced with words like “what we’re targeting,” “what we’re thinking,” or “we’re evaluating.” Given that, players are chomping at the bit to better understand what exactly awaits in Shadowlands for rewards. Coupled with the interview tidbit that drop rates would be decreasing from their current, heightened level, and there is enough there to add some anxiety to the mix alongside hope.
Covenant/Soulbind Systems: Newer alpha builds have slowly been adding what appear to be Soulbind conduits to the game, providing some details of what alternate advancement options we’ll get at the endgame of Shadowlands, but much remains unclear. Conduits are items and one-use, so how will we acquire them and keep them current? Will they cost a resource to slot in? They work off soulbinds, but how do those work? Soulbinds are tied to Covenants, but we still know precious little about how those work too. While I don’t expect Blizzard to spend ample time detailing all the particulars of this stuff, I expect they’ll at least showcase some degree of it – at the very least, the Covenant halls and how they work, and if we’re lucky, perhaps an overview and high-level glance at the Soulbind system beyond. The key concern I had about these systems at Blizzcon is that they seemed like they would be tied to a new AP system in Anima Power – but the alpha for Shadowlands, unlike that of Legion or even BfA, has had very little information even in datamining about anima as a system, and while it gets namedropped frequently in the lore and plot, it seems like it either didn’t live on past final design, or has been drastically modified to something new and different. Either way, I hope to see more on that in particular, but I don’t know that I expect that of Blizzard given that they could share a lot of better news, and that focusing in on something with the potential to annoy would be a mistake!
Further Details on Level and Item Squishes: Item squish is, at this point, something most modern players of WoW are familiar with, unless you just started in BfA, in which case: 1. I’m so sorry and 2. Item go down in value while remaining proportionally as powerful is a fairly simple base concept. However, the level squish makes this far more complicated, because then the questions around content emerge. Some datamining from early in the Alpha pointed at a level bracket where raids would still exist in chronological order, scaling up in level requirement towards newer content with BfA content requiring and being considered as level 50 in the new paradigm. This raises new questions around how the invisible soloing buff will work in the post-level squish world, what it might look like to try raiding content at correct level under the new design, and consequently how that might affect achievements like the Algalon level-appropriate title rewards. For right now, we can only truly guess, and while it would be nice to see Blizzard confirm that, I expect talk of the squish to be focused on current endgame and our systems going forward rather than a stream discussing the mechanics of raid soloing.
Beta Launch Date: Alpha has been live for a few months now, and a large amount of content has gone up in that time window. However, the alpha seemingly has remained in a very closed state to date – as far as I can tell, anecdotally at least, only influencers, press, and friends and family of Blizzard have access. I’ve not seen a single player outside of these circles hint at having access. Between that and the length of time between alpha and beta they traditionally use being reached now, it would make sense to have a 3 pronged release date announcement – a beta start date, the actual expansion launch date, and…
Physical CE and Preorders: Easy prediction I’ve been making for a while – if a release date is announced, we’ll have a Collector’s Edition reveal and then the date for preordering the physical copies. My oddball bet – Blizzard won’t sell physical copies short of the CE, at least not directly. To be frank, I’m not even sure there’s much value in selling physical boxes at stores for PC games now. Walmart has an 8 foot wide shelving section with mostly online currency cards for various free to play games and a small handful of PC titles at all my local locations, something absolutely dwarfed by even what they used to offer the Wii U. Target has 3 total 4 foot shelves at both of my local stores, populated by exactly 15 titles, about half of which are Blizzard’s! Blizzard themselves seem likely to push players to order digital copies unless they’re willing to pony up for the Collector’s Edition, and maybe offering big-box retailers a standard edition box with only an account key for the expansion, of which they won’t likely sell many. Physical CE’s are still big business for Blizzard though, and they have not offered a game at retail for PC in the last 2-decades without it having a Collector’s Edition. I myself have 3 SC II CE boxes, every WoW CE save for Vanilla, both Diablo III CEs, and the Overwatch CE.
As for the actual items? After the shift of what was included in BfA, I can’t predict for sure. The trinket that came with BfA was nice, but I missed having an artbook even if the stories in the same form-factor were nice. Likewise, I love the behind-the-scenes DVDs and would hope for that to return.
Overall, we’re looking at what could potentially be a huge news day for WoW tomorrow, and my hope is that the primary doubts that are causing people to withhold excitement (myself included) are addressed systematically and a date is placed to give us something to look forward to!