(Editor’s Note: This is a spoiler-free post, although if you try to read chat logs in screenshots, there might be some names or dialogue there! Also, this is based on the current Shadowlands beta build as of 7/18/2020, and given that Blizzard hasn’t said much about the direction of world content in general in Shadowlands, it is subject to change and what I’ve said here may change in future builds.)
Yesterday, I did a ton of dungeons and Torghast runs, both activities that will take some time to unwind into a post, so I am saving them both for now. What I want to talk about from Shadowlands beta today is something sort of interesting I’ve observed in the level 60 gameplay out in the world.
For the last two expansions, world content has been almost entirely defined by world quests at endgame. Every day brings a new emissary quest, up to 3 can accumulate at a time, you do 4 quests per emissary (barring an exception faction each expansion) and then you go to the quartermaster for that faction and say hello and they give you some tasty loot. World quests live and die by scaling – at the beginning of the expansion, they create a power curve by giving you slightly better gear and upgrading at breakpoints of your current item level. They also serve as the means to offer the expansion-wide grind tokens of choice – Artifact Power in Legion, Azerite in Battle for Azeroth. At a certain point, most players will sort of move beyond world quests as valuable content – for raid mains, the gear caps out below what you can get in normal and heroic, for PvPers, there are so few of these quests anyways that they are more of a distraction en route to grinding your honor out, and for casual players, eventually they sort of plateau and the value of a world quest decreases to a point where you might do a good emissary quest for a reward (or in Legion, grind them out for chances at Legendaries) but that would be about it.
With Blizzcon 2019 and the unveiling of Shadowlands, one of the things glossed over incredibly quickly was the idea of “World Quests 2.0” – a bullet on a presentation with a single line about how current world quests needed some tuning and adjustment to be a better system.
With the beta launch this week, we got world quests from Shadowlands, and, well, it is different, but not perhaps in an expected way.
One more throwback to the current state – the system of World Quests v1.0 is designed around building out the emissary system. The stated design intent is a concentrated reward for a “sweet spot” of gameplay time, with diminishing returns past that point, and flexibility for less frequent log ins. You can do one emissary a day, or you can do 3 every 3 days, or you can knock them out in pairs every two days, or let them cycle until a chosen faction pops up and then do them. To facilitate this, each zone has around 8 or so world quests up at a given time, with frequent cycling (about every 8-16 hours, usually a full map turnover per day). At any given time, your current expansion maps in BfA have around 60-70 world quests active, so you have a lot of choices. You can pick by content type, reward, expected time investment, or just sentimental favorites.
Shadowlands, at least so far, has….far, far less emphasis on World Quests.
Everytime I’ve logged into the beta on a level 60 and checked, there are around 10-12 world quests up. Total. At first, I thought this was a bad assumption on my part, and surely, there might be more hiding, but a few days down now, and the active quest count has remained pretty jaw-droppingly low. However, I did notice something that led me to a Saturday afternoon experiment.
To date, I’ve only played a Kyrian character, and just one, with full Sanctum upgrades that I hadn’t paid much attention to and therefore, I wrote off that Bastion just had more world quests. However, as I started to investigate, that perception changed sharply. To confirm, I rolled a second level 60 template, and pledged to the Night Fae covenant instead. That character had fewer Bastion quests available on their map.
What does this tell me? Well, to this point, I think the assumption I have made and that seems to be baked in to most writing I’ve read on the covenant system is that there was an expectation of covenants just being glorified reputation bars with garrison/order hall/war campaign mechanics bolted on top. Naturally, extending from that thought, my assumption was that endgame world content would be a realm-trotting affair, taking us to all 4 main Shadowlands zones for world quests. So far, however, this is not the case. What I take away from this experiment and my analysis is this – the covenant is one of (but not the only) driving force of your endgame content structure for world content.
What do I mean? Well, on beta, I usually can turn on an anima channeling device each day at my Sanctum, and the other Sanctums I’ve seen so far seem to have the same device (all of the systems for covenants make use of Oribos-styled props for them – mission board, soulbind grid, and anima channeler). I have a choice of points I can focus anima into, each of which unlocks different content for me to do that day. A couple of choices open additional world quests. Some unlock rare spawns or treasure chests, and others unlock various different little bits of content you can do. Additionally, I’ve seen a handful of dailies around Bastion on my main beta character so far, and the Path of Ascension upgrades unlock something similar to Mechagon crafting, in that you can go farm materials from world mobs across the Shadowlands zones and then use them to craft items to invoke challenges at the PoA. My assumption is that the systems like the Venthyr Ember Court or the Fleshworks for the Necrolords work similarly.
The end result of this means that the covenant you pick is about a lot of different factors. Which covenant ability do you like most (or are told is the statistical winner for your class and spec)? What Soulbinds best suit the content you want to run? What transmog armor do you like best? Lastly, what zone do you want to stare at the most? This is a key point for me, because I think that the covenant choice system is already causing a lot of friction in the playerbase (mostly around abilities and the discussion of optimized gameplay, a topic I plan to dive into soonish) and if someone already angry about having to pick Necrolords because of an ability/soulbind also hates Maldraxxus, well, that person is going to be extremely displeased when they find out that you do more world content in your covenant’s zone than any other save for perhaps the Maw.
Now, on some level, thematically, I actually like this. Yes, having fewer world quests is a blow to choice, especially in the proportion currently seen on beta (disclaimers about content finality noted). However, for me, what I was most bothered about with Covenants from a gameplay immersion standpoint is that I had a hard time reconciling the idea of pledging to make their homebase better, but then spending about as much time doing things for them as I do for anyone else, and getting the same dumb reputation bar for them that I get for anyone else. Currently, though – there is no reputation bar for your covenant. In fact, a scaling system quirk revealed that they seem to be using profession UI to make it work, since when I was leveled back to 60 after exiting a dungeon, I gained skill points in “The Kyrian.” You are a champion of your covenant, and therefore, your exalted status with them is already earned. Renown exists as a sort of replacement, but one that seems far more straightforward. Instead of haggling over 250 reputation out of a bar of 21,000, you can grab a Renown rank and progress that weekly in what seems on the surface so far to be a predictable, measurable way.
With these changes, there is one other thing worth mentioning that I am unsure of at the moment, but it appears that Emissary quests in general are gone. When I open my Covenant UI, I have what appears suspiciously like the idea of them referred to as Callings, set to 3 in the UI and refreshing on a cycle that matches Emissary quests, but they do not appear to have been implemented yet. My assumption and baseless speculation is that rather than being world quest based, they’ll be objective based in some way. Perhaps goals to retrieve a certain number of souls from the Maw/Torghast? Perhaps killing x rares in your home zone? Whatever the case may end up being, the system at least seems to be getting a look and I’m curious to see how they replace emissaries and how drastic the changes actually end up being.
I’ve talked a lot now about these systems, but what does it feel like to play? Well, in a weird way, it is kind of…nice? I’m not fully sure how I feel about it just yet (and basing it on early beta with clear implementation still underway would be folly) but it creates a more open-ended model as it exists on beta. If you like world quests, they still exist and you can do around a dozen a day if you really want – you can even add one or two more to your covenant’s home zone. The game seems to be built for endgame on an assumption of more choice and parallel options – if you want to run the Maw, it is over there and has rewards for you (which are not implemented on beta as of yet). If you want to do daily quests, world quests, and other immersion in your covenant’s homeland, you can focus fully on that. If you want to traverse the Shadowlands doing favors for everyone, that is available as a choice and would still occupy around an hour or so of gameplay.
There are a few gaps, though. The first and most notable is that this seems to be the primary place so far where the “loot is loot” philosophy of fewer drops of more significance comes into play. Each day, there has been a fairly paltry number of world quests rewarding loot available, and while many of the pieces were upgrades (I finally got a replacement weapon today!), not all of them are. I’m not going to be harsh on this point yet because clearly things are being implemented still, but world quest gearing is a fun casual option and I am not fully sure that I like it being nerfed to that degree. Callings could fix that, and hell, there could even be dozens more world quests that haven’t yet been implemented, hence my hesitation to throw the system under the bus. Generally, any rewards outside of anima are less common than they are on live. When I’ve looked at the map, the mix is usually 6-7 Anima rewarding quests, 2-3 gear quests, and 1-2 gold-rewarding ones. The flipside to this is that Torghast on beta rewards a fairly large amount of gold via vendor trash and directly looted money, and so most players won’t necessarily miss out on much there (save for the current 2,000 gold emissaries, which I doubt will carry forward into Callings even if there is a gold reward option.
Overall, however, I find the new system surprisingly refreshing. Time will tell if the full implementation is actually good, but with these system changes, Blizzard has created a fairly open-ended gameplay experience with different choices you can make. The overall structure still seems to be that you do the Maw every couple of days, that you run Torghast enough every week to keep up on your Legendary creation, and then that you complete Covenant campaign quests and weekly Renown quests to keep your status on the rise with your chosen group, but within that, you get a fair amount of flexibility. With Torghast being repeatable for funsies, if you really like it (and I will have more to say about why I really like it so far!), you can run it all day! If you really want to trudge through the Maw for a full play session, you can (until the Eye of the Jailer maxes out). If you really want to immerse yourself in your covenant choice, you can spend all day roaming the zone of your choosing, and with anima channeling, you can direct additional content to appear by your choice, for you.
All of that said, I am very curious to see what happens with the future of world content in Shadowlands once we have a fully-implemented view.