Last week, I was fairly positive on the Shadowlands beta save for one important piece of content – I was absolutely unhappy with the state of the Maw. I made a point in my first beta recap post of claiming quite clearly that it was not what I wanted and would be a deterrent to expansion retention. I may have sold that point through some strong language…
So, to say I was unimpressed with the Maw was an understatement. However, I knew that what I was seeing was in need of tuning and development. It was the first beta build of the expansion, and the first public-facing build of any kind with the Maw present. My irritation was built around a few points, the largest of which was not being able to mount at all in the zone. Couple that with high mob density, overtuned mobs, and the unclear threat of the Eye of the Jailer and the complete lack of clarity around said mechanic, and that all leads to a recipe for a bad time.
But, here I am, writing again about the Maw, with two new builds deployed to beta since that first impression, and there are some key differences to discuss.
Firstly, let’s discuss what hasn’t changed in a positive direction/
The Eye of the Jailer is Still Stupidly Unclear: The UI element for Eye of the Jailer remains one of the more perplexingly stupid decisions of the expansion to me. Sure, it looks pretty, but it serves little actual purpose. You can’t track in any fine detail how you are increasing it, only that it is going up. Sure, at rank 5, it looks cool, but that’s about it. I really think it needs clarity of how it fills up – the mystery just makes it annoying.
As for the actual threats? Well, I’m still not sure what the Soulseekers even are or do. I’ve seen neutral-hostile mobs called that, but they have yet to attack me, even past tier 1. The tower bombardment is easy to dodge (you get 5 seconds of AoE marker warning when it is en route), but if it hits, it is about half of your health (was for me as a Havoc DH at 144 item level) and the slow is through 5 staked chains. You can click the stakes to remove them, and once they’re all gone, the slow is gone too. The assassins mechanic is pretty easy – you get a warning debuff and emote when they’ll pop up, and they do so only when you enter combat next. They don’t have a lot of health or do a ton of damage, so they’re pretty easy to ice unless you aren’t paying attention. The rank 5 life drain, however, is a threat. I left Ven’ari’s Refuge to go to the Oribos waystone, a journey of about 50 yards, and it drained around 60% of my life in that window. Expect that once you have it, you are done for the day.
Non-mounting is Really Bad: Not being able to use a ground mount in the Maw still sucks. They’ve added Maw Hounds you can mount for around a minute if you find them, which grant 80% movement speed increase vs. the epic mount 100%, which isn’t too bad, although I’ve only seen one such hound in the world. There is still a not yet implemented cypher on Ven’ari’s inventory that looks like it would enable mounting, so this remains a momentary annoyance, but still a very valid one that grates. It remains completely unexplained in-game, so when you first arrive in the Maw, you just get told you can’t mount the first time you try and the game doesn’t make any effort to explain that or what the long term fix is.
Mob Density is Still Really High: It’s better, but still packed in some places.
Given all of that, however, my overall opinion of the Maw has improved in the newest builds. Why is that? Let’s explore:
Mob Tuning Is Much Better: Enemies no longer feel like unfair fights. An enemy for the Runecarver quest in the prior builds made me give up on the Maw, but in the new builds, he went down in a fair fight. It was challenging still, but not unfairly so. What I want from a dangerous endgame zone is a sense of a conquerable threat. I should feel uneasy walking freely through the place, but I should be able to use normal gameplay to edge out a win. In the current build, that is a possibility, and it makes the zone far more playable.
There’s Actual Content!: In the prior beta builds, there were a couple of quests in the Maw you could do, but largely, it was a big sandbox without a lot of stuff in it to actually direct your gameplay. In the current build, it has daily quests from Ven’ari, a far higher concentration of vignette events including more soul cages and rare/elite mobs, many of which can be taken on solo, and the Ven’ari quests maintain a relatively close radius to his cave, which makes the lack of mounting less annoying. When you get to the Assassin level of Eye of the Jailer, the Assassin enemies drop items called “Maw Lore” along with unique cyphers that offer gameplay tweaks while in the zone. It still feels a bit thin and perhaps like not quite enough (Ven’ari currently only offers two dailies, and if you leave the zone and re-enter same day, you can do them again), and the Eye of the Jailer creeps in here again (each Ven’ari turn in increased my threat by a whole level on it’s own, so two dailies means an automatic 2/5 on Eye of the Jailer), but with things to actually do directing your gameplay to a purpose, the zone becomes a lot more interesting than aimless killing of overpowered mobs. If this density of vignette objectives remains the model going forward, it won’t be as bad as I expected – depending on rewards, of course.
Stygia Acquisition Seems Pretty High: My primary concern in previous posts about the reward structure of the Maw was that tying everything to a currency would be a problem if the currency was too much of a limiter. Well, in the current build at least, Stygia rains from enemies like candy from a pinata, and 2 hours in the Maw netted me near to 600 of it. Without final costs on Cyphers or ideas of other uses for it, this number is meaningless – and the flip side is that if dying costs you half of your current Stygia, then high acquisition makes that more of a costly downside as well. Hard to say much about where this goes until the game is actually balanced and nearing release (or, like, has a release date at all) but at least up front, it doesn’t seem like getting your hands on a lot will be awful. For context, that was off of a pretty small number of kills – I only maybe tackled 20-30 mobs in my time in the Maw.
Overall? I’m glad that Blizzard does seem to be taking feedback on-board on tuning at least, as the original beta build tuning was outlandishly bad. (I have not gone back to try the expansion intro experience to see if the tuning tweaks have made their way over to that version of the Maw.) A few points of clarity and some more goals and objectives and the impossible might happen – I could, in some way, come to actually like the Maw. *gasp*