In a previous Shadowlands beta post, I talked about how the endgame of Shadowlands, in beta and in a prior build, at least, was pushing a new model. Rather than the world quest-based emissary model of the last 4 years, it seemed we were getting a new model, one based on Covenant choice first and foremost, with players pushed towards more quests in their home zone and less hopping and jumping around the world for various World Quest spawns.
The new build pushed this week solidifies the endgame design further and shows us a lot more of what the design is. Rather than talk extensively about the world quest part, I’ll link again to the post about endgame I wrote previously for the context. Let’s talk about what has changed in the current build (35360, for those keeping track at home).
Callings Are Implemented: As I had suspected, callings seem to replace the world quest emissary system in a way that offers more variety to gameplay. When I logged on with my level 60 Demon Hunter I’ve been playing in beta for two weeks now, she had 3 callings available to do – one to do 4 world quests in Bastion with an aspirant at my side, one to do either of the Maldraxxus dungeons or an elite world quest – my choice, and one to free 15 souls from The Maw. Unlike emissary quests, however, I had to go find these and accept them in the world. All 3 NPCs were in my Covenant Sanctum, easy enough to find, although the UI needs some improvement to make that work well (my bug report to Blizzard in-game said as much). Once you have the quests, you go out and complete the objectives. The first calling was the most traditional, as the aspirant offers negligible DPS (and for one of the world quests, he couldn’t help anyways since it was a minigame-style), so you just pick 4 world quests and go get to it. With 5 options up, this was a bit dicey, but it worked – I had 4 regular ones (and not the fucking Flappy Bird minigame, thank god!) and a pet battle, so I did the 4 regular ones, ran back to Elysian Hold, and got a cache. Inside was an anima token and a piece of vendor trash worth 414 gold (I get the impression these are very much in-development).
The Maldraxxus one was clearly even more in-development, as it had no reward at all. However, from a design perspective, it is the one I liked the most. Having a choice that spans modes of gameplay is great, fantastic even, and so given that finding a dungeon group on beta is still iffy, I did the elite world quest. It was pretty hard as I was solo, and I did die a few times, but I found my groove and a convenient spot with non-elite mobs in dense packs I could kill with some caution, and set out to grind the quest. 20 minutes later, I got a usable gear reward from the WQ and to turn in the calling for…well, nothing, but I am blaming that on beta unless Blizzard confirms that it is intended that a piece of content not reward the player (and given modern Blizzard, I can’t really be sure until they confirm either way!).
The Maw one, well, I worked at it a bit. The Maw was popular tonight and finding soul cages was iffy. I imagine (speculation on my part here) that Torghast souls might also count, but that would be easier. As a result, I left that in my quest log for tonight, maybe to be revisited tomorrow (it is the one that has the full 3 days in my covenant UI, so it should be there on the other side of my move).
My early impression? Callings are a good inversion of the static, sorta boring emissary system. They all serve your Covenant, which is a theme of the expansion, and the mixed-mode options like the Maldraxxus one I described means you have more choice in gameplay, provided such options pop with suitable regularity.
Covenant Questing At Endgame: Since they fixed the Kyrian chain stopping at the 3rd quest, I was able to push a lot of progress on the Kyrian story and found some interesting things. Firstly, the story does seem to branch out to other zones fairly fast – I imagine all 4 covenants will have some sort of similar option. Secondly, in lore, the covenants are friendly enough – while there is some banter about your choice when you go to zones other than your home base, the other factions cooperate with your requests and it adds some sense of worldbuilding to what Shadowlands has going on. Thirdly, the quest chains get involved – I spent about an hour each in two other zones before returning to Bastion after each chain, until the second of the three zones chain refused to allow me to finish the last step, necessitating a bug report and a stop to that activity for the time being.
I have one slight concern about the questing layout, though, which is unclear from beta because, well, beta. My assumption going in was that you’d do one chapter a week, and the early part of beta seemed to be mimicking that. Two weeks ago, I did the first chapter, and last week, I did the second and transitioned to the third. This week, I knocked out…4-ish chapters? It was weird, and I think the intention is that these are indeed a 9-week chain, but the pace on beta is starting to accelerate. I’m not a huge fan of padding through a time gate, but at the same time, each chapter was about an hour of content all told, so I think I’d rather see them allow the story to open up over the expansion launch window instead of ramming ahead to the finish line.
Covenant Armors Have…4 Variants?: Unconfirmed as of yet, but when looking at the Collections UI in-game in the current build, I can see Venthyr and Night Fae armor sets, and they have the drop-down for selection which reveals 4 tints. For both sets I could view, there were 3 similarly named tints – Campaign, Renown, and Prestige, which seem to indicate different difficulties of acquisition. If I had to guess (and I do since the data isn’t out there right now), I’d guess that Campaign is rewarded for completion of the level 60 chain, Renown is for reaching maximum renown with the covenant, and Prestige…well, in other games, Prestige is an option to start over from scratch and re-level in a leveling system, so perhaps such a choice will exist for the Covenant? Maybe one to leave, come back, and grind back into the good graces of the faction? I hope not (and I think there will be a different option if it is to re-grind the path, since Blizzard keeps harping on the idea that covenant choice matters and is an important, inflexible part of the game systems), but all I can do is guess.
The fourth tint is different for each faction, but seems to tie to Sanctum features (Venthyr’s fourth tint was listed as “Ember Court” and the fourth Night Fae choice was “Queen’s Conservatory” which are both upgrade features for their respective Sanctums), but there just isn’t enough detail to go off of for now.
The Maw: The Maw systems are getting more fleshed out by the build. More stuff drops loot now, a mix of Stygia and some Maw Lore items for Ven’ari. More daily quest options are given by Ven’ari, and the soul rescue quests for the covenants seem to be more consistently implemented. Not much has changed here, but the base of content is growing.
The Weekly Vault: No longer a piddly cache, Wowhead made the major discovery in datamining today’s build that the weekly cache, one of the cornerstones of Mythic Plus gameplay, is being expanded in a huge way.
At Blizzcon 2019, the development team talked about having a choice of reward from the Mythic Plus cache, where you would get a set number of choices and could pick the one thing you wanted most for the week. What was left unsaid (although the vault NPC in Oribos lampshaded this really well for me now that I know how it works) is that Mythic Plus is no longer the only activity that feeds the cache. In order to unlock slots in the Vault for loot selection, you have to complete different objectives across 3 modes of play, with each mode offering 3 vault slots at max. For Mythic Plus players, you get a vault slot for your first Mythic dungeon each week, a second at 5 dungeons, and a third at 15 dungeons. New to the cache are options for raiders (who unlock slots at 3, 7, and 10 raid boss kills) and PvPers (who unlock slots at 100, 150, and 250 Conquest points earned).
A multi-mode player who does all of these activities will have 9 slots available from which to pick a single reward. (and I fully expect that people are already complaining about being “forced” to do all of the content, let me scroll down to the comments on Wowhead…)
This system actually delights me with how much it opens the weekly cache. For many raiders I know, Mythic Plus felt like a must-complete activity to get a cache in early weeks, given the power it conferred, and that also felt weirdly exclusionary in a way, as Mythic Plus allowed players onto a gear treadmill that gave more rewards on average than raiding does anyways. By expanding it, a lot of my guildies will now have access to as many as 6 options for gear (curiously, the exact number they said at Blizzcon 2019!), someone like me who doesn’t really get super into key-pushing will get a weekly vault with up to 3 options, PvPers get currency for purchasing rewards and up to 3 vault choices, and someone sampling broadly across the content structure of the game could get up to 9. To address the Wowhead commentator whose comment I’ve used as a punchline, I think this system does the opposite of force unwanted activity – the current system forces raiders and PvPers to do dungeons they may not want to do. Under this system, you can get a useful piece of gear every week for whatever mode of hardcore endgame gameplay you do.
Now that leaves the question of scaling, since the Mythic Plus chest has a baseline item level expectation at present. We don’t fully know that part yet, but the strings indicating how it works to the engine point to the difficulty of the completed content. For raids, it seems to be based on the item level of the difficulty you completed the raid bosses on, although it doesn’t indicate thus far how that works for mixed difficulty play (if you run Normal and Heroic in a week, for example) or if it applies to all difficulties (guaranteed weekly loot for LFR is a hell of a hook for someone like me, while Mythic players might sharply up their item level outside of expectations if given max level loot). For dungeons, it indicates that the reward item level is based on the lowest level of your top runs, although the number of top runs it takes into consideration is TBA. If you push a keystone up to 15, and complete 15 dungeons including a 10-11-12-13-14-15 stretch, in theory, you’d get equivalent loot to a +11 keystone (which makes me glad I typed the number progression because I totally blanked that 10 counts as 1!), but until the Keystone changes in 8.3 in BfA, the top end for loot in Mythic Plus caches was +10. Given that, a lot depends on the balancing and how that system proceeds forward. Lastly, for PvP, it is based on your highest bracket win for the week, so pushing your MMR up will ensure better vault rewards.
For me, the vault is a straight upgrade to the Mythic Plus system. It keeps Mythic Plus relevant as a viable means of progressing your character, it allows raiders to receive a guaranteed piece of loot a week provided they put in the minimum required effort, and it gives PvPers another way to acquire loot alongside their freshly reinstated PvP vendors. What question I still have is how it treats item level across the board (if I only run Normal raids, but push a series of +15 keystones which results in better loot, do I get all vault slots to the higher Mythic dungeon item level, or is it going to be 3 slots of Mythic Dungeon item level results, and 3 lower-tier Raid slots? Similarly, I need more details on how it does the math to determine item level – if I kill 3 normal bosses and 4 LFR to get to 7, am I getting Normal loot, LFR loot, or something in the middle somehow (akin to warforging or titanforging where perhaps I get an LFR tint but better stats)? Either way, while core details are lacking, I am excited for this idea!
Overall, that adds to my hypothesis about endgame. The majority of the content you’re going to do is going to push from your covenant, and while you might make trips to other zones, it will be to act on behalf of them rather than as a free agent. While high-end endgame systems remain sort of an island only affected by covenant abilities (oh and also Venthyr’s sanctum is a straight line away from the raid portal for Castle Nathria), those systems too have received some fresh blood via more friendly (in my opinion) reward mechanics that will ensure that players always get at least something, and given the more loot-stingy nature of world questing so far, I think that is a net positive. Raiders and PvPers getting access to a weekly cache is a welcome change that now, I kind of almost think is overdue, as I never really questioned it until this new system was put in front of me!