It’s the demon hunter namesake of the blog, which still feels weird.
So over the last weekend, I leveled and geared my Demon Hunter, my second character of Shadowlands to hit level 60. Doing so, I had a need to write about Threads of Fate, and figured I’d prefer it anyways, so I picked it as the leveling path of choice for Kaylriene.
About 10 hours of play in Shadowlands content down, with her fully leveled, caught up on Renown, and at item level 173ish, I think I have some pretty strong opinions about the alt game to bring back to the table after my post about the time-thoughtful nature of the expansion thus far.
Threads of Fate: Actually Pretty Good
Threads of Fate seems to be sort of an urban legend of sorts among Shadowlands players. Some guildies loved it, some hated it, some said it was faster, others said slower, and no one was fully corroborating the others. Naturally, that meant I had to try it, and here’s my impression – I like it for alt leveling a lot better than disconnected zone stories done in the order of your choosing, but I can see why people might not like it.
What I like about it is that it is incredibly freeform and offers a lot of viable avenues by which you can accrue experience points. Do you want to do every sidequest chain in the expansion? You can. Do world quests of your choosing until you max out each zone? Doable. Run dungeons until your eyes bleed? Well supported. It even, probably a first for selectable content in this way, supports some amount of pacifist gameplay – looting treasures can help, but as per Warcraft, there isn’t enough treasure in the realms of death for you to level solely in this way.
What ToF allows in gameplay that I feel like Blizzard has previously missed the mark on is that it is fully comformable to a player’s individual playstyle and preferences. I mostly did world quests to level, sprinkling in some side quests to top off each zone’s bar. As a system, the game UI explains it fairly well (which isn’t the case for a lot of Shadowlands systems, so that is a relief!) but like with most fill-a-bar style questing since WoD, the amount of progress you can make on each objective is left purposefully ambiguous, making you tread through content until complete. Now, nothing stops you from doing every sidequest and completing every objective in a given zone, but for most utilitarian levelers, you are going to max out the core “help the zone!” quest that makes up ToF, turn that in, and move on.
And thus I can see the contradictions in opinions. If you like freeform, define your own adventure gameplay, ToF gives you a strong foundation you can build upon. If you are a completionist or need a bit more structure defined for you to set you on a path, well, ToF can be a bit lacking in those ways – completionists will be pushed to move on in order to not miss out on the freebie Renown for doing the bare minimum in each zone, the one aspect of the process the game doesn’t really advise you on sufficiently, in my opinion.
With each zone you complete, you get a scaled weapon reward of your choosing from 2-4 options, and you then get a single Emblem of Renown for each zone completion by returning to Oribos and being ferried to the next zone. The goal here is that most players will follow a structured path of one zone at a time, but you can simply fly into each zone, auto-accepting the ToF zone progress quest, and do world quests all over, so veteran players might choose to do just that, or hold all 4 zones for turn in until later to scale rewards higher. Either way, the path to 60 for me on ToF felt shorter, but I would put that down to a mix of a higher item level character being used (my DH had about a 30 ilvl average advantage on my paladin!), rest experience gains, and my level of player skill with DH versus Paladin coupled with my insistence on doing all content on my paladin as my raid spec of Holy. If I had leveled my DH first in the expansion, I would probably share a different tale there.
Oh, there is also one other thing worth mentioning – the bare minimum was, for me at least, not enough to finish leveling. I landed at 58.9 upon handing in my final zone completion quest, but the nature of Threads of Fate makes that easy to deal with – go run 2-3 dungeons, complete some world quests or bonus objectives, and bam – job done.
Level 60 on a Fresh Alt: More Welcoming
One of my identified weaknesses with Shadowlands so far is that the first time you hit level 60, it is a confusing mess of systems that are poorly explained. Conduits, Soulbinds, Covenants as a whole, the Maw, Torghast – everything gets thrown at you quick and with just enough explanation to play, but not enough to really understand. That part doesn’t change on an alt, except that you can skip pretty much all of the explanations and forced questing to push mechanics onto you.
What does change in a very positive way is the scarcity of gear. Now, alts don’t get a readily apparent mercy fund of loot rolls or anything of the sort. Instead, what they get is rapid progress through the Covenant story allowing those armor rewards and the upgrades that start unlocking at chapter 4 with it, alongside a couple of merciful additions. The first calling I completed on my DH, I opened the trash box expecting 2,000g worth of vendor trash and I got that plus two item level 155 weapons. Each calling I completed gave me 1 Renown, plus the 1 I started with and the 4 I got while leveling, so it was very easy to be Renown 8 in a couple of hours at 60. Couple that with the weekly quests, and now I was at 10, couple that with the campaign rewards of Renown and in around 3-4 hours of play at level 60, I was right up to Renown 15 alongside my paladin, able to upgrade all of my available covenant armor slots to item level 177.
There are other poorly explained bits of good news too. All that work you did in the Maw on your main? Unnecessary on your alts – they benefit from the upgrades you’ve purchased on your main from Ven’ari for both the Maw and Torghast – the ones that are specifically marked as “Permanent Upgrade: The Maw/Torghast.” This isn’t documented anywhere in-game I can see, but Gnomecore had pointed it out previously and I was quite chuffed to see it hold true, as my runs through the Maw felt easier and my first forays into Torghast were complimented with more rare Anima Powers and the requisitioned Anima Cells waiting on each broker vendor. There are two caveats to this great news – if you want your alt to have access to Ven’ari’s purchasable sockets for gear or the Conduit random upgrades she sells, they’ll need the reputation all the same. But for an alt, those items may prove unnecessary, and so that remains a personal choice!
Because of the Covenant armor upgrades, the immediate 155 weapon grants, and the access to the first-tier World Quest item level upgrade perk from Renown without having to wait a few weeks, gearing my DH has been far simpler than my Paladin. I’ve run maybe 4 dungeons tops to reach the item level I’m at now, and so it doesn’t feel altogether crazy to imagine that this will mean leveling alts is actually not that bad, at least not as bad as I expected.
Anima – The Real Limiter
Something of a problem that is creeping into my main gameplay as well is this – anima power is in short supply with no obvious catchups or suitable time-gated increases (and yes, I appreciate the irony of asking for a time-gated benefit here!). The game has a weird double-standard with Anima Power – Blizzard wants you to see it as an implemented improvement on the Resources systems of the last handful of expansions and not as means to player power, but they also offer so much tied to it that playing for Anima feels like a fool’s errand. For my main, the most pressing concern is Renown armor appearances, which each come with a hefty AP pricetag tied to them, several thousand each when the weekly quest designed to keep a casual player engaged all week is to get 1,000 total. Now, the Anima grind is a one and done per character deal, in theory and based solely on 9.0 – once you have the rewards you want, you can stop, and since the rewards are largely cosmetic, stepping away isn’t progression harming – just keep doing the weekly quest for your Renown and that’s all the anima you “must” get.
On an alt, however, the best catchup mechanic for early expansion ever – the Covenant armor – is anima-gated. Yes, you are given the pieces as quest rewards, and some come pre-upgraded in later chapters – great. However, the scaling of anima cost for covenant armor upgrades quickly outpaces what an alt can gather, and if you reach level 60 on an alt in two or 3 more weeks, when all chapters are doable and you can upgrade the covenant armor to max level, the value proposition of that armor does start to fall off a bit.
For both mains and alts, I’d love to see some Anima increases offered as a Renown reward – not as exponentially powerful as Artifact Knowledge was, but maybe perks at like 2 different Renown ranks to increase anima power token rewards by 1 (2 at a higher rank) or to increase the anima given per token by 50-100%, something like that. You could even make it a thing like it only deposits at the higher rate, so the 1,000 anima weekly still takes the same amount of time and content to do, if that is a concern for the designers at Blizzard. However, I think that anima feels like it gates too many things and there just isn’t a strong way for a player to increase their income short of just doing every world quest for it and then waiting for more. And yes, lorewise, the Shadowlands are in an anima drought, but the implication of the story thus far is that our efforts all over are fixing this – we’re bringing anima back to the Covenants, we’ve stopped the forces of Sire Denathrius and their anima-siphoning ways, and we’re in the Maw fighting the servants of the Jailer to prevent the anima flow from Revendreth from creating an overpowered death army – the situation is improving and our Anima rewards should reflect this.
My opinion on alt play in Shadowlands has improved from actually, uh, leveling and playing an alt. The Threads of Fate system is surprisingly robust and offers a mode of gameplay I hope we don’t see fade out in 10.0 or beyond, and the whole thing is peppered with thoughtful touches – Renown catchup doesn’t mess around, the first-calling weapon freebies is surprisingly great (and both good enough to use right away while being low item level enough that any content you can do with weapons on the line gives better), and I honestly find the Covenant Armor upgrading system offers the best early-endgame catchup for alts the game has ever had. It is quick, painless, and while it can offer some support to mains for lagging armor slots, it shines for alts, where you can guarantee multiple upgrades are available upon reaching the level cap nearly immediately.
The problems one might run into with an alt are, likewise, endemic to the larger endgame. A lack of detailed information in-game on all the various systems can grate on a player even after experiencing it previously, the shortage of Anima rewards is heavily felt and even more so on an alt where they make up a crucial part of your catchup plan, a reduction in rewards can sometimes make completing content on an alt feel a little less valuable (once you are caught up on Renown, Callings again become experiences in tedium only worth reputation, a sometimes-Conduit, and a pile of grays worth some cash), and while Ven’ari upgrades make the Maw and Torghast content a bit easier in some ways, it also stands to reason that the content in question isn’t as worth doing on an alt – The Maw almost not at all, Torghast depends on how badly you want/need a legendary for the type of gameplay you enjoy on your alts.
Overall, though, I definitely find Shadowlands a surprising leap forward in alt-friendliness and the systems around it are far more robust and well-made than I expected them to be. It remains to be seen how these problems will feel on a second alt or a twentieth alt, but for now, I remain quite impressed.