While World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has been a success overall, there are definitely challenges that Blizzard faces with player perception of various gameplay modes, systems, and the ways in which the game allows players to engage with the endgame content of Shadowlands.
With the widespread expectations of patch 9.1 at a minimum being announced at Blizzconline this week, I thought it would be fun to discuss the broad strokes of what I expect to see announced. I’ve written a prior post similar to this about 9.1 specifically, but I want to take the time since then and what we know now about 9.0.5 and step forward with that knowledge as a guide!
New Raid Tier/Content Season
I’m gonna call it here – we will be seeing a new raid tier similar to Battle for Dazar’alor here. It will be a local Shadowlands threat, and my bet for it is that we’ll be tackling the House of the Chosen in Maldraxxus. Why? Without getting too much into the story beats (that’s coming later this week!), I think that it makes the most sense. Vyraz and his goons are an immediate threat, with an existing, fairly large space in the Maldraxxus map, and even as the Necrolords gain strength and unify the other houses of Maldraxxus, they have not yet challenged the Chosen. That tells me that the Chosen have a level of strength that is raid-worthy, and there are tie-ins to Kel’Thuzad, the Maw, and the Jailer all in the wings. I also suspect this for other reasons that I’ll get into shortly!
Along with this content, that means a new PvE content season – higher item levels, more player power, world quests climbing higher, and likely with that, Covenant armor upgrading further. There is more that I expect to come with this, but these will be new things, so we’ll discuss those separately.
New Legendaries/Higher Ranks/Maybe Equip 2?
Legendaries upgrading further will certainly accompany new content seasons, just as it did in Legion before. I expect this to involve story content in Shadowlands, however.
With Maldraxxus being the focus of the raid tier (in my estimation), I think we’ll turn attention to the Runecarver, and his origins…as the Primus. As we restore memories to the Runecarver, it feels like non-crafting memories will surely come back, as they did when restoring 15 memories brought back the memory of being asked by the Jailer to craft a Helm of Domination and mourneblade. My suspicion is that there will be a mix of story content and gameplay around the Primus – establishing his origins, determining how he came to Torghast to serve in that capacity as the Runecarver, and to better understand how we move forward from there as he works with the people of Maldraxxus again. Or remains imprisoned, but slowly comes to understand his true origins and plight. But now I’m diving off into story.
I expect new legendary memories, higher ranks to upgrade to, and perhaps a way to skip the early ranks and jump right in with 9.1 item levels. Perhaps with additional crafting requirements, or hopefully with crafting changes to adjust the material costs. I mentioned most of this in my prior 9.1 prediction post, and I stand by most of that!
One more point, though – 9.1 will, I suspect, bring the ability to equip two legendaries at once. It might be early, but in Legion you could upgrade to two legendaries in 7.0 after completing your Class Hall upgrade research, so 9.1 is a good in-between that should mirror that progression path.
9.0.5 and the hotfixes this week for raids bring some of this, but these are obviously in-between fixes. I suspect that 9.1 will see larger and more substantive changes.
First up is for raids. From Ion Hazzikostas’ recent interviews, the problem with raid loot is known and the team understands that an additional fix is going to be needed to bridge the gap, but felt like doing so in the middle of the current tier was not an ideal situation. I suspect it will be upgrades for raid loot, capping at half-tiers. If I were designing it to match the Mythic Plus Valor system coming in 9.0.5, I’d expect that completing portions of the raid on each difficulty are needed to allow upgrades, with either the same Valor system or some sort of raid-specific currency being used to upgrade. I’d say completing the full raid on LFR would allow a half-tier upgrade past normal LFR level (think about how Denathrius loot is higher item level than the rest of the raid), a front-half normal clear would allow upgrades to Normal item level, and so on all the way up. Does this actually address the issues with gearing? To my mind, kind of. Having the ability to ramp up your new raid gear to match the content you’re currently clearing feels pretty good and fits with the idea on display for the Valor system in 9.0.5, and addresses what I think is the pain currently in gearing, which is the raid plateau where gearing stalls and slows drastically.
For Mythic Plus, I think we’re gong to have to wait and see how Valor works to see if changes are coming. At the very least, I expect it to simply upgrade in item levels available via upgrade, while also scaling up the pricing in Valor (think Titan Residuum from BfA) and maybe also requiring a new run at the Mythic Plus clear achievements being added in 9.0.5.
PvP gearing is pretty great as-is and I believe it will sit where it is since players of PvP are overall pretty happy with it!
Lastly, world quests. I suspect that we’ll have Callings with loot pre-set like BfA emissaries, even if the assigned loot is an RNG cache for certain slots. Item levels should upgrade again for world quests, and Covenant armor will likely also bring a few new ranks to take players right up to either the LFR or Normal item level of the new raid tier – depending on how Blizzard feels about the successes or failings of the Covenant gearing system as they are at present. I also suspect that we’ll have some additional forms of catchup for gear – maybe higher item level weapons, jewelry options, and catchup systems for Legendaries.
Overall, will they stick the landing on gear? I think it will depend on hard figures we won’t see until the patch launches, but they’re getting to a better point with each fix, so I’m willing to believe that they’re making a solid effort!
New Covenant Campaigns
I expect this to follow the BfA model of content in some ways, where 9.1 is going to be the last patch of divergent, separate covenant campaigns before we all converge onto a single storyline that pulls us forward through a set of shared experiences.
With these specific quests? More of a global Shadowlands focus, story beats to lead into the raid tier (which I expect will be Maldraxxus) and tying us together so that all players, including those with one main character and who’ve only done a single covenant story will be able to see the characters and story beats that will guide the back half of the expansion. Also, more Renown, which we’ll discuss….next!
More Renown is coming. I think that is an easy prediction given that it has been the simplest, most predictable reward mechanic they’ve implemented and it is easily understood and would expand pretty effortlessly. I expect this to gate new Covenant armor ranks for upgrades, additional rewards tied to the story of the patch, and of course, to gate flying. Speaking of…
9.1 is supposed to, by Blizzard’s admission, herald the return of flight in current content. We’ve been told that Renown and not reputation is the measure by which we’ll obtain the new Pathfinder achievement, but the wording has not stated conclusively that Renown is the only requirement. I fully expect we’ll see other requirements issued, like completion of story campaign quests, exploration of the Shadowlands zones, and perhaps a quest-based achievement for the level-up story – at the very least the core level-up campaigns, but I could see them making the Sojourner achievements for sidequests mandatory here as well.
Now, how will flying work? My guess is, for better or worse, that we are as our flying taxis currently are – free flying within each zone individually, left to shuttle between zones on rails. My hope is that we could fly freely across to zones directly, but I do not expect that to happen. At best, we’ll probably just have to fly into the Oribos gateways to move back to Oribos and then fly out to our chosen zone. If they keep the current travel restrictions in place, I fully hope that we’ll be able to at least fly through of our own volition rather than, say, being forced to take a flight path to leave or enter a zone and only being free to fly past that point.
As for the pathfinder mount reward, that’s a tough one. It may end up being unique per covenant (given how early in the expansion it is, I am about 60% sure this is it) or it would be something symbolic of Shadowlands or the current story moment – perhaps some sort of fun Broker mount or an anima creature of some sort. A middle-ground would be reusing the Anima Wyrm from the CE but coloring the anima and armor for each zone – but the current mount is a bit too close to Kyrian colors as-is, so that might be a no-go.
I expect each Covenant will get 1-2 new Soulbinds as a part of the story of patch 9.1, and I would also expect each soulbind tree to grow in length a little bit. Maybe not to the point of 3 Potency conduits per soulbind tree, but perhaps another layer or two deep. The easy design (IMO) would be for each soulbind to simply gain a new Conduit trident branching off their last trait – but not every tree ends perfectly to allow that. Given that, perhaps the middle ground is a 3-way Conduit choice and a unique trait per Soulbind, but that adds layers of balancing to the patch which may not be ideal. At the minimum, I think a new Soulbind per Covenant for sure, but anything beyond that is substantially more difficult to peg. As a last prediction here, it seems safe to bet that Conduit ranks will upgrade with our new content season.
New zone – I wish, but probably not.
New Dungeon – Shaking my WoW 8-Ball, and it says “Try Again in 9.2”
New Covenants – Nope, not yet at least!
Covenant Abilities Decoupled from Covenant – Also not yet. I have a darkhorse prediction that our big 9.2 system revamp is gonna be picking a covenant ability and skinning it for your actual faction, or just being able to have all the class abilities. Not sure which one I would bet on yet!
Shared Soulbinds Between Factions – I 100% expect this to happen in 9.2. Once the story unites and we are all chasing a common enemy, I believe that our major lore characters will become Soulbinds that anyone can pick, which will make balancing easier and I suspect we may even push really hard towards them being the only real choice.
More Anima – A given. In lore it makes sense, for gameplay we desperately need it, let’s get more of that stuff!
Artificer Xy’mox – Of course.
Legendary Weapons from the Runecarver – Check back with me for more on this one in the near future!
Tomorrow (well later today, since I need to get back on track after spending 3 hours disassembling and drying out my keyboard to make it work again) we’ll discuss lore beats and the story I expect to see in 9.1!