World of Warcraft: Shadowlands gets its first patch next week.
Now, contrary to what you might expect if you haven’t been paying attention, this patch is targeted singularly at systems and balancing, with no new content on offer. Instead, the focus is on being a major breakpoint to bring out balance changes that have been critically needed in the game – adjusting slightly for tank imbalances, bringing underperforming Covenant choices up to par or even completely redesigning the class abilities in some cases to compensate for underrepresentation (especially the Necrolords!), and then focusing on quality of life changes like Mythic Plus gear progression.
What is there to jump in on excitedly? Well…maybe not much. In my opinion, this patch isn’t going to change hearts and minds – if you like Shadowlands overall, it will keep you enthralled for a bit longer, and if you aren’t digging the vacation in the realms of death, well, you’re probably still going to be feeling about the same. But let’s talk about the features coming in the new patch!
Valor Points are once again back! But, as we’ve discussed in the WoW sphere a lot over the past month, this iteration is solely for gear upgrading, and specifically for gear from Mythic Plus dungeons. The basics as to how it will work are as follows: you get Valor Points from doing M+ dungeons and your Covenant Callings, for a fixed price, you can upgrade a piece of M+ gear (earned after the patch launches ONLY) and you can keep upgrading the same piece until you hit an item level cap, with that cap determined based on a series of unlocked achievements. To start, you can bring your M+ pieces earned in 9.0.5 to item level 200. Once you’ve done all 8 Shadowlands dungeon at a Mythic 5, you can then go to 207, with all dungeons at Mythic 10 allowing upgrades to 213, before a final upgrade rank to item level 220 being rewarded for full dungeon slate clearing at Mythic 15. All of these must be done within the dungeon timer – no depleted keys!
Valor has a weekly earnings cap and a (lower) maximum capacity. In week 1, Valor will start at being capped to 5,000 earned per week, with that cap increasing by 750 each week after. However, you can only hold a maximum of 1,500, meaning you are forced to keep upgrading or sit on the cap. It’s a little unclear why this is, but my assumption is that instead of a Titan Residuum situation with high scaling, the idea here is that you can keep your Valor between seasons and upgrade costs will increase in smaller increments.
A few other changes have been made to target loot and address player concerns. Finishing a Mythic Keystone after the timer has expired now yields an extra piece of loot at a lower item level than the dungeon level, giving slightly more rewards (and more ability to upgrade). Mythic Keystones through the Great Vault are being changed, so instead of it always being your highest for the season minus 1 level, it will now be your highest minus 1, minus an additional level for every week you haven’t done an equal or higher keystone. So if you did a 15, you’ll get a 14, but if you don’t do a 15 again that week, the next week’s Vault keystone will be a 13. This feels like a relatively minor change (mirroring how the chest handled keystones in Battle for Azeroth) but it has been contentious thus far, especially since being able to finish a 15 for the week gives you your best Vault options for M+.
There are raid changes too, however slight. The Great Vault raid boss requirement for slots is now moving to 3/6/9, down from 3/7/10 bosses killed, to better mirror LFR (whose wings are in sets of 3 except Sire Denathrius), and Potency Conduits are being added to the loot tables of Castle Nathria, which should result in some small power increases for those raiding Heroic or Mythic.
Lastly, to ever so slightly adjust Covenant rewards and Anima acquisition, once you reach 40 Renown, the anima quest will reward 1,500 gold instead of a Renown, and the Soul quest will reward 500 Anima once you are capped on souls (which, at 20 souls a week, only takes 5 weeks from 0 to cap).
Oh, and actually lastly, the Wandering Ancient is in the patch, which is the free mount for all Shadowlands owners. Joy!
Balance this expansion has been a hot-button topic, with several underperforming specs waiting a long time for changes, and while several got aura buffs that increased performance slightly, the balance issues still hang heavy over the game as a whole. 9.0.5’s central aim is to (hopefully) fix some of that, with more targeted changes to bring up low specs and alongside it, buffing under-utilized legendary memories.
I won’t summarize all the changes here, as I have yet to play every class or spec at max level in endgame content. For the ones I have played, I remain unmoved. Havoc DH, my current raid main, gains nothing over a buff to an underwhelming talent and a redesigned covenant ability for Necrolords that still feels like it won’t close the gap with the others, and most of the tank tweaks for Vengeance are nerfs due to their commonality in the highest levels of the game – Vengeance DH tanks absolutely dominate the current Mythic Dungeon International season, and most high-level guilds bring a Vengeance DH as their first tank of choice to get the magic damage taken debuff (since bringing Havoc for progression is, by current balancing, a mistake). For priests, there is a small attempt being made at balancing the healing specs better – Disc still looks like the top dog while Holy gains even more throughput but no lasting utility. The changes to the Night Fae covenant ability seem like they might end up making raiding priests de facto buff bots for other players – Power Infusion is already rarely used on the Priest themselves, and with the Benevolent Faerie effect offering pretty high cooldown reduction and stronger damage reduction, it seems like it could have a lot of play.
Lastly, the spec I just fell out of once I switched raid mains, Holy Paladin is seeing some small changes, with an increase to the mana cost of Holy Shock and some targeted nerfs/slowdowns for the Ringing Clarity Conduit for Kyrian Paladins that will only really reduce the burstiness of Divine Toll with said conduit, by pushing the extra spellcasts out with a delay instead of near-immediately. There is also a Holy Power generation buff for the Necrolord Covenant ability, which is…fine, but still doesn’t address the sometimes uselessness of the spell selection it has, and especially doesn’t answer for how much Holy Power a Kyrian Paladin can generate, or how much raw damage and healing a Venthyr Paladin can do. It might, maybe be better single-target or in small cleave scenarios for Retribution, but I don’t play it and so I don’t know.
One positive I will say is that most of the changes are buffs, and most of them more precisely targeted than the aura buffs of a few weeks ago. It remains to be seen how balance will be impacted overall, but I’m sure the next two weeks of WarcraftLogs data is going to be very, very interesting to watch.
Torghast! It’s a thing that I guess everyone hates, but I love.
One of the more consistent refrains has been that Torghast is, for some specs, just too difficult, with no great Anima Power combos offering the kinds of satisfaction I’ve had in my gameplay, and some abilities being too weak at 1 stack but growing exponentially, making them duds to take in the hopes of getting to 2-3 stacks. The changes to Torghast seem to focus in on underperforming specs, giving everyone the ability (hopefully) to solo Torghast!
There are also some small UI changes coming – a description of each wing of Torghast at the layer selection screen and a recommended item level for each layer. Lastly, there are some flat nerfs via the reduction of enemy counts. All in all, it is a pretty decent list of changes. Looking at the specs I’ve seen complaints about, I think some concerns will be addressed. Ultimately, I think it will improve Torghast, but I think there is a player skill component that remains a part of the equation, and that will continue to vex some players, unfortunately. These changes do go a long way to bringing up underperformers to an extent that I think saying “but my anima powers!” will no longer be as valid. Of course, to a curmudgeon like me that insists on soloing Torghast because doing it with people irritates me, it’ll just remain something I write about here!
There are other changes, but I think those address the broadest cross-section of my reader base and the overall playerbase.
For what it is worth, I am excited for the changes. I think a little shot in the arm is what Shadowlands needs, and it being out quicker than expected gives me some small hope that we’re not going to be stuck waiting until July for 9.1. As a first patch to an expansion, I think it will be a little controversial, given the content-less nature of it. However, when compared to a historically abysmal patch like Warlords of Draenor 6.1, which gave us….the S.E.L.F.I.E Camera, Garrison raid bosses, and the opening of Blackrock Foundry (which was a good raid don’t @ me), numbering it 9.0.5 helps escape some of that ire. Now, if Shadowlands is a two content patch expansion, this might end up being a historical blunder, but for now – balancing is good, rewards changes with more loot flowing and progression paths forward is good, and bringing the core featureset of the expansion to more players is also positive.
Bring it on, I say!