I was so determined that FFXIV was going to get my attention today, and yet, I haven’t logged in yet and I’m fiending for 9.1 so much I played about an hour on the PTR, after reading much of the datamining.
I might, possibly, have a problem.
So much is in the first build of patch 9.1, which is a good sign for the potential of the patch, in theory. There’s a covenant campaign with working placeholder in-game cutscenes and a clear narrative flow, new models and artwork implemented and ready, and a lot of flavor changes to existing content that brings the game forward and advances the more-recent patch ideology of a living world – the Shadowlands are changing due to our presence, and the ways in which that is happening are not yet fully seen or understood.
From this point on, there will be spoilers. Big, shiny, world-shifting spoilers. BE WARNED.
The Covenant Campaign is…already merged
While I had this hunch in my mind that we’d still see forked early chapters of the covenant campaign in 9.1, there is zero forking. No forking at all! Instead, everyone gets a Bolvar whisper and does the same scenario to move on to the same quests – the flavor of your covenant is largely stripped from the story. This is fine enough as a gameplay and lore mechanism – the story had to merge eventually – but I figured we’d at least be in for something more akin to BfA’s split war campaign, which only joined together once 8.2.5 was out and the factions set aside their squabbling. I don’t hate this, but it feels sort of…rushed, maybe? Given that pretty much each covenant has a story thread still hanging, it creates a perception of a hurry to the finish line, which is not a great feeling as a player!
The Sanctum of Domination has some interesting fights
The raid is infused with a ton of lore – a lot of which we expected, but some which we did not. Firstly, there is an early-ish boss named the Remnant of Ner’zhul, who is….well, Marrowgar from ICC fusion-dancing with Ner’zhul. He’s got a staff and icy bone wings, but the implications for what forms we could be seeing Arthas are interesting!
Then, there’s Soulrender Dormazain. This fight revolves entirely around the use of Garrosh as an anima battery by the boss, which means that Garrosh was moved out of Revendreth at some point, likely prior to us actually deposing Sire Denathrius, and that his value as a massive anima-generator is still really high.
Lastly, there are some Shadowlands-interesting bosses, like one of the former Fatescribes being a boss conscripted into service (in a way that sounds very-current content-y) and the Guardian of the First Ones, which is also interesting for reasons we will get into.
There’s also Kel’thuzad and Sylvanas, who we already knew about and are interesting because we know them, so yeah!
Item Experiments abound
Sylvanas drops a bow that changes a Hunter’s Kill Shot spell into Wailing Arrow, a completely different spell with different tuning and AoE capability. It’s unclear if all classes will get something similar or if it is just for Hunters, and it also remains unclear if this is something that will actually be an upgrade, and if not, if it can be transmogged out of or otherwise disabled.
There is also a cloak that drops off of Sylvanas that is…not a cloak, but a quiver. It is a Back slot item (so not strictly cosmetic) and has stats and an Equip effect that specifically calls out “shots” as the means to trigger a bonus damage event. It also only has Agility on it, instead of the datamined “Primary Stat” flag, so it seems like Hunters get a double-whammy off of Sylvanas which may prove to be their best in slot, or may end up being a flavorful distraction with a DPS loss. My guess is that they’ll tune the bow effect to be a gain over Kill Shot, but hey, it is sometimes hard to predict how Blizzard will land with these things.
The last two bosses continue to drop half-tier item level upgrades, as was the case in Castle Nathria and Ny’alotha before that, which leads to a problem. Currently, the last two bosses (Kel’Thuzad and Sylvanas) both have a smattering of weapons (by weapon type too, not tokens any longer) on their drop tables, but they don’t cover all classes and specs. Notably for me, there is no DH-equippable weapon in the mix, while there is a gap in one-handers for pretty much everyone except Agility dagger users.
The item level scales as it did in BfA with new tiers, so LFR comes in at 213 to match Heroic Castle Nathria, with the higher Sanctum raid tiers being 13 item level jumps each, ending at 252 for Mythic with KT/Sylvanas rewarding a max of item level 258 loot.
There are strings in the updated client build that reference Bonus Rolls, along with a Multiple roll string that sounds like you may be allowed to double-roll on a boss in a single kill, instead of the old system of needing additional kills for additional rolls. There’s not enough data available on this to get worked up in either direction, so I’ll remain interested and following the news until there is more!
Covenant Systems changes aplenty
(I almost said abound again, because I like that word!)
While Blizzard pitched this patch as needing people to see the systems in action, the PTR so far is decidedly light on major shifts in how any of the Covenant systems work. That isn’t to say there aren’t substantive tweaks to how things work, but “tweak” is the best way to describe it.
Firstly, Soulbinds. There are 40 new Renown ranks, and 4 new tiers of Soulbind nodes on each one. When I logged into the PTR the first time, Niya (for my DH) had an immediately-available new Potency node right after her current final choices (after playing during the editing pass, it seems that all slots are open on PTR for testing). When I opened the Soulbind UI, it also told me about Empowered Conduits and told me I could click one at the Soulforge to activate it, but all of my slots were already empowered so I’m not sure what the criteria is (update in editing – enhanced Conduits are a Renown reward once you’ve unlocked the full new tree). So basically, the flow is – earn new Renown, gain new rows, once all new rows are open, future Renown soulbind rewards are enhanced conduit slots starting at the top and moving down the tree until you’ve fully empowered. The empowerment varies based on the Conduit – my item level 213 Relentless Onslaught went from 7.5% base chance for a second Chaos Strike to 8.5% when empowered, while my Felfire Haste speed boost went from 10% to 12%, so this is another lever for balance to watch for – a particularly strong Enhancement to a conduit may bring some additional power.
Renown, as mentioned previously, jumps by a full 40 more, with a 7-chapter Covenant campaign extension. Given that, if it functions the same as the launch story, it will take a bit longer to traverse Renown 41-80, and I expect this will continue to be a timegated element of weekly play. Renown rewards do incorporate a couple of points of player feedback, at least feedback I’ve seen – there are noted increases for Renown in world quest Anima rewards (how big these are is TBD, but I saw one at rank 42 and 58) and most of the item rewards you earn for Renown are given to you outright instead of requiring that you then purchase the item. Coupled with a general lack of Anima-spenders in the patch (so far…) it seems like there is a small amount of responsiveness to the Anima concerns from players – still remains fairly restrictive in my view, but if the World Quest reward increases are substantial, then it could offset this a fair amount.
There isn’t direct ability tuning for Covenant spells that I saw yet, but there is some hilarious passive balancing being done. Night Fae remain far and away the most popular covenant, growing in representation if anything, and so some of the new Soulbind abilities reflect an attempt towards benefits to mixed-Covenant group comps. For Niya, as an example, she has a new power that does a burst of AoE healing based on a prior power that does 50% more healing if at least one of its targets are not a Night Fae player!
However, Covenant abilities are still seeing changes indirectly. Blizzard has implemented a small selection of a larger theme – Legendary powers that interact with the Covenant ability. These allow players a way to tweak their current Covenant ability into something more powerful or useful to them. Not enough of these are out to discuss at length, but the Night Fae Druid one was interesting – it makes Convoke the Spirits have a 60 second cooldown reduction but also halves the number of spells cast during it and halves the casting time, while making it select “exceptional” spells more often. This seems to basically math out about the same – half the cooldown, half the spells, so over a 2-minute window it would be about the same, although the “exceptional” spell verbiage could make it a lot more powerful. On the surface, this seems like a small tweak, but for Balance, it lines up better with major damage cooldowns, so taking this legendary would be a pretty decent gain in theory!
I fully expect to see actual Covenant ability balancing happening as well – this is certainly a first step of many, but I like the general direction.
Otherwise, Covenants remain very similar to their current state – interesting but flawed choices with moderate difficulty to switch and catch up, where it really still feels like the abilities should be a pick one and the Covenant itself should be strictly aesthetic. If you like them in 9.0, you’ll still be having fun, and if you don’t, nothing here really directly addresses issues.
Oh, and a final editing note – the existing Renown weeklies do not reward Renown past 40. I haven’t gotten far enough into the campaign to see if this is because there are new Korthia-bound sources for it (seems most likely to me) so I will note that for the record without commenting good/bad/indifferent until I know for sure.
The art team continues to absolutely own the world – WoW’s visual kit is strong, focused, and the art team almost never misses, which continues here. The new Oribos skybox and the visual of the Mawsworn raiding different places in the Shadowlands (a story event) is impressive and really sells the story. It does, however, need some optimization – even my sweet PC and RTX 3080 were crying when doing the opening quest scenario and just having my framerate ground to dust.
All the weapon models are exceptionally good for both the dungeon and raid and I like them a lot. Personal taste and all, but they hit right for me!
Boss-wise, a brief reading of the Dungeon Journal shows a lot of moving happening, which means that mobile tanks are being brought to the forefront for even raiding, at least from reading the descriptions. Sylvanas in particular has a ridiculously powerful punish mechanic if her main target is not in melee range, and that seems very bad (on Normal, current value is listed at 45,000 damage with a 20% buff to subsequent attacks added for each hit, meaning that tank swaps are likely to be very forceful moves with calculated movement happening to get to Sylvanas, as the wording on her abilities suggests that she doesn’t move herself and will just hit her main target with a strike appropriate to her range from them).
There are larger datamining details like the new Thrall model, the Primus and the big reveal we all expected until his model was datamined prior to the text that explains the different visuals, and more – but for now, I think I’ll keep it to that content!