A somewhat surprising announcement was made by the WoW team today – see you tomorrow for a patch 9.2 preview video!
Since I put some time in a recent post into speculating about the nature of the CDN deployment of a 9.2 build, we don’t have to retread that analysis – but we can make some new assumptions with this video coming out and then can make some speculative predictions about content, mostly which I’m doing today to see if I get any right!
The Timing of Patch 9.2
Right now, it is obviously too early to make any broad predictions about when a patch release will actually happen, because even in a theoretical best case scenario with PTR going live as the video concludes, the test period needed will vary wildly depending on how things work out and if unexpected bugs or issues crop up.
However, I’m rather glad that we have news that 9.2 is not going to sit and wait or is in need of more time in the lab, because the game needs it. I think it would be quite easy to say that this beats most expectations for the patch news, including my own, and that in and of itself is good news to those of us still playing WoW or wanting more from the game. The quickness of the likely PTR deployment is reminiscent of the better parts of Legion, where Blizzard was rolling patches on PTR constantly, and as new patches rolled live, their successors would hit the PTR within days or a couple of weeks at worst.
After the first year of Shadowlands, which we are rapidly approaching the anniversary of, it is good to see a focus on content delivery timing, and while one patch does not a trend make, it at least signals that Blizzard’s hollow public contrition on the state of WoW may actually have some amount of sincerity behind it.
And so, I can make the easy and least controversial prediction of this post – that PTR will launch either shortly after the video on the same day, or wait around a day and launch on Friday 11/12/2021.
But that’s all reality-grounded analysis, and frankly, we’ve done a lot of that with WoW in the prior months because that’s all we can fucking do in the current state of the game. Let’s speculate on the patch content!
What Will Be In Patch 9.2, Anyways?
Patch 9.2 has to pick up the pieces of the broken Shadowlands story, moving us from a central narrative about evil Sylvanas to centering the Jailer as our villain while also attempting to reconcile how the NPCs around us feel about Sylvanas coming around, with the recent and quite-convenient dismissal of Tyrande’s furious rage and the current absence of Genn Greymane from Shadowlands, who would surely have things to say about that idea.
From a story perspective, honestly, I’m not so sure I care to speculate on that too much, other than to set the scene for what matters to me – gameplay content. I already have a headache as I write this and I’m sure that writing about Sylvanas will only make that worse, and we all have a general feeling for the quality of her story…
So let’s talk content.
With the scene set, we next must consider what we expect in a WoW patch in 2021(2). A major patch version means a raid in all certainty, it will likely also mean a dungeon or the split of Taza’vesh into Heroic/Mythic Plus wings, a new world zone to play in, new story questing related to that zone and tied-in with the raid, and the continuation of some Shadowlands features – new ranks of Conduits, new ranks of Legendaries, and a likely new slate of missions for the Covenant mission tables.
What is completely up in the air is how these things might work. Conduits have been a moving target, with a primarily loot-based approach in Season 1 with expensive, rare upgrades from Ve’nari, while Season 2 has codified on limited loot options for Conduits with a mix of dropped items and vendor items to purchase to pull existing conduits up to higher ranks. I suspect that a part of the catchup of 9.2 will focus on easing Conduit acquisition at higher base item levels. Right now, new conduits are typically acquired at a max of item level 200, unless you can get them from Sanctum of Domination drops, in which case they can go up to the 252 max depending on difficulty – and having recently pulled two new alts up to 60 and having ground through conduit acquisition on my mage for a spec/covenant switch, I can relatively safely say that getting the right Conduit loadout on an alt can be a bit of a pain, to the point that a couple of my fresh 60s straight up have fully unlocked Soulbind trees with only the 3 base, item level 145 conduits loaded. Yikes!
Legendaries, likewise, face some measure of intrigue. It would be logical, although handwavy, to continue using Torghast as the means by which legendary acquisition meets a limiter. However, in lore terms, we’ve emptied the tower of threats with the Sanctum of Domination raid seeing us push out the Jailer’s forces, the Jailer himself pursuing goals in a new place, and from a gameplay and real-life perspective, Torghast has not exactly been a fan-favorite feature of the Shadowlands experience! Given that, I could see it making sense for legendary acquisition to switch to new means – some sort of new challenge in the new world zone. What shape that would take for gameplay is an open guess, and I don’t have the designer brain needed to really speculate on that, because in my head it would just look like Torghast but with environment variety, and the core gameplay of Torghast is really the problem. I’d love for my old Torghast ideas to take root – a new mode with crazy overpowered Anima Powers that let us fight waves of enemies from an infinite army and our ability to hold out against the waves dictates how much new currency we get.
A couple speculative bits I feel a little more sure about for Legendaries, though – I suspect that 9.2 will give us a way to catapult alts right to a Rank 7 legendary (or perhaps something 9.1 era like a Rank 5) to keep the focus on new content and to remove what can be an annoying roadblock to gearing a character in Shadowlands. I suspect this will be on two fronts – one through new crafting tied to the new zone (similar to the skill cap increased crafting we got with 8.2 and Nazjatar in BfA) and another with whatever our legendary currency is for 9.2 being usable in smaller amounts to pull players up faster. I could even see them redoing Runecarving, either by reducing the experience requirements that make you craft an abysmally-high number of 190 pieces to be able to even make something better or by simply (and this is my hope) consolidating the crafting to a single recipe and putting it on the player making the end-product legendary to supply the currencies needed to up-rank instead. So you’d craft a base item, and the amount of currency invested by the player wanting to equip it instead determines the rank, instead of the current mess where you need both a higher-ranked vessel item and more currency. It would even let them use the new, fancified upgrade UI to do it!
On the Covenant front, I think my speculation is that we get a break from Renown. I feel like Renown capped at 80 is a logical endpoint, in that right now it marks the point at which we can free swap Covenants and the story of Shadowlands, especially now, no longer puts us in an upstart role where we are proving our worth to the Covenants. It’s well-established in-universe that we are the Maw Walkers, the force of change in the Shadowlands and the best defense against whatever Zovaal is doing, and so having to continue grinding Renown would be illogical in that way. At the same time, player reception to Renown has been negative, because it is so painfully obvious as a timegate that pretending otherwise is insulting, and easy brownie points for Blizzard would be to not continue it. A simple weekly gate on questing would be easier and probably even better received, but I would love to see Blizzard just slap it on the table and let you do everything in the questline for the new content immediately, should you so desire (they won’t likely do this, but goddamn I would love to be wrong on that!).
Soulbinds are harder to predict – my hope is that my Covenant-neutral soulbind theory plays out with us being able to soulbind to major lore characters like Bolvar, Jaina, Thrall, and the like. I’m not sure if I could see the Soulbind trees getting deeper – it might be nice, but there’s only so much space for those trees to expand downwards and the balancing of making 12 existing soulbinds go even 2 layers deeper would be a nightmare. Perhaps Soulbinds would have a quest to empower their non-Conduit slots, increasing their effectiveness in a similar fashion to Empowered Conduits? Another possibility, and the one I feel is most likely, is that Soulbinds simply don’t change, and the Conduit system becomes the primary focus of change efforts there. It is the lowest-hanging fruit that could be improved with the system, so I think that’s reasonable.
Now we get to the juicy stuff – where are we playing? Well, Zereth Mortis seems a layup – it’s name-dropped at the end of the 9.1 campaign and both the Keepers and Ve’nari have interest in it. What is it, though? Well, like many things in the Shadowlands, it is pretty well undefined and the lore around it is basically non-existent in our view at this point. The name led to a quick burst of speculation that disappeared almost as fast when it became apparent we’d be stuck with 9.1 for a long time, but the basic theories push towards it being some sort of either parallel Azeroth like an Emerald Dream of death, or that the Jailer’s plan would lead him to Azeroth and casting the realm into the throes of death, which would likely, in a gameplay sense, lead to an experience fundamentally similar to 8.3’s Black Empire zone infestations. I like the idea of an alternate plane Azeroth variant suffused with Death magics, and I think it would be the coolest version of that idea that would not trigger the irritation that an 8.3-styled zone-revamp approach would. The theme is fairly obvious, as we move from the inner-workings of the realms of Death to the creation of them – exploring the First Ones, the founding of the realms of the Shadowlands, and the series of betrayals and issues that led to the creation of the construct Arbiter and the banishment of Zovaal.
For a dungeon, I speculate we’ll simply get the Kit-Kat bar tear-apart of the two sides of Taza’vesh to allow more players to see it through Heroic while also giving the Mythic Plus rotation some much-needed variety with two “new” dungeons there. There will of course be a new Mythic Plus seasonal affix, which is a wide-open guess at this point. If Zereth Mortis is “Azeroth behind the Veil of Death” then perhaps an affix with multiple planes of existence, similar to Awakened in BfA season 4. If the theme of the patch is “unmaking” then that could take all kinds of forms. It’s too early to predict, because the possible themes are pretty open until we know more!
And that brings us to the raid. I have two vague guesses here, based on one major sticking point for this patch.
Firstly, the scenario that I think is more likely – that 9.2 will conclude the Shadowlands story to move us on to the next expansion, whatever that may be. If that is the case, then we are headed for a showdown with the Jailer, and Zovaal will be our last boss, with whatever story events happen there pushing us on to the next thing. If, however, there does end up being a 9.3, then I would speculate on last boss of 9.2 being Anduin, with the theme of rescuing servants of the Jailer we know being a thing, although I won’t speculate where the story would go and if he would even make it out alive.
What I will speculate is that the raid we’ll get will have a couple of baseline features to appease players – firstly, that we’ll see another properly large raid tier with around 10 bosses, perhaps even precisely 10 again, a number that seems to be locked-in well for Shadowlands. Secondly, I suspect we’ll see Tier sets come back.
Shards of Domination were a player-upsetting system that did what they set out to do – made raid loot more rewarding and interesting, even if that goal was accomplished at a high cost to player satisfaction. Tier sets are an older design that do that job better – with less loot RNG, less convoluted upgrade mechanisms, and a fun class or spec theme that differentiates how your base gameplay works from tier to tier. While Blizzard has been somewhat waffle-y about discussing them recently, they’ve said they would return at some point in Shadowlands, and no time like the present! Tier sets are crowd-pleasers that most players have fond memories of and bringing them back, while it would be design and balance-intense, would be a relatively easy win for a company and game in desperate need of those Ws.
But no matter what happens, we’ll surely have more to discuss tomorrow and at least I have predictions on the board!