So the next patch for WoW, 9.2 – Eternity’s End – was just announced via a pre-recorded 11 minute video, which you can watch below if you haven’t.
So, this unveil is obviously huge in that it is content for WoW at a time where the game desperately needs it. There’s some reason to hope in this trailer, and yet at the same time, I have a slight sinking feeling as a longtime fan of WoW that some aspects of the trailer and presentation of the patch reflect a lack of changed strategy for Blizzard on the game.
But first, let’s focus on the good and interesting bits.
As was easily predicted, Zereth Mortis is indeed the world zone we get for our new journey into the Shadowlands. What was sort of harder to define was what it would be and how it would look, and the trailer has given us an answer – two of them, in fact. The zone has dual biomes, with a dry sandy region that looks very similar to Silithus and a lush green area, keeping up with a Shadowlands theme that is largely defying death tropes to deliver unique zones infused with stylistic flourishes. The zone really does look cool, although of course a sizzle reel of the best footage will do that.
As far as content, the trailer spent a lot of time going into art and details of the various beings that populate Zereth Mortis, most of which was absent the actual gameplay details. We’ll come back to that a bit later in the post.
In terms of content, the preview went into a handful of features of the patch, detailing the raid of Sepulcher of the First Ones. It seems like one of the first bosses will be Anduin, which tells me that the raid story is likely going to be a split between front and back half, as we’ll have to reckon with whatever happens to Anduin while working our way to Zovaal. The raid looks like a cool environment and we’ll have to see how the encounter design and priorities shape up. A translated Korean interview clarified this further, stating that the raid consists of 11 bosses, with a first week restriction of only being able to do the first 8, the last of that first batch being the fight with Anduin. The intent is for that story to matter, and we’ll see if it does, but it is at least a cool idea, and one that they haven’t really toyed with since the way old days of ICC, which was wing-locked so that Normal took multiple weeks to open fully, allowing progression guilds to then challenge the Lich King and unlock Heroic. That idea wasn’t terribly popular at the time but it also only really got in the way of high-end progression guilds, and I suspect that will be the case here as well, on a much smaller scale (and also, it will be interesting to see what that means to both the Mythic and LFR unlock schedules).
The big open world content was barely hinted at, with the zone of Zereth Mortis being full of a race called the Automa, which speak in a cypher language of runes. Over the course of gameplay in the zone, we’ll be able to decode the language until we fully understand it, and at breakpoints of progress, new activities will open up. Our main factions are split between the Automa and the Enlightened, a group of Broker NPCs who’ve given up the pursuit of monetary enrichment in favor of knowledge. If I had to guess (and since I’m writing here I suppose I do), the Automa will likely be a rep similar to the Archivist’s Codex, where the Cypher unlocks correspond with increased reputation that exists on a different set of values than the standard rep bars, while the Enlightened will be a fairly standard grind like any other rep we’ve had in the last 17 years.
The biggest news from a gameplay perspective is the return of tier sets. The video spent a lot of time on the art aspect, and they do look cool as each is a variant of a shared theme with class-specific flourishes, but the gameplay aspect was less explored, unless you read the blog post on the WoW site. If you read that, two additional details were posted – that there will be 2 and 4-set bonuses just like before, but a new wrinkle – tier sets will be obtainable through raiding as expected, but also via Mythic Plus and PvP. Given that one of the major pain points of the Shards of Domination system was that they were good outside of raid but required raiding to get all the necessary stuff and ugprades, so this is a vastly preferable solution. In fact, as with the Great Vault rewards, my opinion is that everyone should have access to them – hell, a reputation-based tier set for world content offset by a lower item level would be welcome, in my opinion.
The rest of the gameplay details, light as they were, came via the posting on the WoW site and interviews that have been published to line up with this video unveiling. Tazavesh will indeed be split into two wings and added to M+, there will be a season 3 of PvE and PvP content to correspond with the new raid, there is a dancing minigame being added to the Darkmoon Faire, and in the summaries, we see there will be “new mounts and pets” and an ominous section of “updates to professions, Soulbinds, and Conduits.”
So on the good side, the new zone and raid look great, and as always, Blizzard’s art team has really taken a theme and run with it, making a unique set of assets that look great and cohesive across the zone, and also serve as a sharp contrast to the Mawsworn enemies that roam in parts of the zone. Exploring the Brokers more and showing a rift in ideology is great, a theme that I am sure we will be visiting in detail via the Enlightened and their likely interplay with Ve’nari, and the visual distinction of the materially uninterested Enlightened is a great touch.
Thematically, I think the emphasis on Creation is such a logical way to go as contrast to Death for the rest of the expansion, and it gives the cosmic feel of the whole expansion a cyclical analysis – looking through the lens of death, then at creation through that same viewpoint and seeing how Zovaal intends to interact with it should be interesting, if not necessarily good storytelling. I’m very curious to see how the theme of the patch translates into a Mythic Plus seasonal affix, as the possibility space is now both better-defined but also still fairly open.
The idea of a language that no one understands is cool and actually something we should have explored much sooner – the idea that everyone in WoW can speak a commonly-understood tongue is one of those gameplay convenience things, but thematically there’s so much to explore with unique languages and I’m glad to see the WoW team take a crack at it.
The return of tier sets is fantastic news and having them more accessible with both M+ and PvP options is exceptionally good for a Blizzard that is often unmovable. It means that power balance should be fair across the board, and the myriad complaints with the Shards of Domination system were clearly heard and acted upon, and I’ll give them kudos for that.
However, there is a certain old Blizzard hubris to the patch unveiling that sort of got me. The focus on art and artistry is great, and I think those are consistently strong suits for WoW as a product, but at the same time, it is very much something I want to hear more about after I see the content. That is my preference and my focus, as I want the gameplay to be great and then to hear about the artistry after the gameplay content has impressed me. I’m also inclined to say that starting with the emphasis on the story was offputting – the story of Shadowlands has utterly failed to impress me and made me less excited for the lore than ever, so starting with it almost made me turn it off. I wanted more gameplay info than we got.
On that front, I also worry a lot about about the system updates being so ill-defined. A CDN build looming makes me hope we get PTR access this week and can just see the changes ourselves, and that seems to be the way Blizzard likes doing that in Shadowlands, but I would have loved more clarification. We know from interviews that have come out since the video that 9.2 is double-legendary time, but we have little understanding of how that system will progress into the patch, and Torghast was left unmentioned and has remained that way in the interviews and materials published since the video went live. My suspicion is that my prediction of Torghast’s demise may have been accurate, and lord I hope so, but we shall see.
The last thing to say is whether or not 9.2 is the last thing in Shadowlands, and the answer is…definitely, maybe. In the video, we got hit a lot with the “final chapter, final story” and other similar wordings, and in separate interviews with the team, the terms “final story arc” and “final season of Shadowlands” have been tossed around. A level 60 character boost is available to purchase for Shadowlands now, which feels very final – and also not at all money-grubbing (if you need confirmation that the patch will not be out this quarter, consider what this boost says!). So while Blizzard hasn’t made a single, definitive statement that yes, 9.2 is it for Shadowlands, they’ve made enough statements in enough places to come to that conclusion rather logically and we’re just quibbling around the margins over if it really is it or not.
Overall, there’s a decent amount of interesting stuff here, and visually it looks pretty cool. There’s not much to say in any other way yet until we get a PTR, and I hope we get it soon with at least some amount of content to see and changes to evaluate. There’s a lot of lore loose ends waiting (Arthas? Zovaal’s actual goals?) and all we can do now is wait.