There’s a lot I want to write about WoW and will be writing in the coming days and weeks, but one small thing I can focus on for a good, simple post today is news that broke yesterday.
Now, to an extent, this makes sense, and the defenders of the game will state that this makes sense and we all knew that it was likely coming, and that’s accurate to some degree, sure. If we stop right there at a surface-level interrogation of the topic, it would be downright easy to walk away and say this makes sense and there’s no reason for concern. However, that would be a disservice, because there is a deeper reasoning that is worth investigating – about what systems like Shards of Domination say about where Blizzard’s design space for WoW is and what it says to players for such systems to be implemented.
Firstly, Shards of Domination were overly complex for a mid-expansion bonus progression system. You’ve got gear with slots from multiple sources, and you’ve got shards from raid bosses both in Sanctum and the world, and then you’ve got currency that exists solely to upgrade those shards from rank 1-5, and there are set bonuses that evolve up in power if all the shards do, and are your eyes glazing over yet, because the acquisition is best described as “smart-random loot,” and all 3 bonuses are interesting but one ended up being a broad winner which wasn’t balanced as well and ended up surpassing the other two for a majority of specs, and you can use the full assortment with bonus in Maw-related content but not Mythic Plus, where you can only use the Shard effects themselves, but those are still really good and viable for content, and it took some players a few months inside SoD to get everything they needed, but then you also needed a chisel item that could only be bought with Stygia in Korthia to pull out your Shards when you upgrade gear or swap them around, and holy shit I’ve spent a whole paragraph doing a run-on sentence for a joke that accurately describes this system.
The second point worth visiting is simple and yet complicated in its own right. Shards are another system on the trashheap of WoW history that is single-patch use. It joins Corruption, Ashjra’Kamas, and Netherlight Crucible as systems that were designed and implemented, used for one patch, and then discarded. In that respect, the sudden deactivation of Shards of Domination is not unique. However, what is unique here is that Shards were a middle-patch system that stood alone, and not an end-patch farmable bit of reward that worked through the end of the given expansion. When you’re moving into a new expansion, the idea of old gear not mattering is sort of a part of the MMO experience, with how long that gear does matter depending on how deep into the prior content you got. Corruptions and the Netherlight Crucible are also not particularly fondly-remembered elements of the World of Warcraft, so their departure was met with singing and jubilation for the most part, while the legendary cape of late BfA was something that still worked early into Shadowlands and was, even without its proc, a high-item level piece of gear that was beneficial to have.
From start to finish, Shards of Domination are mostly a bad experience. You have early frustration in grinding them, getting the shards you need and the gear with correct sockets and set bonus activators to get things going right. You have a moment of glee once, maybe twice in the system – when you get your set bonus unlocked for the first time and see the performance leap, and again once you max out your Mythic Plus-viable shard combo and see the power it offers, and then it is all annoyances past that, exponentially greater amounts of grinding and boss killing for a shrinking, scaling, small increase in power.
And yet, the players I’ve seen are largely dissatisfied with this change. There’s an element of “good riddance” to it all, but at the same time, the undercurrent of the news is one of disappointment, and I think that is a good place to end today.
Adventures in Pointless Endeavor
Shards of Domination are a microcosm of everything people loathe about WoW in 2022 – needlessly demanding, full of time-gated grind on a fixed path, and fleetingly temporary.
In an RPG, the best thing you can do is set me on a path to player power that is permanent. I should always be gaining power against the world or able to work towards something that enhances my effectiveness. In the context of a single patch, Shards do that – I was more powerful with them than without them, offered some measure of choice in terms of individual shards and which set bonus to pursue, and given a short-term milestone of full 5-socket loadout/full 3-shard bonus, with a longer term goal of max-level bonus/max-level shard loadout to chase. The effort is worth it!…until now.
When Blizzard designs systems like this, I can see the wheels turning and how you might come to the conclusion that such a system is great and worthwhile. It started as this idea to address the feeling of raid drops lacking power on-par with Mythic Plus or PvP, so they set out to make a way for raid gear to be meaningful, and it is…in perhaps the worst way, but hey – everyone needs raid gear and shards from the raid now!
Where things like this chafe, however, is in the message that they send. Players spent months grinding shards out, getting their gear, shard loadouts, and sets into perfect order – and in a single moment, Blizzard will wipe the value of that effort out. You’ll start 9.2 weaker than you were in 9.1, the months of effort put into playing along with the system rendered meaningless waste in a single decisive snap. And to be fair, new gear should always be better than old gear, and there should be a reason to want to invest in new content and new gameplay – but the standard RPG way of doing that would be for the new gear to simply be better on its own merits, for the tier sets that replace shards as the new(old) power increase mechanism we push for in our gameplay to overtake them such that you want to replace your old and busted shard gear with new shiny tier pieces. There’s no real reason that Zereth Mortis can’t allow us to keep the shard bonuses we worked so hard towards, because the thing that would feel better is if tier gear was so worth getting that it surpasses shard gear in its own right. The system should be balanced and built for this inevitability, and yet it is exceedingly obvious that Blizzard has not thought more than one patch out for much of this expansion. Shards were a panic button, hit in response to players having raid groups dissolve between tiers because of a lack of value in running and rerunning Castle Nathria, and yet they both annoyed players more and didn’t even fix that – most raid groups I know got their AotC or Cutting Edge as applicable and then did something else instead.
To be clear, I am not an advocate for the Shards of Domination either. It is a system I loathed, found hilariously out of touch and out of line with the stated design intent, but it is something I had to work to earn in the game, and it feels like a last slap in the face to have that work devalued, fighting against the WoW team’s convoluted bullshit idea to gain the player power I needed to tackle my last goal of 9.1 (and what may very well end up being the last goal in WoW I ever hit) – AotC Sylvanas.
And so, the message received from systems like this is one that cuts against what Blizzard should want – the time you spend in-game, working on your goals, only has meaning and value if we say so. If Blizzard wants to press the big red button that nukes your shards and erases the value of your effort, they can do so, but for me as a player, the message that sends is simple – don’t get invested. None of this matters, nothing you do means anything, and there’s no point to bothering. If you do that enough, as Blizzard has, the emphasis starts to shift – if most of my gameplay goals are rendered meaningless even just a patch later, than why am I even playing this game, why am I putting any effort in to any of this?
I don’t think Blizzard wants us to answer that question in a logical way, and yet they insist on pressing the issue.