The Apathy Of Shadowlands Season 4

Realizing that there could be a stretch of content draught between 9.2.5 and the release of Dragonflight, Blizzard is trying something new – a new content season in World of Warcraft’s Shadowlands expansion, set to occupy the time from August 2nd until whenever Dragonflight comes to be.

For those not in the know, WoW has been on a seasonal content model since Legion, which is just a newer way of denoting a tier. Unlike tiers prior to Legion, the new season upgrades the item levels of all repeatable content – world quest rewards, Normal through Mythic dungeons, a new seasonal Mythic Plus affix for keystones level 10 or higher (this started with BfA), and then the new raid for the patch. Season 4 Shadowlands is different than prior applications of this model, though, in a couple of ways – the first is that the dungeon pool for Mythic Plus is changing, so it will be 8 dungeons comprised of the two wings of Tazavesh, the two wings of both prior mega-dungeons (Mechagon and Return to Karazhan), and then two dungeons from Warlords of Draenor scaled up to current content and given Mythic Plus affixes for the first time ever (Iron Docks and Grimrail Depot). The second is that there is no new raid, but instead a rotation of the 3 Shadowlands raids, with one active per week as a “fated” raid, with a Mythic Plus-style affix (no timer, but just a global mechanic added to the raid) and with upgraded, scaled difficulty and higher item level rewards.

As a bet on filling the gap, this is a fascinating approach, because it takes what many players would do in a content draught anyways (run Shadowlands content at max power for any remaining rewards like mounts/transmogs/etc) and instead makes it current content, with the increase in difficulty and reward that would be expected in the modern game. It’s a timesaving move on the development team’s part (it takes effort to rescale and retune existing content, but not nearly as much as designing completely new content from scratch) and it offers something for players to do that isn’t just the current raid (which has already been out for nearly 5 months and is one of the lowest completion raids in WoW’s history) and Mythic Plus until everyone is pushing low 20 keys, but instead a unique twist.

There’s just one complicating factor – no one I know seems to be that excited for it.

Now obviously, that’s just a local-level anecdote, and the plural of anecdote is not data. However, it is intriguing to me, because while Season 4 is aimed squarely at the critique of not having things to do in the game, there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for it as the date draws closer.

To me personally, the concept of Season 4 is intellectually very interesting. It seems like a smart and well-done way to give players a different set of content to do and to keep the content of 9.2 from growing as stale as the rest of Shadowlands did, with elongated 9-month seasons that meant even most low-investment players could run through for Ahead of the Curve achievements and Keystone Master runs, and it lets people get a good look at the content of Shadowlands free of the yoke of early systems – doing Castle Nathria without needing to think about Renown, getting to run Sanctum of Domination without Shards of Domination being a factor, having tier set bonuses from the recent tier, dual legendaries, and the insane scaling of late expansion WoW, where your character feels the most invincible and badass.

But at the same time, nothing about Season 4 has me that excited. The most FOMO-triggering event that Season 4 has given me as someone out of the game for 8 months at this point is that it means the end of Season 3, with no ability to get AOTC or KSM for it and the accompanying rewards with those achievements. The old dungeons in M+ is a cool concept, but it just doesn’t mean that much to me, and a new KSM mount with a cool purple color is nice, but it’s the same mount model we’ve had all expansion and I already have two of those as-is. Unlike a normal Season, with a full patch accompanying it, there doesn’t appear to be any new world content or stuff for your more casual players – just straight-up dungeons and raids. While there could maybe be encrypted story content hiding in wait for players to see, it seems unlikely, as not even encrypted files hinting at such are in the game. What that leaves us is…well, the same 3 raids that people got tired of but harder, including one of WoW’s lowest completion rate raids ever, and a collection of 8 dungeons that, while interesting, are all retreads of content that most players who would be eager for such content have already done, unless they’re new to the game in Shadowlands.

To an extent, I view the lack of enthusiasm I’ve witnessed for the season as a sort of player apathy. I actually think that Blizzard trying to do a new thing is a good outcome, and as I said when the season was first announced, I think it is genuinely great to see them acknowledge that content gaps are a thing the game suffers from and to try to do something about it instead of just letting it be. I don’t blame them for using existing content to tie things together either – I think that it’s for the best that they put the development time they have into the expansion to come and focus on smart recycling and reuse of content for a “new” season of content to keep Shadowlands relevant. As a first round of what hopefully becomes a new tradition, it’s not a failure if it sort of flops, provided they learn some lessons from it. And, who is to say it will actually flop? Right now, in my circles of WoW players, it feels like a flop, but it hasn’t even started yet – it may very well be exactly the spice the game needs to keep players engaged.

For me though, I wish that the game had a bit more bridging content, and so, here is my wishlist for future “finale” seasons.

Story Bridging

One thing I love about FFXIV patches is that there is a point in an expansion patch cycle where content moves away from the current expansion story and starts a segue into the next expansion. This makes each expansion feel well-supported and built up. WoW, by comparison, just sort of ends an expansion, and the next expansion has a pre-patch event that just occurs out of nowhere with 0 build-up. Instead of just launching 11.0 after Dragonflight and giving a pre-patch event with almost no context in-game, a finale season could do the same as the cooldown patches of the FFXIV cycle – give us a few chapters of story, a little bit of build-up and lead-in. BfA ended and we just went to Icecrown in the 9.0 pre-patch to see the sky opened up, with the game only offering text explanations of what happened. What if there was a final BfA season with a thematic M+ affix, a raid affix like what will be in this season 4 experiment, and a few weeks of story content to present a basic rationale in-game for why Sylvanas went to Icecrown and gave us some reasoning? That would have actually been pretty cool, but instead we just skip ahead to where she’s already done the thing and we have to read the book to really know. You can put some version of those events in-game (you know, the place where they should live!) and then still sell the novel with the fleshed-out full version.

New/Unique Gear Models/Tints

Being able to complete prior-tier transmog wardrobes is nice and all, but it would be neat to see some new visual kit tied to this new mode of filling gaps in content. New models are certainly work, and so I wouldn’t wager on those – but new tints of the existing armor? Now that could be a thing. We know that there are often unused tints of certain armor sets as-is, and it would be neat to see affixed-raids and final-season dungeons cycle in those options.

New World Content

It doesn’t need to be huge or a new zone, but alongside a quick story interlude, give us a little bit of world questing, some dailies, maybe even a new reputation. Just something to give more player types access to new content and to tie together reward structures with some form of further catch-up gear for launching right into the affix raids and new season M+. This new season idea, while genuinely a neat attempt, misses a big chunk of the playerbase by only offering them a meager increase in dungeon drops, a mode of play which many more casual players simply don’t engage with as often, if at all. It feels like a very-strange step backwards for Blizzard, whose design teams have been making pretty good content for those players since as far back as Mists of Pandaria, when the idea of new zones per patch became the norm.

In Closing (This Post and Shadowlands)

Ultimately, Season 4 is one of those things that is an excellent idea on paper and could be great in execution, but it seems to be hampered before it has even left the gate due to uneven content spread that favors the dungeon and raid audiences, the audiences who are already eating well at the Warcraft table, while leaving players less inclined towards those modes of play with table scraps. It comes with the bonus baggage of not being particularly exciting even to the audiences for whom it is geared towards, which makes me feel an almost-pity for the WoW team, who clearly had a good idea and an interesting solution to a legitimate problem the game always faces at expansion’s end.

Having said that, WoW is an iterative game that builds on what came before, and I think that this concept can be leveraged in the future with a bit more pre-planning to really deliver something great. I genuinely applaud Blizzard for the effort and I hope, whether I am playing WoW in a hypothetical Season 4 of Dragonflight or not, that the team delivers a version of the idea at that time that really sticks the landing. It’s too early now to say that the Shadowlands one won’t hit the mark, of course, but at the same time, it feels like a lot of Shadowlands – an interesting idea done a little quirky that doesn’t quite land and appeals to a smaller and smaller portion of the fanbase.

10 thoughts on “The Apathy Of Shadowlands Season 4

  1. So… If I read this correctly, the only changes to iLevels are in Mythic+ instances and raids? Not in Normal or Heroic instances?

    If that’s the case, the content here is focused solely on the high end players, so the focus is a bit limited as well. Unless Blizz looks at the data and says that the high end is where people are dropping off, it just feels like there’s not a lot of “there” there for the average non-Mythic player, or anything that would help a non-Mythic player make that jump into Mythic.

    Maybe I’m just reading it wrong, but it really does seem overly hyped for, well, not a lot.

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    1. They are adding Fated versions of the raids at different intervals on a repeating schedule. LFR at Fated level will reward gear equivalent to what you could get in a heroic raid, normal will award Mythic quality, and Mythic will award gear at a level currently not available in the game. So I can see those worlds first guilds clearing mythic fated so that they have gear so overpowered that it will make Dragonflight trivial for them to get to level cap and starting the raids.

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    2. Marathal’s comment sort-of addresses this, but no – the ilvl bump is for all difficulties of dungeon, and the raids are bumped up to their new item level when they are “fated” – a weekly rotation that adds the affix, upscales the fights, and rewards the upgraded loot. One of the 3 Shadowlands raids is upgraded this way per week on a rotation, until near the launch of Dragonflight, where Blizzard has said the doors open wide on all 3 at once.

      The normal season behavior is similar, in that all dungeon difficulties jump up in item level (by the same amount, keeping the power delta between them roughly equal to before) and then the new raid would slot in with higher item levels than the raids that came before, but with no new raid this season, the rotation and affix are the way the new raid gear is obtained instead.

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  2. And from the comments I have seen in guild discord, the majority of those on the raid team are only interested in getting the mount for season 4, then they are off to play Final Fantasy or WoW Classic Wrath.

    I looked at the idea of Fated LFR, “Oh cool, I can end the expansion with Heroic Raid gear”, then I thought about running LFR on a harder difficulty, with affixes, and realizing every run would go to 10 stacks to maybe get 2 out of 3 bosses down, over several hours, and I am just going to pass. If the final patch has shown me anything, the gear you spent 12+ months building up will ultimately be replaced with green quest gear.

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  3. When you mention new tints for existing armour sets as an option it makes me think of how popular (slash expensive) Pure White and Jet Black dyes are in XIV. Or just monochrome glams in general. (Let’s not get started on the metallics.) So much ‘content’ right there!

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    1. Honestly, if WoW had the dyeable/non-dyeable reward paradigm for raid gear like Normal/Savage in FFXIV, it would go a long way towards alleviating some of the appearance woes the game sometimes has. It would also mean less reason to farm multiple difficulties of the same content, so…I doubt it will make its way into WoW in the same form, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see some form of dyeing gear get there eventually.

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  4. Anecdotally, you can add a person to the basically non-existent list of people looking forward to season 4. I’m where you are on “the concept of Season 4 is intellectually very interesting.” It has a lot of potential. It’s got the potential for making more of prior content transition into some kind of ever-green system. I would love to see the Fated concept span prior x-packs too. Not just time walking, but legitimate reasons to push the content with meaningful rewards.

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    1. I hadn’t thought of it, but man I would LOVE a throwback raid affix rotation with like Ulduar, Throne of Thunder, and maybe Nighthold all in the mix and scaled up.

      I agree that it can amd should be evergreen content, and that finding a way to leverage the game’s full legacy content assets would be an incredible way to keep things feeling fresh. The Mythic Plus system in Dragonflight is getting closer to that with the 4 “guest” dungeons from prior expansions per season, so it’s conceivable that in a few year’s time we’ll be sitting on a ton of scalable dungeons with M+ timers already implemented.

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      1. I know many would call me a heretic for this, but I would love to see people able to get the Challenge Mode rewards from MoP and WoD. It would be a long grind over many seasons/x-packs, but if someone can time a 15 M+ of the dungeon, they’re a better player now than the Gold CM player that got the reward was then.

        I’m also a firm believer that Mage Tower rewards should be unlocked too, so perhaps this whole comment should be moderated. 😉

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  5. Yeah, I realize I’m probably a minority, but I totally have no interest in running the same dungeon/raids over and over and over. I’m fine with it existing for people who like it, but Blizzard leaned on it hard — it was basically required to raid and even to complete the story. That was also a major contributor to my decision to quit, because I saw less of the stuff that I wanted to do. Like, surely there’s another way to keep content relevant? I never feel forced into stuff in n FFXIV.

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