Blizzcon 2019: World of Warcraft – Shadowlands Expansion
In the World of Warcraft mythos, the Shadowlands are where souls go after their mortal bodies die. Spirit healers identify souls that need to pass across to the realm of the dead, and that soul is then escorted by a winged bearer to stand in front of an ancient being called the Arbiter. The Arbiter judges the souls brought before her, then sends the soul off to one of the realms of the Shadowlands. These realms are ruled over by Covenants. Souls bring a vital force to the Shadowlands, Anima, which is needed for the realms of the Shadowlands to function.
In the expansion, we will get to initially see four realms of the Shadowlands, as well as the Arbiter’s city Oribos, and the Maw, a mysterious and dangerous realm that is inescapable.
This covenant is ordered and purposeful, and souls that are drawn to service will end up here. From it come such things as the spirit healers. Souls that are brought here seek to shed past burdens, and gain virtue through meditation, reflection, and combat. Eventually, such souls will ascend to a role as a Val’kyr or a spirit healer, spending the eternity in servitude. An example given of such a soul is Uther Lightbringer, who we will be encountering in our journey. The zone is bright and very much a contrast to what is initially thought when hearing the name Shadowlands.
This covenant is the heart of Shadowlands’ military might. While the creatures in this zone are more familiar to us, having been used by the Lich King in his armies, they are not necessarily evil themselves. Their purpose is to defend the Shadowlands and wage war on the enemies of death. Spirits who go here are relentless and often pursue power. One such soul is Thrall’s mother, Draka, who never knelt to anyone, and who has gained a position of some prominence in this covenant. This zone is very much like Eastern Plaguelands in its concept.
Covenant: Night Fae
Ardenweald is the autumn and winter to the Emerald Dream’s spring and summer. It is a place where nature spirits go to rest and prepare for eventual rebirth. One example of this is Cenarius; after he fell to Grommash’s forces, he rested and recovered in Ardenweald until his return during the events of Cataclysm. This zone is not purely faerie forest; there are parts that do not flourish and in fact resemble the forests of Drustvar. Ardenweald is also deeply connected to the Drust, who come from the land of death.
Revendreth is a Gothic Dark land full of shadows and secrets. It is not a place a soul would choose to go, it is a place where flawed souls are sent to atone for their sins. One such example is Kael’thas Sunstrider.
Covenants are the ruling powers of the Shadowlands. Similar to how Class Halls worked in legion, the covenants we interact with are going to be a major part of the story of what’s happening in the Shadowlands, and they are going to be seeking our help as we journey through the zones.
At max level, you will need to choose which covenant you wish to join. Each covenant has an endgame narrative campaign much like the war campaign from Battle for Azeroth. The covenant you choose to join will also grant you two abilities: a class-specific ability, and a generic ability that anyone from your covenant can use. They also introduce an end game mechanic, Soulbinds.
Soulbinding allows you to bind your soul to a powerful denizen of your covenant, which allows you to unlock powerful abilities. There will be no artifact power to grind. They want to give end game customisation without the grind.
The covenants have Sanctums that need restoring to glory. Each covenant grants unique armour, as well as a mount, and there are alternative back appearances that can be obtained, such as a pair of wings or a halo.
Oribos, the Eternal City
This ancient city predates memory. The Arbiter resides at the centre of this city passing judgement on souls. This city is also a gathering point for brokers and soul-traders and will act as the main player hub.
This is a dark, swirling, dangerous zone where the most irredeemable souls are sent as much for punishment as the protection of the rest of the Shadowlands. No one knows what this place is like, as no one sent there returns. This zone is ruled over by the Jailer, a mysterious figure who has only ever been whispered about. Nothing escapes The Maw.
The machine of death is broken now, however. Souls are no longer being sent to the Arbiter, rather they are going straight into the Maw. This means the rest of the Shadowlands is withering while the Maw grows and becomes stronger.
Sylvanas has been working with the Jailer, causing the most death she can to help the power of the Maw and the Jailer to grow, and as the Jailer’s power grows, so too does her own.
In the lead up to the expansion, the Scourge will be marauding across Azeroth. We will be defending against Scourge attacks, but will also be preparing to go to Icecrown where we will be able to cross over to the Shadowlands with the help of Bolvar and his Death Knights. Naturally, we will end up in the Maw where all souls have been going. Unlike other souls, however, we will be able to escape the Maw and will end up in Oribos. From there we will start to learn about the Shadowlands and quest out into the four zones: Bastion, Maldraxxus, Ardenweald, and Revendreth. Unlike in the previous two expansions, we will be following through the zones in a linear progression to develop and focus on the story, rather than potentially missing out on important story points by being able to choose zones. We will work with each of the Realm’s leaders, and get to borrow their powers, while learning about the world. This will give us the information we need to choose which covenant we wish to join at max level.
The story will be quite different for alts, however. Once you have a character levelled through the expansion any alts you bring into the Shadowlands will be able to choose a Covenant immediately. You will also be able to choose which zone you level in first, and will even have access to World Quests as you level. You can even gain endgame progression while you level your alts.
The Maw will be a Max-level zone. It will be a fearsome zone, with everything out to kill you, and at its centre is Torghast, the Tower of the Damned, an endless progression dungeon you can enter solo, or with up to four friends. As you advance through the tower you gain powers that will help you get further through the floors.
There will be four level-up dungeons with all the normal dungeon difficulties, and 4 max level dungeons including The Other Side where we will get to learn more about Bwonsamdi. There will also be a 10-boss raid in Revendreth, Castle Nathria, on launch.
One of the core philosophies for this expansion is focusing on player agency. An example given is that professions will be getting updates. In BFA. if you want a piece of armour with specific stats, you have to craft multiple of the same item until you get the one you want. In Shadowlands, you can add, for example, a Crit and a Haste gem to the craft and you will be guaranteed to get Crit and Haste as your secondary stats if that is what you want. They’re also looking at pulling back the randomness of the weekly loot chest, by having a system that gives you a choice of five or six items as a reward for doing your battlegrounds or your mythic dungeons, and you can choose which of those items you want the most, with a universal item if you don’t particularly want any of the items so you feel like you’re always making at least some progress.
They are also going to go back to the idea of Legion legendaries, but rather than randomly obtaining them, through your work in Torghast you can earn things to work towards crafting the legendary you want.
They intend to return to class identity and bring back some abilities that were lost and some that had become spec-specific.
The biggest news is the streamlined levelling experience. With the pre-expansion patch level 120 characters will be bumped down to level 50, and levels 50 – 60 will be played in the Shadowlands. This will give better pacing for levelling, as well as making each level feel more rewarding. There will be a new starting zone that all characters can access and you will be able to choose which expansion you wish to level through for levels 1-50.
They’re also introducing greater character customisation. This includes different skin colours, different body paints for races like dwarves and trolls, the ability to have your elbows covered if you’re undead, and the ability to make your human character look more like you if you want.