26 years and some 17 games later, the world of Warcraft is still going strong, as players prepare for the upcoming launch of a new expansion in Blizzard Entertainment’s heavy-hitting MMORPG – World of Warcraft: Shadowlands.
Announced last year and slated for release sometime this year, Shadowlands takes players and the story to a really interesting place – right on top of Icecrown Citadel.. Since it is set in the literal afterlife in the WoW mythos, the expansion will introduce some really game-changing, well, changes to how players experience the game.
Most intriguingly, this includes the “downgrading” from level 120 to level 50 at the start of the new expansion, as the level cap has been reduced to the classic 60 as a way to (hopefully) simplify things in this 16-year-old MMORPG. Another is “The Unpruning” — the unsimplification of the class skill system to make abilities more flexible between each class’ talent trees. These are just some of the more notable changes going into the new expansion.
Another new feature that max-level players will get to experience in Shadowlands is joining one of the four Covenants and it is with these Covenants that players will experience a large part of WoW: Shadowlands, as they play a vital role in the events of the expansion’s story.
One of the Covenants players will encounter and have the chance of joining is the Kyrian. Noble beings who reside in Bastion (one of the four zones in the Shadowlands), they act as ferrymen for souls that pass into the Shadowlands to be judged.
By joining this Covenant, players will not just get to see the main story unfold from that Covenant’s perspective, but also get access to unique abilities, transmogs, mounts, and other ancillary features exclusive to that Covenant. However, there’s much more to it than these things, according to the expansion’s Senior Game Designer, Johnny Cash.
“The vast majority of things at max level will be open to everybody in some way,” says Cash. “But we think it’s extra cool when, for example, a Kyrian player can, through means only accessible to them, trigger a rare monster in the world that anybody can kill. But the monster calls you out when it spawns and maybe has an extra piece of loot for you that relates back to your Covenant.”
Creating a “unique experience” for players joining the different covenants is tantamount to the definitive player experience in Shadowlands. Cash posits that the Covenant-specific boons players will get will attract different types of players, be it the Covenant Signature Abilities, Covenant Sanctums, or even just the exclusive armour sets that players will get.
But it’s not just exclusive items and abilities players will be privy to in each Covenant, but also unique NPCs they’ll interact with. Again, going back to the fact that the Shadowlands is essentially the afterlife of Azeroth, it’s possible that players could encounter literal shades of Warcraft’s illustrious (and not to mention bloody) history, albeit not exactly in the form they’d imagine. One of these is Uther the Lightbringer, whom many will fondly remember as the legendary paladin who trained – and was killed by – his pupil, Arthas Menethil. In Shadowlands, he is one of the Kyrian, and will be involved in that Covenant’s quest line and section of the story in the expansion.
“If you choose to join the Kyrian Covenant, you’ll get some depth and insight into how [Uther] became a Kyrian, and where his story is going from there. I don’t want to spoil the story because I’m really excited about it, but I can assure you [Uther’s involvement in Shadowlands] is very cool,” said Cash.
“There are other characters that we know from Warcraft history in the Shadowlands and you’re going to be a number of them during [leveling] and some you might not meet until max level and they’re each a part of these different Covenant stories. So, again, I don’t want to spoil those because they’re going to be something that is going to be really exciting for players to experience firsthand.”
Now, while players are encouraged to make different characters to go through the various Covenants, there is still the option to leave one they have already joined. However, according to Cash, though that option is certainly available to players, coming back to a Covenant they’ve left “will be difficult”.
As is typical with western RPGs, player agency is at the forefront of Shadowlands. As such, choices have consequences, and so choosing to side with or leave a Covenant will have implications for the player. As such, Cash’s main advice for players diving into the expansion is to “take their time” and “not worry too much about making that Covenant choice” to explore the different zones in the Shadowlands while leveling up their characters before making a decision.
“In terms of where that choice came from, certainly one of the angles that I think makes a lot of sense, is a notion that we want this to be a really meaningful moment for the player. [The essence of Shadowlands is that] there are these different sides in this conflict in another realm of existence. And you can only be in one place at one time, so it really makes sense to let the player choose, and have them really dive deep into the part of the Shadowlands that really excites them the most.”
A lot of it comes down to making sure that the player is taking a stand in this conflict. And so we think that joining a Covenant will be one of those moments that players really looked back on for years to come — the defining moment of their character.”
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is set to launch sometime in late 2020.
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.