If you know me then you should know about my greatest addiction to one of the most popular games out there: World of Warcraft. It’s not crack exactly, but damn near close to it. I am such a devout follower of the game to a point where it has become a part of my personality. I own stickers, shirts, constantly ask for beta keys to expansions on Twitter. I even appeared on the Playable Characters Podcast as one of the Stormwind Auctioneers. My history with the game is long and somewhat stressful.
No matter my personal history with the game, we are on the cusp of a new expansion release. As tradition goes, this expansion focuses on a never before explored plane of existence within the Warcraft cosmology: the Shadowlands. Along with the new full region to explore, we are promised four covenants that are more or less Hogwarts Houses which our character(s) dedicate themselves to. A new level squish bringing the max level back down to 60, and offering a faster leveling experience. We will go over these later.
Over the last couple of days, Blizzard has shared more information with the fanbase. This goes into the deeper details of what we will come to experience. Topics like covenant gear, special abilities, and the new class changes are currently highlighted. One of them, specifically the covenant abilities, is causing a slight uproar within the community, so I feel empowered enough to discuss it.
As previously stated, covenants are factions that you dedicate your character to once you hit max level in the expansion. When you dedicate yourself to a faction you gain access to special abilities and armor sets that are specific to that faction. These abilities are where the player base is currently drawing the line. If you like how a Covenant looks, but their ability doesn’t help you at all, you are in a tough spot. This is clearly a min-maxer’s nightmare especially since we are talking about damage output and the whole concept of usefulness. Some Covenants will have abilities more suited to Player vs Player (PvP) builds and focuses. For those who don’t like competitiveness and prefer the Player vs Environment (PvE) style of gameplay, are kinda screwed because the same situation rears its ugly head there. The whole concept of being aesthetically pleasing loses its luster when power comes into play.
Now, you can change Covenants but there is a cost to it and Blizzard has said that changing your Covenant is something you do not want to do. We don’t know what the penalty is, but if it is anything like reputation grinding; well then I better choose wisely. But once again, that locks my character into a specific position. Proper research needs to be done just to be effective in battle. It’s also rough when you have one character who has a ton of PvE gear and then decides to dabble in Player vs Player content. You still won’t be effective only because you made one choice over another and undoing everything to be effective in a game mode might not be worth it. I ponder if this is a bit of that WoW Classic flavor of decision making bleeding back into the game.
There is one great aspect of covenants as well. That is when you hit max level on one character, the rest of your characters get to chose covenants the second they enter Shadowlands content. You will also be building up towards your more powerful gear as you level up. So when you do hit the endgame, you already have some gear to take on the challenges that await you, such as raids and mythic+ dungeons.
In order to achieve my proper conclusion, I must talk about this level squish. Things get a bit complicated but if you hold on tight enough here, we will make it out of this confusing ship alive. Currently the max level is 120, and it takes too damn long to achieve this level within a reasonable amount of time. So 120 is no longer going to be the max level and instead we are going back to 60. But how do you take seven expansions and place them within this reduced window? Blizzard came up with a painfully obvious answer: do what you want.
When you start a new character, you will have a universal start zone. You level 1 to 10 and then you get to explore an area of your choosing till level 50. These areas are the expansions. If you hit level 10 and want to play in the Lich King expansion till 50, go for it. That option is there for you. Maybe you unlocked pathfinder one and two and want to level through Battle for Azeroth. You can do that too if you want. Once you hit 50, you jump into the Shadowlands content.
Blizzard came out and stated during Blizzcon 2019 that the leveling experience is going to be more streamlined and much faster. Currently getting from level 1 to 120 is an arduous process. Having gone through the leveling experience several times over, I have to say that every level just feels like a small meaningless drop of water in an ocean. Seeing this change makes the game incredibly alt-friendly, and is even making me take a step back from leveling certain characters.
The New Grind
Taking a huge step back and looking at both of these two aspects, I can’t help but come to this rather intriguing conclusion: Blizzard wants you to roll as many alts as possible and make your account as a whole more meaningful rather than the single characters. I know, it’s rather brazen of me, but hear me out.
Blizzard spoke about Shadowlands’ lack of an AP grind that ruled over the Legion and Battle for Azeroth expansions. Players will of course need something to chase once again, and instead of it just being end game bosses, why not be other characters?
See, why else would there be a level squish? Why else would you earn end game gear as you level up in Shadowlands? They even brought back a lot of old abilities and made them universal across the specialties to help you decide where you will be taking your character when the big decision faces you down. It’s designed to reward you for your time in a way that you may not have expected. It seems nice, but is it really? It really depends on the additional systems we have yet to see, and how fast it takes to get to level 50.
Other ideas came out how maybe you can grind reputation to gain the abilities that you want while still being tied to a main Covenant. Others say make each one a top tier talent that you unlock at max level. Either way, a grind is going to exist and (once again) I think Blizzard is making the grind leveling up your third warrior. With more information pouring out each day, and being on the brink of the beta, we can only ponder these decisions and see if it is better than what Battle for Azeroth gave us.