WORLD of Warcraft: Shadowlands is one of the biggest game launches this year – and HOAR has been given an inside look at the upcoming hit.
We spoke to Morgan Day, the Lead Encounter Designer for Shadowlands, who revealed new raid bosses in Castle Nathria, Mythic Keystone changes, and revealed the secrets of the Maw.
World of Warcraft Shadowlands is a major new entry to the franchise
Q: There are loads of new systems, and my worry would be: will this be confusing or overwhelming for players? Will they all be essential to end-game game raiding? Will it be a massive time-sink if you’ve got loads of alts?
I think a lot of the systems were introduced in the Shadowlands as part of our Covenant. This is a really pivotal part of the story of the Shadowlands, and we want it to feel like your Covenant choice has a huge impact, not only on your character and the systems like Soulbinds that are gonna be granting you powers, but also on the content you’re experiencing in the game.
There’s not only things like Soulbinds, but there’s also Callings, which are an extension of our emissary system that are gonna be guiding you through the end-game and are giving you new objectives and really cool fun rewards that you can then take back to your Covenant sanctum to help progress the story.
One of the things that we’ve discussed is these Covenants and sanctums have been deprived of Anima. One of the main storylines that you’re gonna see is that all the Anima in the Shadowlands is for whatever reason being redirected, and isn’t coming into these zones and these sanctums like they once were. So we’re out there to acquire this new Anima to keep the lights on in our sanctums. And there’s all kinds of stuff you get to see and engage with as you experience that.
We spoke to Blizzard creative genius Morgan Day, who helped design Shadowlands
In terms of alts, something that we have talked a lot about is catch-up and how are we gonna make sure that players who do want to experience this on different alts have a really fun and unique experience there. For instance, your Covenant sanctums will have unique features even amongst themselves that aren’t shared across the different sanctums.
So there’s a max level campaign that you’re going to be able to see these stories that you interact with as you’re levelling through the Shadowlands, there’s an extension of that story that you’ll get to experience if you decide to join, let’s say, the Kyrian campaign. There are these forsworn that you engage with and have to fight in the zone. What’s with those guys? Who’s their leader? Why are they attacking us? All these questions that you might be asking yourself. We wanted to make sure that you have an opportunity to play through that and experience the end of that.
And we’re really trying to keep an eye towards alt gameplay and catch-up mechanics, and things that will make people not feel like it might be impossible to catch up to their friends who are a little bit ahead of them in the stories. So one of the main things that will be helping you progress through your Covenant and continue to level your Covenant up is a system called Renown.
That’s something that is different from our previous expansions where you might be familiar with Artifact Power or Azerite Power. That was something that was kind of this open-ended max-level experience bar that had some diminishing returns with the knowledge system, but it didn’t ever stop. You could just keep going at it. With Renown, that will be capped to a certain number you can earn every week, unless you’re behind. If you’ve started a new character, those Callings that I mentioned, they might now start to grant you Renown when you complete the Calling.
So that will help you catch up to your friends faster. And if you’re really far behind, there will even be Renown that you can earn from doing activities like Mythic+ or PvP. And that will help you catch up even further. And in terms of the pacing that you mentioned, that’s a huge concern of ours as well.
We know Shadowlands is very dense with awesome new systems that will hopefully change the way that you interact with the game, depending on your Covenant. But we wanna make sure we’re introducing those in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming, and that’s a big part of what the Beta is going to help us achieve, through the feedback that our players are giving us, and just through playing the game ourselves, saying “Hey, what if we hold off on introducing some of these systems until a little bit later? Maybe you don’t need to upgrade one of the features in your sanctum until a little bit later?” Let’s make sure you’ve had time to engage with and absorb all of these new systems before we add an additional layer of complexity on top of that.
Shadowlands is available with loads of goodies
So that’s definitely something that we’re concerned about, and are looking to help use feedback from the Beta to pace that out in a way that doesn’t feel overwhelming.
Q: How do you keep Covenants balanced so people aren’t forced to choose a Covenant that they don’t necessarily like for story reasons, but just for stat or ability purposes?
That is certainly something we talk a lot about. Balancing the game – especially something that has this much new cool stuff for you to engage and interact with – is a bit of an art, it’s always a challenge. Let’s say you play a Paladin and you love the Kyrians, they just speak to you.
You love the wings, it feels like “this is where I belong as a Paladin”. We want there to be multiple different things that might influence that choice for you. Maybe you’re a player that loves the story that is unfolding in Bastion and you want to learn about that. Or you just love the signature ability where you call a steward and he comes and gives you a vial that heals and cleanses you. Or there’s also the Covenant signature ability that as a Kyrian Paladin is unique to you.
There are a lot of knobs on top of that that we’re introducing with the Beta. So far players have only seen the signature ability and the Covenant ability as part of that choice. With the introduction of the Beta, we’re adding Soulbinds. These are characters that you’re going to be meeting throughout your levelling in the Shadowlands. And you’ll be able to perform a ritual where you actually bind your soul to that character, and they grant you some unique passive effects that are unique to that characters. Those are the abilities that you would be granted from them no matter your class.
On top of your Soulbind, there are Conduits that you can earn and collect throughout the Shadowlands that are going to be much more class-focused, and even spec-focused. Where if you’re a Ret Paladin, there might be a Conduit where you feel like “OK my Paladin signature ability or my Paladin Covenant ability, it’s not so great at making me do more AOE damage or single-target damage”. So we’re gonna be crafting Conduits that will be able to help shore up some of those weaknesses. So where you feel like there’s a lot of options for you in the Covenants, we want to make sure there are also still clear strengths and weaknesses amongst your class or your Covenant that you have chosen.
The Shadowlands is a brand new region to explore
Normally we feel like strong strengths and weaknesses is really valuable in terms of class design. So that there’s always places where you’re like, I really hope we have a Paladin here because he’s going to make this way easier. Or I really hope we have a Druid because we could really use combat res right now.
But in a system like this, we do want to make sure that there is never a particular aspect of the game that doesn’t feel like you’re so far behind you don’t feel viable any more. So we want to make sure there are things we can introduce that may shore up some of those weaknesses.
Q: Can you talk about the design of the new raid, Castle Nathria? What players can expect from it in terms of design, mechanics or unique features? What makes it different from previous raids? And how will raids be paced out across the whole run of Shadowlands?
I love this raid. It’s one of the most epic-looking raids we’ve built. Early on, we were looking at concept art of Revendreth, and we saw some of the stuff people were putting together and it so reminded me of Castlevania or a Dracula castle. And I was like “oh my gosh, that’s gotta be the raid, right? I really wanna go in there and kill bosses in there!” So we were really excited from the onset to create such an epic raid.
This is a bit of a culmination of the story that you are going to be progressing through as you level through the Shadowlands. The final zone that you are gonna visit while levelling is Revendreth, where Lord Denathrius is kind of the leader of Revendreth. And he is the Lord of Castle Nathria. You know, Castle Nathria, Denathrius, there are some similarities there. It’s gonna be a 10-boss raid. This is a raid that, if you’re familiar a winged raid concept, there is a wing with three bosses in each wing, and as you progress through there, there are some really cool spaces in there that I’m excited for people to get a chance to see.
There are new never-before-seen creatures in the Shadowlands
One of our main goals as we talked about this castle and we were building it was that it should feel like a real space. If you walk into a castle that looks evocative of Dracula or Castlevania or something like that, what would it look like when you walk into it? What would the wings of this castle hold? What would you see in there?
One of the raid bosses is a broker that Lord Denathrius has employed to curate these artefacts and weapons and objects that he’s acquired from all throughout the Shadowlands. So when you walk into this room, there’s this broker, almost curator, there that is speaking about all of the cool stuff that’s on the walls. The idea we wanted to get across was, this guy of course would have almost a private museum in his castle, where he would be able to show off all of the trophies and trinkets that he’s acquired over his vast lifespan.
And in that encounter, the broker will actually pull some of those objects off the wall, and you’ll have to interact with those objects and the mechanics that they might be tied to in that encounter. So it should hopefully feel really unique, it’s one of those things that should feel very different from the Revendreth Anima magic caster creatures you might also find in Castle Nathria. But that one I think will be a really fun breakout to some of the other themes that you might see in there.
Just like Icecrown where the wings have really strong themes – there was the Plague wing and the Blood Princes wing and the one where Sindragosa and Valythria were – these have strong themes that speak to the place, what would be in there. One of the other wings and one of the other bosses is in a giant ballroom. Well of course this guy would throw huge epic parties, and where would he do that?
Well in the most awesome ballroom ever, where there’s massive stained glass, there’s a huge dancefloor, there’s awesome tables with waiters walking around on the outsides of it. And you’ll actually fight one of the wing bosses in that space, and they’ll make you do mechanics hopefully feel like a dance as you’re executing those mechanics to really sell that fantasy of, he would throw epic parties and balls here, and you should feel like you’re able to experience that yourself. Revendreth, they’re very opulent, they’re very into prestige.
Shadowlands has new factions called Covenants that you can join
In the Covenant sanctums, one of the cool parts about the Covenant sanctums is there’s a unique features associated with each Covenant. All Covenants have something like a transportation network, they have the conductor where you can move Anima around your zone to help replenish the Anima that has been depleted from the land, there’s the adventurer’s table which we call our offline progression feature.
There’s this fourth feature that is unique to every zone, and the Revendreth feature is called the Ember Court, which again speaks to that idea of opulence and throwing parties. You’ll be sent into the Ember Court to basically make your guests that you’ve invited happy. And make sure that they leave having had a great time. So you’ll have to fend off potential party-crashers, you’re helping to cater, it’s a very fun little mini-game where you’re trying to make everyone happy. And we saw that and we thought, we have to do something like that in the raid, where we’re throwing a big party but it’s a raid boss.
Q: Mythic Keystones are obviously a really huge part of the WoW end-game. It wasn’t really mentioned much in the Summit. Is anything changing about it, what sort of seasonal affixes can we expect? And on a personal note, I often think a lot of the affixes punish the healer in the end, and it would be nice if there were some ways of penalising damage dealers more. If they stand in something, their DPS gets cut by 90%? That would be brilliant!
We are looking to have Mythic+ introduced to one of the upcoming Betas. It won’t be there for the first beta, but we’re hoping to get it out as soon as we can, just to get that early feedback of how are some of these affixes interacting with our new dungeons. We feel like even if we don’t have a ton of new affixes to introduce, just those new interactions in a new dungeon is a lot to learn. So we don’t want to overwhelm people with like, here’s 10 new affixes or something crazy like that. We do plan, however, to have a new seasonal affix.
The mysterious world of Shadowlands is very different from Azoerth
We thought that was really successful in Battle for Azeroth, having a seasonal affix that activates that is very much themed around the theme of the raid for the particular update. So we will for sure have a seasonal affix that should feel very related to Revendreth and Castle Nathria as a theme.
And to your point of specific affixes, even if we have very similar affixes for Shadowlands, we do want to take a look at some of the things that feel a bit punishing, or that there isn’t a ton of counter-play, and try to add some elements to that. So one of the things that we’ve talked about was – and you’ll love this one, because you’re a healer – is Volcanic. It’s an affix where I’ve totally heard people be like, “whatever, it’s a healer problem, I’m not moving, I’ve gotta get my DPS”.
So that’s an affix that we’ve talked about making changes so that it isn’t so much a healer problem. What if it interrupted the person when it hit them, or knocked them up in the air so it interrupted their casting and messed up their DPS? So that way it gets them a little bit more engaged in the counterplay there, as opposed to just saying “go ahead and heal me through it Mr Healer”. So we’re looking to see if there are small changes we can make to existing affixes as well as discussing if there’s potential for new affixes even outside of just these seasonal affixes.
That stuff is still in the works. That won’t be there when we introduce Mythic+ into the Beta. We very much want to just see how this feels with as few changes as possible, with the new dungeons as the biggest element of change, at least the start of the Beta.
Q: It was mentioned in the Summit that the Maw is going to be a place that isn’t for you, will make life difficult for you, will punish you if you cause too much trouble. Can you talk more about how that will technically work – is it like a Sanity-style system? What happens when you’re there?
This is the place where the worst of the worst go. These are irredeemable souls that are supposed to be sent into here. So what would be the things that we see and interact with when we show up in the Maw? And also the Maw is the seat, it’s where the throne of the Jailer is. Torghast is where the Jailer sits and can look at the Maw from his seat of power. And one of the ideas that we’ve been exploring is, the Jailer would be able to basically take notice of you if you’re in the Maw and you’re causing some trouble. He knows you’re not supposed to be here, you don’t belong here.
Blizzard is still working on Shadowlands before its release later this year
And there’s a thing called The Eye of the Jailer, which will impact your gameplay in unique and interesting ways based on some of the activities you’re doing. Or if you go into an area where maybe he’s got his gaze focused at the moment, if you do activities in there, it’s going to increase your Eye of the Jailer, which would potentially cause him to send out assassins to try to assassinate you and ambush you when you might not be expecting it.
And on top of that, one of the major things that you’re trying to acquire from the Maw are Anima, which you use for your Covenant sanctum to help and power some of the features, as well as the Souls that you would be returning to your sanctum. Because the machine of death is broken, and all souls are being sent to the Maw right now, even though they’re not supposed to be. There’s people and souls down there that shouldn’t be there.
So part of our goal is to get those souls out of there, and bring them back to our Covenant sanctum, where they belong. And one of the final things that you’re collecting there is a currency essentially called Stygia. And to be able to get the Stygia out of there, you have to physically carry it out of the Maw, and basically extract it by bringing it to a specific location and then getting out with it. But if you die in the Maw, you might drop a big portion of that Stygia, and have to go back and retrieve it from where you were defeated at.
So it’s very much a space where we’re looking to create really unique gameplay that helps sell those themes, and hopefully is an interesting experience that you don’t feel like you need to – or could – be in there all day. When you do go in there, you kind of have to be on your toes and on the lookout, because like we mentioned, the Maw is not a place where you’re meant to just loiter all day and smell the flowers. You’re meant to just go with a purpose.
The Beta test for Shadowlands is about to begin
Q: Will there be a new “traveller” mount like the Expedition Yak or the Brutosaur? Something that will cost stupid money?
I don’t know that off the top of my head I can announce anything, or say that there is anything for sure. I’d have to go look into that. But it’s cool to hear that you think those are fun and you would want one. I’ll be sure to chat with all the people on the team and see what we have in store, but I can’t say we have one off the top of my head.
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Are you excited for the Shadowlands expansion? Let us know in the comments!