We Spoke To World Of Warcraft Shadowland’s Production Director About The Massive Expansion

In the lead up to World of Warcraft’s highly anticipated eighth expansion, Shadowlands, fans still have a lot of questions about many of the upcoming features. With the heroes of Azeroth slated to transcend the Shattered Sky and face the afterlife without the help of a Spirit Healer in the realm of the Shadowlands for the very first time in WoW history, we’re still curious about what that is going to mean for our characters.

Fortunately, we had the opportunity to speak with production director and Blizzard veteran, Patrick Dawson, about some of these questions. As both a professional and a seasoned player himself, Patrick spoke to us about the meaningful significance Covenant choice, the exciting future of Mythic+ dungeoning, some of the new gear we’re going to be chasing and much more!

There’s a lot of new content for seasoned players to be excited about. What aspects of Shadowlands do you think will be most compelling for new players looking to get into WoW for the first time?

This is a great question and because we’ve spent a lot of time making sure we answered exactly that with this expansion. For new players, you’ll actually start and be able to play in a curated environment for you, and other new players like you, called Exiles Reach. As you go through this journey of where you’re just a crewman on a ship, trying to help out people. When you come out of that you’re going to be welcomed into the Alliance or the Horde, and you go straight into Battle for Azeroth. So rather than going through all the old world and trying to catch up on 15 years of history and lore, you’ll catch up to where we’re at today. You’ll seamlessly transfer into that where we squish that leveling experience down to only 50 levels all the way through Battle for Azeroth instead of trying to get you up to 120. Then once you complete that you’ll be able to level in Shadowlands from 50 to 60 and be able to play with your friends a lot more quickly than you would be today.

We understand that level 120 characters will start at level 50, can you tell us anything about the level scaling for characters below 120?

Yeah, so we know how much experience it takes to get from zero to 120 today, and it’s just a percentage of what that is scaled to the zero to 50 experience as well.

Throughout the various expansions we’ve seen glimpses into the spirit world and Shadowlands in different ways, what inspired Blizzard to really dive in head first make the Shadowlands the theme of the new expansion?

Yeah, this is a fun one for us because doing something a little more otherworldly or fantastical is something we haven’t done in a bit, right. We usually tend to do things that are more terrestrial or on Azeroth, but to really explore in the mythos of World of Warcraft, ‘What does it mean? What does death mean? Why are we the ones that get to come back with spirit healers when we perish in the in on Azeroth?’ and there have been hints about what the Shadowlands is before but we’ve never taken a deep dive into the world of Shadowlands and the denizens that it inhabits. This is a great opportunity to really explore like, what does the afterlife of Bastion mean and with the order there and the glowing fields of Bastion or the militaristic might of Maldraxxus and what does that look like? Then you get to visit and enjoy these four covenants and actually have to select the one that best suits you.

We’ve found that some players are worried about being limited by the Covenant that they eventually choose. What is your advice for players that are concerned about pigeonholed for certain content or certain specs by their Covenant choice?

Well, we certainly don’t want that, what we want is player agency in this expansion. That’s really been the goal from the beginning is to allow you to play the game the way you want to play the game. The Covenants are actually meant to be something that speaks to you as a player. So I know for my Mage, I don’t know why I just feel very connected to the Venthyr. They’re just more egalitarian and noble and that’s the way I’ve always seen my mage, in terms of role-playing. Whereas my Warlock is a little bit more militaristic and Maldraxxus seems like a better fit there.

In terms of gating or accessing certain levels of content. There’s always a challenge there where one will be seen as ‘the best’ but we hope to try to solve some of those problems either during the balance phase of feedback during this beta test we’re about to undergo. We have other options to our assistance here, things like the soul bind abilities that you might see. So for example, if you feel like you’re maybe performing a little bit worse in an AoE type situation, and that’s the most important thing, you could change out a conduit or a soul bind to help you enhance those abilities, even if your covenant itself didn’t necessarily bring the best to the table. World of Warcraft, a very complicated game with a lot of moving parts and part of the beauty of covenants is that it’s in everything in the game so we can really see how that plays out during this beta test to make sure we get it right.

WOW Shadowlands

If you could only pick one Covenant to be a part of, which would you choose for yourself and why?

Me personally? Oh, man, that’s a tough one. Probably Bastion, like as an actual person. I don’t know. As a producer on World of Warcraft I like order and scheduling is something that speaks to me, so having everything lined up the way it should be and whatnot is something that speaks to me.

Will Covenant cosmetics have an impact on druid forms? I’ve seen a lot of players requesting a Swolekin form for Kyrian Balance Druids.

Ah, well, that would be cool. I think there’s a lot on the table here. This expansion is certainly one where we’ve invested in character customization for sure. Those aren’t necessarily related to the druid form, some are more related to how you identify yourself in the game. I do think there’s a space there for Druid forms and allowing for better customization and options for Druids. We are taking a look at that right now. I don’t think we have anything to announce today on additional options there but it’s something that is near and dear to our hearts and we want to make sure we’re serving people as best we can. 

Can you tell us more about the process of changing Covenants? We understand that it’s a little bit more difficult and less flexible than some of the other changes you can make to say, your talents, or your Azerite traits.

P: Yeah, well, your covenant choice is meant to be meaningful, right? It’s not meant to be something that you just come out and say, ‘Oh, you know, I feel like this one today’ or ‘I feel like that one today’, it’s supposed to be a very deliberate choice. So, right now as it stands, there will be some friction and changing your mind. Obviously, if you had to choose between a few different things and then you choose one and then decide to choose another that first one’s going to be like ‘well, what the heck? That doesn’t feel good’. So there will be some method of earning their favor back. We still have some details to work out on that. I think part of that goes back to one of your earlier questions about how close can you hit the mark of making you feel like your Covenant choice is meaningful to you, and you can still do the content that you want to do with it.

We’re really interested in hearing more about the class-specific covenant abilities. Can you tell us about your favourite combination?

You know, I want to explore it more. I think the best part for me is how they interact with things like Torghast when you can go into the Tower of the Damned and structure infinite dungeon experience. Go up a floor, get some new powers and abilities, and have them modify your existing Covenant powers to have it be a little bit more strategic about what you want to do. An example I’ve heard from someone else, I didn’t actually see this but you get to shapeshift and there are some abilities in the Tower, which allow you to instantly blow up a creature in your shapeshifted form. Then you there’s another ability which allows the rats to explode. So if you get rats in the place, you can kind of group them up and then just shapeshift and just blow everything up. So, it’s stuff like that. There are so many possibilities in something like Torghast where you can kind of break the rules of what World of Warcraft is. They come up with really cool combinations of things that you can do to advance and progress

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During the presentation, Ion mentioned the addition of M+ dungeons to the Beta. Will there be any new Affixes introduced in Shadowlands?

We’re working on those right now. I think in a few weeks on the beta, you’re going to see those come out so we can get some feedback on what those are.

Can you tell us a little bit more about how the removal of Azerite gear and gear Corruption is going to impact character stats?

 I think we’re still working on a transition plan for that. I know in the past, for example, like with the artifact weapons, you had the power for 5 of the 10 levels as you did a level up. So it was more of a soft cut off. That might be something we try again. I don’t think we want to do a hard cut off where you log in one day and you’re weaker. That doesn’t feel great, so we want to make sure you still feel just as powerful as you are.

Leveling in Shadowlands appears to be inherently quicker than previous expansions. Will this have any impact on the utility of heirlooms in the game?

So, heirlooms were definitely meant to solve that problem of, you know, somebody who’s a veteran of the game coming back and having to spend so much time leveling. Now with an accelerated leveling system and seeing people doing it as quickly as they are, heirlooms don’t make a lot of sense. It’s almost like you skip that process completely, which doesn’t feel like the right thing. So, we’re taking a look at what heirlooms could mean going forward. I know players have invested a lot of time and gold into these. I’m a collector myself, I actually have every heirloom in the game at the max rank. So I spent millions of gold on this stuff. So that’s a topic near and dear to my heart, too. We want to make sure we hit that with something meaningful to make sure that the people in my situation don’t feel like we spent time and money on something that isn’t going to be as useful anymore.

Are there any new additions to loot or loot drops that you’re particularly excited about?

Yeah, actually, a lot of it boils down to player choice and player agency. Some of that revolves around the weekly chests. Rather than just kind of getting random stuff in there, you’re actually going to get the ability to pick and choose from a subset of items. Even if you don’t like any of those, there’s still a backup currency you can get to go in and purchase something at your own free will later. We’re bringing back PvP vendors, so that’s something where again, you’re going to have a little bit more choice in how you want to outfit your character. We’re removing things like Titanforging, which really was kind of meant for you to go back and have an opportunity to get something cool and have this ‘aha fun’ moment but as it turned out, it’s just meant that well if you didn’t get the Titanforged piece, you didn’t feel good. So let’s just make all the loot on an even playing field have people go out and target what they want to get and feel good when they get it. So that’s what Shadowlands is about in terms of rewards.

A lot of players are getting very excited about the return of legendary effects, have you got a favourite effect so far?

Oh well, so I’ll harken back to my Legion days. So I play Mage and I don’t think it was actually one of the most powerful ones out there but it was one that I just loved and I couldn’t get enough of it. It was when I got my Dragon’s Breath helmet that extended the range to 40 yards. It was just like I could Dragon’s Breath from anywhere and hit everything- and the damage of it too. So you know, in the days of doing PvP people would be far away from me and I could actually disorient them and that was just super fun and powerful. It’s the way I like to play my mage and it was really fun. So I’m looking forward to stuff like that coming back. You know, there’s a bunch of Others that that came and went, I know the Scorch one that gives you auto crits under 30% became a talent for Mages, that kind of stuff. So I’m looking forward to seeing what other new ones we have in addition to those old ones.

Have you got any favourites that are new to the game?

Nothing specifically as I found, we actually we’re just now getting some of the rewards for Torghas online and that’s actually how you acquire a lot of these legendaries. So,I personally haven’t got to mess with them yet, but that’s coming online very soon for the beta so people can get us some feedback and what they like too.

WOW Shadowlands

Is there anything in particular from the Beta build as opposed to the Alpha build that you’re excited for everybody to check out? Something we haven’t seen before?

P: For stuff you haven’t seen before, I would say the Maw, the outdoor Maw right now. I just got a chance to play through that a few days ago and it’s so dangerous. That was the first thing I took away from it. Not only does it set this horrific, tormented landscape- and it really gets that theme and nails it well, hats off to our team and design team for making that translate well- but it really hits the danger level for me. I was running around there and even pulling two creatures at a time, I’m like, ‘Uh-oh, I got a second one. I’m in trouble. I hope it’ll die, right?’ I had to start doing kiting tricks or, or figuring out how I’m going to strategize around this and then on top of that, trying to avoid the eye of the Jailer as best as possible. You know the more you progress, the more you do, the more he’s going to notice the more he’s going to start sending patrols out to look for you, elite creatures out to look for you. So it really felt threatening and fun. It was quite a challenge and I like challenging things. So for me, in terms of new stuff that we haven’t seen before that was right up there.

Is there going to be PvP in the Maw? 

Well, war mode is definitely going to continue and Shadowlands and I expect war mode to be in all the zones.

At the moment I’m playing a high level, highly geared character so I feel pretty confident in all zones, even with War Mode on. I’m looking forward to being in a zone where I have to be a little more cautious again, where things feel a bit riskier.

That dangerous feeling. Yeah, that was the thing that spoke most to me because I’m in the same boat, right? Like, I’m sitting there in the 470s In my Item level and I’m doing mythic raiding right now and it’s like, I can go into an island and just wreck everything in there. It just feels like well, you know that that’s fine for a little bit, but I like the challenge. So let’s get back to the outer world being threatening and challenging and that’s exactly what the Maw is. 

I haven’t quite decided which Covenant I want to side with. My main is a Retribution Pally and I think he’s kind of a good guy, he feels more aligned with the Kyrians but personally, I’m really interested in the Venthyr.

You get to play through the entire narrative arc for all four Covenants before you have to make a choice. So you get to play around with the abilities, get to see the stories, get to meet some of the soul binds that are potentially for you, and that way you kind of make a choice from there. 

C: So kind of like a try before you buy?

P: Yeah, definitely. Hey, since it’s such a meaningful decision you should know what you’re getting yourself into before you make that choice. And you know what one of the cool things I’m excited about too is actually for alts. So the way you’re going to play with your main is you’re going to go through the linear storyline, Bastion, Maldraxxus, etc. and then choose your Covenant at the end. but if you decide to play with the character, you can actually make that Covenant selection immediately and then choose whichever zone you want to go to first. So like, it’s definitely a, ‘hey, let’s get you into the end game as soon as possible’, instead of saying, okay, you can’t work on your Covenant until you get the 10 levels it’s like ‘go ahead and start working on it, get that Anima, get that renown’, figure it out as you level up and get to experience these zones again.

 C: Speaking of which, can you tell us more about Anima farming?

P: Sure, there’s, um, there are things like Callings, which is an evolution of our Emissary system. So rather than just saying hey, ‘Do 4 World Quests today’, you’re going to get an opportunity to do either world quests or maybe treasure hunt or find an elite that needs to die or whatnot, and that’s going to be driven from your Covenant Sanctum to allow you to direct Anima to certain places in the zone. So you can have a little bit more choice and agency over what type of content you personally like to engage with. So if it’s not daily quests, then it’s something else. If it is, then go enjoy, have fun. And you’ll unlock a lot of those options over time as you gain renown now with the Covenant.

C: It sounds like this expansion is really about allowing the player to play the Shadowlands that they want to play, there’s a lot of options and a lot of different paths to choose.

P: Exactly. Yep.

World of Warcraft Shadowlands releases in 2020.

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