Earlier today, Blizzard Entertainment announced the next step in the long-running saga of World of Warcraft. The new expansion is called Shadowlands, taking players the realm of the dead.
WoW game director Ion Hazzikostas took to the BlizzCon 2019 stage to offer more details about the Shadowlands today. Souls in World of Warcraft, when they die, are brought before the Arbiter, a deity who decides which region of the damned the player is sent to. Each region—Bastion, Ardenwealf, Revendreth, and Maldraxxus—is meant for a different type of soul. Journeying to each of the realms allows players to meet heroes who may have fallen in battle in WoW.
Bastion is ruled by the Kyrian, who shepherd souls who are "ordered and purposeful" and who want to shed their burdens to find virtue. Uther the Lightbringer will be found in Bastion. The Necrolords of Maldraxxus rule the army to the dead, and their code is one of survival of the fittest. They're not outwardly evil, but very driven. Thrall's mother Draka is one of the souls you'll find in Maldraxxus. Hazzikostas said that the region was inspired by the Eastern Plaguelands.
Ardenweald is the Emerald Dream's dark mirror, ruled by the Night Fae. It's a place of rest and players will find the godling Cernarius here, following his freeing in the Emerald Nightmare. Revendreth is the most gothic regions in the Shadowlands, where the souls of the prideful and flawed end up. It's Covenant is the Venthyr, and former Blood Elf leader and Tempest Keep boss Kael'thas Sunstrider will be found here.
According to Hazzikostas, Covenants are the "number one major feature" of Shadowlands, more like a Garrison or Artifact, integrated into every aspect of the game. Each Covenant has its own narrative campaign, opening up at max level. They all have two active abilities, one of which will be class-specific. Each Covenant has a sanctum, a system that somewhat works like Shal'Aran in Legion, growing and changing as you complete objectives.
Covenants will also offer the Soulbinding system, where players tie themselves to a single powerful soul. This is somewhat like Artifacts, but there won't be any Artifact Powers to grind. There will also be a "wide array" of cosmetic rewards, including specific armor and new covenant cloaks. These include unique silhouettes for the player, like wings for the Kyrian.
During the leveling experience, players will have a chance to work with each Covenant, to understand their ethos and try out their powers, before making your final endgame decision. Playing as an alt after picking your first Covenant will let you pick your alt's Covenant immediately, which Hazzikostas notes is akin to a "New Game+". The progression for your alt will start during leveling, so you'll actually be slightly ahead at max level.
At the center of the Shadowlands will be Oribos, the Eternal City. This will be the main player hub for the expansion, where the Arbiter decides the direction of souls. Finally, there's the Maw, a prison for the worst souls, controlled by the Jailer. No one has ever escaped the realm, so not much is known about it. Going to the Maw is supposed to be a one way journey, but the player will sidestep that problem.
The Maw is the fulcrum around which everything revolves. All the souls of the dead are supposed to go to Oribos for sorting, but instead they're all going into the Maw, leaving the other realms starved of Anima. It's up to the players to figure out what's happening within the Maw, and where all that Anima is going. The mysterious figure shown with Sylvanas in the features trailer is the Jailer itself. Sylvanas is working with the Jailer to some unknown end.
Before the expansion launches, the Scourge will attack all of Azeroth. The key battle surge will be an assault on Icecrown. Players will meet with Bolvar Fordragon, the former Lich King, who's still alive. Bolvar has a foot in both realms, and looks to be the new leader of the Death Knights. (Given the focus on death in this expansion, every race can be a Death Knight now. Panderan, Mecha Gnomes, Vulpera. Rock out.) From Icecrown, players will step into the Maw. Drawing on the power of the world souls of Azeroth, we escape its hold, leaving the other heroes with us trapped. This is the start of a narrative arc that spans all four zones.
At endgame, you'll return to the Maw, a max-level realm with free-form, outdoor gameplay. There won't be any friendly areas, or inns to rest at. Hazzikostas eluded to the Maw being somewhat inspired by Classic. The Maw is also where Torghast, Tower of the Damned lies. This is an endless, always-changing dungeon that you can tackle solo or with up to four friends. You'll earn new Anima powers; one example is Unquenchable Flame, which makes the Flame Shock debuff last forever.
There will be 8 dungeons in addition to Torghast, four of which will be during the level experience, and 4 more at max-level. One of the max-level dungeons is The Other Side, which is where the loa Bwomsmadi resides. There's also Castle Nathria, a 10-boss raid coming at launch.
The new core philosophy of World of Warcraft is a stronger focus on player agency. "We want all of you to feel more control over your destiny," said Hazzikostas. He highlighted some profession updates, like being able to directly craft the items you're looking for. He pointed to Jewelcrafting, where players could throw an Agility gem into the craft to make sure you get an Agility-focused result. He also pointed to the Weekly Loot Chest for World Quests, which will now allow you to see the rewards and pick a specific one. Hazzikostas also talked about Shadowlands legendaries. Rather than having them be randomly obtained, they'll be something you can work towards within Torghast.
The biggest overall shift will be a return to class identity rather than a specialization identity. Some spec-specific abilities will become class-wide again, and some lost abilities will return to WoW.
The new leveling experience will be streamlined, with level 120 characters being squished down to 50. The team wants to speed up the leveling experience for new characters and alts. They also want every level to feel meaningful, so you receive something every time you level up. There will be a brand-new level 1-10 zone to kick things off, and afterwards alts can also play through any expansion on their way to max level. If you want to level 10-50 in The Burning Crusade or Cataclysm, that's up to you.
One excellent change is a stronger focus on player customization. Not only will the Covenants add new cosmetic equipment, Blizzard is adding a whole host of changes to basic character creation. Hazzikostas showed off the new options for the Trolls and Dwarves, featuring new skin colors, tusks, and tattoos. Eye color will also be separated out so you can pick it individually. Undead can choose if they want their bones sticking out or not, but sadly, no chubby undead.
Most importantly, humans will also be able to pick a face that looks a bit more like themselves; the image shown on stage seems to be faces that actually look like Asian and Black people. There's no indication if these are unique faces or a new face picking system, but Blizzard will probably tell us more at the Deep Dive panel tomorrow. One of my major issues is that my Human Paladin looks like a white guy with dark skin, not a black guy, so this is a great change.
We'll be covering that panel and any other details that pop up around World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, as the move toward the expansion's 2020 release.