Another expansion is on the horizon which presents an opportunity for more wide scale class changes. There has been a growing sentiment among the Shadow community since Dragonflight release to separate out Shadow and Void themes to their respective specs. I think there is now ample motive and opportunity for this to happen. While it is my personal preference, I believe adding Void Priest would be best for the community and the overall health of Shadow.
The introduction of Augmentation Evoker was the first time in modern WoW’s history in which a class gained a spec after its release. While it is clear in hindsight that this was the intention from the start for story reasons, a precedence has now been set. I think it is likely more specs will be introduced to existing classes in the near future and Priest is an excellent candidate with two healer specializations and only one dps.
More specifically, Void is a perfect candidate as a new spec for Priest. Dragonflight is setting up a Void heavy story with Iridikron, Xal’atath, and Azshara in the future. Blizzard has stated that when they introduce new classes or specs to the game they want it to be for a thematic reason, and nothing is more thematic for a Void expansion than adding a Void specialization. Priest is also the most appropriate for this since themes of Void already exist within Shadow. This is a perfect opportunity to make that Void fantasy fully realized.
I started playing Shadow Priest at a semi-hardcore level in Legion, although I started playing WoW during Wrath. I was immediately enthralled with the fantasy of succumbing to the powers of the Void. I would spend literal hours on training dummies, first mastering Surrender to Madness, and then just playing my rotation while listening to music. The gameplay of it was so captivating and I had not experienced anything as fun before or since then. My sentiment toward this version of Shadow is also shared by others
But the sentiment isn’t shared by everyone. Just like I am married to the idea of the Void, others are married to the idea of previous Shadow.
What is a Shadow Priest? A question posited which Legion aimed to answer. Before then, Shadow’s identity was ambiguous and mostly up to interpretation. I even remember reading a very comprehensive post by Djriff about what exactly a Shadow Priest is, arriving at the conclusion of a psychic caster. The class fantasy philosophy in Legion had specs reworked to have their identities made cohesive. The answer Legion provided was clear with zero ambiguity—Shadow was a Void caster who teetered on the brink of insanity to gain power. At the time, it seemed like a solid and stable enough identity to continue with for the future.
This sudden change in fantasy, however, was off-putting to a part of the Shadow community. They felt that their Shadow Priest was taken away from them and replaced with something else, something they didn’t enjoy. While true, this was a direct consequence with the goal of Legion. The fixation on class fantasy led to reworks of other specs as well. Discipline, Demonology, and Survival to name a few were all heavily reworked in Legion to be virtually unrecognizable to their Warlords of Draenor counterparts. Reworks whose core designs stand to this day. Like them, Shadow’s identity was irrevocably changed in Legion.
Or at least it was supposed to be an irrevocable change. Due to various factors the design introduced in Legion did not appear sustainable, and after massive community backlash during the Shadowlands beta it was removed from the spec. Voidform, which was a core of the Void fantasy, was converted into a cooldown and its unique effects were removed. After the Shadowlands rework, Shadow stopped feeling like a Void caster. It went back to feeling like pre-Legion Shadow Priest. Even in Dragonflight, with such a major focus on choice with the new talent system, Shadow has had four years of gameplay relegated to a single talent point. There are some new Void themes in the tree with the Idol capstones, but they are shallow and do not capture the same appeal as Legion or Battle for Azeroth. It still feels like pre-Legion Shadow Priest. The Void fantasy has been lost.
Four years of the spec’s history have been lost. Four years that every other specialization in the game has had the opportunity to pull from modern class design for the Dragonflight talents and had iteration on in Shadowlands. Shadow may feel like pre-Legion Shadow, but that version of Shadow was never given the opportunity to have its design fleshed out and iterated on. No legendaries were designed for it, no tier, no artifact traits, not even covenant abilities were designed with the rework in mind. While I mourn the loss of Voidform, I also lament that the version of Shadow we are playing now was not given the same opportunity to grow as the other reworked specs.
Before introducing a Void spec to Priest, we first need to understand why the Void era failed in the first place, to avoid repeating four years of mistakes. We also need to identify what parts of the design made that core fantasy so compelling so they remain while addressing those mistakes.
The core argument I see against Voidform is ramp. Players don’t want to have to wait to do damage in the future, because that is too punishing. And I agree with them. Where we disagree, however, is what the egregious factors were. The major offenders to the ramping damage pattern were borrowed power. First in Legion with Mass Hysteria, and then in Battle for Azeroth with Chorus of Insanity and Spiteful Apparitions. I can’t prove that without these external factors Voidform would not have been considered punishing, but I think it deserves a chance since it was never given the opportunity to exist on its own.
Another major criticism toward Voidform was its poor viability in dungeons. While I don’t disagree, this issue wasn’t unique to Voidform. Pre-Legion Shadow would have performed just as bad if not worse in dungeons without major adjustments. Mythic+ was a new addition to the game the same time Voidform was introduced, so there wasn’t yet an understanding of what specs needed in this new form of content. Now that it has been pillar content for over 6 years, there’s a good idea of what is needed to excel, which could be retrofitted to Voidform.
So how did this Void fantasy that Legion sold translate to gameplay? As I mentioned before the Void fantasy was about teetering on the edge of insanity for power. With Voidform, increasing haste mirrored the feeling of going insane. The drain mechanic combated this and gave incentive to keep fighting, even though it was ultimately futile. Finally, Voidform transformed the base rotation by introducing Void Bolt which also gave us mobility. After all, what fun is being fast is that can’t also translate to movement. For me the essence of the Void fantasy is Voidform and specifically the three components of it haste, drain, and mobility.
It’s clear from this why Dragonflight’s version of Voidform is unsatisfying and does not do well to serve its fantasy. The haste and drain mechanics have been removed. It is also now a cooldown, so the mobility increase is no longer consistent. The visuals, such as levitating and tentacles, are also ephemeral and no longer provide a core aesthetic appeal. I firmly believe this fantasy could be restored while also addressing its criticisms, since they were not inherent to the design.
What is a Shadow Priest? A question now posited to Dragonflight. And it can’t give a clear answer. The spec has nearly the same gameplay and spells as it did in Warlords of Draenor, back when its identity was still unclear. It also has tacked onto it the last remaining vestiges of the Void era as well as a few extra Void themes. But it doesn’t feel like a Void caster. We have a spec whose core identity was never established while also having elements of a conflicting identity. In an effort to pay tribute to the full history of the spec, the present spec suffers.
I propose these Void themes be removed from Shadow and introduced in a new Void specialization. Make the Void fantasy from Legion fully realized as well as whatever the Shadow Priest fantasy is. I am calling for one last Shadow Priest rework. One with a clear goal of answering that elusive question “What is a Shadow Priest” which arrives at a different conclusion than Legion did. That way the full history of Shadow can be preserved—even if it is between two specs.