Edited to be a standalone version of my feedback that can be seen in the recent comments of this thread:
After reading all of the Covenant feedback, how is it not clear that something needs to change?
There have been multiple YouTube videos by Bellular, Preach, and Asmongold (highlights from Twitch mostly) about being concerned with this system as a whole if it includes player power inside Soulbinds and Conduits for multiple reasons I will highlight below.
These decisions just flat out don’t make sense from a player perspective.
Before I start, I’d like to invite you all to watch Preach’s video titled Shadowlands Is Close - Last Chat On Covenants
It covers most of what I will say here and is incredibly well thought out and put together. It’s apparent that Preach cares a lot about the community and the direction of the game.
Let’s begin with just a few of the criticisms there are with Covenants in Shadowlands.
- Inability to easily swap Covenants.
As much as I hate to beat a dead horse here, as I feel like much of this has been said already, here we are. Covenants not being easily swapped is terrible for two major reasons:
The first and most egregious being that they cannot be balanced with player power. There will always be meta picks and the longer that devs decides that meta is bad and denies the fact that it’s not 2004 anymore and players will always want the better choice, no matter how minor the difference, the worse off this game will become. This doesn’t only exist in World of Warcraft - it exists in all games. That’s just the way things have developed with the natural progression of the internet and its ease of connectivity. Ion, in the Preach interview, stating that he doesn’t think people will require certain Covenants on LFG postings is actually insane. That’s exactly what will happen unless the player power aspect within Soulbinds and Conduits is removed. It cannot be controlled. What happened to take the player, not the class? Isn’t this the same thing, but with Covenants? Devs, please avoid being a slave to the sunk cost fallacy.
The existence of the new weekly chest mechanic and the philosophy behind the change. It’s fantastic - exactly what we needed! But there’s a catch. How are we supposed to do Raids, Mythic+, Torghast, and PvP optimally (as people WILL want to do) without being able to swap these things as we wish? The willingness for players to do multiple core aspects of the game for greater reward is finally starting to be addressed correctly, and yet the Covenant system diminishes the ability and motivation to participate in more than one of them. My friends and I joked about having to create multiple characters of the same class just to be able to do the content that we want to do, but I realized at some point, it may not actually be all jokes. This may actually be a reality if changes aren’t made, and fast. Imagine a World of Warcraft in which you were actually able to make situational choices for your character to perform better when you wanted to?? That’s the kind of WoW I, and I suspect most people, want to play.
- It doesn’t make sense in the context of the Shadowlands.
As we progress through the initial Shadowlands storyline during the leveling phase, we assist each separate Covenant faction with the impending war. We are heralded as the “Maw Walker” and naturally, each faction is drawn to us for that reason. Why, then, should we only be allowed to pick one to progress with and never any other without severe consequence? Preach put out a parody video of this on Twitter and it explains everything pretty humorously. Here’s the unlisted YouTube link:
I’m all for making choices relevant and impactful, but doing it just for the sake of it without proper context just screams poor design.
- Interesting choices don’t have to be tied to player power.
In the current form of Covenants, no matter how much Ion wants it to be, the Covenant choice is not comparable to the core MMORPG aspect of choosing your class. However, the potential for it to be close is possible with the removal of the aspects that make the choice feel bad to players. For many players, myself included, just choosing the theme of each Covenant and the transmogrification, mounts, and zones that go along with them is enough to satisfy our need for impactful decision making. It directly affects the identity of our characters and by extension reflects our own identities. There are two types of players in Shadowlands: the type that will choose their favorite Covenant no matter what, despite the performance cost, and the players that will choose the most powerful Covenant, despite the potential of not identifying with the Covenant at all and thereby diminishing the enjoyment of the system. I am grudgingly of the former and I agonize over the thought that it doesn’t have to be this way because I know in the back of my mind that it has a large potential to be the reason why I quit the game if things stay the way they are.
- If player power remains in Soulbinds and Conduits despite all the feedback, why is there a once per week lockout on changing Conduits?
This feels arbitrary. A limit for the sake of a limit. What exactly is are devs concerned with here? If anyone has an answer to this, please share. It feels like they are just trying to create a fake impact on player choice where it doesn’t belong and that feels terrible. Players fundamentally need/want the ability to alter our characters to fit the content we are participating in.
So, what are some potential solutions to these issues?
Disclaimer: I am not a developer and I do not claim to be. The following ideas are mostly my personal opinion along with suggestions I’ve seen from the community.
Simply put, remove player power from Soulbinds and Conduits and allow swapping between Covenants. Covenant class and signature abilities are fine, but we need to be able to swap between these things without severe consequences in order to do multiple types of core content in the game. Soulbinds can easily be converted into only fun/useful things that already exist within some of them, such as the Night Fae Soulbind trait Vorkai Sharpening Techniques
https://shadowlands.wowhead.com/spell=325486/vorkai-sharpening-techniques or the Necrolord Soulbind trait Kevin’s Keyring
https://shadowlands.wowhead.com/spell=323079/kevins-keyring - This gives impact to player choices and doesn’t directly alter player power, thereby satisfying the needs of both devs and players. They can also alter the signature abilities in some way, as some do already. For example, with the Venthyr signature ability Leisurely Gait
https://shadowlands.wowhead.com/spell=336147/leisurely-gait (Although, another form of this would be more appealing to me personally and more useful in PvP if it was instant as opposed to granting 2 charges, while still increasing cooldown). What do we do about conduits then? Make them affect the Covenant class abilities in various ways as opposed to the base class and spec abilities. That way they can still be drops from current content and still be interesting to players, though the number of Conduits will likely have to decrease to accommodate this change. I understand these are massive changes and would require a lot of work and thought, but it will be well worth the cost to provide players with the type of experience they deserve and the success of the expansion thereafter.
Remove the arbitrary 1-week limitation. If there is some internal reason why the limitation exists, please share that with us. Be transparent and we may understand, and if we don’t agree with the reasoning, we can offer feedback to try and get it to a place where it makes sense. The “mitigation” of being able to swap Soulbinds in the same places you can swap talents is not acceptable as a way to trick players into thinking there is flexibility in the system. That is purely limitation disguised as flexibility and should not move forward in the design of the system.
What can we take away from this discussion?
We need more information on why these decisions are being made. I’m not even sure what the design principles the dev team is using at this point as it has not been made very clear. I’m all for the iteration of design philosophy over time, but to the player base, it seems like these things are getting worse, not better, and trust has been lost. Folks are worried - and rightfully so. Posts and comments on Twitter from prominent players in both the PvE and PvP scenes echo sentiments of both worry and frustration. Players with hundreds, even thousands of days of /played time are leaving the game they’ve been so dedicated to for years - a decade and change in some cases. Many come back from time to time, desperately trying to enjoy the game they once played insatiably, to be even further disappointed in the state of the game than when they left. This cannot be allowed to continue. The only thing that can kill WoW is itself. And we’re heading in that direction if nothing changes.
To the end, I’d like to say that criticism is healthy. There is a stigma surrounding criticism that we cannot love something we criticize. I wholeheartedly believe this to be untrue. We criticize what we love because we want it to be better. There’s no shame in that.