- Covenant balance in 9.1.5, with the swapping penalties relaxed and the quality of life changes the patch brought in. This is the first time where you can truly see all covenants in virtually every area of the game - niche picks you would not have been able to commit to prior to this.
Some covenants still need a lot of work (kyrian shadow priest is still 20% behind because, fundamentally, the covenant ability does not interact with the kit)
- Tier sets and double legendary setups, unfortunately, strongly favor one or two covenants for most specs, with some disparately strong setups while others languish and decay.
- Covenant legendaries seemed to be intended to be largely throwaway legendaries when they showed up on the 9.1 PTR, with a couple even being DPS losses to equip. In a way, their design and behavior was, by and large, similar to the generic reputation legendaries - existing to exist and because the prime directive was one legendary per covenant per class, not focusing on crafting worthwhile options.
- Things got even worse when most of these legendaries were not adjusted, up or down. It took a game-breaking bug on an encounter to get an adjustment to the Kyrian Death Knight legendary
- In 9.2, covenant legendaries being usable on top of the regular legendaries provide game-breaking power spikes for some lucky winners, while others will have to look forward to very minor gains (or a loss in the case of any druid interested in PvPing while night fae, and night fae boomkins)
This balance problem will explode when the double legendary equipment becomes available, and will hit some people very differently. People are already rerolling away or flocking to specs that gain more, and praying that this does not change
- This time, unlike any other final tier of any expansion where we had tier sets, we unfortunately do not get the opportunity to mix and match multiple sets. This makes the set part very binary - you have it, or you don’t
- Acquisition is a huge worry. It has been a problem every tier this expansion:
Sylvanas and you’re the only rogue? Sucks to be you (Hi Marcelian!)
- Set pieces being personal loot will compound on this. If you’re the only player playing a class, you will not be able to speed things up. It’s going to lead to a ton of disenchanted pieces.
- Shards were both easier and harder. Easier, because you need to fill 3 slots and there were only 4 armor types. Harder, because one of them was an exact piece you needed to activate the set.
- Guilds loved master loot because it dropped tokens, not random ready-opened class pieces. This allowed them to redirect sets so that everybody had theirs sooner, rather than waste a ton of gear
- Overall, the decision to make everything be personal loot feels like it is another bogeyman. Personal loot just means top guild players encourage their viewers and fans to straight up get invited to splits and feed the gear to the player. This dynamic was a lot healthier with masterloot, where you did not have to straight up bribe players and stack armor classes or classes/specs. That, and the real positive part of masterloot was on farm, where very little gear got sharded (unless you got a bow and you had no hunter in raid).
- The token system should really be expanded to massively powerful items such as trinkets, weapons, tier, etc. Anything impactful that they tune bosses around, essentially (it also solves vault sniping). Also solves the whole “I don’t want X boss”. The token doesn’t even have to be giving you the item straight off - build a short quest to go find the thing, kill the thing. Rogues who did the legendary dagger questline in 4.3 likely fondly remember the Gilneas steps.
- Throwback to episode 2: Making a one-shot great item with a horrendously low drop rate on a single boss does not provide the player with satisfaction. It provides relief - relief that they no longer need to systematically rekill the same encounter for a chance at this elusive 5-10% gain. It is not a healthy feeling when it is the dominant trend
- Panthea made a great post about this topic on the community council (That's why he doesn't talk much on the podcasts)
Set pieces also have a problem when it comes to both power deltas and encounter design. In many ways, sets interact deeply with boss tuning. Make sets too strong and bosses fall over if not tuned with the expectation that the players have the set. However, if you tune with that expectation, then the set becomes mandatory.
Some specs get way more than others. On the higher end, some specs (once you discount bugs) gain 12-15% extra damage, while others gain barely 5% and this assumes specific encounter conditions.
There were some very good developments recently. Havoc DH (and, well DH overall) had their set redesigned in order to not force Havoc DHs to play kyrian. It’s still not perfect, but it is a lot healthier than the first iteration, and iteration changes like these, direction changes, are amazing.
Some set bonuses still really strongly favor a covenant, which is problematic. On the other hand, enhancement shaman gets four new builds thanks to the legendary and set bonus!
Some sets are useless in raid but awesome in M+. For instance, prot paladin works off direct physical blocks, when most mechanics in Sepulcher are unblockable. Raid testing showed a Prot paladin getting one proc over an entire encounter
It is very difficult to have set bonuses that yield a definitive benefit everywhere. Oftentimes, it is simpler to have a boring but highly versatile set than ultra complex, ultra niche set bonuses (looking at you Unholy Death Knight)
Do we have enough time to keep on iterating? Some iterations were very good (spriest went from pure ST to AoE as well, BDK got clarification, havoc got fixed, etc)Endgame systems
- How long should it take to acquire items, engage with new systems or get up to speed to play the latest content? In many ways, the current game feels like the same casino every tier, where you tend to gravitate and re-farm most of the same stuff. Pockensturm, Langschwert der Pestilenz for agi swords usage, Unergründliches Quantengerät for a lot of DPS, Blutbespritzte Schuppe for tanks, etc… In a way, it feels draining to have to do the same thing every season, just because the rest is often not worth considering or those items are too strong
- Shadowlands is a new player’s worst nightmare right now. A new player today needs to do the following:
- Complete the entirety of all four zones in Shadowlands (since this is the pre-requisite to starting the campaign the first time)
- Pick an obscure choice out of 4, with very little but the guides out there to guide them (and picking wrong is a 2 week penalty, since that’s a renown-80-on-one-char perk)
- Get introduced to: renown, anima, your sanctum
- Do the campaign in full to unlock korthia
- Do the korthia campaign in full to unlock everything else
- Farm the necessary quality-of-life tools: stygia for catchup gear? Korthian research for conduits? Grateful offerings? What is important, what isn’t?
Acquire their legendary memories, which often takes a 3 hour LFR nathria queue
- It is very, very difficult for a new player to know what part of that list is important, and what part can be skipped, especially since all the systems were pretty much patched for alts but not for new players and abandoned afterwards.
- Timegating to not be a heavy carry for a new player is also extremely rough:
PvP gear is a frankly ridiculous amount of conquest and honor to acquire (and the honor gear is a trap! Who on earth buys ilvl 177 items to then spend 15k honor each to upgrade them to get 210).
- PvE gear is the same, you get to 200 and then you get stuck in the rut where the only option is to rope in friends to help you get over the big hurdle of “no item level, no achievements, no M+ score”. This is unfortunately one of the core reasons boosting is so prevalent - the gear curve and progression path has a cliff edge in it
Contrast this to WoD 6.2, where you got to max level, immediately went to Tanaan, picked up Relinquished gear (and they dropped a lot more than Korthian Armaments!) and you could just get started. In many ways, gearing progression is its own problem right now.
Niche hyperoptimization resources have also been problematic. One example of this is the Islands farm spreadsheet from Battle for Azeroth, where the clear goal was to unlock all Azerite rings for the Race to World First players. People copied the spreadsheet but the reasoning behind it fell by the wayside, and soon enough, guilds that would not really benefit from this really rough farm would bully their raiders into “filling up the spreadsheet”.System bloat
- The current system design in shadowlands is a cake with many layers, with multiple being added every tier. This is both time consuming, problematic for new players and everybody each patch due to the knowledge dump that is often required to understand some of them
Would you have known about Shards of Domination’ Rune Words (the unholy, frost and blood set bonuses) upgrading with the minimum level of each colored gem? It’s not mentioned anywhere in the game. How many players have wasted Embers due to this?
- If you have 100 players and each system added to an expansion cuts 10 players out of it, by the time you have as many systems as we’ll have in 9.2, 70% of the community will have dropped out due to system burn. And the really sad part is that a lot of these systems end up being parasitic.
- System bloat completely disincentivizes playing alts until very large catchups get added, typically a couple of months before the next patch (or in the case of Stygian Embers, not at all).
- Every time a system is added, it is seen as the shiniest through forced PR and gigantic buffs, and the heroic guilds focus on this. The emphasis then always becomes “you need to do the grind” every patch, rather than allowing them to just enjoy the new zones, the encounters, etc…
- Shadowlands has a habit of telling you that you’re losing out if you’re not interacting with the system, rather than encouraging you to discover things. It’s a very awkward cycle of fear of missing out that inevitably leads to apathy.
- Some of these are solved problems. The solutions are kept away in order to elongate content, but burned people out in the process (islands is unquestionably the easiest example. If you told somebody at the start that if you do 500 islands you’ll get worldvein r4 they will not do it, but if you tell them you have to do 100 in a month, they’ll hit the 100 in a month unless they care, at which point they’ll burn themselves out).