World of Warcraft

Blizzard still doesn’t understand their Covenant system issue and are digging in their heels.

wow5 - Blizzard still doesn't understand their Covenant system issue and are digging in their heels.

Blue post link:

I'd like to preface this post by saying that I am in the beta, and I've been testing since early on in beta, so I actually have experience with the system.

From the post, which we will take point by point:

Covenants are the centerpiece of Shadowlands and have been the subject of passionate discourse across the community over the past weeks, which has been mirrored by discussion and debate within our team. From the system’s first conception, selecting a covenant was crafted to be a weighty decision, shaping a character’s abilities, cosmetic rewards, and access to endgame story arcs and sanctum systems. A weighty decision almost by definition comes with some amount of stress, whether anxiety about making the “wrong” choice, or just evaluating various pros and cons and wishing there were a way to just get the best of all worlds.

Two big issues here. First, Covenant powers are a borrowed power system, which is the problem. If Covenants had zero impact to player power, and instead were just picking which weekly event you did and the look of your legendary armor, that would be one thing. But each covenant has a covenant ability (for a total of 4) and a class-specific ability, each of which gets various mileage that heavily depends on what content you're engaging in. And, for certain classes, the choice is very clear to simply stay away from certain Covenants entirely, since the Covenant class ability for that class is straight up terrible. There is absolutely a right choice or wrong choice right now. If the system was going to launch in a static state, however, that may not matter… the problem is that Blizzard has stated their goal is for there to be "no wrong choice" for Covenants, meaning they're planning on changing these abilities later on… which means your correct choice now could become an incorrect choice later. For the vast majority of classes, there is a correct Covenant choice, and there are no pros and cons to evaluate. You'll take the Covenant that gives the most overall throughput and just deal with it in those situations where that class ability is sub-optimal.

The net result here is that classes with weak AoE cannot really choose to take a Covenant ability that supplements them with some on-demand burst AoE because that's only good for M+, so it will just be making the choice of most single-target throughput, which will relegate classes without good AoE damage to dumpster-tier for M+ groups.

In designing this system, we’ve done what we can to minimize the burden of regret. Those measures should be fully enabled by next week’s Beta release. While picking a covenant at the end of your journey to max level is a weighty choice, it is not a permanent one. If you find that, whatever the reason, you are unhappy with your initial covenant pick at level 60, you need only return to Oribos and you can immediately switch to a different one. Now, if you later wish to rejoin a covenant that you have left, that is slightly more involved: There is a path to redemption consisting of a series of two weekly quests to atone for breaking your vow and to rededicate yourself to that covenant’s cause. These quests are now available for testing in Beta; they are still being tuned, but the intent is that they are largely ceremonial rather than feeling like an arduous grind.

This paragraph essentially sums up their misunderstanding of why people are critical of this system. NOTHING about the storyline reinforces the idea that choosing a Covenant is a weighty choice. There is no in-game reason for this to happen. You help all of the Covenants on the way to 60, and then the Covenants are all working together to try to figure out what's happening with the Jailer and the Maw. There is no friction between the Covenants in-game. I'm not clear on whether this is a two-week window to change covenants or if they can be changed every week, but it actually doesn't really matter. The issue here is that, for any given class, there is a best covenant class ability for each type of content, and locking that covenant class ability behind a 1-week or 2-week arbitrary cooldown actually makes me resent paying to play the game. What is the logic behind not allowing me to take the Kyrian abiilty for M+, Necrolord for raiding, and Night Fae for PvP? How does that make the game better? Who is asking for this? Especially because if I make the wrong decision, I potentially lose my M+ spot or raid spot for the week or potentially 2 weeks. How is this making the game more fun? If you want to use Covenants to reinforce the RPG parts of WoW, then remove player power from them, because unless those things are decoupled, you're sacrificing the MMO part of WoW for the sake of reinforcing the RPG part… only not really because, spoiler, THE COVENANTS ARE ALL COOPERATING WITH EACH OTHER, which from a narrative perspective, undermines the whole idea of dedicating oneself to a single Covenant.

We have also taken steps to ensure that a player who switches covenants, as well as one who reaches max level later on in the expansion, never feels permanently behind as a result. Renown measures the strength of a player’s connection to their covenant and is the main vehicle for unlocking additional Soulbind powers and various covenant perks and rewards. Players primarily earn Renown via weekly quests to gather anima from across the Shadowlands, and to rescue souls from the Maw and restore them to their rightful place in the covenant. If a player has missed any of those quests, however, they will find that they can earn Renown directly through a range of activities such as dungeons, world quests, and PvP, until they are fully caught up. This system will be functional on Beta in the coming weeks.

This is just basically saying "you can catch up". Again, not the core of the problem. Not even close.

In short, a player who regrets their covenant choice, and who wants to change their mind, should be able to do so straightforwardly at any point during the expansion, and will be able to reach a state with no long-term drawbacks or disadvantages compared to someone who had been in that covenant all along.

Yes, it's straightforward to change. The problem isn't the hurdle I have to jump over. It's that I'm only allowed to jump over the hurdle on an arbitrary timer for the sake of… something.


We’ve also heard from many players who, rather than being worried about regretting their choice, would prefer that they not have to choose at all; they have advocated that we offer a way to switch among the various active abilities offered by covenants without friction. But these covenant systems are thoroughly intertwined: Covenant abilities are often modified by covenant-specific conduits and soulbinds; most of those soulbinds in turn are unlocked through covenant-specific narrative campaigns. Granting access to one of these without the others would lead to an incomplete or confusing result. In short, pulling on that thread (or cord, as it were) would unravel the entire fabric of the system. Even so, we would embrace the work required to rebuild the covenant system along those lines if we agreed that it would be an improvement, but we ultimately do not share that view.

This is some SelfAwareWolves level stuff right here. Yes, we would rather not make a choice at all because making a semi-permanent choice for a borrowed power system that's literally more difficult to change than my characters gender, race, or server is ludicrous.

Before starting an arena match, engaging a raid boss, or entering a dungeon, a character in Shadowlands can change their specialization, talents (and PvP talents if appropriate), legendary item, other equipment, active soulbind, and chosen path within that soulbind. When it comes to customizing your “loadout” – the set of tools you’re going to take into a given encounter – WoW offers more options than ever before, and you can almost entirely reshape your character on the fly to suit the moment. But as malleable as those choices are, none of them, other than perhaps your specialization, defines your character – they aren’t who you are, but rather what you happen to be doing at any given moment.

The impact this is actually going to have? If you main Warlock and want to push Arena rating and also do raiding and M+, you're going to need 2 max-level Warlocks. For Druids it's even worse.

Rather than add yet another layer to that decision matrix, we’re trying to do something different here, and let players more meaningfully define their character’s identity and set themselves apart from others who play the same class. And that identity entails a blend of aesthetic preference, narrative experience, and mechanical strengths and weaknesses. From the earliest sketched designs of the covenant system, our goal was for the answer to “what do you play?” in Shadowlands to be “Kyrian paladin” or “Venthyr paladin” rather than just “paladin.” And given the central role of combat and power progression to World of Warcraft as a whole, achieving that goal for most players requires that there be player power implications to covenant choice.

Playing a Kyrian Paladin vs Venthyr Paladin isn't a choice that anyone's excited to make, because the power is going away at the end of the expansion. It's a giant who cares. Except, of course, the Paladin who chooses Kyrian and then gets turned down for M+ groups for a whole week while they're on Covenant cooldown because they're not Venthyr.

None of this is to say that development on covenants and their powers is finished, or that we are not open to further changes. Far from it. We understand that when we offer a choice between competing packages of strengths and weaknesses, if we’re not careful, especially given social and community pressures, weaknesses can easily overshadow strengths. The satisfaction of having an edge in one type of content doesn’t make up for the frustration of being excluded entirely from participating in another. But while tearing down the entire system may seem to some like the simplest way to avoid that pitfall, we’re committed to working with the community to ensure that players feel viable regardless of their covenant choice.

The problem is that Blizzard has been handed, on a silver platter, the ideal solution: decouple player power from Covenants. The feedback has been consistent since Covenant class abilities were brought up. It's terrible design on its face. It doesn't require testing anymore than jamming your fist into a blender requires testing. We know it's a bad system already. We're giving the feedback that the system is bad. Blizzard needs to answer the question: who from the player base that actually knows what they're talking about is asking for the system as it is today? Who thinks that this iteration is the ideal?

If you really want to go Kyrian on your rogue, but can’t justify it because every guide currently says that the Necrolords’ Serrated Bone Spike is too good to pass up, or if an otherwise appealing covenant has benefits that seem irrelevant in PvP, those are exactly the sorts of imbalance we want to fix, and your feedback is essential to that process. In the coming weeks, we’ll be doing numerical tuning, making changes to underlying ability designs when needed, and potentially leveraging covenant-specific conduits if a covenant needs some targeted shoring up to ensure that they’re viable in a particular type of content. As our combat team shifts its focus primarily to tuning, we’ll be rolling those changes out to Beta servers ASAP for further testing and iteration.

Here's the problem: Blizzard's track record of actually fixing this stuff is awful, and what's worse, they wait until patches to fix it. They don't do iterative balancing, they simply allow things to be ludicrously out of balance until the next 9.x.0 or 9.x.5 patch. There will be no more than 7 balancing passes after release: 9.0.5, 9.1.0, 9.1.5, 9.2.0, 9.2.5, 9.3.0, and 9.3.5. So with this incredibly convoluted and complicated system, on top of which they will undoubtedly pile additional convolution and complication (look at Legion and BfA as historical examples), they get 7 chances to get it right. And if you're one of those classes whose balance issues don't get addressed until 9.2.5? Well, have fun not having fun for a year+. They cant want to fix things in one hand, and they can keep collecting your sub fee in the other. Guess which one fills up faster?

This isn't a philosophical difference. It's piss-poor game design, just like Legion legendaries before Legion launch and BfA Azerite armor was before BfA launch. The players know what they're talking about. We play this game WAY MORE than the designers and devs. No one is asking for player power and Covenants to be attached at the hip. You have the power to change the system, and this sunk cost fallacy arguing that "the system will unravel if we give players what they want" is both a cop-out and the reason that you actually needed to execute on the feedback far earlier. Players don't want to be condescended to and told "no no, once you actually play it it'll be fine", because we've been down that path before. It's time to stop mucking about and simply pull the damn ripcord.

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