TLDR: Blizz is focusing on RPG elements of WoW in Shadowlands, which I support. But because pure RPG elements and a competitive meta cannot coexist, this means the competitive parts of the game are negatively affected. I think it's less of a bad design decision that it is the nature of online interactive games.
At risk of being flooded with downvotes, I felt it was important to state my opinion on this issue, since there seems to be this idea that 'nobody' is in favor of this. That isn't true for me, and I think there is a non-negligible portion of the playerbase that is also in favor of it – or at least the reasoning behind it that is driving this decision. So in the interest of discussion (which is admittedly a laugh on Reddit sometimes), I wanted to provide the counterpoint.
Let me start by saying that I 1000% understand why locking player power behind Covenants is a bad idea for the game as it is right now. While I wouldn't say that I know for sure that any % of the player-base is meta driven (much less a majority), it's at least safe to say there's a significant portion that is. That in and of itself is what I think is giving so many people such a visceral reaction to Covenant abilities. I am one of the players in the camp that plays the game for fun, even if how I play is not necessarily meta; and even I can recognize this change is bad for that portion of players. My gut reaction is that if I choose a Covenant for fun with a bad ability, that I will be denied from various groups. Again, this is the reaction of someone who LIKES the idea. I can't really imagine the mindset of those that don't like it, much less the mindset of the people that will gladly be denying people groups for this.
But in the most recent interview with Preach, I think Ion explained the reasoning behind this decision in a way that a lot of people who are holding to the gut reaction might be missing. It's my understanding that Shadowlands, and the WoW team as a whole, is making an attempt to infuse WoW with a more in-depth RPG feeling that has been eroding away over the course of the game. We're seeing a huge focus on character customization, we're seeing classes get unpruned in the interest of restoring class identity, more control over gear, and the focal point of the expansion is you pledging to a Covenant that defines your gameplay for the rest of the expansion (that we know of). However, those are all 'internal' facets of an RPG. Those things define your character to you personally, but they really have no definitive value to anyone else. As far as interaction with other players goes, how your character looks doesn't matter, just like the Covenant you choose (setting aside abilities for a moment) ultimately doesn't matter to anyone but you. Unpruning abilities is an exception to this strictly because some abilities do define you to other players (due to the utility you provide them).
But a defining thing about true RPGs is what your character means to everyone else you interact with. This is a specific facet of RPGs that, while we see it in popular RPG games like Skyrim, Fallout, Fable, etc., we don't feel the full weight of it due to them being singleplayer experiences. It's a facet that really has been confined almost exclusively to pen & paper RPGs, where you decisions directly and meaningfully affect the players around you because you HAVE to interact with them. Skyrim (not Modrim), for example, gives you the option to become a vampire or a werewolf, and whichever one you choose locks you from being able to become the other. While this does somewhat change how you interact with the world around you, there's no NPC in the game that really gives a damn that you chose a vampire over a werewolf, and therefor have to play more magic/stealthy instead of a hungering brute. This change really only affects you personally as a player. But now imagine if Skyrim were multiplayer and this choice locked you from being able to interact with people that made the opposite choice from you. From the RPG standpoint already establish by the game, it would make sense; but from a gameplay standpoint, this decision suddenly has much more weight behind it because it carries with it negatives that define how you interact with actual people. Multiplayer RPG videogames, historically, have never been this restrictive without the game being built around it (ala. PvP games).
Ion touched on this when he pointed out that the only decision we're locked to in WoW right now is what class we are. Specs can be changed on the fly, and even races and factions can be changed (for a price). So, all things being equal, the only externally defining characteristic for any character you play is what class you chose at creation. Nothing else in the game really affects how you interact with other players in the game. Nothing else touches that 'external' facet of RPGs. I think this is why Blizz has never given us the ability to change specs in any manner, because at that point, the only thing in the game that justify it being an RPG are internal facets. This is what Covenant abilities are intended to inject into the game again by creating another fixed way to define our characters to the people around us. Admittedly, no more fixed than races, really. Where races (and their abilities) can be changed with money, Covenants (and their abilities) can be changed with effort/time.
For someone like me, who plays the game more for the RPG portions than the competitive meta portions, I think there's potential here for WoW to create something unique. Temporary player power hasn't felt good for the last few expansions, because ultimately it doesn't matter and we know when the expansion ends, it'll go away. But Covenants could be a way for that temporary player power to feel more impactful by defining how we play externally. Azerite and corruptions defined how we played, but only internally. Because they were so easy to change, it created a right (meta) choice that everyone either followed or were bad.
Admittedly though, this all seems to be happening at the expense of the competitve meta. But I honestly don't know that a competitive meta and pure RPG elements can both coexist. They're inherently conflicting goals and it seems that for Shadowlands, Blizzard is swinging towards the side of RPG elements. This doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, but instead something that changes how we define a player's usefulness in the group dynamic. I think this is why Torghast was implemented – as a way to cater to the competitive players in a format that inherently will distill a fluid meta.
Source: Original link
© Post "Don’t lynch me, but I actually like the Covenant abilities being locked to their Covenants." for game World of Warcraft.
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