In the months leading up to World of Warcraft: Shadowlands' October 26 release, players have continued to argue over one particularly contentious feature. Beta players can join one of four Covenants in exchange for unique powerful abilities and other perks, like exclusive endgame activities. Though the issue is complex, the overarching fear is that Covenants won't be balanced and players will be forced to choose whichever is deemed most powerful by the meta instead of whichever one they think is coolest. After months of debating and listening to feedback, game director Ion Hazzikostas announced today that the feature won't be getting any major changes before Shadowlands releases.
In a lengthy forum post, Hazzikostas spelled out a road map to Shadowlands' launch, revealing several big changes to different aspects of the expansion. What will interest WoW veterans most is that the Covenants system is largely staying the same, except for minor adjustments to ease the anxiety of accidentally choosing the wrong one and wanting to reverse that decision.
"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," Hazzikostas writes.
The Covenant system determines the bulk of how players will be spending their time once they reach the new level cap in the new expansion and begin Shadowlands' endgame. After spending the main story campaign flirting with each one, players will have to make a choice to join a Covenant—with the intention being they'll stick with it for the entirety of Shadowlands. In exchange, players will get uniquely styled loot, two powerful abilities to use in combat, and a host of nuanced progression systems and story quests that are uniquely tailored to that Covenant. It's a big decision, and naturally players are apprehensive over whether it will be balanced or if one Covenant will end up clearly better than the rest.
The debate has been ongoing ever since Shadowlands' first alpha test and Blizzard has responded to negative feedback by making it easier to switch Covenants, but with just enough restrictions that players can't go back and forth all willy-nilly. In his forum post, Hazzikostas says that when Shadowlands launches players will be able to immediately switch to a new Covenant if they choose, but switching back will require completing two quests that are on a weekly cooldown. Essentially, swapping Covenants is easy, but swapping back to one will take at least a week.
As Hazzikostas explains, it's because WoW already has so many ways players can instantly change how their character behaves in combat, and Blizzard wanted to make Covenants a core part of your identity (like your class or race).
"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," he says. "And that identity entails a blend of aesthetic preference, narrative experience, and mechanical strengths and weaknesses."
Hazzikostas makes it clear, however, that balancing and tuning Covenants will be an ongoing process over the next few years and that the team is hoping player concerns will be alleviated with a gentle touch rather than a massive overhaul. For some, that seems to be little reassurance.
The Twitter replies to this Wowhead tweet and the sentiments expressed by notable streamers like Asmongold and Preach show many players are concerned that by sticking to its guns, Blizzard could create another situation like what happened with the current Battle for Azeroth expansion. Players felt that complaints over a central feature were ignored until the expansion launched. As a result, Blizzard spent nearly two years fixing a system that the community had been complaining about for almost as long.
"Pretty disappointed on the doubling down on the covenant system," wrote one player. "It's just basically [Battle for Azeroth] all over again. We told them our gripes with this system so early on and they still ignored it. I love this game and I'll still play of course but I wish they weren't so obstinate."
Of course, the issue isn't quite so black and white—especially while Shadowlands is only in beta and still weeks away from launch. Blizzard has repeatedly asked players to withhold judgement until more balancing can be done, but I can see why so many would be skeptical. Either way, Shadowlands is quickly beginning to feel like a make or break moment for World of Warcraft.
Hazzikostas' developer update touches on more than just Covenants, though, so it's worth reading the whole thing.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands launches on October 26/27 depending on your timezone.