WORLD of Warcraft is about to get the final update to its epic Shadowlands expansion.
We spoke to the top designers on World of Warcraft for a preview of what’s to come.
What is 9.2 Eternity’s End?
Eternity’s End is the final update to the ongoing Shadowlands expansion for World of Warcraft.
It’s the culmination of player efforts to stop the Jailer Zovaal’s schemes, releasing on February 22 in NA and February 23 in EU.
There’s a huge raid, more mythic plus content to enjoy, updates to Torghast, a new zone, and refreshed progression systems in patch 9.2.
HOAR spoke to Game Director Ion Hazzikostas and Senior Level Designer Sara Wons.
They revealed how to unlock the best loot, the best changes in patch 9.2, and what to look forward to after Shadowlands.
Eternity’s End – the full interview
Let’s start with talking about Zereth Mortis, the new zone. What can you tell us about it?
“So Zereth Mortis is the land of the First Ones, and they’re the architects of the entire universe.
“And this is actually where the Shadowlands were created,” said Sara.
“So we really wanted to dig into the mystery here, as the Progenitors themselves are pretty mysterious.
“They’re no longer here, they’ve actually left behind constructs that we know as the automa to keep things running behind the scenes.
“You’ll be discovering all kinds of things here. We like the idea that this place is so mysterious that you can’t even understand their language.
“So we have Cypher of the First Ones to help you learn more about the Progenitors and Zereth Mortis as well as helping you unlock dailies and quests and rewards.
“So a lot of things to explore and discover.”
So how does the Cypher of the First Ones work? Is it a replacement to the Renown system?
“So I wouldn’t say it’s replacing Renown, but Renown has come to an end,” Ion told HOAR.
“The Covenants at this point have united and the story has moved on beyond that.
“The Cyphers really are a unique system in that they’re tied to progression in the outdoor space of Zereth Mortis.
“And we’ve gone to great lengths – unlike the Renown system that had key power unlocks like upgrading your Soulbinds or new conduit slots – to make sure the Cypher system really is for players who just want to delve deeper into Zereth Mortis.
“Because that is their preferred play style, they are explorers. Solo players or playing with friends and spending their time in the outdoor world, not doing mythic plus or high-end PVP or raids.
“And so both narratively as you unlock the mysteries of the Cyphers you’ll be able to better understand the language of the automa and interact with aspects of your environment to understand the context of them that you could not previously.
“You’ll also gain buffs to your power and boosts throughout the zone, you’ll be able to travel throughout the zone more easily, and more.
“This is something we’re really excited to see players delve into, without feeling like this is something they need to do in order to top meters in their raid or whatever else.”
Why are class sets returning now? Is it to reintroduce more progression? And how will they be made available to players, particularly those who don’t want to raid?
“Class sets are something we know the community has been eager to see the return of for quite some time,” Ion explained.
“In Battle for Azeroth we had Azerite armour taking up that space. But at long last in Eternity’s End they’re back.
“They’re not available just through raiding. They also can come from the Great Vault for players who are doing mythic plus or PVP.
“Unlike when we last saw class sets back in Legion, at this point our end-game is about more than raiding.
“We’ve really established these separate parallel tracks, and while there are players who will engage in multiple types of these activities, we want to keep that commitment to someone who just loves doing dungeons with their four friends, to have that be a complete progression path, and to avoid having them feel like they need to go into the raids to get these sets if they’d rather not.
“We’ve also realised that a couple of months into this season, a couple of months into Eternity’s End, there’ll likely be players who are switching characters, players who have friends who have come back who didn’t play right at the start, who want to get caught up on getting their sets together.
“So we have a system called the creation catalyst that will allow players at that point to upgrade and transform regular gear from other sources into set pieces.
“And so more quickly complete their sets. They won’t have to worry about RNG with drops. So for the first couple of months it will play out like it always has, as you’re trying to assemble your set. Hoping that when you kill that boss, it drops the helm.
“But there is a backstop to make sure people aren’t frustrated and feel like they can’t catch up in the end.”
Great Vault drop rates make me nervous. Will players be able to earn class sets from the Great Vault in a reasonable amount of time?
“The creation catalyst is a feature of Zereth Mortis,” Ion said.
“There’s a currency called Cosmic Flux that you get from anything you do – PVP, dungeons, raids.
“It really is similar if you’re familiar with Battle for Azeroth to Echoes of Nyalotha.
“It really is meant to be just ‘play the way you want to play’, you’re gonna get this stuff.
“You use it to upgrade your legendaries, but also once the catalyst is unlocked, if you have a non-set helm that you got from running mythic plus, you can just transform that into your set piece using this currency.
“There is some randomness and not everyone will get their set pieces just through drops during the first weeks.
“But to fill out your sets, there is that guaranteed backstop that’s there.
“Again we understand that while randomness can be exciting, there’s a frustrating end of the tail, so we want to make sure we’re offering solutions to make everyone feel good.”
So how do Legendaries work now that you can have two? Will they still require a Torghast grind?
“We’ve accelerated the initial Torghast progression pretty significantly,” Ion explained.
“We consciously made the choice to require this new currency in Eternity’s End.
“The currency drops from Torghast, so if you want to do Torghast for your legendary upgrades, they’re still there for you.
“There are new layers for Torghast as well as the brand new Jailer’s Gauntlet boss-rush mode, which is a fun little experience with self-contained rewards.
“But we also understand that there are players who – particularly a year in – may not be thrilled about doing Torghast week after week.
“So we want to give them many more options this time around, to play the content of their choice and still work on those Legendary upgrades.”
On the raid, what makes Zovaal different than previous end-game expansion bosses – what’s special?
“So I think one interesting facet of the Jailer encounter and Zovaal is that players have not seen the encounter at all on our Public Test Realms,” Ion told HOAR.
“And players aren’t gonna see the encounter at all during the first week that the raid opens either.
“It’s an 11-boss raid, but for all intents and purposes, in week one Anduin is the end boss of the first week of Sepulcher.
“After defeating him, we’re gonna need to learn some things from him.
“And augment ourselves so we can actually go into the Jailer’s inner sanctum without just getting dominated like Anduin and Sylvanas and others have.
“Narratively there’s a need for a bit of break-up there. But also mechanically, we’re really excited about having a sense of mystery and surprise and discovery again in this space.
“In this modern era where things are so thoroughly data-mined and explored and guides are written and videos are made before the content has ever made it to live.
“We’re not kidding ourselves: videos and guides will be made one day after the content is live.
“But on that first day, there’s gonna be this sense of really venturing into the unknown.
“And we can’t wait to see players across the world share that experience.”
Cross-faction gameplay is coming later on in 9.2 What’s the thinking behind that, and why guilds weren’t included in the change? And how will the faction language barrier change?
“There are many players who have long wished that they could play with their cross-faction friends,” Ion explained.
“There are also players who felt like their hearts were with the Alliance, but for social reasons to get access to a guild they wanted to join or better mythic plus groups, they had to switch factions, they wish they didn’t have to do that.
“Why can’t I just play with the opposite side?
“We have been conservative in this area. We’ve been asked the question directly in previous years and said ‘no, that’s not something we think we can change because it’s too core to Warcraft’.”
“But last year, we really undertook a process of reexamining a lot of those foundational assumptions.
“And rather than taking them for granted and saying ‘well this is how it’s been done for 17 years so we’re gonna keep doing it’, we really wanted to make sure one-by-one that each one of the goals and values still was in the bests interests of our players and our community in 2022 and beyond.
“Cross-faction gameplay definitely fell into that category, where if Alliance and Horde are essential to the Warcraft universe, but eternal conflict between them is not actually.
“And going back to Warcraft 3, we’ve always seen examples of the factions working together.
“And you can’t turn around in World of Warcraft without seeing Jaina and Thrall and other members of the factions coming together to face a common enemy.
“So why not give players that choice?
“And I think these efforts began coming out of last summer, but it’s a pretty large undertaking because there’s a lot of re-examining 17 years worth of content and code that’s been written to assume that the factions can’t mix.
“And so we weren’t able to get it out in 9.1.5 or even for Eternity’s End.
“But we’re excited to get it out onto our Test Realm and into players’ hands for 9.2.5.”
“So why not guilds?
“A couple of reasons there. We’re being quite conservative with our rollout in this space.
“Guilds is a mix of technical restrictions: there are a bunch of faction-specific achievements, there are faction-specific rewards, things like guild banks. Lots and lots of things that have to be handled.
“But also, there is something to make sure preserving guild identity even in the short term.
“We recognise that while I think it’s likely that we will end up with cross-faction guilds down the line, we want to learn how players are using this feature in communities, how they’re forming bonds across faction lines – and better inform our designs going forward.
“To make sure we’re meeting players where they’re at.
“And we know that once we take a step into this space, it’s a one-way step.
“There’s no world in which we allow social bonds to form between members of opposite factions, and then say ‘whoops, that was a mistake, we’re gonna undo that change, sorry, you can’t play with the people you’ve been accustomed to playing with for the last few months now’.
“So knowing that it’s a one-way path, we’re gonna be very careful with each step we take down it.
“But we’re excited to walk that path and take that journey with our players.
“Finally on a technical known, yes the open-world language communication barrier still exists.
“Everything about this feature is positioned as opt-in.
“And so if you join a party with someone, you’ll be able to talk in party chat together.
“Or if you’re in an instance with them and you’re both friendly towards each other in a dungeon or a raid and you /say something, the opposite faction will be able to understand you there.
“The same way that magically we can understand Jaina when we’re in a raid with her, even though technically we can’t understand what humans say on Horde characters.
“But again we also want to make sure that if you don’t want to deal with the opposite faction or if you’re looking to grief or whatever, some of those barriers still exist unless you choose to reach across that divide and tear them down as a player.”
What’s next for World of Warcraft in an existential sense? It’s an old game with lots of expansions. So what comes after the shadowlands? What do you see as the future of WoW? Is it more expansions, a bigger shift like the Cataclysm? Any thoughts are welcome.
“We have big exciting plans that I can’t wait to share with you and the rest of the community in the months to come,” Ion told us.
“As our journey in Shadowlands wraps up and the story in Shadowlands wraps up, we will be returning to Azeroth – we’re not going to stay in the Shadowlands forever.
“And that will inevitably bring with it a shift in tone, in setting.
“And I can say that that 9.1.5 represented a shift in many of our philosophies with regard to things like rewards, catch-up, treatment of alts, and really making sure that we’re being more attentive than ever to respecting player’s time.
“And those are foundational shifts that we’ve tried to carry forward into Eternity’s End, and as we move on into future expansions, it will also become part of the game’s DNA going on.
“It’s not a one-time pivot, but rather a rethinking the way our systems fit together, and meeting players where they are as they’re looking to play World of Warcraft in this decade.”
Sara added: “That’s absolutely the beauty of why we’re offering the class sets in multiple ways, not just in Sepulcher of the First Ones.
“We really wanted to let players earn that really ultimate thing any way they really wanted to.
“So we’re happy to offer that.”
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