Covenants, the cause of and solution to all of my problems
Now that I have two characters at 60 and have started catching up on Renown — level 6 today yay — I’m really coming to realize I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when it came to getting my Covenant systems in place. I had no idea how to get started in the Maw, or with Soulbinds, or with Adventures — I didn’t even realize you had to unlock the Command Table via the Sanctum upgrade system. And it’s not for lack of the game trying to tell me how to do all this. It was just so much stuff to do at once.
Now, I took a bit of time to get these characters rolling. Part of that was just because I didn’t want to rush to 60. Part of it was that I wasn’t sure what characters I wanted to get to max first, and then once I got to 60 on my first character I still had the entirety of Revendreth to do. That was kind of a messed up situation — there I was, level 60, wanting very much to go join a Covenant, but I couldn’t, because I still had to do all the story quests in Revendreth to find out that the world’s most obviously evil being since Gul’dan himself was, in fact, evil and working for the Jailer.
And don’t even gasp and say ‘spoilers’ as a joke, he’s a raid boss. Everyone knows. But even if I hadn’t known, I would have known within seconds of meeting the guy, he’s the Martin Shkreli of the Shadowlands.
Covenants are so stuffed with content, it’s hard to know where to start
What I really think is happening is that the Covenant is doing a lot of work this expansion. It’s doing the endgame work of Legion‘s Order Hall, only we don’t start the expansion in the Sanctum learning all these systems the way we did in that expansion. As much as it felt weird sometimes to take a break from dealing with the Burning Legion to go get another Artifact or figure out how to use the Mission Table, by the time you were max level you had pretty much everything down. With Shadowlands you get just a taste as you level through a zone — you learn the basic powers granted by each Covenant, and get a sense of what the zone you’ll be hanging out in most is like, but you don’t get any idea of what Callings will be like — a mixture of Emissaries and Weekly Quests, as it turns out — or how you’re even going to get started in Torghast, or really much of anything you’re expected to know at level 60.
In this regard I’d have to say that Shadowlands falls behind both Legion and Battle for Azeroth, and is even a bit behind Warlords of Draenor, all of which did a much better job integrating their big new feature into the leveling experience and making it something you learn as you go. Shadowlands does a lot right in its trip to 60 — I’ve done it twice now and my next character is level 58 — but it definitely falls behind when it comes to preparing you for what endgame is actually going to be like.
But I do think there’s a reason this happens. Covenants are unlike anything Blizzard has done previously — they combine aspects of Factions, Class Order Halls, and Garrisons, and they bring with them the extended campaigns that make them perhaps less challenging to implement than, say, the multiple class campaigns and Artifact questlines, but frankly I’m not even sure of that — the Covenant questlines are ambitious, and even this early into them they feel expansive and deep. I’ve not gotten a Venthyr or Necrolord through yet, but just the Ardenweald and Bastion stories feel huge, and I’m not sure you could really work them into the 50 to 60 leveling streak.
The most story dense aspect of the game is also the one with the most systems
The views we get of each zone and Covenant as we level are simultaneously only superficial — there’s no time for more, everything’s falling apart and you have to get everyone on board — and yet very deep. Zones like Maldraxxus have so much going on with side quests that flesh out the zones and show you exactly what each place is like, setting the stage for the Jailer’s plan to escape the Maw and destroy those that put him there, there’s just so much to even begin to address. I’m not sure picking a Covenant while also doing all that would work.
I’ve also only used Threads of Fate once, on a character who was level 59 (and a high level 59, only two bars to 60) to skip repeating all of Revendreth. Not because Revendreth is bad, but because I’d literally just finished it that day and picked Bastion on my Human, and I wanted to get my Night Elf into the Night Fae as soon as possible. I mean, come on. The idea of waiting a day or two to finish Revendreth when I could just go to Bastion, start up Threads, and level to 60 just taking those quests to pick a Covenant — which is exactly what happened, I hit 60 before I’d even finished the quest chain to choose — made it too compelling an option to resist.
So what would I do differently? I’m not sure. It would have been nice if there had been a bit more of a tutorial on Covenants — the bones of one are definitely there, and I did eventually figure it all out, but I think it could have been a bit stronger without just having an NPC grab me by the face and say This is how Soulbinds work, dummy. Not that I would have minded a few times. I think, oddly enough, the Maw and Ve’nari actually do this pretty well. That may be because Ve’nari is pretty up front about how they are literally telling you how to not be a dumb idiot and get them killed, so a little handholding makes sense.
I’m glad I leveled that second character, though. It was a lot easier to understand what I was doing that time around and I’ve gotten to ilevel 168 gear pretty quickly this time around. Done my callings, ground my weekly Anima — it all felt a lot less daunting with the example of my previous character blundering through it all.
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