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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.