Or, as I like to call them, Class Halls 2.0.
There’s been a lot of talk about Covenants, as they are the main feature of Shadowlands – driving the majority of the story, providing a reward structure, and a “borrowed power” mechanic. Picking one is easy. Changing one means you’re losing ~2 weeks of time gated content.
I’ve got Kyrian and Venthyr storylines running. They are interesting and varied, taking place across multiple zones. I won’t go into a pile of details, due to spoilers. I would be surprised if anyone picked a Covenant due to the story (maybe for aesthetics though, which is another topic). They are time gated, and catch up mechanics are present. They do not, as of yet, appear to intersect.
The reward structure is very similar in both. You get a travel hub to speed up zone travel, which is great, cause zone travel is horrendous. Side note – crappy travel means I harvest a ton of herbs/ore without really trying. Somewhere around 200k in profit in 3 weeks. You get access to a very odd mission table structure that is completely unbalanced. Venthyr/Kyrian are running at half the power of the other two factions, and the UI is so bad that it’s frankly not worth trying unless you use something like Venture Plan. Another item is a sort of temporary event generator that you’ll likely do once and never again – primarily due to the horrendous travel time and lack of rewards. Finally, each faction gets their own unique side activity. Venthyr throw parties, Kyrian have a very interesting battle arena, gated through grinding components. It’s a cool concept, meant to emphasize world exploration. Maybe at some point I’ll do more of it.
A small pit stop on identifying people in a covenant. It seems a lost opportunity that people within a covenant would not want to work together, or identify other people in their covenant. Tabards at the minimum. Player power, not so much, cause that would sway guild/player choice. Yet there are certainly some opportunities here… like more Stygia if you group in the Maw. Even the Horde / Alliance differentiator is completely absent here.
The borrowed power though, that’s where things go a bit sideways. There are lateral choices for some classes, and outright bad choices for others. DH can swap between Kyrian and Venthyr, but Necrolords are an insanely bad choice. Icy-Veins has a pretty good summary of how people have selected their covenants. The “pretty” factions lead, which further pushes the Elf/Blood Elf value. Necrolords are 16% of the total, which given both their ability and unique activity… yeah.
What’s interesting to me is the breakdown on a class basis. For multi-spec classes, this can get a bit muddy as people have a preference. That Druids pick Night Fae first, in all specs, and like 9:1… that’s a problem. Same with Paladins and Monks for Kyrian. The “pure DPS” classes you’d expect somewhat flat choices, though it’s more like no one wants to be a Necrolord Mage.
Is it hard to balance skills across all the class/spec variations? Heck ya. Is it OK to have preferences, sure. Less OK is when one option is superior to all others. This falls back into the argument of paragon/renegade, where is everyone makes the same choice, there really isn’t a choice to be made. It’s also a challenge from a design perspective, as you can’t really change the powers too much, as people will then math it out and show that a new bad choice is present and want compensation to change. It’s a very interesting spot they’ve painted themselves into.
In a general sense, I think Convenants work. They provide thematic tools to expand on the player experience. Covenant abilities could have used more time in the oven, but the issue at hand is related to reducing the penalty from swapping between choices (which will get worse as more renown ranks are unlocked). Combat Tables should just be removed from the game at this point, right up there with Archeology.
Overall it sort of works. This is a bit like falling upwards from BfA though. They are better than garrisons in that they are not instanced, and don’t pump out insane raid level rewards. But they are worse in story telling as compared to class halls. When “it’s ok” is seen an improvement, expectations are out of whack.