Traditionally, each era of World of Warcraft follows a similar arc. Blizzard’s latest expansion brings new locations, characters and storylines into the mix. Then, each of the major content updates resolve those loose ends through new endgame content. Eventually, the next major expansion gets announced and the game’s enduring playerbase settles in for the long-wait before the cycle begins anew.
At a glance, the first such update for World of Warcraft: Shadowlands does little to deviate from this blueprint. The headline addition for Chains of Dominion is the new Sanctum of Domination raid. Here, players will finally confront Sylvanas Windrunner - who hasn't really been seen since her appearance in the initial trailer for WoW's latest expansion pack.
Steve Danuser says that “Without giving a lot of spoilers, Sylvanas is involved very much in the action of the Chains of Domination update. Not just in cinematics but in the gameplay as well. You’ll encounter her along the way through the questing and she is the ultimate boss in the Sanctum of Domination raid.”
Danuser says that this showdown - a finale for one of the Warcraft universes’ most complicated characters - will bring together “all the eras” of Sylvanas Windrunner: the ranger-general, the banshee, the leader of the Horde and beyond.
“We get to see all those flavors in the fight but it’s not just standing toe to toe with her. We know the things she’s done: both the heroic things and the terrible things.”
“That story is going to ripple through this update and the storytelling to come.”
When we reviewed Shadowlands, the pacing of the main story proved something of a sticking point. Back then, we noted that “The Jailer feels critically underdeveloped as an antagonist, Sylvanas herself is missing in action and few of the new characters introduced here leave all that much of an impression.”
Danuser explains that this pacing was a deliberate choice. According to him, “We plan the story of WoW and the expansions quite a ways in advance. We know what we’re building towards. In the case of Shadowlands, we knew we had this core relationship between Anduin, Sylvanas and the Jailer and the stories of the afterlives. We knew that story we wanted to tell and we planned how we wanted to pace it out and things are beginning to unfold according to that plan.”
“We began Shadowlands learning about the afterlives and choosing a Covenant and building it up and making it strong. Now, with Chains of Domination, we get to see what happens when those covenants work side by side and take the fight to the jailer and claim a foothold in The Maw.”
Part of this escalation involves the raid content but more of it exists outside of that. A new part of the Maw is now accessible alongside the new endgame region of Korthia, which Blizzard describe as being ‘grafted’ onto the sections that players have explored to date.
Danuser says that Korthia builds on the architecture of Oribos and “gives us the chance to tell some different stories and hints at more of the grand mysteries that we’ve set up in Shadowlands.”
New Covenant quest lines are being introduced through the existing Renown system as each of the expansion’s four factions launch their assault on the Jailer’s domain. These developments also bring with them significant changes to the oppressive nature of The Maw itself.
Morgan Day says “there’s really awesome opportunities as the Covenants unite to take the fight towards the Jailer.”
“Up to this point, we’ve been dealing with the Anima drought and rebuilding the Covenants to their full power. Now that we’ve been able to achieve those goals, we’re able to take the fight to the Jailer. And while there’s a unified theme of wanting to fight him, they all have their own unique personalities. They all want the same thing but how they’re going to go about doing that is going to vary from one Covenant to the next.”
Since the Tarragrue is part of the Sanctum of Domination raid, it’ll no longer hunt you down if you linger in the rogue-like dungeon of Torghast for too long. Players will also be able to cleanse the ‘Eye of the Jailer’ debuff and use flying mounts within the expansion’s four major regions. They’ll only be able to ride regular mounts within The Maw but it’s still a change that’s certain to make the endgame experience of Shadowlands a little less frustrating.
Last but not least, there’s Tazavesh: A new Mythic Dungeon that Danuser says has the feel of a heist movie. He says that “there’s a lot of fun and intrigue and backstabbing between the various broker cartels. It’s a very different tone but it helps us tell the story of the Shadowlands in a very fun and engaging way.”
The short version here is that, when Chains of Domination eventually arrives, almost every part of Shadowlands’ endgame will get touched up or built on in one way or another.
Asked whether the impending introduction of Burning Crusade Classic takes some of the pressure, Steve says that “That ability to move between different eras of the game has been really fun for our audience and for us as developers too because we have great nostalgia for those times too.”
“Everyone on the team is super excited about Burning Crusade Classic as well. It doesn’t change our plans in terms of the stories we want to tell and where the modern game is going and what’s on the horizon and stuff like that but it certainly informs our ability to give players more content in different ways than we ever were able to before.”
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands’ first major content patch - Chains of Domination - is slated to arrive later this year.