Anima is a demonstration of Blizzard’s near-total failure to deliver fun, farmable and fulfilling content specifically to players outside of what I call the big three of World of Warcraft Endgame- organized raiding, mythic keystone dungeons and rated PVP. I’ll break down Blizzard’s well-meaning approach with anima and what works. Arguments and opinions will also be served on where things went wrong and then I’ll offer up a targeted idea on how to improve upon world content experiences in the future. Whether it is a future patch or a brand new expansion. This is the start of a series of videos focusing mostly on delivering or improving on content outside of the competitive level.
There are problems people have with anima which mostly sum up to a handful of complaints. Some complaints are there isn’t enough of it, there’s too much stuff to buy with it and it is very expensive. Objectively that is good feedback however is that it? Or is there not a worse problem that some may not realize?
2:00 SANCTUM COVENANT
Shadowlands brought us the covenant Sanctum, an endgame feature that’s governed by time and currency. By time, meaning renown which is a growth system that lasted for approximately 16 weeks before capping. What it did was to ease players into this giant pile of different rewards and unlocks including cosmetics and a little bit of player power. Anima is the currency and anima floats in all walks of Shadowlands content. By design, it can be continually farmed but that is kind of a facade. There’s a soft cap of how much anima is ever available over the course of the week. There’s so many world quests, treasure chests and rares to be found after all. And anima stands as the gateway to virtually all of the covenant Sanctum’s features as well as its rewards.
Anima and the Covenant Sanctum is what a lot of people have asked for. Side content that is not required but gives cool stuff or something to fall back on when the progression is done for the day or even the patch or the expansion. For example during the Wrath of the Lich King we had the Argent Tournament. In Mists of Pandaria we had the Cloud Serpent dailies. Warlords had the various Garrison activities. Legion had the artifact appearances. While the Battle for Azeroth brought Island Adventures and Warfronts. As early as the Shadowlands Alpha, I sing my praises for anima that it is the casual’s endgame– an entirely optional experience to be enjoyed now or after Shadowlands is over. And I stand by the fundamentals of that statement. Players who participate almost exclusively in world content have this constant little thing to work for. As a heroic raider myself, I squeeze in the time to farm for anima so I can complete those weekly quests. And to build up my sanctum because I want the perks and some of the transmog. Also, I find the activities to be fun distractions outside of failing more high-level keys. That’s why I have very little sympathy, this is just my opinion, but very little sympathy for those who want an anima catch up who wants these rewards faster because this is what we asked for. A long term grind that does not punish you for taking your time.
I read these complaints and they come off as if these cosmetics are designed to be fully collected by the end of the expansion or else- but since when was that given a mandate? Given the nature of how to unlock all of this stuff, I do not see these becoming expansion exclusive. And even if that statement is not 100% certain, speaking just for me, I am not the type to change my player behavior out of fear. However this is not the primary reason why I think anima isn’t working out. It is actually far worse than that. In short, a lot of the visible discourse goes back to the lack of anima rewards. And the current stats of my sanctum does not make a case to suggest that anima is fine. Just that managing anima with one character is a pretty reasonable endeavor.
5:41 A few weeks back, Blizzard upped the amount of anima that dropped which is great but again it is a facade. To whom did this increase target? It was not to everyone, in fact it was to raiders and the dungeon people. There was no buff to the amount of that people get from world content. Blizzard instead catered to the big three because those players wanted to be able to farm more efficiently. So they can knock out their weekly quest with a raid clear. To those players, world quests and outdoor content no longer had value. They were too long, too out of the way, inconvenient. Meanwhile Blizzard did almost nothing for the players who exclusively run outdoor content. So I guess this was not a problem for them. I disagree. The best that we can hope for is that this particular audience runs raid finder difficulty which does enjoy that increased anima.
There does not seem to be a voice of unified discourse. I’ll assume the profile of a non competitive player. A player who likes to log on almost everyday for something to do in the World of Warcraft. I do not participate in organized content with raids, dungeons or PVP. So at best I do raid finder, daily heroic dungeon, regular battlegrounds. The kind of content that some feel that they should be removed because it literally has no value. Or at least they think it does not but to me because this is the World of Warcraft. Now with that in mind there’s still plenty to do every day thanks to anima, the Covenant Sanctum and world quests as well as the previous 15 years of WOW. There are still weekly events to participate in except for the mythic dungeon event. Let us break this down at a more analytical level. Let’s pretend that I just re-upped my subscription to Shadowlands now after patch 9.0.5. I choose a class, reach level 60, choose a covenant and I am perfectly happy with it and I never plan on changing. So what now?
8:40 In Shadowlands 9.0.5, renown is fully unlocked so I can immediately dive into farming for anima, renown and gear. Between the world boss and covenant callings, daily heroic, covenant campaign and the weekly quests for renown, I am going to estimate that it would take 2 to 3 weeks to complete the covenant campaign. Which is the same as getting renowned 24. By then I would have sufficient item level to take on rage finder difficulty. And all four wings have an item level requirement of 170. A full clear will mean more renown, more gear and stuff from the great vault each week. So by the end of the 3rd week, I will be pretty close to renown 30 which is where world quests rewards cap out. Around this stage of progression, I have done a pitiful amount of anima farming and I am well on my way to capping out my maximum item level based on the content that I do. That item level is around the 200 or so range. Thanks to the covenant set, that can be upgraded to 197 as well as of course world quest rewards and maybe the weekly time walker event that could score me one piece of Castle Nathria gear every few weeks. So give or take some RNG, I will reach this item level in about a month. An estimate of 15 or so hours a week of plague time dedicated to progression. And here is where we run into this very discouraging problem– my strength has just about peaked. After only about a month of playing fairly passionately. Now there are still plenty of things to do, there’s transmog to earn, sanctum stuff to upgrade, activities to be completed, pets, mounts and other such things to be found and that’s great. However there is nothing outside of the big three that will help me become more powerful. And some would say that is okay. After all I am just doing world quests, how strong do I need to be? And that is a really good point. At an item level of 200 or so most content is soluble except for those elite world quests and the world boss.
Torghast outside of Twisting Corridors is doable and I am quite capable of surviving the Maw. The full covenant set bonus does not exactly break the game but it is not trivial either. Is this enough strength and throughput that I can grant to my character? I’d like to think no. However if I want to dare make a claim that I should be able to grow even stronger then I better have a good reason to and here’s the reason- I want to grow stronger. Hah! You cannot push that kind of design philosophy out of sheer will or can we?
I am going to argue that players outside of the big three cap out on their strength way too fast. Thanks to how quickly they can earn renown, complete the covenant campaign and get access to raid finder. Those three milestones happen pretty close together. Resulting in this period where these sorts of players are showered with cool stuff before it dries out quickly. Recall past expansions, Mists of Pandaria, Legion and Battle for Azeroth. WoW created this trend that affected the psyche of the WoW player with moments of surprise, war forging, titan forging, corruption even artifact power because at every turn was a chance to grow a little bit stronger and it did not matter if it was the third week of the expansion or the 30th. It was chaotic and frustrating but during the past 9 or so years there was a chance to always get a little bit stronger. Shadowlands went cold turkey and threw down this hard cap for players outside of the big three with cosmetics as their way of (I guess) making up for it.
13:01Anima’s failure comes from the realization that its ability to strengthen players is capped to an item level of 200. Some would argue that is okay. So what we have is this casual player base for who very early on no longer feels that satisfaction of growing stronger. While organized PVP, dungeons and raids have a path to greater strength. After reaching that cap there is no RNG, no moments of surprise, just anima. And the math needed to calculate when everything can be maxed out or earned. I argue that this is a big problem even if it is not a problem for those of us who have a wider palette and are willing to run and organize content. There’s been plenty of discussion over which of the big three activities deserves the highest item level or who should gear the fastest. The rest of the players out there are essentially power starved and are all but forgotten. There’s a reason why they do not participate in the big three and the reasons why do not matter.
So what can we do to make life outside of the big three a bit more exciting for these kinds of players? Can we map out a path for them that won’t catch too much negative attention because ideally we would want a path of meaningful and measurable progress that a raider, PVP-er or a dungeon person won’t look at and feel as if it’s required to add more to their plate so they can complete their sort of content. We are only looking to give all players a fair shot not to change the gearing meta. Hezekias said help is on the way maybe in 9.1, but he did not have anything to add. Fortunately I have a master plan and you won’t probably like anything about it. This is just one part of improving the game outside of the big three but I believe that this is a step in the right direction.
15:08 The covenant Sanctum has stuff to build and upgrade, it is all laid out there for convenience, presentation and expansion. So let’s add another thing to build an upgrade that I will call the Sanctum Forge. Unlike the other Sanctum features, the Forge cannot be built until renowned level 34. Which happens to be after your soul binds are fully unleashed, after the covenant campaign is over and after that world quest reward item level cap has been reached. The Forge is going to have three levels, or maybe more. And I’ll list three perks but these are just examples. These are rough ideas to illustrate what it is I am trying to do here.
At level one of Sanctum Forge, the maximum world quest reward goes up to an item level of 207. On top of that you get a modest 10% bonus to anima rewards from world quests. This is something that probably everyone will want to invest into for long term gain.
At level two, the covenant set will unlock a whopping four more upgrade levels. So from 7 ranks to 11. That’s going to give it a new maximum item level of 210 for your covenant set. I would consider raising the anima costs of these last four ranks by quite a bit. After all this is what’s going to be the long term item level progression that ought to last until close to the end of a given season.
When the Forge reaches to level 3 you get to even crazier perks. So while you are in the outdoor world, if you are in regular to heroic dungeons or in raid finder difficulty, you get a 15% flat increase to your primary stats. That is somehow the equivalent of 10 or so item level. Obviously this is a very strong throughput increase so I will reiterate this perk does not apply anywhere else. Such as normal and higher raids, mythic plus or battlegrounds or even war mode. On top of that you get a weekly quest that scores you 500 to a thousand anima or so.
It sounds okay until you realize that costs that are involved to upgrade the Forge and power up the covenant sets and everything are pretty much going to necessitate doing this weekly. Essentially the Sanctum Forge is a contained content loop, tailored specifically for those who are not in the big three. Apart from that anima bonus from the rank 1, these perks are not very attractive at all for people who do organized content. Obviously thanks to the low item level cap and the other restrictions. The perks and numbers can be adjusted but the aim here is to make a feature that for the most part remains optional that for some would not give this Sanctum upgrade a second glance. For those who are interested in the Forge though, this turns the Sanctum into a feature that extends power progression well into a given season. The covenant set turns into the best in slot set. And what your anima investments will eventually pour into. It shares some similarities to the crafting system from Warlords of Dreanor. You get this gear that you upgrade over a long period with strength that’s equal to that of heroic raid gear. This does not deliver on moments of surprise but it works more like artifact power. It lays down a path that will lead to higher throughputs in the content that’s relevant to this profile of player. And when it is fully upgraded, the gear is viable enough to do mid-level endgame content.
In the hands of a skilled player this is going to make the character feel like a monster or the Forge above supply. Making it an appropriate and temporary reward for hard work during the season. Meanwhile these clear restrictions don’t make the Forge feel required to progress into organized endgame content.
Some might say that this does not seem fair. That the path to being powerful outdoors might be faster by going this Forge route rather than the route of the big three. The thing is, there is really a good chance that you will never see these kinds of players and they will not see you. They are out in the world while you are in a raid. They may not be online as much as you are but the point is that these types of players are largely separated from each other. Regardless of whatever system is in place this is what I think is key to separating power progression between outdoor content and the big three.
This does not seem overwhelming to implement nor is it super difficult for players to understand. It is actually not so different from the outcry for a return of PVP power or the current discussions of set bonuses that only apply to raids that might come in patch 9.1.
I am using anima and the Covenant Sanctum for improving on world content because we are in the present. I am using what is given to provide some familiarity. In some far off expansion without a Sanctum or a Forge, we can apply the same principles directly to world quests. And introduce special currencies that apply to world and cued content. For example a gear from world quest can have set bonuses that provide perks like those I mentioned earlier. And they can be individually upgraded from rares, treasure, or dungeons picked up from world content.
The takeaway from all of this is that the feeling of progression is for more than just the players at the top. Even those who do not participate in bleeding edge content, appreciate having something to work for that results in even small gains in throughput.