Everyone remembers about soulbinding, yes? It’s one of the major new features in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands? Like, it’s literally the whole thing that is supposed to be functionally the equivalent of artifacts or the Heart of Azeroth, complete with the promise that it’s not actually going to be either of those things. Everyone else is aware that’s supposed to be a thing still, right?
Joking aside, I can’t blame you if it’s sort of slipped your mind because it definitely has not been at the forefront of the development going on in Shadowlands testing. There has been stuff in there, they’re still being worked on and bits and pieces get mined out, but the actual system is not yet ready for testing and hasn’t even been previewed or talked up yet. So why haven’t we heard more about it? What’s going on with soulbinding?
The obvious answer is that we don’t know. But you know, I do have some theories about why it’s not in play yet.
It’s really not ready yet
This is what I consider the most ominous plausible theory. Like, I’d completely believe that the main reason more work and talk about it isn’t in place is simply that the system is still not nearly ready, and that would worry me a lot.
Like, we all remember that Azerite armor was actually added into the Battle for Azeroth beta really late, right? And it’s not altogether clear why it took so long, but the feedback from testers was immediately pretty negative. I don’t want to say that it was a case wherein the developers knew they had a dud and wanted to keep it away from players as long as possible, but I would believe that the system just kept getting tweaked and refined and everyone kept thinking that maybe this next revision would work correctly… and then there wasn’t any more time.
It’s entirely possible that the “blank” spots in the various Soulbind trees that have nothing in them right now are blank because, well, they’re not really sure what could go there or how this system is supposed to work. It would be plausible that the designers are basically looking at this without any idea of what they want it to be, just a long list of things they don’t want it to be – not Artifacts, not Heart of Azeroth, not talent trees, etc.
And for a system that’s this important? Yeah, that would… that would worry me, all right.
It’s going to be an Artifact Power grind after all
Here’s what I consider the most plausible and least scary theory – basically, Soulbinds are indeed going to be another Artifact Power-esque grind up, and the developers would like to avoid talking about that until absolutely necessary.
Here’s the thing – with three different Soulbinds, I imagine it would be possible to make this grind work well enough without having a “dump stat” like late-stage Artifact Power had for Artifacts. After all, if it’s easy to swap within your covenant, you could easily hop between the binds as needed. And while I don’t think anyone would exactly be happy with another leveling grind like this, it would at least be an obvious reason to keep it quiet until it’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge.
For that matter, that would seem to indicate to me that the “unfilled” nodes are more class-specific enhancements, possibly even serving as stat boosts you get more out of as you invest more. And no, I don’t want to collect more Artifact Power; I don’t think anyone does, exactly. But it’d be a good reason to not show it off or talk about it just yet without having any more unpleasant rationale.
It takes focus away from the leveling content
I sort of buy this one. Like, in the strictest sense, this is a true statement. It does take focus away from leveling content and put everyone into the mindset of focusing solely on the endgame mechanics. But you know what else does that? Every other part of the game.
Seriously, you can’t be super mad at people for being focused on the endgame and the balance of same when the game itself treats leveling more of a chore to finish than a experience to have. Heck, we even know that players won’t have to focus on a fixed progression of zones the second time through, thereby changing the entire structure of leveling along the way and giving you a reason to do things very differently the second time around because now you can just focus on what you want at endgame.
For that matter… why would this be an endgame system? Yes, I know that the reasoning for that is that you have to pick your covenant first and you do that only after leveling through the four zones. But one of the positive aspects of artifacts was feeling your weapon grow in power over time, like how theoretically that was one of the positives for leveling your Heart of Azeroth along. It’s a counterbalance to a counterbalance, and it would seem like a better structure would have avoided the need for it in the first place.
It’s not implausible, exactly, but it kind of rings hollow to me. It’s something I’d believe but not something I think is even close to accurate, in other words.
It’s potentially getting cut
Ah, yes, the apocalyptic option. Also the one I easily flag as least plausible because outside of Azshara Crater Blizzard is pretty good about not putting a bunch of work into something not intended for use… but we do have to at least entertain this as a possibility.
On the one hand, this really shouldn’t be a big deal because removing the whole “new mechanic discarded after one expansion” thing would be a massive boon for the game as a whole. At the same time… well, it is a big deal because it just leaves Shadowlands as feature -light. As much as I don’t want these mechanics to be so callously discarded, that means they should be built on and refined, not just abandoned altogether.
And it would leave the expansion really up the creek in terms of new things to be excited about. I mean, there’s already something of a problem wherein several of the new leveling perks are just restoring abilities to functionality that they currently have; that’s a problem. Can you imagine the reception if this system didn’t exist at max level in any form?
Fortunately, I don’t think there’s much actual risk of that; it’s far more likely that there’s another explanation, either one of the other theories or just a matter of trying to roll out testing a bit more slowly. But it’d be remiss not to at least mention that it might be getting underserved for a somewhat less positive reason.
Of course, part of why it’s on my mind is because this is kind of important. Yes, we have new areas coming with new quests, but that was always going to be the case. Every expansion has that. Give me some new systems if you’re not giving me so much as a new class, you know?