Covenant Abilities 1: Limitations and Comparisons

The vast majority of Covenant class abilities are disappointing to me. I’ve only played with a handful or so in the beta. That means that this will be primarily based on the tooltips combined with my knowledge of most DPS specs in the game as well as the Wowhead articles about the beta changes for the specs that have articles like that.

There’s a few reasons why they’re disappointing, but the core reason for why is that there’s significant design limitations on them, and that as much as Blizzard talks about wanting meaningful choice to matter, they’re afraid to commit fully to it.

Class wide

The first and most obvious limitation is that the abilities are all class wide. This heavily limits how closely you can tie them into spec mechanics while still keeping the ability the same for the entire class. An example of where they’ve tried to tie an ability into a spec mechanic, or maybe just lucked into it, is Flayed Shot(Venthyr ability for hunters). For Marksmanship, this gives them more frequent to an ability they both care greatly about and have talent interactions with: Kill Shot. Meanwhile the other 2 specs basically end up with just a button that does damage and lets them press another button that also just does damage.

75% don’t have the ability

Next is the issue that, if Covenants succeed in having roughly equal appeal, only 25% of players will have access to each ability. Now, if you take an ability that only 25% of players have access to and make it a core part of the playstyle of the class/spec, that means 75% of players have a gap in that spot. If you make them all fill the same spot in the core playstyle, you’ve failed at differentiating them. Looking at the abilities that exist currently, they range everywhere from a long DPS CD (Necrolord for mages), a short DPS CD (Night Fae for druids) or even all the way to a rotational ability (Kyrian for warlock.

Gone after Shadowlands

Similarly to the previous problem, after Shadowlands 0% of players will have the abilities. Assuming Blizzard wants to stay true to their philosophy for Legion of trying to get every spec into a spot they’re happy with and then be done with reworks. Once again this means that they can’t make the Covenant abilities core to the way any spec plays, because after Shadowlands it’ll be gone, and thus require reworking of the spec to fill that void.

The obvious comparison: Essences

The most recent similar system to Covenant abilities is the BfA Essence system added in 8.2. This also gave you access to new abilities, but it had a similar problem as the Covenant abilities. Essences were completely generic for all classes (with a few exceptions), meaning they also couldn’t be a core part of your spec’s playstyle.

This is why I’ve decided to build my system for categorizing Covenant abilities on the Essence system. I’ve picked out 4 Essences that embody each category, and in the next part of this series I’ll put every Covenant ability into one of these categories or the “Actually good” category that I couldn’t find an Essence to represent. Ideally there’d be 0 abilities in the Crucible of Flame category and very few if any in the others apart from “Actually good”.

Crucible of Flame:
A button that does damage or healing, with no interaction of any kind and no minigame within itself. You just press it as a higher priority than the buttons in your kit that do less damage.

Memory of Lucid Dreams:
Injects resources into your spec. This can be either a positive or a negative, depending on the particular spec. It can either serve to fix pacing issues that exist within the spec, which I can’t think of examples of, or add excess resources that destroy the intended pacing of the spec, like for every energy spec.

Vision of Perfection:
Reduces already existing cooldowns. Doesn’t significantly change moment to moment gameplay, but can allow for some interesting decisions because you can now use your CDs at specific times in the fight that you couldn’t otherwise.

Breath of the Dying:
A self-contained minigame. Has no interaction with the rest of your kit, but provides its own gameplay loop. In the case of Breath of the Dying, this is in the form of adding a sniping minigame to any spec.

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