Essences: a framework for borrowed power
Why a framework?
One issue that borrowed power keeps running into is that the amount of it, especially at the beginning of expansions, is all over the place. This causes problems when class design relies on borrowed power to fill out the holes that have been left, whether intentionally or not.
In BfA, there was not enough new borrowed power to replace all the things lost in the transition from Legion. Going into Shadowlands there seems to be quite a lot from the beginning, but a lot of it is quite boring and doesn’t interact with the player’s spec.
For these reasons, I think it would be a good idea to work within a consistent framework that borrowed power slots into. This gives the class designers a clear idea of how complete specs need to be, and how much comes from borrowed power. They can use this clarity to reach more stable spec designs, where you don’t go from one expansion to the next and suddenly it plays completely differently because borrowed power makes up half the spec’s gameplay. Each spec design would have to stand on its own, with borrowed power having a clearly defined budget within each spec.
I think the Essence system from BfA is a good starting point for this framework.
A very obvious reason for using Essences as the baseline for the framework is that the UI exists and is quite intuitive. Even beyond the UI, the method of acquisition is a good starting point as well.
Having to play different kinds of content to earn the different Essences was a cool element, although I think having a few options for each Essence is better, which is what Conduits in Shadowlands are meant to be doing.
The main problems with Essences were acquisition vs use case and the effects being mostly quite lame. A lot of Essences ended up coming from completely different content than where they were primarily used. Examples would be Blood of the Enemy being from BGs but primarily being used in M+, or Vitality Conduit being from raiding but mostly being used in M+ and PvP.
The effects were also generally pretty lame, having no interaction with your spec’s kit(with the exceptions of Vision, Lucid and Conflict), where you basically just pressed the button and it did its damage/healing and that’s it.
Adapting the framework
So now we have the baseline of the framework, now to expand on how it would work. There would be a set number of choices, regardless of expansion. An example would be 1 active ability for your spec’s primary purpose, 1 passives also for your spec’s primary purpose, a defensive passive and a utility passive, quite similar to what you get from Covenant active abilities and Conduits. Each would have a major(active) and minor(passive) power, meaning you get both from your active ability and choose one additional effect inside your role.
Then each expansion you earn your options similarly to how Essences worked, with a lot initially and then a few new ones each patch.
Each effect would only have 2 ranks, one rank for just the player power and another that adds a new visual. Once an expansion ends, the effects are disabled, the rank 2 effects made unobtainable and the visual effect for both ranks archived in a tab for each expansion. You can use the visual from archived effects that you’ve earned within the same category, so that could be self buff, targeted cast or ground targeted cast, similar to transmog.
The effects would have at least 2 sources each, allowing players to choose the content they prefer in order to get it, rather than being forced into a specific type of content that they might not enjoy.
There would have to be catchup available for both alts and returning/new players, and for alts of the same class they could even be fully account wide. This could be in the form of something like Artifact Knowledge reducing the amount of content you need to do in order to unlock them, or the Mists of Pandaria reputation commendations which allow characters after the first one to acquire their powers significantly more quickly.
In practice, this would mean that in Shadowlands instead of having Soulbinds, Conduits, Covenant Abilities and legendaries, you would only have the combined borrowed power pool. This would mean fewer total effects per spec, but more development time could be spent on each individual one to make sure they’re not just boring stat procs.
Effects could be repeated between expansions, but only sparingly, as otherwise the borrowed power loses its purpose of changing how you play from expansion to expansion. This means not every expansion should have a “Avenger’s Shield gives you an absorb” or “Rising Sun Kick has a chance to kick again”.
What do we call it?
This should’ve probably been at the beginning, but how about calling it Path of the Titans and having it be represented as a star chart similar to the Essence UI, with a different star sign for each expansion.
Path of the Titans was meant to be something sort of like this anyway, so yoinking the name seems logical.