If you're a World of Warcraft player, you might be feeling a touch bored right now. Shadowlands, its latest expansion, has already been out for a few months and by now you've likely seen the new raid and dungeons. Here's the good news: Today Blizzard unveiled patch 9.1, Chains of Domination, a massive update that includes a whole new region to explore, a new ten-boss raid, and an eight-boss mega-dungeon—not to mention a bunch of smaller features like the ability to use flying mounts in some of Shadowlands' zones. Here's the bad news: Blizzard won't specify when Chains of Domination is coming out.
"We're not talking about a date yet," lead narrative designer Steve Danuser tells me. "This is our unveiling of Chains of Domination and what's going to be in the update, but we're still hard at work on it and there's still a lot of polish and iteration to do."
Considering patch 9.0.5 is due out in March and its purpose is to implement some much-needed balance tweaks and improvements, it's likely that Chains of Domination might not arrive until mid-April or—heaven forbid—May or June. It's a long time to wait, but Chains of Domination isn't your typical WoW expansion x.1 update either: It's a big one.
Korthia, City of Secrets
For the past little bit, World of Warcraft's story has been dangling on a pretty nasty cliffhanger. Despite rallying the forces of the four Covenants and foiling the sinister plans of Sire Denathrius, the Jailer and Sylvanas—the two big bads of Shadowbringers—are still very much alive and undoubtedly up to no good. The last big cutscene players got was between Sylvanas and a captured King Anduin, which ended with Sylvanas holding a runeblade to Anduin's throat in a way that obviously referenced the Lich King Arthas himself, who was responsible for turning Sylvanas into an undead monstrosity in the first place. Was Sylvanas becoming the very thing she despised?
The answer is yes. During BlizzCon, the Chains of Domination trailer reveals what happens next: Anduin is now mysteriously free from prison and travels to Bastion to seek an audience with the Archon. Upon arriving, something doesn't seem right with him, but before anyone can act Anduin unleashes a tidal wave of dark magic and imprisons the Archon and her Paragons. Transforming into what I can only describe as Goth Anduin, he takes the very runeblade Sylvanas pointed at this throat and impales the Archon and siphons a mysterious energy from her. It becomes clear, though, that a rune-engraved collar around Anduin's throat might be responsible for his sudden turn to the dark side. With the Archon slain, Anduin returns to the Jailer, who pulls the Archons energy from the sword and conjures enormous, spectral chains that latch onto a mysterious landmass and begin pulling it into the Hell of all hells, The Maw.
That landmass is a city called Korthia, and Danuser and lead encounter designer Morgan Day tell me it's the focal point of Chains of Domination. The Jailer is frantically looking for something within that city, and to stop him and save the Shadowlands, the combined might of the four Covenants are staging an assault on the Maw.
In my review of Shadowlands, one of my few criticisms was how the story, barring one zone in particular, failed to pull me in. But Chains of Domination sounds like it's upping the stakes and moving the plot forward toward a major payoff. "We intend for Chains of Domination to really be a substantial furtherance of the Shadowlands' storyline," Danuser tells me. "We're going to see the Jailer's plans evolve, we're going to learn more about Sylvanas. This is an important chapter to further the story."
"When Shadowlands launched, it was really about choosing a Covenant and helping them grow stronger," Danuser says. "But all the while the jailer and his allies were up to some nefarious things. So now we get to tell the next chapter in that story, the next act of the play, and so this is all about, now that we've made these individual covenants stronger, how do they work together to take the fight to the Jailer? Before the Maw was a very dangerous place and still will be, but now, with our combined strengths, will be able to make a foothold there."
Korthia isn't exactly a full new zone but more of an expansion to The Maw. Along with another area that's being opened up for players, it means the Maw will now be substantially bigger and fighting to survive in it will feel a bit different—and not just in appearance. "We definitely wanted to give a new twist to some of that Maw gameplay while still making the Maw feel, on the whole, a very dangerous place," Danuser says. "The Maw will feel very different. We want to give you that sense of, like, hey now we're making a push. We had to fight by the skin of our teeth to do something here before, but now thanks to all the work we've done to build up our Covenants, now we can feel like we're making real progress here."
One example Danuser hinted at is that players will be able to complete tasks to alter how the Eye of the Jailer system works. Right now, if you venture into the Maw, pretty much anything you do draws the ire of the Jailer's Eye, which works a little like your wanted level in Grand Theft Auto. The more you mess about, the more the Eye of the Jailer tries to kill you by firing magical mortal shells at you or sending demon angles to try and kidnap you. Eventually, you just have to leave the Maw altogether until your wanted level goes away. With Korthia, Danuser says, players will now have ways to thwart the Eye of the Jailer and keep it at bay, effectively extending how long they can stay in the Maw.
"And your mount will potentially actually heed your call once more," Day says. "There's some progression and stuff that you'll need to achieve first, as you're working with these other Covenants and bringing in these forces from the Shadowlands to fight the Jailer."
Pirate dragons and interdimensional heists
Though Day and Danuser wouldn't elaborate on what happens, both said the story of Chains of Domination is pretty heavy and dark, and the development team wanted to give players a more light-hearted experience to cleanse the palate from all the murder and evildoing. Enter Tazavesh, the Veiled Market, an eight-boss mega-dungeon in which players will not only fight a pirate dragon during an interdimensional heist but also try to fix a dysfunctional mailroom so that Shadowlands' citizens can get their parcels on time. You know, hero stuff.
"We have a lot of really, really fun and interesting encounters in there, which are very different from what we might've seen before and are definitely different from what we'll see in [the new raid]," Day says. "There's a mail room that has gone haywire. All of the sorting mechanisms are broken and there's packages flying everywhere and our job is to reinstate order so that the packages of Shadowlands can go back to where they're supposed to be. It's a very fun and light-hearted dungeon."
In Tazavesh, players will get to learn more about the enigmatic Brokers—the shady secret dealers who belong to different cartels that operate an interdimensional bazaar where crime bosses are trying to "one up" each other through all sorts of skullduggery. The dungeon itself plays right into that theme, Day explains. The first five bosses are a kind of tour through Tazavesh and the weirdos it draws in from all over the Shadowlands, while the final three bosses are an interdimensional chase scene across familiar locales of Azeroth. "We see environments like Boralus, where you'll encounter that pirate dragon—which is a story spoiler but it's too cool not to talk about it. You're in pursuit of him and he's throwing all these things in your way as you pursue him, until you finally come back to Tazavesh to engage with him at the very end."
Day hopes that Tazavesh is a nice contrast to the Sanctum of Domination, the new ten-boss raid where players will eventually square off against Slyvanas herself. Details on the raid are scarce right now, but like everything in Chains of Domination, it feeds back into the main story arc of Sylvanas, the Jailer, and their still not-quite-known plans to destroy the very machine that determines what happens when people die in World of Warcraft.
And while Korthia, Tazavesh, and the Sanctum of Domination are obviously the big features to get excited about, there's other things to look forward to in Chains of Domination. Normally flying mounts don't unlock until an expansion's x.2 patch, but that's now happening in Chains of Domination so players will be able to get around the four Covenant zones much easier. The Covenant system will also be expanded so players can power up their Soulbinds and unlock new cosmetic armors themed after their chosen faction. Season 2 will also launch alongside Chains of Domination, bringing a new Keystone affix for Mythic+ dungeons and resetting ranked PvP progress. Like I said, it's a big update—it just sucks that we'll have to wait a little bit longer for it.