When Shadowlands launched back in November, the challenges of an initially overtuned Castle Nathria raid, seemingly endless Torghast runs, and the introduction of the Covenant system were enough to keep us all busy. But as the months progressed and we've settled into the expansion, there hasn't been much to do in the afterlife. It's a post-expansion cycle that most of us are familiar with—one that the release of new content usually resolves.
Except the Shadowlands 9.1 Chains of Domination update is almost here—and for the first time, I'm finding it hard to be excited about a major World of Warcraft patch.
The 9.1 update brings us the new Sanctum of Domination raid, a new mega-dungeon, and Torghast challenges. But on top of the usual stuff you'd expect to see with a mid-expansion patch, we'll also have to get to grips with yet another new power system. And while it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, the initial complexity of the system and how it integrates itself—or just doesn't—with what's already in place makes it feel like it's been added as an afterthought.
Here's how the Shards of Domination system works: Shards can be inserted into specific pieces of raid gear with Domination sockets which will then give you a passive effect, along with a more substantial bonus if you socket three Shards of the same type. But as we've all been crafting our legendaries into whichever gear slots we feel are best up to this point, there's a good chance you're going to need to recraft one or more into a new slot. This new Shards system seems kind of similar to the old tier set bonuses. But its implementation seems far more complicated thanks to legendary items and the fact that socketed gear slots will vary, depending on your armour type.
I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the system itself, but it just feels tacked on, especially when it clashes so heavily with our legendary gear. We already have numerous other power systems in place, such as Covenant abilities, Soulbinds, Conduits, and the legendaries themselves, and I'm just baffled trying to figure out why we need another, especially as it appears to be such a bad fit.
What's most frustrating is that preparing for this system will hit some players harder than others. The whole expansion so far has seemed to unfairly favour certain classes, especially when it comes to legendary choices or Torghast abilities. And the thing is, I don't even think it's a deliberate thing—it feels more like the result of having far too much stuff in place that's impossible to balance. The result is that the systems react badly as classes and specs receive individual balance changes over time.
For example, I initially decided to stick with my shadow priest for Shadowlands—it's been my 'main' for the last seven years, though I'll occasionally play something else for a tier or two. At first, only one of the available legendaries was viable, and that was fine—especially as I had such a hard time clearing Torghast, which still remains the only reliable source for the Soul Ash needed to craft them. But that quickly changed as more legendaries were re-balanced, and if I'd wanted to be optimal for every given situation, I'd have needed at least four of them—unless I'd also been willing to switch Covenants, which I wasn't. So I rerolled to a different class, mid-tier—one that is far more forgiving as far as legendaries go.
You could argue that you don't need to min-max unless you're a mythic raider or pushing high keys in Mythic Plus dungeons. But pretty much every player I know will always follow guides to optimise their output, and it won't be any different with the Shards system. It's fun to get the most out of your chosen class and spec and push to see what you can do. But it's also incredibly demoralising to realise that the time (and gold) you've spent crafting your current legendaries has just been a waste.
Looking back over previous expansions and the various power systems that have come and gone, I can't remember anything that feels quite as disjointed as what we're about to get with 9.1. Of course, no system is ever perfect; even when we did have tier set bonuses, some were always way better than others. And the recent Corruption system in BFA got out of hand towards the end, especially for those that could stack Twilight Devastation. Maybe the Shards of Domination system will be better than it looks on paper, but the hoops we're going to have to jump through to find out honestly makes me wonder if I can be bothered, and that makes me sad.
I really don't envy the WoW devs at all. I can't even begin to imagine how hard it must be to balance everything while keeping the game engaging for the variety of players that World of Warcraft caters to. I honestly hope my gut reaction is proven wrong. Like many others, I've been looking forward to this update for ages, but the news of a new power system that will essentially negate the work I've put in over the last seven months just leaves me feeling cold.
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Sarah started as a freelance writer in 2018, writing for PCGamesN, TechRadar, GamingBible, Red Bull Gaming and more. In 2021, she was offered a full-time position on the PC Gamer team where she takes every possible opportunity to talk about World of Warcraft and Elden Ring. When not writing guides, most of her spare time is spent in Azeroth—though she's quite partial to JRPGs too. One of her fondest hopes is to one day play through the ending of Final Fantasy X without breaking down into a sobbing heap. She probably has more wolves in Valheim than you.