Developer Insights: New Upgrade System in Embers of Neltharion

In this Developer Insight, WoW Developer Chimes takes you deep into the new upgrade system arriving with the release of the Embers of Neltharion content update.


One of the features in the Embers of Neltharion content update that we’re rolling out for Dragonflight Season Two is a new upgrade system that will replace many of the various upgrade systems currently in place, such as Valor and Storm Gear, with a single system that covers most of the game. This system will last for the duration of Season Two, and after that we’ll evaluate how well it’s working and whether we  want to keep it.

The Gnome-Sized Version

The basics of this system are simple: you’ll earn a new currency called Flightstones from just about anything you do— complete a world quest, kill a unique creature, run a Mythic Keystone dungeon, kill a raid boss, etc. You’ll also get items called Shadowflame Crests (or fragments of them), which come in four varieties from different content difficulty levels. Shadowflame Crests and their fragments will also come from a wide range of content, including outdoor gameplay, Mythic+ dungeons, and raids. You’ll be able to upgrade almost any item in Season Two’s max-level gameplay ecosystem, whether it comes from a World Quest or a Mythic raid boss, by spending Flightstones and Shadowflame Crests.

There are three categories of gear that are not part of this system. The first is crafted gear, which will be upgraded using recrafting, much the same as it’s done now. The other kind of gear not included in this upgrade system is PvP gear. PvP gearing will continue to work as it did in Dragonflight Season One. The final kind of gear not available for these upgrades is the very top end of gear. Anything that’s at an item level comparable to a Mythic Raid isn’t going to be upgradable. If you want the very best gear and get into the Hall of Fame for the new raid, you’ll still need to earn gear from drops, the same as you do now.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that everything here is optional. You don’t ever need to upgrade gear with this system. You’ll still see gear drop at the same rates. This system is meant to augment and supplement your gearing journey, not replace it.


The Old Gods are in the Details

With a system this wide in scope, the details matter. So here they are for you.

Flightstones themselves are, as already stated, obtained from just about everything you do in the game. There’s no weekly cap, so if you’re running low and want more, you can always continue playing the game and get more. You’ll be limited on how many you can hold—though the holding cap is relatively high at roughly five times the cost of the most expensive upgrade—but since you can spend them freely and earn them freely, as long as you’re using them to upgrade your gear, there’s no practical limit to the number you can earn.

Shadowflame Crests come in four varieties: Whelpling’s Shadowflame Crest, Drake’s Shadowflame Crest, Wyrm’s Shadowflame Crest, and Aspect’s Shadowflame Crest. If you’re upgrading an item to an item level that corresponds to the equipment you get from Raid Finder, you’ll need to spend one Whelpling’s Shadowflame Crest per upgrade. Upgrading to an item level corresponding to Normal raid difficulty, you’ll spend one Drake’s Shadowflame Crest per upgrade. Heroic-raid-level gear uses Wyrm’s Shadowflame Crests for upgrades, and an upgrade to Mythic-raid-level gear uses an Aspect’s Shadowflame Crest. Similarly, those levels of content are where you’ll find most Shadowflame Crests, with additional options for Whelpling’s and Drake’s Crests in non-instanced (outdoor) gameplay.


Redundant Things Are Redundantly Redundant

Upgrades cost Flightstones and Shadowflame Crests when you’re getting an upgrade that increases your character’s power. But, if you’re upgrading an item that’s lower than the highest item level you’ve gotten in its slot, you’ll get a discount. We don’t want you to feel penalized for upgrading the wrong item, and we want to encourage experimentation with the various trinkets and other equipment that have cool effects. So, if you already have a couple of trinkets at item level (ilvl) 415, but you get a new trinket at ilvl 402 that you want to try out, you’ll be able to upgrade your new trinket without spending any Shadowflame Crests. You’ll also only spend half the usual Flightstone cost.

Example: Vindicator Boros wants to upgrade his new two-handed mace. It’s item level 408, but he already has a two-handed sword that’s item level 415. Upgrading his new mace from 408 to 415 will cost him half the usual Flightstones and won’t cost him any Shadowflame Crests. If he wants to upgrade it further to ilvl 418, it’ll cost him a Drake’s Shadowflame Crest and the usual amount of Flightstones.

That redundancy discount doesn’t just apply to the character that earns the upgrade, either. When you go to upgrade an item, if any character on your account has a higher item level for that slot, you’ll get the 50% Flightstone discount. You’ll still need to collect the appropriate Shadowflame Crest (if it’s a high enough item level), but it’ll be much cheaper to upgrade that gear.

Rings, trinkets, and one-handed weapons, since you get two slots, will track your second-highest item to determine your discount on upgrades. Main-hand weapons and off-hands like shields are each tracked separately, but the lower of these will count towards your one-handed weapon discount. And if you have a nice two-handed weapon, your highest will set the discount threshold for both hands no matter what style you use. Think of it this way: these discounts won’t help you raise your main character’s item level or your alt’s item level to be higher than your main. But they will help you “catch up” on a piece of gear.


How Many Upgrades, Exactly?

Each item can only be upgraded so far. Based on its item level at creation, each item will be on a distinct upgrade track. Here's an example table to help you visualize what this would look like.

Item level

Shadowflame Crest cost to upgrade from previous level

Items created at this level will always have upgrade level

Items upgraded to this level might also be…

376

n/a

Explorer 1/8

379

None

Explorer 2/8

382

None

Explorer 3/8

385

None

Explorer 4/8

389

None

Adventurer 1/8

Explorer 5/8

392

None

Adventurer 2/8

Explorer 6/8

395

None

Adventurer 3/8

Explorer 7/8

398

None

Adventurer 4/8

Explorer 8/8

402

1 Whelpling’s Shadowflame Crest

Veteran 1/8

Adventurer 5/8

405

1 Whelpling’s Shadowflame Crest

Veteran 2/8

Adventurer 6/8

408

1 Whelpling’s Shadowflame Crest

Veteran 3/8

Adventurer 7/8

411

1 Whelpling’s Shadowflame Crest

Veteran 4/8

Adventurer 8/8

415

1 Drake’s Shadowflame Crest

Champion 1/8

Veteran 5/8

418

1 Drake’s Shadowflame Crest

Champion 2/8

Veteran 6/8

421

1 Drake’s Shadowflame Crest

Champion 3/8

Veteran 7/8

424

1 Drake’s Shadowflame Crest

Champion 4/8

Veteran 8/8

428

1 Wyrm’s Shadowflame Crest

Hero 1/5

Champion 5/8

431

1 Wyrm’s Shadowflame Crest

Hero 2/5

Champion 6/8

434

1 Wyrm’s Shadowflame Crest

Hero 3/5

Champion 7/8

437

1 Wyrm’s Shadowflame Crest

Hero 4/5

Champion 8/8

441

1 Aspect’s Shadowflame Crest

Mythic

Hero 5/5

444

n/a

Mythic

n/a

447

n/a

Mythic

n/a

450

n/a

Mythic

n/a

That’s a lot to digest, so let’s dig into it a bit more.

Most items can be upgraded between four and seven times; for example, if you get an item on the Adventurer upgrade track, it can go as high as Adventurer 8/8, which is item level 411. If you want to go higher? You’ll need to go get a Veteran item which can be found in a Raid Finder instance or in equal-level content. These upgrade tracks are labels placed on item levels, but if you’ve been following the way item levels are set up in previous seasons, you’ll recognize some things: Veteran items are found in the Raid Finder item level range. Champion items come from Normal raids (and anything else that gave gear in the same item level range), etc. These upgrade tracks and levels will be on the tooltip for each piece of gear, so you know just how powerful your equipment can get. And, of course, Mythic gear is truly Mythic; once you’re in that item level band, you can’t upgrade further.

One thing worth pointing out: just like in previous upgrade systems, even if you’re upgrading an item several times at once, you’re still paying the cost for each upgrade exactly the same as if you upgraded one at a time.

Another important note:
The level an item is created at determines which upgrade path and level it’s created with. So, for example, if an item is created at ilvl 398, it will always be Adventurer 4/8. Unless you’re getting items at ilvl 431 or higher (Hero 2/5), you’ll never get gear that shows up with fewer than four upgrades available!

Shadowflame Crests and You

Shadowflame Crests and Shadowflame Crest fragments are all items that you’ll hold in your reagent bag. They stack very high, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll end up with more than one bag slot taken up by any of them. There’s a weekly cap on how many you can earn: you’ll only be able to get ten Crests of each kind per week. This means that you’ll be limited to ten upgrades per week in each item level band.

This cap is deliberately set higher than most players would earn. This is because the goal with this cap is to keep a level (ish) playing field for the most competitive players clearing the most difficult content while still allowing the majority of players to play as much as they like in whatever level of play they prefer and continue to earn meaningful rewards appropriate to that level.

The cap also increases over time and allows you to catch up freely if you don’t reach it in a week. Also, since players only have fifteen or sixteen mechanically relevant gear slots (depending on weapon style), by week 6, it’ll be so high that even if you needed a Crest for every upgrade, you would be able to earn all the Crests you could possibly use for upgrading. Since playing the game in ways that get you Crests will also get you new gear (and if it’s high enough, you won’t need Crests anymore; see the Redundancy section above), you’ll pretty rapidly reach the point where you won’t even notice the Crest cap because it’ll be higher than the maximum you could ever use in your gearing journey.

They’re going to be held in the reagent bag because, well, in addition to spending them to upgrade gear, they’re crafting reagents. They’re used by enchanters to make Enchanted Shadowflame Crests (crafting orders are available), which are in turn used to set the item level range of a piece of crafted gear, just like Dragonflight Season One’s Primal Infusion and Concentrated Primal Infusion. As you might expect, your crafter’s skill will still be very relevant, as higher quality crafts will have higher item levels. Once crafted, instead of Flightstones or Shadowflame Crests, you’ll use the existing recrafting system to upgrade your gear.

The crafted gear will help you with upgrading other things, as item upgrade vendors will “see” the crafted armor and weapons just the same as any other when determining upgrade costs.

Here’s what that looks like in practice. When you get a Crest, you have three choices: you can upgrade an item at an item upgrade vendor, you can craft with it, or you can simply sell it to a vendor. At first, vendoring will probably not be the best option, but once all your gear is above the item level that a Crest can help with, you’ll naturally outgrow that type of Crest. For example: once you have all your gear at ilvl 415 or better, you won’t need any Whelpling’s Shadowflame Crests anymore and are free to vendor them safely. Each Crest’s tooltip will tell you the item range it’s used for, so you can know which Crests aren’t helpful anymore just by holding your mouse over the item in your inventory.


Flightstones of Fancy

Flightstone costs are based on the new upgrade level and item type. Upgrading an item with more stats  (e.g., chest armor) will cost more than one with less (e.g., cloak). Upgrading weapons is generally more expensive than upgrading armor. And upgrading an item becomes progressively more expensive as you climb in item level; upgrading your gloves from ilvl 402 to ilvl 405 might only cost 100 Flightstones, but upgrading from ilvl 415 to ilvl 418 will set you back 120 Flightstones.

Flightstones can be earned in as small a quantity as two from a random treasure out in the world all the way up to a few hundred from the new weekly wrapper quest (the equivalent of the “Aiding the Accord” quests from Dragonflight launch content). Every raid boss will carry Flightstones for each player who defeats the encounter, and every Mythic Keystone chest will have Flightstones for everyone. Higher-difficulty content will provide more Flightstones to account for the increased costs of upgrading gear at that level, but those cost increases aren’t so much more than doing outdoor content will ever be useless. The goal here is to let you choose what you want to do with your play time and make sure it’s worthwhile (while still rewarding players who complete more challenging encounters).


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What if I get something in a raid and then trade it? Can I roll need on weapons I can’t use now just to make upgrades cheaper?
A: When determining redundancy, only Soulbound equipment that your character can use counts. There’s still no benefit to giving a Rogue a bow or a Priest a warglaive. Of course, if you can still trade it, it’s not counted.

Q: Is Mythic+ Score going away?
A: No. Under the Valor upgrade system, your Mythic+ score was used to qualify your character for higher levels of Valor upgrades and a series of achievements (Keystone Explorer/Keystone Conqueror/Keystone Master/Keystone Hero). With this new upgrade system, Mythic+ score won’t be used to qualify for upgrade levels (Crests will be doing that instead), but the score will still be tracked for those achievements. And after a key, if anyone in the group had their score go up, you’ll get bonus Flightstones just like bonus Valor.

Q: Is Valor going away?
A: Yes. This system is a more expansive upgrade path that applies to all maximum-level activities. With the old Valor system, your raid nights weren’t helping you progress with your gear. And the raid gear couldn’t be upgraded at all! With this system, you won’t pay an opportunity cost of potential gear upgrades by splitting your time between raiding and running keys.

Q: Why isn’t PVP gear included in this system?
A: Lots of the feedback we heard around PvP gearing in Dragonflight Season One was very positive, and since it’s working, there’s little reason to change it. If this system sticks around in future seasons, it may become the new way to upgrade your PvP gear’s PvE item level, but we’ll see. Your feedback here is important.

Q: Where will I go to upgrade my gear with this new system?
A: Any item upgrade vendor will be able to help you out. There’s an item upgrade vendor in a new location called Loamm that’s happy to help you out (and even walk you through this system!), but if you happen to be in Valdrakken, you can also get it done there. Or Oribos. Or Nazjatar if you want to. (If you haven’t been back in a while, Nazjatar is very nice this time of year, and this could be a great excuse to visit old Ankoan and Unshackled friends.)

Q: I’m a Fury warrior, and I was looking at the weapon upgrade section. I can’t find the part that makes me sad to wield two two-handed weapons.
A: Because of the way redundancy for two-handed weapons works, Fury warriors get a unique benefit: upgrading a single two-handed weapon makes the same upgrade on the other weapon cost half the usual amount of Flightstones and no Crests. We forgot to add a part that would make you sad. Please forgive us.

Q: What about Primal Storm gear and 10.0.7’s Onyx Annulet?
A: This new upgrade system is specifically for Dragonflight Season Two maximum-level content. Because the Primal Storm gear and the Onyx Annulet are part of Dragonflight Season One, they will not be upgraded using this system. You’ll still be able to upgrade them in Season Two the same way you do now with Storm Sigils and Primordial Gems.

Q: What if players don’t like the system? Can we get rid of it after Dragonflight Season Two ends?
A: Maybe. A lot of that is going to depend on how players interact with and react to the system. So, if you don’t like it and have some constructive feedback on why that’s good feedback to get.

Q: What if players like the system? Can we keep it past Dragonflight Season Two?
A: Maybe. A lot of that is going to depend on how players interact with and react to the system. So, if you like it, let us know why and what you like. That’s good feedback to get.


As always, we look forward to hearing your feedback. While the system is still being built, not all sources of Crests and Flightstones will be fully available during early PTR testing. Things will be changing often as the system becomes fully implemented and as we respond to your feedback. Make sure to check out the new system on the PTR, and let us know what you think!

-Chimes