At gamescom this year, we met up with Blizzard for a Q&A session about World of Warcraft. The juggernaut MMORPG is still the benchmark by which other MMOs are judged, even twelve years on. With the latest expansion Legion making waves and bringing large numbers of players back to the game, that success doesn't look set to slow down any time soon. We had a chat with the big B about their game, and where they see it going in the future.
How has the introduction of another hero class affected the death knight?
I think as we’ve seen there are multiple classes that can serve the same role and co-exist. The warrior class going all the way back to the beginning. The warrior can either deal damage or tank depending on the player’s choice. So we think with more options out there for players who want to tank and more options out there for players who want to do damage. So when we create a new class, the first thing we do is ask “what is the essence of this class?” You know, are they a healer? Are they a ranged damage dealer? Are they a close melee combatant? And one thing that we did for Demon Hunter was to give them only two specialisations rather than the three or four that other classes have, because we felt that there was this offensive/defensive side to them and we didn’t want to further subdivide that into say two different types of damage dealer for example.
We really wanted to focus in on the fantasy of the Demon Hunter as a hybrid master of blade who also uses fel magic to fight the demons, with power he draws from them. Within that, there’s defensive offensive components and that’s just how it naturally came out.
Will there be any lasting changes to azeroth because of the demonisation? Like in Cataclysm where we saw the world turned upside down, will we see similar consequences?
Well there are always consequences, but whereas the cataclysm really was a fundamental transformation in our third expansion back in 2010, we revamped and redid the whole world and levelling experience from 1 to 60 and the lore behind that was that the dragon Deathwing sundered the whole world. But in Legion, the events that are happening are a bit more limited in scope. The zones themselves are going to permanently change, but things like invasions are things that may return, perhaps in other forms in the future.
We’ve seen some high profile casualties already in Legion, is this something which could become a recurring theme?
In the initial quest series in Legion, which are playable today, there are some major casualties. They’re not going to be the only ones. We have to be mindful that we’re not killing off characters left right and centre, but certainly no-one is safe in this expansion.
Can you tell us something more about the new PvP system and why you decided to change it?
There a couple of major changes to PvP in Legion. So first off, in the past, PvP was very item dependant. The stronger the items that you got, any other sources, whether it was PvP or playing the game, the stronger you were fighting other players. And increasingly, rather than serving as a progression system the way gear does in the rest of the game, gear in PvP felt like a limiting factor. It felt like you had to reach a certain level to compete on even terms with others, and until you reached that level, you were at a disadvantage. So every new player who tried out PvP for the first time or wanted to get back into it has a very tough experience losing over and over again until they can claw their way up to the right gear level, and that’s not a very welcoming system. So the first step is massively reducing the effect of gear and stats, and so most players come in with fixed stat templates, and the gear they have can slightly increase or decrease that. We still want gear to have some meaning, it is an RPG after all, but we’re basically reducing the effect by ten. So if you were twice as strong as I am, in practice, you’ll only be a few percent stronger when we’re fighting, but you'll have some small advantage. Now what that did was also removed a degree of complexity, customisation and progression from the system and we want those things to exist in an RPG. So we replaced the old increasing your stats system, with an honour system, that lets players earn specific pvp only talents. As they level their honour from level one all the way to 50 they can traverse through a tree to unlock additional options and customise their character’s PvP: This offers two advantages we feel . first off, it gives the players the ability to customise themselves and to grow, but also, once you have unlocked all the talents all the way to 50 you can choose to prestige, which is a system that’s already been successful in many other PvP competitive games which resets your honour all the way back to one but unlocks permanent cosmetic bonuses that gives access to special titles and other, mostly cosmetic rewards, but they’re there for the player who wants to keep progressing, and keep working towards a goal. Over time, our PvP system that started out ten years ago as something that people would do just for fun, as it was enjoyable, had increasingly turned into something much more competitive that served you know the top one percent of a ladder or of a pyramid and wasn’t as fulfilling to those who just enjoyed doing it but wanted something to work towards. So this system works not only for those who wanna be the best in the world, but also those who have fun killing horde or alliance, you can always be working towards something on the honour system.
Why did you go with the artifact weapon system in Legion?
Two things: first off, there are a lot of powerful weapons throughout the lore of Warcraft that players have seen and heard about through the years: the mighty sword Ashbringer, wielded by Tirion Fordring, or death knights who looked at the Lich King Arthas and wished they could have a weapon like Frostmourne, something like that. And so there’s always been a desire to try and get these weapons in the players’ hand in some form, but of course, they’re not ordinary weapons. At the same time, we’re always looking for new ways for players to experience progression and customisations in the game, beyond just levelling up and getting more powerful stats. So this offered us a chance to combine those two things, to deliver powerful mythic weapons but also have them be something that players can invest time and energy in customising and upgrading throughout the entire Legion expansion in a way that make them different from regular items that are lesser than the fabled weapons like Ashbringer. And also it fits into the story, in that we need every advantage we can get in order to stand against the Legion. These artifacts are part of what is going to enable us to overcome them. So one of the very first things that players do when they arrive at the broken isles at the start of Legion is go out on a customised quest to claim their artifact. There’s 36 different artifacts, one for each specialisation, 36 different acquisition processes for those artifacts. So everyone will have a very diverse experience, you can talk about with your friends, or if you're playing a different character you'll be having a different experience than you had on the first pass through. And then the artifact will really be something that accompanies you throughout your entire journey through Legion. So It’ll be with you from everything through dungeons to questing to PvP, whatever it is you prefer doing.
Are you planning to revisit more old raids through Legion?
We always try to think about the story that we’re telling, and whether there are existing characters or existing places that fit naturally within that story. I think certainly something like Karazhan which was always tied to the guardian Medivh as we saw recently in the Warcraft movie and the fight against the Burning Legion that felt like a very natural place to revisit at some point. We don't have specific plans to update or bring back other old locations, it’s just a case of what makes sens to the story as it progresses.
So do you see more content evolving throughout the expansion?
Yes, the August 30th release date represented a start of a journey, not an end of a journey. The story of Legion, there’s a tonne of content and a load of world to explore, but we have a great story to tell and this is really just the beginning and so players enjoying this world can look forward to a steady stream of content updates. One of our highest priorities is giving players regular updates to keep the world fresh and varying those updates to suit playstyles.
You mentioned the Warcraft movie, did that influence the design process for Legion and where you want to take the story?
Not really. I think we were cognisant of the screenplay and the main characters that were going to be in it while we were working on Legion, but the idea to make the Legion expansion was one that really predated our knowledge of those things. Certainly as we thought about characters like Khadgar, specifically appeared in the movie, it informs the world in some way as players will come into the game having some familiarity with those characters because of the movie. I think the stories complement each other, the movie represents a piece of ancient Warcraft lore and the beginning of all of this and so that was canon that we were drawing on regardless, throughout this expansion.
With the legendary weapons, what will happen in later expansions? Will they remain as important?
Going forward into future expansions, we’ll see where the story takes us here. There needs to be some explanation why you don’t use the weapon forever but form a pure gameplay perspective, the artifact is central to your whole experience in Legion and we made the concession, that you’re not going to get a new weapon upgrade during the course of the expansion. You’re gonna get things that make your weapon more powerful and customise it, you're gonna level it up and do all sorts of things, but I don’t think we want to say that for the whole of World of Warcraft before us, that you’ll never get another weapon besides Ashbringer. I think it's important for us to be able to move on beyond that. From a broader design level, as we think about futures in World of Warcraft as the game is now in its 12th year, it’s important for us to make features that can be compartmentalised, scoped to a particular expansion, otherwise the game just grows and grows in complexity and bloat, to a point that it becomes very hard to maintain, very hard for new or returning players to approach. And so whether it was the garrisons in Draenor, or the artifacts in Legion, we’d like to think of features as things that can be used in that expansion, then can be left behind to a certain extent, though we have the ability to carry forward the best parts of them, and the lessons learned from those features into new expansions, so like world quests, I’m sure we’ll see those again going forward, but perhaps in a different form. Things like the progression system on the artifacts, we’d like to continue with in some form, but it might not be the literal weapon that you’ve earned.
If I play a class that has three specialisations is it possible for me to have three artifact weapons?
Yes, you can go seek out any artifact weapons for your class that you desire. So if you only play fire mage and you don’t care about the other artifacts, you can just get Kel'thuzad's sword and use that the whole expansion, if you wanna get them all, you can. There’s some choices that you’ll have to make in terms of how you spend your power, which one you want to level up before the others though we have a number of catch up mechanisms in place, to make is easier to keep your off-spec weapons up to strength. Getting them to within about eighty percent power of your strongest will be pretty straightforward, if you wanna get them all the way there, there’s a more significant investment.
Is there any news about garrisons?
We announced at the Legion cafe that we are hard at work on the first patch, which will be going onto the PTR shortly, and that demonstrates our commitment to ongoing content. It does feature Karazhan as a five player dungeon, beyond that, we’re gonna have a lot more details to share soon. We just wanted to let players know that there’s a lot more in store.
When the movie came out you had a huge public relations campaign giving out free keys and giving out level boosts, what are you doing in Legion to get World of Warcraft players who quit playing back into the game?
Making the game better than it’s ever been, is probably a start! Also as Warlords did, Legion also includes a boost to level one hundred as well as the ability to make a demon hunter, so the hope is that if a player’s concern is they’ll be too far behind or they last played at level 75 and they don’t want to level all the way to see the new content, this offers them a way around that. But I think ultimately, really, we feel like this is the most ambitious and, I am biased, but the best expansion that we’ve made, in terms of offering really meaningful deep content for all types of players. You know, if you love dungeons, and you feel like over the years dungeons were always coming second fiddle to raids and you felt like you were forced to raid if you wanted to stay competitive, and that annoyed you, well Legion’s the expansion where dungeons are a self contained system that you can go all the way through in game as a parallel progression to raids. If you love questing, you love the storyline experience, and you felt like when you hit max level, that you ran into a wall and now it was just all about the grind of the same content over and over again for items and that didn’t interest you as much. Well, Legion offers a max level zone in form of Suramar, that has an epic storyline that will continue, it’s basically only accessible max level and for the first time, we've built a zone that’s purely for story, purely for that ongoing linear experience, that’s not just a means to an end of getting experience points to fill a bar. As well as a dynamic world quest system that means that every time you login, you’ll see a different set of things to do in the actual world, and so on, I can ramble on, but the gist of it really is that we’re trying to improve the experience. Based on all the lessons learned all the feedback that we’ve gotten through the years to make this the best ever.
How long can we expect that story content to last?
There are many weeks worth of content in Suramar at launch and as was briefly mentioned in the event at the cafe, patch 7.1 is going to continue the Suramar quest arc and campaign for additional weeks of content, so it's something that we're working on as important.