We talked with Ion Hazzikostas as players get ready to go through the Dark Portal once again.
Burning Crusade was the first World of Warcraft expansion, and a huge deal back in 2007. Despite antagonist Illidan Stormrage warning players they were "not prepared", the expansion broke records, servers became flooded, and adventures got to know a whole new world in Outlands. Now, World of Warcraft Classic players will get the chance to revisit that same expansion, when it launches on June 1st. Gearing up once more to go through the Dark Portal, we had a chat with Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, who thinks players are definitely "prepared" to face Illidan Stormrage this time around.
"I think players are pretty prepared. One of the fun things about returning to Classic, and returning to Burning Crusade, is seeing what a modern player base with 15 years under their belts can make of these old encounters. What Burning Crusade offers is the exploration of the Outlands, and to many people a return to where they were in 2007, a chance to relive those days. But for a new generation, it's the chance to experience something they missed out on, something they only heard about regarding the old days, like Illidan and Kael'thas, running Shattered Halls... they can finally experience that with everybody else for the first time. It depends on the perspective that you're going in. Some people think they have the game solved, some want to go in blind and experience it for the first time. But it's going to be a great adventure for everybody."
To experience either WoW Classic, or the Burning Crusade Classic, you only need an active World of Warcraft subscription - there's no need to buy the game or the expansion, even if there's a Dark Portal Pass (€ 39.99) and a Digital Deluxe Edition (€ 64.99) you can buy, if you want some extra stuff in your adventure. But regardless of how players go about it, we wonder... are there more new players or veterans going through WoW Classic?
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"Honestly, it's a mix. One of the things that surprised us when WoW Classic first came out... we thought that for a lot of people it was going to be a nostalgia trip, a chance to revisit an era of the game they missed, but what we saw was hundreds of thousands of folks coming in for the first time. It's almost equal parts people that are going back to play the game they played, people that are playing WoW Shadowlands and want to experience the Classic, and even folks coming in for the first time."
"As a player myself back in the day, I've put a tremendous amount of time into the Burning Crusade, so I know the game very well, and I remember it very well. So there aren't really things that I've forgotten and was surprised by, but looking back at it and reconstructing it, one of the most impressive things were to realize the interconnection and progress of quests, dungeons, attunements, and raids, while the original WoW were more standalone experiences that were released over a couple of years. Burning Crusade was master-planned, designed as this multi-tiered structure, where people and their guilds worked togethers towards the goal of fighting Illidan in the Black Temple. It was incredibly ambitious, and as we're reconstructing that logic, we were reminded of how big an undertaking that was for the original team."
Ion Hazzikostas confirmed this new version will have a different schedule of content release. The original Burning Crusade came out with a ton of endgame content, but players had to wait a long time for the subsequent patches. For the Classic version Blizzard will be releasing the game with lesser endgame content and space it out with more patches, allowing each raid "a moment to shine". Regardless, the schedule is not set in stone, and Ion Hazzikostas assured us that players feedback will determine the rate of new content release. The schedule, however, won't be the only change between the original and the classic version.
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"There are a handful of changes. For World of Warcraft: Classic, as the community put it, it was #nochanges. We wanted to completely accurately recreate the original experience, including reimplementing some bugs that were part of the game. For Burning Crusade we're talking a bit of a more freer hand. We want to start with the basis of authentic gameplay and accuracy. But where there's areas with technical changes over the years, or greater insight, that enables us to provide a better experience and actually better represent the creators original intents, we are now willing to make a couple of changes to achieve that. The single biggest one is regarding the differences between Horde and Alliance Paladins. Horde Paladins had Seal of Blood, and Alliance got Seal of Vengeance. The intent was to offer different, but comparable abilities, but as everyone found out, the Horde version was massively superior. We have every reason to believe that, with this insight, the original team would have made changes to these abilities. What we made for Burning Crusade Classic was offer Paladins access to both faction abilities."
When an expansion launches in World of Warcraft, all players get the changes to talents and abilities that comes with it, even if they don't buy the expansion. This won't be the case with Burning Crusade Classic, as Blizzard is aware some players want to retain the original classic experience.
"We know that when some people signed up to play Classic, because they really just wanted the classic experience, of 60 level max, with those talents and that ecosystem. What we did was preserve a classic era environment, and we will allow players to choose. They can take their characters to the Burning Crusade era, or continue in the original classic era. We wanted to make sure players still had that choice."
After the Burning Crusade Classic announcement, many players speculated that Classic might be a trilogy, composed of WoW, Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King. We think it makes sense, not only because taking the fight to Arthas is indeed the end of a cycle, but also because re-launching Cataclysm wouldn't make that much sense, as Cataclysm is precisely the reason why we needed Classic in the first place, as it erased the original Azeroth content. Blizzard isn't acknowledging that just yet, but it sure sounds like that's the plan.
"Right now we're focused on launching Burning Crusade, and getting it in players hands. But we will be listening to our player community, and see what they want to do next, and that is certainly an option on the table."
What's not in the table is an option to allow Classic players to transition to modern WoW, as that would be unfair for players. The main reason is that there's a lot of rare items from that era players can't get anymore in the base game, and allowing players to move from Classic to Shadowlands would break that. That would render the achievements of players back in the day worthless, and also somewhat force players to play Classic, even if they didn't want to.