World of Warcraft is the MMORPG juggernaut that just keeps on rolling, and with a consistent stream. Ahead of Battle for Azeroth, the seventh major expansion for World of Warcraft, Blizzard has unveiled an elaborate pre-purchase plot that lets players embark on their journey with four Allied Races from level 20 to 110 ahead of the expansion and we got an opportunity to chat with production director John Hight and senior game designer Ryan Shwayder about these plans and the state of the game.
What do you think of the current state of World of Warcraft coming into Battle for Azeroth?
John Hight: I think that we [on the team] are extremely happy with the reception that we've gotten with Legion. We did a pretty thoughtful analysis at the end of Warlords of Draenor. We tried to address any concerns that players had in terms of content, in terms of being able to get out in the world and play together. And also behind the scenes look at the overall stability of the game and our ability to handle millions of people hitting the game all at once. All those things are addressed. And importantly for the content, I think we told a really interesting story with Legion. I think this is one of the best integrations we've had of story into gameplay. And so we're feeling pretty good about it. We feel like the game is really healthy, we like a lot of the ways in which we were able to accomplish things, the cadence by which we were able to do content updates on a regular basis and we feel pretty confident about our ability to do this moving forward.
Ryan Shwayder: As far as I'm concerned Legion is the best story we've ever told. And we have more tools available to us and we have more breadth of content and depth of content that we can address now. I feel like we're in the best place we've ever been as far as the content and telling stories is concerned. I think we want to take that, the lessons we've learned from previous expansio (including Legion) and take those forward, and we're constantly trying to even improve on what we've done before. So, Battle for Azeroth I think is going to be a real treat for people who are interested in the story.
Following up on that, it feels as if there has been a conscious effort on your part to cater to players with multiple (alt) characters, making sure that there is more lore to take in?
Ryan Shwayder: That's an interesting question because I think a lot of us do play multiple characters and we have put more of a focus on ensuring it is fun to play more than one character. Because the classes are incredibly enjoyable to play, so we want to make the content very enjoyable as well. I think that the scaling world that we did with Legion was one of our first real efforts in trying to make it more fun to more than one. Where you could choose which zones you wanted to play through on different characters and you didn't necessarily play through all of them all the way on any given character. In addition, we tried to ease things like [for Legion], using that as an example, making it so that levelling up your second artifact weapon was maybe a little easier with things like Knowledge, we changed that over time to try to make that better and better. As well as different patches, places like Suramar. Suramar was initially one of those zones that we wanted to make pretty challenging and make it so you did want to dedicate yourself to it for a while in order to finish the entire campaign. But over time we knew that you were going to go through that with more than one character so we eased some of the difficulty or really we kind of relaxed the time required to do so.
But definitely, we are very conscious of players playing alts, and carrying that forward actually to contextualise this into Battle for Azeroth with Allied Races, the requirements for recruiting those are account wide. So for instance if you're a main Alliance player, but you really want to play a Highmountain Tauren and your Alliance character has exhalted reputation with the Highmountain tribe and has finished the entire storyline for the Highmountain, you can actually play a Horde character go to the Orgrimmar embassy at level 110, which if you don't already have a Horde character at 110 you'll get a free boost to 110 with the pre-purchase of Battle for Azeroth, you can go to the Orgrimmar embassy and begin the questline to actually recruit the Highmountain Tauren to the Horde. So while fictionally it doesn't make as much sense to allow the account-wide requirements we felt like the gameplay was much better, much more fun for players to be able to do that.
We suppose you want to cater to both sort of players, those who want to go through the entire game again and relive the content and those who want the shortcut?
Ryan Shwayder: Yeah, and I guess again with Allied Races, so when you create a new Allied Race, once you've recruited them to your side you start at level 20 and from there you have a bunch of different choices to level now with the scaling world and the old world, and if you do level from 20 to 110 you do unlock a really awesome looking Heritage armour set and the only way to unlock that is to level up, so that's one of those... If you are that kind of player you can absolutely do that, if you prefer to just kind of immediately jump up to the end game and you don't care too much about the armour appearance you can use that 110 boost to go immediately to the content.
Speaking of that boost, in your experience, is this something that most players will use or not?
John Hight: Certainly we hope that people will want to level up an Allied Race from 20 to 110. We do notice that a lot of players throughout the course of last year and even before that, have gone back and created another character and taken them from the beginning like a sort of search for 'hey, remember when?' or you know 'I really want to go through all the questing', because there is some rich questing throughout the world. And so that's why we actually went through the effort of rebalancing the old world using our scaling technology that we developed for Legion, to make that a more even and fun experience for players. And regardless of whether you bought Battle for Azeroth or not, we're going to give you four additional character slots on the 30th. We hope that people will use those to level up their Allied Race and for those that did they're going to have great bragging rights with the Heritage Armour set.
How do Allied Races fit into the story and lore?
Ryan Shwayder: With Allied Races, the four initial races for Alliance that's Lightforged Draenei and Void Elves and for Horde that's Nightborne and Highmountain Tauren. They're deeply ingrained in the story of Legion, you've adventured with them on Broken Isles or Argus and we knew that those races had a story to tell of their own, so I think what our approach was really that we wanted to take that story, the groundwork that was laid throughout Legion and start from there. So that's almost the prequel to the story of the Allied Races and to the story you're going to tell as a player when you play them.
The process of developing these expansions are, naturally, more long-term, and Battle for Azeroth was conceived of long before work with Legion was over. Being able to seed a lot things to set up the story...
Ryan Shwayder: For sure. That's one of the things we've been trying to do in Legion in particular, but be very purposeful about the hints we've been dropping. I think if you replay some of the old content, the Legion content actually, you'll see some things that might tip you off that this was going to happen or that the stories that were told during the recruiting questlines were on the way at some point. For the Highmountain Tauren we talked a lot about the darkness and 'beware the deep places of the earth' and the people of the Highmountains are afraid of the shadows and why is that? And the recruitment questline actually addresses that head-on. And you'll actually unravel that mystery during the process of recruiting the Highmountain Tauren to the Horde. As well as with the Nightborne, the interactions between Tyrande and Thalyssra during Legion, you may have noticed that there was quite a bit of tension there and we explore that further and explain why the Nightborne are joining the Horde.
So yeah, definitely we're being much more intentional with the story and knowing where we're going and trying to drive towards that.
John Hight: I think it's important there to think about the Allied Races, they're really an idea that came about from our players all the way back in classic WoW. Players, when they first confronted the Dark Ironed Dwarves there, were like 'man, those are cool, I want to play Dark Ironed Dwarves'. And so finally we're going to be able to deliver on that. That's one of the races we will provide in Battle for Azeroth, because it doesn't make any sense [to unlock them prior] as they don't have any presence in the world of Legion. But a kind of thank you to our players for the suggestion and now we're able to fulfill it.
How will the new scaling change the experience from 20 to 110. Are there bigger changes? What can we expect?
John Hight: First and foremost, because of all the content that we've done, the cool gear that we've given you all the way up to 110. If you go back and look at the way things worked in the old world it had gotten to the point with using gear and whatnot or recruited friends, people were just able to just kind of blast through that content it wasn't necessarily challenging and arguably probably wasn't even fun.
So we wanted to use this technology that allowed for scaling, to give it a little bit more of a challenge. There's a lot of rich, great quest content, stories that are told there that whether you've played it the first and you want to go re-experience or if you've never played it, we wanted to make sure it was a cool experience for you. So this technology allows us to do that. We've gone through the entire world. Now we do recommend, there's a lot of content, and we tried to sort of segment the world so that you'll be able to make some choices, at level 60 you'll be able to decide, 'do I want to go over to Northrend or do I want to go to Burning Crusade?' at level 80 you'll be able to decide do you want to go to Mists of Pandaria or do you want to go to Cataclysm. And you can ping-pong back and forth, these aren't hard fixed choices, but we're going to direct you in one of those areas so you can kind of fully experience those areas before moving on.
Ryan Shwayder: To answer that question a little more... There is a little bit more to it than simply, you know, it's not like we click the checkbox and say 'okay, this is scaling now'. There is a team that went back and made sure that everything flows smoothly. There were changes to Achievements where, in the old world, all you had to do to get the achievement was to do 144 quests in that zone or something along those lines, but those have actually been broken up into discreet questlines and storylines that you can do and you can see your progress, similar to the newer tech in Legion. If you have a major questline that's required for an achievement in the zone and you can see that exclamation point on your map and the team went back and did the work necessary to actually get all that in there in the old world as well. So, if you stop adventuring in Stonetalon Mountains and you go to another zone, you can back to Stonetalon ten levels later and pick up where you left off without getting lost. There's definitely a lot more to it, you'll be getting rewarded along the way as well, so there's actually a pretty monumental amount of work that went into this and I'm pretty impressed with the team who pulled it off.
Speaking of this renovation and the work that has gone into the game, is that something you plan on maintaining moving forward?
John Hight: Absolutely, and in addition to that we've also gone through and adjusted the loot that you get so it's appropriate and fits the level you're at.
World of Warcraft originally launched back in 2004 (North America, European launch was in February 2005), and Battle for Azeroth, the seventh big expansion is set for launch in 2018.
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