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World of Warcraft: The War Within

World of Warcraft: The War Within Interview: Talking Worldsoul Saga, Dorne, and delves with Blizzard

We caught up with a couple of the developers on the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, all during a preview event in London.

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Besides being able to play World of Warcraft's upcoming expansion The War Within this week, I also had some time to talk to Maria Hamilton, Associate Design Director for WoW and Holly Longdale, Executive Producer on WoW. I was mostly interested in how they came up with the idea for the storyline in the expansion, the challenges during development and how this expansion might be a moment for new and returning players to pick up on World of Warcraft.

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I sat down with Hamilton first, and asked her to share a bit more about how they got to the idea behind The War Within and the rest of the Worldsoul Saga trilogy. She told me: "We wanted to really celebrate the past and what we've done because this is our 20th anniversary. So we really wanted the story to pull people together, bring in some of these big characters, important characters, Thrall and Jaina and Anduin, you know just all of these faces.

"And we have an antagonist, we have someone who is very important in the form of Xal'atath, and we don't know what she wants. We just know that she's using machinations in the background. So from there we were able to think about, all right, well, what would be exciting for players to experience? How do we want this story to progress?"

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The trilogy will give the developers the room they need to tie all the different storylines together. Hamilton continued, "We wanted to deal with some seeds that we had planted, right? So we have this giant sword. It's been there for a while. And fans have been asking, you didn't forget about the sword, right?"

World of Warcraft: The War WithinWorld of Warcraft: The War Within

When I was playing the preview build, it was clear to me that there's a lot of lore to catch up on if you're a new player or long-time returning player coming back to WoW. That's why I asked specifically how The War Within might be a starting point for beginners. And according to Hamilton and Longdale, it's actually a good time to start. Hamilton explained: "About every eight weeks, right before we do another major story update, we do a prologue. We're able to put in more information that helps introduce characters and introduce motivations. So players don't have to have played in the past, right? They're able to move forward from that prologue and get the idea, oh, this is what the stakes are, this is what's happening, this is the important moments and just lead them in."

Also when it comes to the new storyline, The War Within is a little less complex and easier to dive into. Longdale told me: "There's a lot of wonder, a lot of high fantasy. It's a moment where the factions are kind of coming together to defeat a mortal planetary threat. So it's a good time to come back and just, it's very fundamentally WoW to me. It's not overly complicated and ethereal or abstract. It's bugs and evil."

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Coming to the challenges during development right now, Longdale remarked that from a technical perspective, it's a lot of work to have both the people working on the live build and those working on the expansion to remain in sync. Hamilton remarked that the work on underground worlds brought some peculiar challenges: "So in the past, in cavernous spaces, the way that we apply lighting is a little different than we do in the outdoor. And when we're in Isle of Dorne, which is an outdoor zone, we have more technology for how we handle the lighting and how we handle time of day changes and so forth. And we were able to actually use that in Hallowfall. We were able to make some changes and actually use our environmental effects in an underground space. But that was a challenge we ran into where we wanted it to feel like you were outdoors."

World of Warcraft: The War Within

During the event, I saw some footage of Hallowfall, which seemed to me to be a very beautiful and unique area. With a giant crystal at the centre emitting light, and a huge open space that has room for airships. Hamilton shared some insights about how they're creating this underground world of Azeroth: "We brought in our dynamic flight, and it doesn't feel as good in a super tight space. So we wanted to show that contrast and when we thought about it, we thought it was important to have moments of more tight spaces and then those big, vast, open areas."

The inspiration for Hallowfall came from actual places, Hamilton told me. "Hallowfall and many other areas were actually inspired by real places. We have these vast areas where the light is streaming in from the surface, these cenotes, and there's water and there's greenery. And so that was based actually on Mexican cenotes that exist today, with those beautiful shafts of light coming down into the pool."

Lastly, I asked both of them about their favourite features of the new expansion. For Longdale, these were the delves: "It's an experience I can play with my stepson and my husband. And because it's snackable, which is important. And I like to just walk around on my own or with family, without getting yelled at for sucking as a Warlock." Longdale also really likes "the idea of using them for stories too, that are easily consumable". Moreover, she was also very enthusiastic about the new storyline. "I'm just really thrilled about the story. It's really awesome to get that advanced view of cinematics and be able to see them all I get shivers for them. It's good. They're really good moments."

For Hamilton, the favourite thing from development so far is the addition of the arachnophobia mode. "We have some terrifying places where spiders are hanging from webs, and it's just, it's creepy, right? And when they become crabs, it's just so funny." Besides being funny, it also gives the game two ways to be experienced. "We can terrify people that are up for it, and then the people that aren't, they get the crabs. So I love that aspect of it." She then added: "I also really, really like when the light and day changes, the cycle. And Hallowfall. I think that's fascinating. All of the foliage in Hallowfall is pointed toward the crystal, that's where the light comes from. So all around the zone, everything points that way, all the blooms point that way. And I just think that attention to detail is very cool."

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