Battle for Azeroth, the new expansion of the World of Warcraft, will be live as of August 14th, 2018, with cool features such as Warfronts, Island Expeditions, artificial old god, and much more.
With about 4 months to go before the official release of the expansion, Blizzard Entertainment offered us an opportunity to ask questions that we and players may be curious about. We talked with the game’s senior producer Travis Day, principal artist Jimmy Lo, and senior designer Steve Burke about these features.
In Battle for Azeroth, all attributes are expected to be reduced by more than 1/100 to 1/1000 because stats and item level will be scaled down. Is there any benefit from it? Wouldn't it make players more difficult to play previous dungeons and raids?
Travis: Everything is scaled; it scales the entire world, it’s not like you are getting weaker and the world stays the same, so everything is going down to the same amount together. The main emphasis of it is that the numbers at a certain point are starting to lose their meaning. For example, when you hit somebody and 2 million pops out of them, and you are like, “Was that 200k or 2 million? I have no idea, it went really fast.” Especially in the world we talked about earlier, the artifacts are going away, now you are actually getting new weapon upgrades and such, and see it on the hits and you feel like, “Oh, I got a better weapon now, I can hit for more!” It feels good to be able to go ahead for 2000 as opposed to 1000. The purpose is to get it down to more human-scale of numbers, really.
The new resource called Azerite will replace the artifact power in Legion, and there will be some players who are not fond of collecting them. Will it be relatively easier to collect than artifact power considering the usual difficulty of collecting resources in the game?
Travis: I think our idea for collecting Azerite is roughly the same as collecting artifact power. All activities that players engage with in the game, for example, islands, PvP, dungeons, raids, and world quests, they should all reward some, and even normal quests would reward some of it. The goal is very much to have it - whatever activities you choose to engage in the game is going to be rewarding to you in this Azerite power. Also, you can definitely farm it if you want to (laugh).
Apart from the usual content like dungeon, raids, and battlegrounds, there is also a group of new content including Warfronts. Can we expect to see, not only better items but cool rewards from these newly introduced content?
Jimmy: Oh yeah, one of the things we’ve been trying to do with this one, which everyone is super excited about, is going back to the foundations of World of Warcraft. One of the foundations is people taking the side - Horde versus Alliance. So with the Warfronts armor sets, a lot of artists were super excited about trying to dramatically sell that fantasy of the Horde and Alliance through the armor sets design.
Each class and talent receives a number of abilities which disappeared in the Legion, and some are class raid buff abilities, for example, Arcane Intellect and Power Word: Fortitude. It is expected that many players will bring a certain class almost mandatorily because of these abilities, and we believe that there must be a concern as to other classes with relatively low-quality abilities being unfavored.
Travis: There’s a couple of different things. One is philosophical, that is, it is absolutely possible that some classes will always do better on certain types of fights. If it’s a high cleave fight, then you are going to be probably looking to use something with a really good cleave, like an Enhancement Shaman. If you have a high single-target fight, you may be using an Arcane Mage. That will always be optimal, but I think it is important that those classes still feel distinctive. So, rather than looking at it as a class problem, I think it may be good to look at it as a diversity in raid encounters. There’s an advantage to have all of you in a different time. So, having somebody excluded from the raid altogether would definitely be a miss on our part, and that’s definitely something we want to avoid, but philosophically, if different classes perform it differently in different encounters, that’s okay because that’s healthy. Otherwise, you end up pushing into the world where everybody feels very samey. Speaking of diversity, raid encounters having different feelings to them and different classes that accelerate them is an important part of that. The other part is bringing back the subset of buffs that have gone missing.
The minimum and recommended spec requirements will be upgraded upon the release of the expansion. Will there be many changes in in-game graphics because of this?
Travis: There’s a couple of different struggles. WoW has, from the very lowest system settings to the very highest settings. It’s about a 10 times the computing power requirement, which is great because we do have a lot of players on the low-end system and we don’t want to exclude players from the environment, from a game rather. But, it does definitely add a certain point where you hit a threshold of that, “Can we support all of these additional races and hold on their rigs, bones, textures, and everything in memory on a 32-bit client?” And the answer quickly becomes no. We can’t do that anymore. So, we’ve gone by this far with things like Demon Hunter by freeing up what used to be old races which were kind of under the hood, for example, Vrykul - that was a race for some reason even though they were not playable. That way, we can script by the memory requirements and we can make it to the 32-bit system to display normal blood elf, normal night elf, but not the advanced model. By moving that bar up, it does freeze us up to do a little bit more as for the weather effects and systems - we can basically hold more things in memory and we can produce a higher level of fidelity.
There are some players complaining about the old graphics and quest methods in low-level areas. Are you considering to improve this by any chance?
Travis: It’s always a give-and-take. In Cataclysm, when we did a great world makeover, it’s actually now 8 years ago. It’s hard to imagine (laugh). I think it’s fair to say that it was very divisive at the time. A lot of people were like, “Oh, I like the Westfall the old way!”
Jimmy: Yeah, because they had a lot of nostalgia.
Travis: Exactly. So, anytime you talk about redoing or remaking, I think it’s something you have to approach very carefully.
Jimmy: It’s very tricky, and we always put a lot of thoughts into it. A decision is always difficult, it’s kind of how you balance - we don’t want to destroy the old player’s nostalgia, but at the same time, we are going to upgrade things, so there’s always a balance.
Travis: So, the answer is, we’ve done it before, we may do it again, but there’s not a plan to do it in the near-term future.
While the number of classes is increasing, there are 12 classes in total including Demon Hunter. Is there any chance we are going to see a new class?
Steve: It’s always possible, whenever we sit down and figure out what we’re going to be working on next expansions is one of the things we look at, but there’s nothing certain that we can come out with classes later.
There will be 16 playable races once Zandalari troll and Dark Iron dwarf are released in the expansion. Wouldn't it be difficult to balance between races?
Steve: Races, statistically, aren’t really different other than their racial ability. That’s the only difference with player power, and we try to make those mostly cosmetic and less balance issue.That’s on a class ability team. They are always looking at those if something becomes so overpowered that makes the gameplay uncomfortable, I’m sure they’ll make a change to it.
Travis: Yes and no. It is difficult, but I think it shouldn’t dissuade us from making new races with cool and unique abilities. It’s definitely something to keep in mind, and you never want to sit down and like, “I really want to play Orc, but I should just pick Dark Iron Dwarf because that’s the most optimal thing.” You want to avoid that. You want to have people not feel stupid for any choices they make, and I designed the game that way. But, it’s just a classic class balance thing, so it’s something we need to continue keeping an eye on. We’ll add new abilities and new classes probably in the future at some point, and we need to make sure that they stay relatively equal.
Jimmy: If it’s cool and fun, and best for the game, we’ll find a way.
There are new races such as Tortollan and Vulpera in Zandalar and Kul Tiras. Do you have any plan to release them as playable races?
Steve: Nothing we’ve announced for those two. I know we’ve talked about the Kul Tiran Humans and Zandalari Trolls as playable races. We just haven’t decided, and we haven’t announced anything in terms of new races other than the ones that have already been announced. We look at a lot of things that we are really passionate about internally, things that we want to see to come out as features. Some races look like an easy-fit, other ones feel like an uphill battle, so we need to assess those first.
G'huun, the final boss expected to be released in the first raids, is said to be an artificial Old God. How strong is he/she compared to other ones that were released in the past expansions such as C'Thun or Yogg-Saron?
Steve: It will be too challenging for level 120 players, you will have your hands full taking it down for sure. In relation to others, it’s hard to say. When we hit max level, we introduce the raid, we want to have those bosses be tuned to where they will be challenging for that. Lore-wise, it is quite less powerful than the old gods.
At BlizzCon, it was mentioned that the Warfront will allow WoW players to enjoy the RTS content in the game. However, the said genre needs to allow a player to understand what's going on in the whole area, but it seems difficult to be realized with the current interface. Do you have another interface for this or a special tool that will allow this feature?
Steve: You hit on it. It is tough to realize a lot of those aspects, we’ve gotta figure out which ones do fit, and what make sense. In this experience, you make sure that you have enough information to make decisions and that’s something that we are always mindful of. With this experience, we didn’t want to have a very reminiscent of our Warcraft games - base building, resourcing, collecting, making some important decisions, and taking it to the enemy. I think they are doing a good job of capturing that empathy.
Travis: We definitely have some custom UI that helps with that, but I also think that it will be hard to understand until you play one. But, it is not in RTS. It is definitely WoW, but it has RTS elements and I would say it’s almost like a mobile RTS as well.
Travis: Exactly, so you are going to have streams of NPCs that are running at each other. You’ll be making RTS like technology tree decisions, so you and the other players will devote on the resources as to, “Do we upgrade footman, or do we get cavalry, what are trying to go for in this?” And there will be kind of a classic RTS sense of base that you can capture the gold mine, lumber mill, and you can upgrade them. But, it’s not like you have a top-down perspective. The closest example would be like playing a hero in Warcraft 3, but you are still not actually in control directly of all the minions.
Jimmy: I think the important point is that we are trying to capture the feel of RTS, not necessarily trying to make an exact gameplay of Warcraft 3. It’s still WoW, you know.
The various conflicts between the Horde and Alliance have sparked once again because of the Azerite. But, it seems that Sylvanas Windrunner is showing as a villain too much according to the revealed story so far. Is there any chance that she will be corrupted and become a boss in the future, or has a chance to redeem her image?
Steve: Oh, you never know. Anything can happen, and we have nothing to answer on that front, but I know what you mean. I think that it just depends on your perspective, she’s an interesting character, and a very charismatic leader too. She’s very effective. You’re right, I think throughout the history of Warcraft, the Horde and Alliance have always been just a hair’s breadth away from war. We’ve hit war several times in the history. This is the first time in World of Warcraft where we actually get to set everything aside and go after each other. There have always been other bigger things such as Lich King that we’ve had to either come together for or at least set our differences to the side to be able to take care of. And now, it’s turning back on each other. They’ve got plenty of reasons not to like each other.
Travis: That’s a cool idea, but I do think that, and it’s just the way it’s been represented so far. As we closer and closer to launch, we are going to have some of those that fill in the blanks as you play through the siege of Lordaeron and such, I think it will tell you the story that it’s even-handed. I think we want to end up in a place where the Horde can make an argument that the Alliance started it and vice versa, as is the lead of all conflicts.
Jimmy: It’s a matter of interpretation. There’s no clear like this person is good and that person is bad. It really depends.
Travis: Because Sylvanas is not evil. In the story for her, it’s much more. She’s definitely aggressive, and she definitely believes in having power and control, but I also think that she does take seriously the representation of the Horde. She has a different perspective which is that the Horde will never be safe until the Alliance is wiped out. But, is she acting in a cruel, mustache-twirling evil way? Not really, she’s just trying to defend her people.