It is no secret that Blizzard’s fourteen-year-old MMORPG, World of Warcraft, is one of the most popular games to grace our computer monitors. This year, the developer is releasing its 7th expansion, Battle for Azeroth, bringing a new level cap, features, and more to the game.
During PAX East 2018, we got to sit down with Producer Daniel Stahl and Lead Encounter Designer Morgan Day to discuss the upcoming expansion including the new Island Expedition, Warfronts, Allied Races, and more.
Michael: What is the benefit of doing the Island Expedition as opposed to doing a Battleground or other PvP modes?
Daniel Stahl: Well, Islands is one of the new features of Battle for Azeroth. There are several different ones. Not only do you have two continents with red vs. blue, but you’re going to do your own continent and you’re going to put footholds on the other continent, so that’s part of the overarching battle.
Islands fits in a space where our planet has been wounded; this giant swordsman plunged into the heart of Azeroth herself. This resource is bubbling up and it’s that treasure map that you’re going to receive that says, “go to this big giant red X on the map and get some azerite. Whatever you can take, bring it back with you.” So that is that kind of short, fast, fun dynamic experience where every time you grab a new treasure map, it’s going to be something new.
Then that’s going to bleed into — as you start to build up your war effort and your war campaign — the big Warfronts that are going to spring up and then you’re going to then have big massive battles. So, I think of Islands as those personal skirmishes where it’s you and a couple others against that other faction. It’s that early sort of scouting; like, okay, what are they doing? What are they after? Grabbing stuff.
Morgan Day: Not only that but Islands, like Daniel was saying, is the most dynamic piece of content we’ve ever made. Where in a Battleground you’re always, you know, going to the battleground — okay, it’s Arathi Basin; that’s the farm, that’s the lumbermill, that’s the blacksmith, I know where to go. In dungeons, you go down this hallway, you know that trash pull or you know that boss is going to be there. So, they’re a bit more static in that regard.
Whatever the players do helps make it more dynamic but in the case of Islands, there are so many things that will be new or things that you haven’t seen before that will happen on each of the new islands you do. If you’ve only done the one — that starting location that you were at, for instance — that will change every time you go there. You’ll have a different starting location because, like Daniel said, you’ve got a treasure map, you’re on a boat, you’ll land on the shore, where you land might change every time.
DS: Time of day, a different type of island, bigger space, smaller space…
MD: We are shooting to have at least five islands. When we ship, there are going to be different ecologies, different layouts that you’ll see. So, this is a jungle island so you’ll see things like the hozen, you might see the saurok, or the mogu. If you go to a different island, it’ll have a different environment. So, you would expect to see something else there, right? You wouldn’t expect to see that stealthed tiger if it’s a completely different, more mountainous landscape. So, the ecologies will change as you approach it, as well.
There are so many things that will keep the islands feeling extremely dynamic and very different as you go but there’s also a level of mastery that will change the way you approach the island every time, as well. When you see there is a shrine over there, and you’ve seen that shrine before, you know this will increase your healing.
There’s also, I don’t know if you noticed but there is something that we are calling “advanced NPCs.” Did you notice the NPCs that you were playing against weren’t quite like normal NPCs?
M: Yeah, it turns out it was really hard! (laughs)
MD: (laughs) Well, which group did you play against? Because there’s a whole bunch of different enemy factions for advanced NPC groups that you can play against.
M: Sorry, I don’t remember.
MD: Okay. Well, for instance, there is one group of NPCs that has a character named Sneaky Pete. Sneaky Pete likes to follow people around…
DS: He’s also a rogue.
MD: …and engage people. Yeah, he’s a rogue but that group has a personality. Sneaky Pete has things that he wants to do and wants to engage with the players in a certain way. Or there might be a group of paladins or a group of blood elves who retreat more; they don’t want to engage in combat as much.
But there aren’t just different islands with different ecologies and different, random events that can pop up. These advanced NPCs will also change the way you interact with the island. One group of NPCs could be really aggressive, so you should make sure not to overextend or split up, where a different group is a bit more passive, so maybe you’ll spread out more on the island and try to be more efficient. There are a ton of things that will change the way that you approach the island will change based on what you see.
M: Is everything randomly generated or are enemy layouts always the same on the same kind of island?
DS: The answer is no, it’s not the same. They are very dynamic and the way they are built is the way you think of an island. Having that treasure map, you’re never quite sure and it changes over time; when you go back, that red X might be in a different location. Not only that but maybe the hozen all got wiped out and now they’ve been replaced by mogu, right? And now, maybe, the mogu got taken over by the bilge rats, right? There are all kinds of different dynamics that can happen on the islands; different locations and events that can take place. Depending on what time of day you’re there, there could be different denizens. Like if you’re at night, maybe the spirits have woken and they’re out and about.
There’s that sort of dynamic play to each island. When you go there, that’s part of the fun. You’re never quite sure what you’re going to be running into. In fact, you’re not even sure what island you’re going to be going to when you start. You’re going to go up to the treasure map that will include three maps, each with its own difficulty — normal, heroic, and mythic. You’re going to pick one of those with scaling rewards going up depending on how difficult it is. You’re going to hop on the boat and then the captain is just going to take you to the one that he thinks is the right one at that time. You’re not quite sure which one it’s going to be. You’re going to roll up and you’re going to have to survey the land; you’re going to be looking at that map and saying, “okay, what seems to be here right now.”
I love that moment when you disembark and you’re just taking it in. That’s when teamwork and the people who are with you, those other heroes, band together and really start to develop a strategy.
MD: I wouldn’t say it’s randomly generated. A big goal of ours was to try and get that feeling that it’s handcrafted. Everything that we do in World of Warcraft is handled with care. We like to handcraft things. When you go into a dungeon…
DS: It has to make sense.
MD: Yeah. Everything was hand placed. The same thing goes for Island Expedition. When you see a hozen, you have an expectation of what hozen do because you’ve played Mists of Pandaria potentially. So, we want to get that same feeling across.
M: What are some of the rewards you’ll get from playing Island Expedition?
DS: We haven’t hooked up the rewards yet. We’re really focused on the gameplay experience and what that fun is. As we open up the beta and as we get more feedback, that’s when we start to address what the rewards are for Islands.
One of the things we’ve agreed on or that we’ve talked about is that you have this Heart of Azeroth which is this neck piece that is given to you by Magni. This is something you are going to be powering up with azerite. Since Islands is about these wellsprings of azerite bubbling up from the heart of this planet, you’re going to acquire some azerite that is going to power that neck piece. At the end of the match, depending on how well you’ve done and how much you were able to grab, it’s going to power up that neck piece.
You’ll always walk away with something. You’re not going to go to an island and be like, “Argh, I didn’t get anything.” That’s not the goal. You’re out there to gather because you’re a strong, powerful part of your war effort.
M: More on the broader side of things, other than the Island Expeditions and a new level cap, what are some of the new features that are unique to the new expansion?
DS: So, Legion is done; we’ve pushed the Burning Legion back. Now we have to focus on what’s happening at home. After Sargera plunged that sword, there’s a big conflict. There are a lot of characters involved including Anduin and the Alliance and Sylvanas and the Horde. You’re going to play through each continent looking for allies and looking for those allied races that will join you. That’s one component. You need to not only gather allies on each continent but you also need to put footholds on the other continent.
Islands fits in midway through that story. As part of the war effort, you’ll be looking for azerite. As you gather more azerite as the war effort continues, that’s where big battlefronts are going to spring up; the Warfront.
Warfront is a new feature in Battle for Azeroth. Where Islands is that personal 3-on-3 scouting skirmish. these Warfronts are almost like a Warcraft III moment where you as a hero of the Horde or Alliance are going to land in the Arathi Highlands — our first Warfront — where you are going to be trying to either defend or take Stromgarde. You’re going to gather resources, see a ton of units on the battlefield, you’re going to have to take the mines, take the lumbermill, build up your barracks, and so on. There’s a lot of different strategies that are going to come into play in those Warfronts.
It just starts to come to a head. All these features start to come together to really explore the idea that this is war. This is a serious battle and it’s planetwide; it’s not just the new continents.
MD: It’s also the first time that I can think of that we have had two new continents with the expansion. Normally it’s one continent and we’re playing through it all at the same time. In the past, we’ve allowed for different starting locations but we’re all going through the same spaces as we level up. In Battle for Azeroth, we have the continent of Zandalar which is where the Horde will start. Then there is the continent of Kul’Tiras which is where the Alliance will start.
If you’re familiar with Legion we had something called the Class Order Campaign. That was where all of your class orders came together. So, if you’re a warlock, you had a warlock class order, they would send you off to do warlock things. We have the War Campaign which if you’re a member of the Horde, you’ll go over to Kul’Tiras and set up a foothold over there.
Also, Daniel mentioned there are these allied races. These are actually playable races that you recruit into your faction. This will be the first time that, as an Alliance player while you’re leveling up and you’re doing content through this War Campaign, you’ll have the ability to unlock the Dark Iron Dwarves; for the Horde, it will be the Mag’har which is a race of Orcs from long ago that we saw in Draenor.
There’s also the azerite armor which is powered by that Heart of Azeroth. All this azerite that is bubbling up will empower your Heart of Azeroth which then allows you to make customizations on your azerite armor.
Additionally, I have to say there’s also all the cool features that we introduced in Legion that people really enjoyed. We’re bringing all those with us. All the World Quests that players loved are going to be in Battle for Azeroth.
DS: Something similar to Emissaries, right?
MD: Yeah, there will be mythic plus dungeons, there are the factions that you did your emissaries for World Quests. Like I mentioned earlier, Brawls are still going to be around.
DS: And massive changes to how PvP realms work. Previously, you would have to either play on a PvP realm or an RP realm. The world has changed since those days of having to have independent servers; now we can have more people playing in the same space.
We’re able to make the changes to where every realm can just be both and you can decide in your capital. I can say, “hey, you know what, I’m going to take more of a challenge. I’m going to flag myself for PvP and then go out into the world, do my quests, and do my daily routine.” It’s at a greater risk because you’ve opened yourself up to being part of this war; you can attack me or I can attack you. Those are some of the fun new changes that are going to happen in Battle for Azeroth. We’re really excited to see how that changes the dynamic of playing WoW.
M: You had mentioned the story earlier and it seems it’s going back to the basics with the Horde against the Alliance. What made you go back into that direction with the story instead of something like Legion?
DS: I’m not the story writer but I can kind of give my theory as someone who has played through Legion.
At the beginning of Legion, we have these two new leaders. There are some dramatic events — I don’t want to spoil something for someone who hasn’t played — that lead to some changes in Horde and Alliance leadership. Because of the Burning Legion and everything we had to do to save ourselves, we haven’t really been able to address those changes. So, it feels like a natural segway. Now that we’ve dealt with the external threat, we need to deal with the internal threats. We need to deal with the fact that some really bad things happened.
Some real serious stuff happened and I think you’re going to see a lot of characters have to process that. Jaina is a great example. When we decided to follow Khadgar and ally with the Horde, Jaina is like, “no, been there, done that. Not doing that again.” So, we go back to her story and her side of things.
Also, we bring back some things we know are out there. like King Rastakhan, Zul, and the whole story of the Zandalar trolls. You can go and explore that storyline as part of seeking new alliances.
What are the costs and benefits of that? How does that impact our ability to live on this planet together? They’ve always been a standoff-ish but now they have to come together and ally. Our planets dying, what are we going to do about that? What do the prophecies say? There are so many different aspects that can come into play.
MD: Like Daniel mentioned, at the end of Legion, we see Sargeras plunge his sword into Azeroth. The effect of that is this azerite, this new resource that is bubbling up and it’s incredibly powerful. Everyone wants it. It has caused tension. That has, in turn, led to events that happen in Teldrassil and Lordaeron like we saw in the cinematic.
At that point, our continents are painted red and blue. We’ve got Eastern Kingdoms that are now controlled by the Alliance now that they’ve kicked the Horde out of Lordaeron, and you’ve got Kalimdor, which is owned by the Horde.
At that point, where do we go from here? We need a naval presence. Which, in turn, sends us off in search of allies in Zandalar who have the Zandalari armada; this is a giant fleet that we’ve seen before and is one of the most powerful fleets in the world.
DS: It’s similar to Kul’Tiras.
MD: Yeah, the Alliance has the same thought. They need the same, they need to go to Kul’Tiras. Like we said, Jaina is going to be a huge part of the story — you might see her mother in Kul’Tiras — and you look for these new allies to bring them into the fold so that you can continue to wage this war.
M: Is there any chance World of Warcraft could come to consoles?
DS: You know, World of Warcraft is really designed for Personal Computers, I think. There’d have to be so many different changes we’d have to make to make it a console game… We really want to continue making World of Warcraft as it is right now. We’d have to do something entirely different if we wanted to do something for consoles.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth will launch for PC on August 14. You can pre-order the upcoming expansion right now on Amazon.
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