Warcraft's Lead Encounter Designer talks Mists of Pandaria, 5.4 and more.
Patch 5.4: Siege of Orgrimmar is now live but I got the chance to speak with Ion Hazzikostas, Lead Encounter Designer for World of Warcraft, the day before. I questioned him on the patch and Mists of Pandaria in general, as well as what the future may hold. His answers were very forthcoming...
Qelric: The dynamic revamp of the zone involved with Battlefield: Barrens was very reminiscent of past events, such as the scourge invasion before Wrath of the Lich King. Are there any plans to implement such events in the future? It could be a great way to get players back out in to the world enjoying old zones again!
Ion Hazzikostas: Yes, we view the Battlefield Barrens as an experiment, but a successful experiment. It was, as opposed to a daily quest hub, much less directed gameplay. It was more about being able to explore, gather resources at your own pace to complete broader objectives. And it’s also part of advancing the story that we were trying to tell. Now we’re removing part of that content in 5.4, because the story has kind of advanced past that and we kind of see it, a little bit, as a test bed for the entirety of Timeless Isle which is in 5.4. And that’s really a playground that is ten times as large, with much more depth and variety, and we think players are going to have a ton of fun exploring that. But certainly, I think, we’re always looking for opportunities to bring the world to life around players and to evolve outdoor locations, in response to major events in the game, to create game-playing progression opportunities within that structure.
Qelric: With the recent statement that content patches are planned to—one day—be released monthly and expansions annually, could we expect this sort of dynamic content to be a part of those patches?
Ion Hazzikostas: Potentially yes. I think any sort of more frequent release of content patches is likely to fall into some kind of rotating structure, I don't think anyone is talking about having a new raid tier every month - that would be overwhelming for players, even if we could do it which I don't think we can frankly, I don't think players actually want a whole new raid and dungeon tier every month. But certainly, you know, sporadic smaller patches to get more content out there for players, more new things to explore and discover, that’s certainly the type of thing we'd explore and fit into that type of structure.
Qelric: I visited the Timeless Isle during the PTR testing and found it to be almost like a holiday camp, where players can explore a new zone filled with dangerous elites, finding treasure - and no new dailies! Was that the motivation behind creating the Timeless Isle? Giving players a break from the daily grind?
Ion Hazzikostas: A bit I think. We’re exploring and testing out different modes of endgame, outdoor solo content and progression. I think that we've heard a lot of feedback, and seen how the daily quests played out, and ultimately no matter how untried, and how many daily quests we included in the new content, it's still started feeling a bit repetitive and players at times would feel obligated to do them; whereas with the Timeless Isle it's a much more open ended structure. The only objective really is to explore, you can get timeless coins with which to buy all sort of things, and you can find gear upgrades for yourself, or for your alts just from killing things on the island. It’s just a playground to do with as you will, and we're hoping that players will embrace that and be excited about it—we certainly are.
Qelric: The Siege of Orgrimmar and Garrosh's downfall seem like an Alliance raider's dream come true. Invading the Horde capital in a non-PvP context is certainly something that appeals to me as an Alliance PvEer. Did you worry about Horde players feeling short-changed with this final raid tier, and what steps did you take to avoid that?
Ion Hazzikostas: I'm sorry. I'm trying to answer this question with a straight face it's hard! It's been interesting; most of the feedback that we've heard has come from the opposite perspective. Where it’s been Alliance players wondering why there’s such a Horde centric storyline. The big payoff is you do get to invade and sack and pillage the capital of the enemy faction, and defeat their leader. But for many players, they still feel like its revolving around the Horde which is understandable, but I think that’s what the Horde gets out of this. For Horde players having a raid, fighting a boss in the Valley of Strength in Orgrimmar has an inherently, very different emotional feel to it because it’s a place where you’ve spent countless hours milling around the Auction House, with the mailboxes and it’s very familiar, but now it’s suddenly become the setting for a fight. So I think that sort of deeper connection as a player is, I think the main reward for Horde.
Qelric: Players killing Garrosh Hellscream on all raid difficulties except LFR will have a chance to get heirloom weapons and off-hand items. Could this be the way forward with legendaries, and what do you think of the debate on whether it's fair to keep these items out of LFR?
Ion Hazzikostas: I think it's a new type of item that I think is the important thing to note here. They’re distinct from legendaries; they’re distinct from other rewards we've offered in the past. And ultimately we draw the line for where certain types of rewards are going to be available. Some mounts are only available on normal and heroic; some titles are only available in normal and heroic, achievements available in flex/normal and heroic, some things available in all difficulties. It’s certainly intended to be a little bit of an incentive to try out flexible mode, and I think that we'll see some players later on in 5.4 cycle, forming pick up groups and recruiting others into pick up groups to try to take down Garrosh on flex mode even if they’re not formal structured guild raiders, because that’s one of advantages of the flex mode. It should be accessible to a broader group in that way.
The genesis of the idea for the heirlooms is that they’re different from traditional heirlooms that they scale with you all the way from 1 to max level. These items are fantastic items in their own right at level 90 in 5.4 when they’re obtained, they’re just going to last a bit into the future. I think one of the complaints/concerns that we’ve heard from players that in the past, sometimes getting loot from the end boss can feel a bit anti-climactic because there’s nothing left to do, then you go into the next expansion and you replace it with some quest green or blue-not too far along. This way at least you’ll have a memento from Garrosh that you can carry with you through levelling in the future.