Interview: Dave Kosak talks Class Halls, Flying, and more from Legion
BlizzCon 2015 may be over, but there’s still a ton of information to process, particularly in regards to the next World of Warcraft expansion, Legion. While at the convention, we had a chance to sit down and talk with Lead Narrative Designer Dave Kosak about the upcoming Class Halls, pre-launch event details, zone-wide scaling, dungeons, and plenty more from Legion. We even managed to find out a little more about the whereabouts of everybody’s favorite dragon prince while we were at it.
Blizzard Watch: We’re pretty much obligated to ask this — flying in Legion, any word on how that’s going to work?
Dave Kosak: That’s a good question — so flying will be available in a patch, and you’ll unlock it, and we’ll try and make sure it’s an interesting experience to unlock flying.
Is it going to be similar to what we did in Warlords?
Similar but maybe a little meatier and a little less grindy I think, I hope — we haven’t finished designing it yet.
Is this something that’s going to come in one of the earlier patches or the last patch?
I don’t think we’ve made that decision yet. The flying thing, I think – we didn’t do flying justice in Draenor.
Is the 40 player scenario discussed during the overview panel part of the pre-launch event content we’ll see before Legion is released? Can you tell us more about what we’ll see there?
Yes, right, it’ll be pre-launch. So we have one of our most ambitious pre-launch events that we’ve ever done.
Tell us about that!
So we thought — the Burning Legion is coming back to Azeroth, right? And to be honest, in World of Warcraft, we’ve never seen the Burning Legion at its full might. Like even in Outland, the planet was already shattered — it was the dregs, it was the left behind forces. So what does that look like? Well, they’re coming, right — so in this pre-patch event, they’re going to invade places all over Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms. And we have — and I think we showed some screenshots of it in the overview panel — we’ve got these enormous Legion citadels, these gigantic flying buildings that just land and like implant themselves on the ground.
Kind of like the Scourge invasion?
Similar, yeah! And we have some new tech that allows us to have buildings that just embed themselves in the ground, and demons will just pour out of this, and the whole zone’s going to have to come together, there’ll be some quests to do to cleanse that zone. And this invasion will be happening for the weeks leading up to the expansion, so big, big stuff is going down! You’re going to get to see the Legion in full force, and I hope you saw all the new demon models yesterday — it’s…the Legion is coming! (laughs)
The world event stuff that’s happening — it’s landing across every zone?
Not every zone, there’s key points along Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms.
Is this one of those instances where these things are going to scale to whatever level of the person that attacks it, or is it going to be like older events where lower level zones = lower level mobs?
I believe this is all max level — it might be scary on your bank alt! (laughs)
You mentioned dungeons would be a viable alternative to raiding as far as endgame content is concerned. Will there be tier sets or something similar to the gear you find in raids available in dungeon content?
Not distinct sets, what we can do is we can scale the level of the loot you get so that as you do — and this is one of the features I’m most excited about–
The challenge thing?
Yeah! As you ramp up the difficulty of the dungeons, we can gradually ramp up the quality of the gear you get.
It sounds like the only limit is how much content you can complete.
Yeah — how tough are you? And like Ion said at the panel yesterday, eventually these dungeons will break you, but how far can you get? And if you really like that type of gameplay, if you’re not really a raider but you like doing dungeons, and small group content like that, this is a way to keep playing and a way to keep those relevant in a way that hasn’t.
It also lets us do something else which is in the past, because our loot was so strictly tiered, if we wanted to have a couple more dungeons in a patch, we really couldn’t do it. We had to add another tier of gear and then everybody would just do those two or three dungeons instead of the other dungeons that were in there — and that actually made dungeons less relevant in some ways. But this means that we can throw in more dungeons and they can scale like all the other dungeons.
So it’s scaling around you?
Exactly! And you kind of can pick your challenge; you can do things around the world to get that dungeon keystone that has your dungeon traits like we talked about at the overview panel.
The dungeon keystone — is that a consumable item?
It’s consumable, but I think you have to beat the dungeon to consume it, so you can use it to get the loot. We’re still tinkering with that system, right, so it’s something we’re still building, so I don’t know all the exact details like where you get it or when do you consume it, but yeah.
I love the idea of entire world zones that scale to your level, allowing you to choose your own path. Is this something you think might be feasible to add to the leveling experience from level 1 on up?
That would be super cool, but we didn’t — when we put all those monsters in and even when we redid it with Cataclysm we kept some of those old monsters in, and they don’t have all the hooks to scale their abilities correctly. So it would be an effort — we think that would be cool, but it’s not something we’re planning right now.
Would you say it’s on the same level as the Cataclysm revamp of the old world zones?
Yeah! There might be programmatic ways that we could make it easier than the — look, Cataclysm was a lot of by hand going in there and re-doing a lot of stuff. (laughs)
Do you still think the Tanaan Jungle/Timeless Isle style of content delivery is working and keeping players engaged? Will we see more of that style of content in Legion?
There are things that we like about it. We definitely like that there’s something to do every day and that you can kind of pick your own path. Some feedback that we got and that we agree with was that things like in patch 5.1 when you had some story content interlaced with that, made it feel much much cooler. And I think that’s good feedback. And we didn’t have enough of that say, in you know, some of our more recent patches.
So we’re looking at that, giving you a real sense of progression with the factions that you’re working with and their stories, as well as just that sort of open world is a toy thing. Since all the zones scale, it means that we don’t have the problem that we had in say, Pandaria where we had to carve out a little chunk of the zone for the max level area, but it was separate from the main area — we don’t have to worry about that now because all the zones will scale to you.
It sounds sort of like an open world scenario in a way — like when you did the scenarios in Pandaria and phased into a particular area of the world.
It should feel like the whole world is a playground, and that’s what we’re really going for. And you’ll be able to see the rewards and pick and choose your path and say like “Oh, what do I want to do today? Well that looks interesting up here and maybe go over there.”
A lot of people were comparing what we saw at the overview panel as far as endgame material with the bounty system in Diablo, it seemed like it was kind of the same concept?
It’s similar; because we’ve been looking at Diablo, and if your readers haven’t played Diablo 3 recently, it’s so good right now, it’s so good, they’re doing a great job at kind of just keeping their content evergreen, it’s just always fun. So we’re looking at that and I wouldn’t say — it’s something we’re inspired by, but I don’t think it will feel exactly the same. It’ll feel very WoW, a WoW version of that.
A lot of people are missing scenarios — small scale content that didn’t require a big group or the usual tank/healer/dps combination. Are we going to see something similar make a return in Legion, or something to help with DPS queues for dungeons?
Well we hope that niche is kind of filled by the open world content.
Is that solo stuff or group stuff or both?
It’s all of it, so instead of queueing for something, you see something cool happening in the world and you go there, and if there are other people you can group with them, or just work with them together and take care of the problem, whatever it is.
So those little events that pop up around the world — I’m assuming some of them are PVP, some world bosses — are some of them quest hubs?
It goes back to what I said — feeling like you are unlocking story with these factions that you’re working with and getting some story content there. It’s something we’re still developing, still working on — that endgame is something that we’ve been prioritizing this expansion so we’ve been working on it all along, but it’s not all dialed in yet. And we do want to get that feeling of progression, that feeling that you’ve got some story here as well.
Yesterday, class halls were described as something not quite like a garrison — that banks and the auction house would still be in Dalaran. What kind of content can players expect to find in class halls to keep them engaged and coming back?
So class halls — a couple of big features, one is you have your mission map where you can send out your followers.
Mission map — like a garrison mission table?
Yeah, you’ve got a mission table again, and we’re still tinkering with that system because we want the followers to be a little more meaty, to have a little more substance to them, and to be something where you can adventure with your followers, and they all have stories.
Like you take them on quests?
Well they need stuff done, and you can go with them, they’ll be a questline to unlock. Now we’re still working on that system, but we want the followers to be more meaningful. So you’ve got a mission table, you’ve got your followers there. Faction representatives will show up in your mission hall, and they’ll have some of those quests we talked about. And also that’s sort of your hub where you can tinker with your artifact — so you’ll have some sort of, it’s thematic based on your class, but like if you’re a paladin, there’s a giant shrine, a big altar where you can tinker with your artifact and that’s where you change your artifact abilities.
Is it like the runeforge that Death Knights have?
A lot like the runeforge, in fact Death Knights are using Acherus as an order hall, we’re uprising it a little bit, we’re kind of tinkering with it to bring it up to date.
Well they’ve probably cleaned it up a little bit by now!
Yeah! Still a lot of skulls though, still a lot of skulls! But yeah, you go there, just as they would tinker with their runeblade, you can tinker with your artifact and tweak it. So you have your missions and your artifact, and some of the order halls have little perks and little bonuses, I think we talked at the Q&A how where if you go to the warrior order hall, there’s a little arena there where you can do a little dueling with other warriors because that was thematic.
Do the others have something? Can you give us a couple more?
Let’s see — not all these are in yet. The rogues, we had a little pickpocket mini-game that we were playing with and having some fun with. I don’t think any of the others are ready to go yet. And the goal was — like Craig (Amai) said yesterday at the Q&A, the goal is not to have everybody has something equally cool, some of them will have something special, some of them might not.
Do you worry about feedback on that though, where a class might feel like “Well we didn’t get a special thing, so we’re not as special?”
Well it’s not special if everyone gets it! So it’s one of those things where when it’s thematically awesome, like rogues pickpocketing each other, then yeah, we go for it. But we don’t want to shoehorn stuff in that’s not thematically awesome just because “Oh they need their special thing.” It’s important to us when we say our value is concentrate the coolness. So yeah order halls, unlike the garrison — I mean one point of feedback we got with the garrisons is that yeah, you’re in an MMO, but your garrison is basically you and a bunch of NPCs, and so it kind of felt lonely, and that was — that’s very important in an MMO, so your order hall having others of your class around should be kind of cool, kind of like a clubhouse for your class.
So the class halls aren’t phased to just you?
Exactly! And it’ll be kind of like a rogue clubhouse and everyone can be talking about what they’re doing with their rogue artifacts and stuff.
Is it still going to be in the sewers? People are asking about that one.
So when we first said it was in the sewers I think people assumed it was just going to be in an existing room down there. And we’ve actually carved out a really, really cool space for rogues, like this little hidden secret enclave underneath Dalaran.
Like a speakeasy where you have to give the password at the door?
Totally! (laughs) That’s the kind of feel we wanted to get is like — you know about this place, you whisper to the doorman and you get in there and there’s a whole little clubhouse of seedy rogue characters that are all pulling the strings right from within the heart of Dalaran. So yeah, I think the rogue order hall, class hall is very, very cool.
The Emerald Dream and Emerald Nightmare have both been something that players have been clamoring to see more of. Is the dungeon and raid the most we’re going to see out of the Emerald Dream — is this the official end of the Emerald Nightmare story?
It’s almost certainly not the last time we’re going to see the Emerald Dream because it’s such a core part of the druid fantasy. It’s a core part of the druid fantasy, the Emerald Dream, so I don‘t think that this is the last chapter of that. But it is the first time we’ve depicted the Nightmare in game, and our artists — I hope you saw it at the panel — our artists have just done this phenomenal job of creating this, it’s kind of this primal Azeroth, but it’s also just a nightmare vision of what could happen in Azeroth. And you saw the Xavius model, you know, Xavius as he pictures himself. And the Nightmare is just this ferocious, terrible thing. So yeah that’ll be thematically, that’ll be very, very cool.
Players tend to jump on customization in games — more and more new titles are offering ways for players to customize their experience, whether it be through appearance sliders, armor dyes or armor crafting like in Diablo 3, or even the ability for players to create custom small-scale content. Is this the kind of thing we’ll ever see in WoW?
Well in interviews you never want to say never, but there are certainly no plans for like, user created content, we have no plans for that — that would be very, very…I wouldn’t say difficult, but there are a lot of issues involved in getting player content into the game. We certainly — there’s no plans to release our toolset or allow people to create content because our toolset is so integrated into our system, we couldn’t — there’s really no way we could even release it. That would be an enormous undertaking and I don’t see that in the near future for WoW for sure.
Now as for customization of armor, we think that there is something we can do, sort of the next step of transmogrification, what you asked about before, the idea of you unlocking item or weapon appearances and you can swap them in and out. There’s also a lot of customization for your artifact by the way, which is fun. The artists have gone hog wild on the artifacts, they’re — every one is completely epic, and then you have a lot of choices for how it’ll appear, both from color scheme and the model you use. And all those are unlocked, so that’s just more content, more to do.
With the artifact weapon — obviously there’s a quest involved in getting that artifact. Is that something that happens during the pre-launch event, or post launch?
It won’t be in the pre-launch, but when Legion launches, when the game launches it’s one of the first things you do, as you embark on your journey.
What would you say were the biggest lessons you took from Warlords of Draenor?
That is a really good question — because the thing is, with every patch we’re learning something, and often we experiment with ideas in patches. Sometimes at Blizzard we’re guilty of ‘that idea sort of didn’t work, so we’ll do the exact opposite in the next patch’ and we’ll throw everything out with that. But if you look at our progression, certainly in the last couple of expansions, you can see that we have constantly been tinkering with the endgame to try and find that right formula where it can feel open ended, but still give you some direction, some story direction. We’re still trying to dial that in, because I don’t think we hit that sweet spot yet. We didn’t hit it with Pandaria, but we had a lot of cool story. We didn’t quite hit it with Warlords, but we had a lot of cool content. And I think we can — somewhere, somewhere in there is the sweet spot, we want to find that sweet spot.
And that’s across the board — one thing we’ve been learning is just how important it is to keep players together and let them play the kind of content that they want. When we introduced flex into raiding, that was a huge improvement to raiding, that was monumental I would say. Because you no longer had to make these ugly decisions of ‘Oh there’s 11 players, well one of you has got to sit out’ you know, and you don’t have to do that decision anymore. If you want to raid, there’s a spot for you, right?
And now we’re looking at extending that across the board — like well what if you like dungeons, well we want to make sure you always can play dungeons, you can play dungeons with your friends, and you’re rewarded for playing dungeons, and that’s why we’re really added that sort of scaling dungeon technology in there, so that you always have something you can play if you like that kind of content. Same with — and again, back to the outdoor world, if you like just venturing out in the world and doing stuff, we want to make sure you have rewarding content that you can do.
The scaling you’re talking about for raids — you’re talking about buddy number 11 that you have to leave behind — what if you have buddy number six for a dungeon? Is there a possibility of scaling dungeons to take more players along than the usual five?
We have thought about that, not for dungeons yet — dungeons are very very tuned to have that one tank, one healer, three DPS, and tuned around that. But those ideas, those ideas of we never want you to leave a friend behind is something that we’re always looking at in the game.
Timewalking — people love timewalking in dungeons. Any plans to expand that beyond dungeons and maybe add some Timewalking raids?
That’s a good Ion question — we don’t have any immediate plans for that. But I mean, it feels like we have the technology that we could make that happen, we’d need to put some work into it to make sure those scale properly. There’s so much great content, like Karazhan’s great, right? And often we’re just taking player feedback and so we’re looking at how many people are doing Timewalking and how popular that is and that helps us decide oh, that feature’s worth doing, there’s a lot of interest in it.
Mists of Pandaria had a year long stretch of Siege of Orgrimmar before Warlords of Draenor. It feels like we’re looking at something similar with the end of Warlords of Draenor. Is this the new normal?
We’ve stated that we really want to release content faster, and we’ve been growing the team, the World of Warcraft team is the largest it’s ever been. But we also, you know, Blizzard has this value that we absolutely cannot release something if we don’t think it’s the highest quality. And so these values constantly bump up against each other – our team is bigger than ever, and we’ve been really good at making stuff more awesome, but not necessarily coming out with it faster (laughs) I mean you saw all of it at the panel, those dungeons, the dungeon screenshots? The dungeons — there’s 10 of them, they’re all amazing looking, they’re so gorgeous!
We’ve been working on this expansion since even in the middle of development of Draenor, we started work on this expansion. And we keep making it cool, but we’re not doing very good with it yet on coming out faster — but it is our goal going forward, we really do feel like a faster pace of content release is better for the game and better for fans, and we can do better jobs. So we’re working on that, that’s our goal, we’ve been really focused on it. With Mists we did a great job with coming out with content faster, but we weren’t on the ball with getting the next expansion ready. And honestly had we just stretched out the content, I think some of those raids, people weren’t finished with them, they weren’t done with them before the next tier of content came out, so we could’ve stretched that out better.
Last question! Wrathion – are we going to see him in Legion?
(laughs) So Wrathion had a couple cameos in Draenor, we gave him a rest, but he’s definitely in Legion, and he’s got an agenda. And also — this has been the battle that since he was born — and his mission in life has been, he knows the Legion is coming, and this is his nightmare come true, so he’s definitely a factor.
Is he going to keep buddying up with Anduin? They had some great banter in Mists.
I love that relationship with Anduin! I can’t say anything there, but I will tell you that we’re going to get some Wrathion — Wrathion’s back, this is his fight.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us Dave — we look forward to seeing what Legion has in store!
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