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BlizzCon > WoWNov 4, 2018 5:20 pm CT

WoW Battle for Azeroth Interview: The origins of Saurfang, Sylvanas wielding Xal’atath, and the possibility of three factions

During BlizzCon, Mitch and I sat down with WoW Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi and Technical Director Patrick Dawson to talk about Battle for Azeroth. We covered the history of Saurfang, the division over Sylvanas, and their proudest moments of the expansion so far.

Oh yeah, and the possibility of story-mode for raiding. And a third faction. Or maybe just one. Read on!

Making a legend with Saurfang

When asked about how Saurfang was created and developed over multiple expansions Afrasiabi explained that he created Saurfang for vanilla WoW. Originally, Afrasiabi just need a badass orc to shout your name when Onyxia’s head was turned in and the Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer buff was applied. Later, when the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj event was being developed, he needed an NPC to lead the resistance to open the gates and Saurfang fit the bill. That’s when all the “Cleave Everything!” memes got started: Cleave had a three-target limit, but Saurfang’s Cleave could hit ten targets.

When Wrath of the Lich King was in development, the story team needed a father figure for Garrosh and they wanted an old war veteran. Saurfang was a clear choice to give Garrosh the famous speech about sacrifice and duty that came down to “What kind of Orc are you?” It was in Legion that the team decided to make Saurfang a more prominent character and started laying down the groundwork for his role in Battle for Azeroth.

When enough of those iconic moments are put into the game over time, Afrasiabi pointed out, eventually they have what they need to create a legend. That is how most of the well-known characters in WoW are created: holistically over many expansions.

Afrasiabi explained “We get asked all the time, ‘How are you always making new heroes and new villains? You’re going to run out.’ But we are doing it all the time, right under your noses and you don’t even know it. By the third expansion from here, that one character that keeps popping up will suddenly be the hero or the villain. Or suddenly both.”

For the record, we asked about the future of Saurfang. Would the war veteran would lead the Horde or would he try to dethrone Sylvanas and then choose a successor so he can go to that retirement he craves? As you can imagine, we were told to keep playing the game to get our answer. You can’t blame us for trying!

Sylvanas and that knife

An image surfaced during BlizzCon of Sylvanas holding the Shadow Priest class artifact weapon, Xal’atath. This has raised many questions especially given the weapon’s link to the Old Gods. When asked, all Afrasiabi had to say was in Patch 8.1 Tides of Vengeance, “you will get to learn what you think you saw, whether that’s true or not.” He also mentioned that portions of this may have already been datamined if you wanted to look into it early.

Story mode for raids?

We brought up the desire of some players to explore the story content of raids without having to deal with the rushed (and sometimes toxic) nature of LFR. Afrasiabi saw that as two different issues: how to get non-raiding players to interact with raid content to enjoy the story and how LFR is rushed. He said as development on WoW continues they are looking for more ways for more players to have access to all the story available.

We brought up the idea of a single-player scenario version of raids for story lovers, but he didn’t feel like that was the right solution. Many of the story points are tied to the fights and those fights are for large groups of coordinated players. But he did confirm they are thinking about other options.

Expanding on how the team is always thinking about better ways to deliver the narrative to the players, Afrasiabi pointed out that while they love the questing system, it’s outdated. They are looking at better ways of conveying story via the questing system, though he didn’t give any specifics. He did say that whatever the solutions are, they will have to be built from the ground up “in a really cool way that will blow everyone away.”

The biggest successes of Battle for Azeroth

Both Afrasiabi and Dawson mentioned some of the issues from Battle launch they’ve been addressing (Azerite Armor, Island Expeditions, etc). So we asked them instead what they felt were the biggest successes of the expansion. For Dawson, it was the simultaneous global launch of Battle for Azeroth. Instead of rolling out the expansion over two or three days across all the regions, they were able to flip the switch for everyone at the same time so the entire player base was able to experience it together.

For Afrasiabi, it was the challenge of creating a compelling story where the threat wasn’t an outside force as it has been traditionally, but between the two factions. Since the players have faced down gods and demons, how does the team make the fight between the factions seem just as epic?  Events like Sylvanas burning Teldrassil forces players to choose a side. Even on the Horde side, they want to provide options so if the Horde players don’t support Sylvanas, they can side with Saurfang. “For me,” Afrasiabi explained, “the success in this expansion, more than any other, is that rivalry between the two warring factions has exploded.”

Three factions…or one?

Since Afrasiabi brought up the Saurfang vs. Sylvanas option, Mitch pressed him about the idea of splitting the Horde into separate factions for each camp. While the idea would be “thematically cool and appropriate for this scenario,” Afrasiabi explained that creating a third faction would really mean splitting up friendships and guilds since factions cannot adventure together. His preference would be the other way: that the Alliance and Horde could group together “one of these days.”

“That is the bigger meta lesson of Azeroth,” he concluded, “that these battles that we fought, even when we are separated, are for the same damn purpose. For our home.”

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