What could have been World of Warcraft’s death knell turned rather spectacularly into new success in Legion. The game is more popular and well-regarded by players than it has been in years, and keeping that up is the next challenge. Patch 7.2 is not only Legion’s largest, but the biggest in the game’s history in terms of amount of content and number of changes - all despite barely touching classes themselves. We spoke to Blizzard about what all that means and how it came about, as well as plans on important topics to the community.
Check the second page of this article for a full rundown of WoW patch 7.2.
Explaining their decisions were senior producer Travis Day, senior game designer Ryan Shwayder - who was involved in a lot of the outdoor content in the patch - and Morgan Day, another senior designer who works mainly on instanced content like dungeons and raids.
PCGN: How has the alteration in patch pacing changed things for the development team, and are you happy with it so far?
Travis Day: "One of the biggest things that we wanted to do in the Legion patch cycle is deliver on the promise of a continuous stream of content. I think that is a huge point of pride for the team. With patch 7.2 not only are we delivering exactly when we wanted to - you gotta understand, I started on the patch cycle about a year ago now, with the initial planning of it, so this has been in development quite some time. So not only are we delivering on the content pace that we wanted to hit and we feel is appropriate, but we're also delivering the largest patch in the history of WoW. It's not just that we're delivering something huge or we're delivering something on time but it's actually both at the same time, which is something we're quite proud of."
Similarly how has untying raids from patches affected things?
Morgan Day: "It's something that we have been doing for a little while now, we try to service as many different types of players as possible. Our raid philosophy really fits with our overall content philosophy, which is that we want to deliver steady, well-paced content as often as we can.
“We've learned that means you don't have to tie the raid with the patch - for instance Nighthold came out fairly recently and a lot of players are still working their way through that, enjoying that, still defeating bosses. A lot of people still haven't killed Gul'dan, right? The raid finder for him just came out a week or two ago. In this case it's a little too soon for Tomb of Sargeras, we're happy with the pacing so far.”
TD: "Morgan's touching on an important point, which is there is a huge number of different kinds of players of World of Warcraft and they're interested in absorbing different kinds of content. I think the bifurcation of the raids from the content patches is a positive thing because it allows us to deliver outdoor content. We’ve got an entire new zone, new world quests, new class world quests, buildings, order hall campaigns, assaults, pet battle dungeons - the list goes on and on of what we're delivering to the outdoor world player.
“Then we also have this raid that we've developed that is going to come out in the near future but timed more appropriately for the raiding community. I feel like we're doing a better job than ever servicing the different kinds of players on a time schedule that's most appropriate for them."
With flying introduced in this patch, how much easier has it been to do than in Warlords of Draenor and do you think you’ve found a reliable system for expansions going forward?
Ryan Shwayder: "We obviously learned a lot from Draenor when we implemented flying unlock there. We heard a lot of feedback from players. Splitting it up into Pathfinder Part One and Part Two has been, I think, really good. It lets players know ahead of time like ‘Okay, Pathfinder Part One is a thing that's going to get me on the right track for flight.' It lets people who are super-interested in flying get a headstart on that.
“We knew that once 7.2 rolled around we wanted to make sure the focus remained on mastery of the over-land world, the unlock requirements are still very outdoor focused. As far as future expansions go, as always, we take the lessons we learn from every expansion and move forward with that. I can't really speak to what we're going to do necessarily.”
TD: “Are we doing another WoW expansion, really?” [laughs]
The other major change is the additions to artifacts, has everything gone to plan there or have there been challenges you weren’t expecting?
TD: "One of the great things that I think artifacts really succeeded in was giving you a unique experience for each spec by having that artifact quest line that gives you a nice little story hit and introduces you to the world of Legion in a way that brings you up to speed with a class or a spec that you've never played before. I think there's a lot of success in that.
“I also think there's a lot of success in having a alternate progression path outside of whatever your item level is and acquiring new gear. Again earlier we were speaking [about] a lot of different types of players of WoW and I think that having artifact power as a reward that can be [given out] through doing all the content in the game is an effective way to reward players and give [them] an ongoing target, ongoing progression.
“When you get to the upper, upper echelons it can run the risk of feeling like a grind but I would argue that you are finding yourself working towards something that is built-in with diminishing returns, [which is] the intent at the top end. In 7.2, as we bring this forward, you're gonna see that those who were at the very top power bands are given a nice passive right off the bat to keep them consistent and then we're basically opening up the top end again for them to progress through.
“But at the same time what that system allows us to do and you'll see play out in 7.2 is that if you're a guy who likes to play alts but has felt dissuaded from it, now when you log in to your alt you're actually going to be able to progress much more quickly. You're able to get [back] into the middle of the pack.”
With the numbers that you’re dealing with there - 101,000% modifiers, needing some hundred trillion AP to get later ranks - would you rather have avoided dealing with numbers of that scale?
TD: "Luckily we can support 32 bit and 64 bit if we need to [laughs], we can deal with large numbers. There were definitely some meetings we had with the UI team to be like 'Okay, what is this going to look like, represented on the UI? What does this feel like as a player experience?'
“I think one of the things that it allows us to do when you have such large numbers and such large exponential scales, it allows you to set a target power band throughout the expansion cycle where you want people to fall. It gives you the granularity you need to be able to tune for an entire, multi-year cycle.
“Does it end up looking a little wonky on the UI? Yeah, maybe, but does it end up benefiting the player and the player experience? Absolutely. I think the new traits are gonna be cool, the way that you progress them - the new quest lines - are gonna be cool. I think players are going to enjoy them, and I think players are going to enjoy having much more freedom to get into their alt specs.”
Legendaries are also getting significant reworks in this patch - how have your attitudes towards them changed through development?
MD: "Legendaries are a fun one, right? They're a new system that we added in Legion and we've been kind've making changes every patch as we go along. This patch we heard the player feedback that they're not super excited if they get a specific legendary so we want to address that issue, you should always be happy when you see a legendary, you should always be geeked out.
“If you get Prydaz you shouldn’t be like 'Aw, this is a utility legendary.' You should feel good about it, and we want you to feel just as good about that one as you might another one. We're making more changes in 7.2 to bring those more in line with each other. We did that as well a little bit in 7.1.5, so we're focusing on that problem right now and addressing that feedback. We're definitely learning as we go and making changes.”
Is the legendary system something you’re committed to sticking with through Legion, or beyond?
RS: "We can only really speak to what we're doing right now, we can't really talk about 7.3 or any future patches. Obviously, as you can see from 7.2, we do continue a commitment to keep these legendaries fun and, like Morgan mentioned, narrowing the power gap between the perceived best and worst items. That's one of the things we're trying to do to make sure you're always excited when you get a legendary. We think the legendary system is fun. Some of them were maybe a little more experimental than others, but we're committed to supporting them through 7.2"
On the balance side, there are few class changes in this patch - what’s the reasoning behind that, and can we expect some soon?
MD: "In this patch we're really focusing on the content in the outdoor world, in the Broken Shore, bringing all the new class campaigns, class mounts, all that stuff. 7.1.5 had a lot of class changes, which was not too long ago. We're still waiting for that stuff to shake out, see how [it] goes from there. We're not really focusing on class changes in this patch as much as we are just releasing new, really epic content.
RS: "In addition to a lot of class changes in 7.1.5 and in 7.2 we've got the new traits that you're gonna unlock, and we've got the legendary rebalancing that we've been doing. Both of those things dramatically impact class balance over time. Turning all of the different dials at the same time can get you into trouble so we're turning a couple of the big dials in 7.2 and if there are any outliers that come to light, we'll certainly hotfix or address in a future patch any kind of class issues that may arrive."
Finally, this outdoor zone is something you guys have done in a number of expansions, changing and developing it each time. How has the evolution gone and what do you feel you’re doing different and better this time?
RS: "We're all avid players of World of Warcraft and have learned a lot and were inspired by a lot of the previous patches. Kinda obvious analogues you can draw for this patch and for Broken Shore specifically would be Isle of Quel'danas, Isle of Thunder, Timeless Isle - those all have Isle in them, I tried to change it to Isle of Broken Shore and they said no [laughs].
“We've learned from the world quest system - one of the kind of dreams of that was to be able to get a lot more dynamic gameplay going. Have an entire area change out what creatures are there, so one day it can be a bunch of jailers who have trapped Armies of Legionfall soldiers and the next day it can be a bunch of Mo'arg Brutes training.
“In addition to that, [we wanted] to have more specific world quests for different classes because Legion is very class fantasy focused. So being inspired from the expansion itself, from 7.0, we've taken the world quest system up a notch by having areas that completely change their population out and completely change what you're going to be doing, the gameplay in that area. We also have class specific world quests that will unlock after you've done your follower questline.
“Just as an example, if you're a Priest you might be going in and using the blessing of Prophet Velen to dissipate fel that's creeping out throughout a beach. If you're not a Priest then you're going through and supporting that effort, taking out the enemies in the same area and working together to take down a final boss.
“In Timeless Isle there were a lot of rare elites that I found very enjoyable, to get the announcement from other players that there's a big boss around and then run over there and take it out. We've taken that system and we're trying something that's, again, experimental but I think is gonna be pretty fun where a rare elite will appear, it's up for half an hour, and it will respawn within that half-hour period very quickly. So it's exciting that you see that it's up, but you don't have to [worry] about getting there [before other players burst it down].”
TD: "Things that differentiate it from the past, that are improved upon, is that again it's worth enforcing that this is by far the most content-heavy patch that we've ever done for WoW. A lot of that is focused on the Broken Shore itself. One of the things that Ion [Hazzikostas, game director] talked about at BlizzCon and has been a guiding force is one of the unique features of an MMO and one of the cool things about an MMO is this living world, right? So one of the things we focused on delivering on the Broken Shore especially is that feeling of a living world - every day when you login the Sentinax is different, a different building is up, a different buff is up, there's different content to explore, different POIs filled with different mobs, there's different objectives on your map.
“[We wanted] to create that sense of 'What is going to happen when I login today? I don't know, let's go find out and let's go see where the adventure's at.' Create that sense of wonder and engagement that I think is really a keystone of what makes MMOs so strong."
For more on WoW patch 7.2, see the official notes on the next page of this article. Patch 7.2.5 is expected to enter testing very soon.