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World of Warcraft is launching its next big patch with 10.1.5, Fractures in Time, on July 11. Don’t let that .5 fool you. This is a big drop of new content for Blizzard’s hit MMO, and it’s looking to keep the Dragonflight expansion’s strong momentum going.
Just ahead of the patch’s launch, I had a chance to chat with World of Warcraft associate game director Morgan Day and senior game designer Stephen Cavallaro about some of Fractures in Time’s big features, including a new way to play the Evoker class. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion.
GamesBeat: I’m interested in this new spec for Evoker. That’s something new for the game in general, the idea of adding an entire new spec for a class like this. Was this always on the road map for the class?
Morgan Day: The Augmentation Evoker is something that we’re excited to bring to the players. The idea behind adding this spec, and specifically a spec in the middle of an expansion, which we’ve never done before, it really came from this idea of “awakening.” Not only as a theme of the expansion of Dragonflight as a whole. Dragonflight is about the Dragon Isles awakening, all this Titan machinery turning on, the aspects, the Dragonflights, all these things that are awakening. The Evoker is an extension of that, and the dracthyr in particular. They quite literally awakened in the Forbidden Reach and have been learning more about themselves as the expansion progresses. That’s a huge part of their story, learning about their origins.
The thing I’ve been saying, which is silly, but to me is funny, they’re kind of like superheroes. As superheroes grow, they learn more about themselves. They learn about these new abilities that they didn’t know that they had. It very much speaks to that theme that we wanted to pursue all throughout Dragonflight. Not just at launch, but with our updates as well. In terms of, was this always the plan, yeah, we always wanted to add this third spec, and we knew we wanted to do it in support of this awakening theme. We wanted to do it in patch content. We had initially thought to add it in 10.1, or in the Embers of Neltharion update, but we felt like adding it in the Fractures in Time felt both thematic from a story perspective, but also from a tuning perspective.
We knew this was mid-season. It’s not like this is going to do much–to really throw things out of whack with tuning for the Aberrus raid we had in Embers of Neltharion. It also gives us time to button up a lot of the feedback we get from the community that we’re expecting, as well as some of the tuning before season three rolls out. We felt that in terms of timing it felt really fun to add it in the Fractures in Time update.
GamesBeat: Will we see more new specs in the future? We still have one class that only has two specs out there.
Day: Are you talking about Demo Hunter, I assume? We knew initially, Demon Hunters would be like, wait a minute, where’s our third spec? Nothing to announce now. That’s always a possibility. We’re never going to close the door on ideas like that. But adding a new spec is something we don’t take lightly. And also, in this case we felt like it made a lot of sense. From the perspective of the dracthyr, there were two dragonflights that we felt we hadn’t touched on with the Evoker, both using the bronze magic that we’re seeing a lot of the augmentation doing, things like Breath of Eons, which is their really cool deep breath replacement that has a lot of bronze magic influence. Also there’s a lot of black magic influence, which we hadn’t seen in a lot of the Evoker specs as well. We felt like there was a lot of space left to explore on the Evoker, which is why this made sense.
On other classes we always look to make sure that it makes fictional sense as well as from a gameplay perspective. Augmentation is quite unique in that it is a damage role. We didn’t want to create this new role where you have to queue as a different thing. It’s a damage role that focuses on helping your friends. That’s a play style that we’ve heard a lot of players over the years mention that they enjoy in other games. We had a bit of a niche there that we could look to fill. Any time we add a new spec, we want to make sure it’s not just something that’s already existing amongst our other specs. We want to try to create unique play styles every time we explore things like a new spec.
GamesBeat: You touched on this support role for this spec. That’s something we haven’t seen in the game for a long time. Paladins used to have a bit of that, but not for some time. How does that impact tuning? Do you expect players to still use this spec when they’re doing solo stuff?
Day: Absolutely. That was one thing we discussed very early on with augmentation. Let’s make sure you can solo successfully with this spec. But ultimately if players feel like they should swap to devastation, that’s an option as well. They’re still two DPS specs. People will swap their DPS specs from time to time based on the content they do. This could be another area that could fall into that realm. To the first part of your question, I think there’s a unique niche there. A lot of people we hear from, they enjoy this idea of helping their friends out, supporting their friends. In World of Warcraft the role that people move toward when they enjoy that kind of play style is healing, but healing at times can be fairly challenging. It might be a bit more of a challenge or requirement on yourself than you’re looking for. Maybe you just want to do damage and sit in the back, but maybe you’re the type of person, in Overwatch, you like to play Mercy and damage amp your buddy who has really good aim. What’s the WoW equivalent of that? That’s something we were talking about as a role that could be fun to explore.
I know there’s a person in the group that I play with who loves to play that kind of more supporting role, where they’re buffing their allies more than they’re worried about their individual damage. That’s something we felt would be a lot of fun. The beauty of World of Warcraft is we have such a passionate, amazing player base. They’re constantly giving us feedback. This is one of those areas that, over the years, we’ve heard come up over and over again. We had a great opportunity here. I love the idea of dragons and their very Titan history and origins, which we get into quite a bit in Dawn of the Infinite and the mega dungeon. That idea of sharing power that the dragons have done, and the Titans have done in the past. It’s cool to have that reflected in this spec, making it feel like it fits the fantasy so well.
GamesBeat: You brought up the mega dungeon, and that’s become almost something of a .5 staple. It’s this big content drop that’s not quite a raid, but it still feels like a pretty meaty piece of content. What about this mega dungeon is special? What are players getting themselves into?
Stephen Cavallaro: With Dawn of the Infinite, we wanted to continue to push the general idea of what a mega dungeon encompasses, but we wanted to push it further than we have in the past, in a few different ways. One of those ways was exploring the types of stories that we’re delivering inside of the dungeon itself. In this case we had an opportunity that we wanted to execute on where we were able to push forward the more mainline plot of Dragonflight itself, the actual continuation of the bronze dragonflight storyline, with Chromie trying her best to protect Nozdormu from this fate of becoming Murozond.
At the same time, pushing forward the primal incarnate storyline as well, and even bringing them together. We know Iridikron has seemingly made some sort of deal with the infinite dragonflight, and part of Dawn of the Infinite is exploring what that means, even getting to face off against Iridikron himself. Obviously past mega dungeons like Tazavesh, they’ve had interesting stories for sure, but they’re more self-contained. In this case we’re trying to push forward that narrative that players have been following throughout the life of Dragonflight as an expansion.
In terms of gameplay, one of the things that we’re doing differently this time is we’re releasing Dawn of the Infinite with one difficulty setting to start, which is sort of the hard mode equivalent of what past mega dungeons have had as an option. When doing this, it helps us hone in on this idea of a raid-like experience for a smaller group of players. We can go deeper into coordination asks for groups and have mechanics that we would normally not put in a dungeon context, but in this case, we feel comfortable doing so because we know that this is meant to be a meatier, more challenging piece of content for groups to progress through and explore, with less time constraints than you might find in mythic plus. This allows us to serve a different group of players that have been asking for more challenging dungeon content that maybe aren’t interested in the timer aspect of Mythic+. And of course, M+ is very popular and players love it, and we love it, but this is something that allows us to offer a different type of challenging experience in a dungeon context.
Last, one of the things we’re trying with Dawn of the Infinite is also, to go with that difficulty increase, offering meaningful rewards this time around in terms of both player power and also some cool cosmetics, just different unique things that players can find and earn by completing the content. In terms of the difficulty in particular, if you’re a heroic raider or someone who does mythic 15s, you should feel at home walking into Dawn of the Infinite and feel like you have a meaningful level of challenge as you progress through it. For those players that are at a higher level than that, cutting edge players, players who are in 447 gear, we’ve also added a bit of a challenge for those players. If they can complete the entire dungeon without a single party member dying, they unlock access after defeating Deios to a special loot pool for them that has a higher level of power than you might find otherwise. There’s something inside Dawn of the Infinite for everyone, and we’re excited to get to see how that pans out in terms of players setting foot inside of it.
GamesBeat: These mega dungeons have become pretty popular, but they’re still a once an expansion feature. Do you think that we’ll ever see more of these?
Day: Like you mentioned, we’ve done a couple of mega dungeons now in various expansions. Something that we’re doing a bit differently this time with Dawn of the Infinite, we’ll be allowing you to queue for heroic in 10.1.7 which is earlier than we would normally have done. Also, it will be featured in season three with our mythic plus pool. Players who want an easier queued experience can do the heroic version, and then mythic plus players will be able to experience it in season three in a much different setting. That’s definitely something that we discuss. We enjoy building the mega dungeons. They provide unique opportunities. But ultimately, we’ll often look to build them when they make the most sense. As Stephen said, it felt like it was a good fit for the Fractures in Time update. We’ll always let where it makes sense guide our answers.
Cavallaro: One of the benefits of this type of content, because it isn’t timed, let’s say your group of friends is in a lower level of gear, but you still want to experience the content, and you do want the challenge of going in there in the hard mode version. That’s absolutely doable. You can certainly go in there at a lower item level and make progress. Part of the reason you can do that is because we’re able to tune a longer form dungeon like this to have a progression curve like a raid might have. Maybe just on a smaller scale. The first couple of bosses might be approachable enough to get some good, meaningful upgrades. Then you can carry those upgrades into the next bosses and give yourself a power boost to help you beat the following bosses.
To your point, this type of content is very interesting for us for a lot of reasons, some of which we just talked about. We’re always thinking of ways that we can engage different buckets of players in different ways. It’s great if we can do that through a single piece of content in multiple different ways, which we’re doing here, even with the hard mode being released now, trying to get heroic out much sooner than we normally would, and still keeping in mind that the earlier bosses in Dawn of the Infinite should be more approachable to players that aren’t as geared as heroic raiders, or aren’t as geared as mythic 15 players, but want the challenge of coordinating and persevering in that way.
GamesBeat: Also in the update, a lot of new races are getting access to the Warlock class. Could you talk about that decision, why Warlock specifically is getting some love here?
Day: The Warlock class expansion, as it were, is a continuation of something we started with Dragonflight, where we were looking to increase the options for players when it came to their class and race availability. That speaks to our goal of wanting players to feel like they always have an opportunity to express themselves in the game, to create characters that they feel reflect upon what they want to play and enjoy. It speaks to the customization that we’ve been adding, not only just with your race and class combinations, but also character customization options. We’ve added so many cool ones to existing characters.
The dracthyr I think have more customization options than any race that we have in the game right now. We’re adding even more with this latest update. We’re adding new fur colors for the Worgen, for instance. We’re also doing things like removing a lot of the restrictions for allied race unlocks. If you feel like there’s a specific allied race you want to play, that you maybe haven’t been able to unlock in the past, if you felt like, oh, that’s a lot of work, I don’t want to do all that, that’s something we’re also opening up availability for players. All of this is just in pursuit of that idea of player identity and being able to play the character that you want to.
GamesBeat: The allied race unlock system being changed is interesting, because that used to be pretty a hefty ordeal for some of those races. This is making that a lot easier, a lot more accessible for a lot of people. Is this something that’s been cooking for a bit? Was there a debate about this? I know the original idea is that these should feel like something that is earned. But it’s also nice to get content without as much of a hassle.
Day: Totally. With this change, a lot of that is targeted at this more legacy content. A lot of that stuff you’re doing is fun to do for the first time, or maybe catching up on the lore, but there were a lot of unlock requirements that took more time as well. If we were to add allied races in the future, it would continue to have some of those early requirements to make sure you understand and earned the unlock on that thing. But as time passes, this is just an option for us to make things easier. Which is aligned with a lot of our philosophies. When we look at legacy raid content, we’re also adding a skip to Siege of Orgrimmar. That’s one thing that’s just, enough time has passed, let’s loosen the reins on this a bit and let players enjoy it more easily.
GamesBeat: Are those quests still available for some of these things that were part of the unlock requirement?
Day: Yeah, the cool story questing, like Void Elves when you go off to the crazy void planet. Those are all still totally available to be unlocked. I don’t know if it’s required to do that one time questing and that’s it now, versus the old requirements, but those quests definitely still exist.
GamesBeat: Class balances are always a big part of these updates. Could you talk through some of the biggest buffs or nerfs that we’re seeing this time around?
Stephen: The one I’m most excited about, and I imagine the community is as well, for Mages, something they’ve given us feedback on for a while is Rune of Power. That idea of being locked to this rune, and if I have to move because of some mechanic or something that’s out of my hand, they lose so much damage because of the placement of that rune. That’s something we took a long look at, and we determined that it doesn’t really feel like it’s core to mage fantasy, core to mage gameplay. We just removed Rune of Power, which turns out required quite a bit of work to change the class to rebalance a lot of their power without Rune of Power existing. That was a major change in the Fractures in Time update that I think people will be pretty excited about. There are also a couple of druid updates that are pretty exciting, lots of talent work going in there. And then obviously augmentation Evoker, which we’ve talked about, has tons of new spells and abilities and tuning that we’ll be sure to stay on top of and make sure that we’re listening to community feedback and adjusting to things as we see.
GamesBeat: It was mentioned before how these mega dungeons, these .5 patches, usually feel like side stories to the main plot. It sounds like we’re getting some meaningful story developments.
Cavallaro: Certainly. And even beyond the scope of Dawn of the Infinite, we have new outdoor content that’s also exploring the themes of time and the effects of these alternate time pockets that are opening up that players have to battle back against, because it’s very bad for the main timeline if they’re allowed to exist. There’s certainly a lot of content here. The thing I was referencing in particular, we’re calling them time rifts. Every hour groups of players can gather at Tyrhold Reservoir and battle against these time entities that take the form of different factions that players have become accustomed to knowing or battling in the past. Like the Scourge. What if the Scourge won? Players battle back against a time entity taking the form of Arthas at the end.
Similarly, we have solo content for players as well to help hit those themes and those plot points I was talking about. Eon’s Fringe daily content is dealing with the idea that Nozdormu senses that his time is near. Chromie is convinced that she can stop this, but he senses that his time is near, and that’s causing these disturbances in the timeline. Players are doing this repeatable content to battle back against that and try to make sure that the time waves settle down. Certainly, we view a patch like this as having meaningful content and progression for the story, and also for just players in general. Whether you’re an instance player or a group player or a solo player, we want to make sure there’s meaningful content here for all those folks.
GamesBeat: Is there anything else you think I should know about?
Day: We did get to talk about fun character customization things, but I’m really excited with this update because the team put a ton of time and effort to the returning player experience, as we call it. This is not just players who maybe played Dragonflight and are coming back for Fractures in Time. There’s going to be some cool item level activities that they can do, like the time rifts, for their item level catch-up. But for people who maybe haven’t played Dragonflight at all, we spent a lot of time and listened to a lot of feedback on where pain points might have been for people. If you haven’t played for 60 days or more, when you come back for Dragonflight there’s a really cool, almost a mini-boost, if you’ve ever gone through the boost experience, where it sets you to max level. This one won’t do that, but it will give you a similar player flow, where when you log in you can select your spec. It will send you back to Orgrimmar and Stormwind. It’ll put you right in front of Chromie, so you can choose which Chromie time path you want to go on. If you like it’ll clear your quest log. Maybe you’re thinking, oh my goodness, there are so many quests, I have no idea what’s going on. Just let me start fresh. It’ll clear your quest log. It’ll send you a kind of welcome back gift box, where it has a bunch of cool gear and bags that are relevant for your level that you might need when you come back, so you can jump right back in the action and not feel like, oh, jeez, where was I when I left off playing?
We’re just excited to get people back into the game, create a smooth onramp, and allow you to, as quickly as you can, catch up with your friends and get into the action, and maybe even play in the mega dungeon or other fun features in Fractures in Time.
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