For a game that’s been around as long as World of Warcraft, change is essential. This week, Blizzard detailed the updates coming in WoW’s upcoming Patch 5.4: Siege of Orgrimmar, including class changes, currency conversions and much more.
In an interview at Gamescom, game director Tom Chilton and lead content designer Cory Stockton explained how the new changes will affect WoW, plus how many more updates Mists of Pandaria players can expect.
“Most of the class changes are focused around taking the glyphs and the talents that weren’t being used very much and bringing them up to par with the other ones that people do use a lot,” Chilton told IGN. “Mostly to make sure that people feel like they have a lot of choices. That was the primary attempt. We feel like the overall balance of the game is pretty solid. There were some key changes, some balance changes to address PvP concerns. But by and large, the game is better balanced today than it ever has been in the past.”
Professions will also change in 5.4, with Stockton telling us “A couple different changes are happening. Over time, cooking, in Mists of Pandaria, was one that we saw a lot of changes. From this long process with only one way to go, we kind of opened it up and let it branch out, so players could choose different ways. It branched out in a way that wasn’t required, right? They could choose the one way that they wanted to go, but if they wanted to continue along that challenge line, they could unlock all of them. That got them an ultimate reward at the end that let it continue forward. We got a lot of good feedback from a system like that. What we saw in 5.4 was more incremental changes, things like not having requirements on certain enchants, so they don’t require a certain item level to use them anymore. It just didn’t really make sense. I think we could see more stuff like what we did to cooking, though, playing out in the long term, because we had such good feedback on those kinds of systems.”
As far as PvP is concerned, Chilton wants fans to be assured that plenty of options are available for tournament play.
There were some key changes, some balance changes to address PvP concerns. But by and large, the game is better balanced today than it ever has been.
“The major objective with the arena system for this patch has been to give players more flexibility,” he explained. “The concept of the teams is really cool, mostly from an eSports perspective, but for eSports we have tournament rules and all that kind of stuff anyway. It’s not really critical. Whereas for the average player, it would end up feeling like a clumsy UI where they’d have to join one team, and if they wanted to play with another friend they’d have to leave that team – meanwhile thinking about whether they wanted to lose their rating – and join another team. We felt like players wanted to be more fluid as far as who they could play with. Really, just eliminating that team concept is to give players more flexibility.”
Chilton also clarified 5.4’s currency conversions, noting, “we’re not actually doing a Valor to Justice currency conversion. We’re explicitly trying to avoid that, to make sure that any Valor people have earned still has value if they come back to the game at this point. That was always something we felt like we had to do. But with the way that Valor is being used now, we don’t think this is necessary. You can only stockpile it up to a certain amount. There’s no problem for players going and using that to upgrade their gear as soon as the new patch comes out, because they still have to get the new gear to be able to upgrade it.”
According to Stockton, these specific changes are just one part of the updates fans can expect, which will ultimately transform day-to-day play of World of Warcraft.
“I think the biggest change would probably be the changes we’ve done to daily quests, where people have been used to logging daily and getting their stuff done to get their tokens for their bonus rolls,” he said. “Now, the Timeless Isle is really a whole different take on that. We’re going for more of an exploration and discovery route. You’ll still be getting tokens to use for the bonus rolls, but you’ll be getting them in a completely different way. The idea is that it can feel different every day. You could explore a different part of the island. You could find a different event. You could find a different treasure chest. It’s really a chance to bring that sense of discovery back to the game. ‘I haven’t been in this cave before. There probably should be a treasure chest at the end of it.’ We looked at it that way. That’s the way we spawned the island, with the idea that people were walking around trying to find stuff and really rewarding them by having something be there. You don’t know what it is. Every time you find it, it could be a boss. It could be an event. It could be just a treasure chest to find. It’s something that, hopefully, will feel different and random for a long period of time.”
Both Chilton and Stockton emphasized that maintaining a “new” feel for an aging game is an important part of keeping players coming back every day.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges, because you always have to balance that against players wanting more of the kind of content that they already know and love,” Chilton explained. “But it’s very important for us to always give people new experiences. In a lot of ways, the Timeless isle is designed to give people a fresh new take on the outdoor world content. At the same time, every time we have an expansion, we try to introduce new features like the pet battle system or the farm, things like that to vary up the player experience. You’ll continue to see us doing things like that going forward.”
“I think Proving Grounds is another feature in 5.4 that’s pretty cool,” Stockton added. “I think it’s actually going to be a neat long-term thing. It’s just coming in with 5.4, later in the cycle, but the idea there is that maybe someone has never healed before. Maybe they’ve tanked forever as a druid. They have a healing option, but they’ve always been scared to do that in a dungeon environment, because people might get mad at them if they’re not healing well. Now they can do that in a way that feels just like a dungeon. We’ve set the whole thing up so they can actually see party frames and heal on the frames like they would be expected to do in an actual dungeon environment. But it’s also cool for people who maybe want to hone their skills. Like a tank that wants to see how good they can do and play all the way through all the stages. There’s a couple of different options for something like that, but it’s really a learning tool, right? We use item level right now to see if you qualify to do a dungeon. Maybe we could say that you have to get gold in Proving Grounds to do that instead. I think there are lots of options for the Proving Grounds in the long term that could be really great for the game.”
After years of patches, Chilton made it clear that, while nothing is ever perfect, the team has a solid system in place for rolling out new content while minimizing problems.
“It’s not an exact science,” he laughed. “Every new patch brings new challenges. We have a pretty good process now, though, for testing the content on the public test realm. Our QA team is really strong. We also have the user experience testing group that does qualitative types of testing. And then of course we also have a really good process for being able to fix bugs on the fly once things are live. Our server team has refined the technology to a point where it’s better engineered than it ever has been before. We’ve gotten ourselves to a point where the patches now are smoother today, generally speaking, than they were four or five years ago.”