World of Warcraft dev stream

World of Warcraft: Legion Beta begins May 12th

Sadly, I can’t just fill up an article with that headline (though the temptation is strong indeed), but the main thing you can take away from the World of Warcraft Developer Interview this evening with Jesse Cox and Ion Hazzikostas: The Beta is finally happening. The Alpha servers will be coming down for good, there will be a character wipe, and then the doors are open (if you’re lucky enough to get a Beta invite) to start playing Legion for yourself. Legion Beta begins May 12th at 2pm PDT, though I’ll tell you now that’s not likely to be set in stone or indeed be precise. Blizzard, however, feels that it’s in a position to start the ball rolling, and you’ll be logging in to get your Artifact before visiting your Class Order Hall for the first time.

The Dev Talk was fairly comprehensive, as it goes, though there were no discussions of either upcoming raid content or indeed the changes to PvP. However, as was abundantly apparent in Twitch chat, the business of Legacy/Vanilla servers is front and center in a great many players’ minds. The issue was discussed and an interesting side point made, but if you were hoping this transmission would confirm their implementation for Legion? Sadly, you’re out of luck. If you don’t have the faintest idea why Legacy servers are now an issue? MMOGames has you covered with the background info and an article I’ve written, which you’ll see in my regular Wednesday World of Warcraft column.

However, let’s get on with what did get discussed, shall we?


Class Order Halls Are Not Garrisons 2.0

A lot of very interesting comments came from Mr. Hazzikostas in relation to Class Order Halls, which form the base of operations for players in Legion. This is your World Questing hub at Level 110, the place where you’ll build your artifact weapons unique abilities and powers, and it is pretty much a static experience. It’s now very clear that you will have little or no effect on how the place looks. Ion likened it to going to visit somebody else’s house and the fact you’d not try and change their decor to fit your ideas of aesthetically pleasing. This will, of course come as a disappointment to some, but is probably inevitable when you understand how important the stylistic overview of the expansion’s backdrop is to Blizzard.

It’s also very apparent that Warcraft has learned lessons that the Missions’ ‘experience’ has wrought on the nuts and bolts of general game-play: your missions  this time will involve far fewer followers and considerably less of an emphasis on just reaping rewards without ever stepping out of your ‘home.’ In fact, it was made very clear that this time the opposite would be the case: if you want the shiny loot, you’re going to have to work for it. Aware of how many people who have, in Hazzikostas’ own words been ‘scarred by the mission table’ they’re trying to make the whole experience far more about actual player participation and less about just setting things up and leaving them to run unattended. In effect, your Class Hall’s a big Class Clubhouse. Remember to bring your own beer.


Vanilla Is The New Black

It was inevitable that Vanilla got at least a nod, but what became more interesting from a general Warcraft standpoint was the admission by Hazzikostas that the ‘traditional’ leveling experience was in need of a do-over. It’s long been an issue of contention in sections of the community, and to see a Warcraft Dev admit publicly this was not only true but was being actively considered (and in some cases already hotfixed) was a pleasant surprise. In Ion’s own words, 1-100 should be a ‘satisfied, well-paced experience’ and clearly isn’t right now, and it needs fixing to ensure that current content is as attractive as it can possibly be.

Every experience should be epic, including that at L27, and this is a point many players have wanted to be both acknowledged and addressed by the development team. There was also the suggestion that the flexible level tech design that Legion utilizes on the Burning Isles could be amended to low level zones to increase and extend their longevity. To have this mentioned in the same space as the discussion of Vanilla and Prestige options is significant too, and it should give at least some encouragement for those players who feel the company places far too much significance on the end-game experience.


Mythic + Is The New Mythic.

Likely to get the most people excited is the promise of Dungeons remaining relevant, and not simply for leveling to 110, through the entire tenure of Legion’s lifespan. Central to this is the concept of the Mythic + dungeon: once you complete it first in a set time? You’ll be awarded with a Keystone, inside which a number of ‘affixes’ can be placed. These are effectively damage modifiers to the basic bosses and trash in each Dungeon, which make them react in differing ways. By running more dungeons you effectively increase the power of your stone, and can then run the same places for greater reward.

More significantly, at the start of each server reset, your efforts for the previous seven days are rewarded with a chest full of loot earned on the basis of that last week’s performance. To make things easier these ability ‘affixes’ will be set to the same worldwide timetable, so you’ll always know what’s in store for you at any given time. This is meant to provide an alternative to raiding for some, but a supplement for others. Mostly, it is genuinely encouraging to see that the biggest single complaint about Dungeons since forever is finally being looked at and aggressively addressed. I for one welcome our new Mythic + Overlords.


Not Everything Is In The Beta

As of Thursday, you’ll not get everything that will be in the release client, that much was confirmed. In fact, Ion Hazzikostas went so far as to suggest that everybody will at least want to level a Demon Hunter through the starting experience, if only to see the three new cinematics that the team is producing just for this journey. It also wasn’t made 100% clear if you’ll experience the pre-expansion event either, and it may well be that you’ll be restricted to simply starting your Artifact Questline and then questing as if this were the final product. I’d keep an eye on the PTR for more details.

The World Is Your Oyster.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, it was admitted that Blizzard lost sight of the lore’s significance in Warlords, and they finally grasp that both story and context matter. Of the little I have played of the Alpha, I know this is most definitely the case: this now extends to all forms of questing, including the World dailies you’ll be able to pick and choose from once you max out. The areas you will be sent to have accompanying story lines that aren’t just left as unexplained or assumed. In fact, voice overs and in situ explanation is the new way of helping players understand their context and the relevance of the places they’re playing in.

world of warcraft dev interview

All in all, what we saw in an hour is vastly encouraging for those people for whom Warcraft’s not just about one part of the process. The fact that Hazzikostas apologized from the outset for the lack of a Beta back in August was telling: they know that mistakes have been made, that fact is now abundantly obvious. Here was the admission too that Missions competed with other content in Warlords, and they led people to prefer doing nothing over encouraging them to actually play. That one factor alone can probably be held responsible for the vast majority of the game’s downfall since Draenor launched, and Activison Blizzard understands what was done wrong. This expansion clearly sets out to address these imbalances. Whether it succeeds will now be held up to a far stricter workout than has been available in previous months.

The Alpha process has had its detractors, including some very public abusers, and to get the game into the final testing phase has become a matter of some urgency considering the August 30 release date. One also assumes we’ll see the PTR spring to life at some point too with the pre-expansion event, which will probably be shortly after the Beta is live and established (and probably after the Overwatch commercial launch). I’m still betting late June for the event proper to drop, but it is looking increasingly likely that July will be when the Legion finally returns to Azeroth.

Whatever happens, it is clear, at least in my mind, that this latest iteration of the MMO is in caring and considerate hands. You may not agree with the direction the title has taken in recent years, but there is absolutely no denying how dedicated and passionate these guys are to the task that is now ahead of them. I for one am genuinely excited for the game going forward and looking forward to both hearing and seeing how a new crop of testers enjoy their time on the Broken Isles. Legion Beta begins May 12th, and I hope to see you there when it does. Remember to try and break everything, and extensively report on anything you see as not working properly. Your feedback lays the path for the future of this game and for the paths of millions of other players in the future.

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