During the second day of the World of Warcraft media event, which took place on June 7, we were invited to a presentation on Legion and interviews with lead game designers Cory Stockton and Julian Morris. The presentation for the game itself mostly included information that’s already been released, but there was also a teaser for an upcoming animated short. Harbingers will be a multi-episode animated comic that will follows the journey of Illidan, and his Illidari, after establishing the Black temple.
After the short presentation, I was able to play around with the current World of Warcraft: Legion Beta build and then discuss it with Cory and Julian. Here is how the interview went down.
Legion is bringing all kinds of new elements and gameplay mechanics to World of Warcraft. What part of the expansion are you most proud of?
Cory: The Demon Hunter is pretty incredible, as far as being a new class that feels fresh, approachable for new players and also just something that looks so cool. It fulfills a fantasy for people and that’s always one of our number one driving factors when we’re thinking about something. ‘What fantasy does this fulfill?’ That’s always something we think about before we build it. I think that fantasy of playing Illidan was really the goal and I think we’ve been able to nail it.
What niche does the Demon Hunter bring that other classes in the game don’t already have?
Cory: It’s mobility. One-hundred percent, it’s the whole defining characteristic behind the Demon Hunter. The glide, the dash, the fact that so many other abilities can be used while they’re moving, so you don’t have to stop. You’re constantly moving as a Demon Hunter. That’s very new.
We haven’t done a lot of that originally because it’s pretty hard with our animation systems and server-side structures for the game. We’ve been able to make a ton of advancements on that stuff and make sure that when you press a button you get an instant reaction so that the class feels super agile. That all comes together to make that sense of mobility feel like something you haven’t seen in WoW before.
Julian: We had to invest a lot into the Demon Hunter to fully realize that fantasy of the character. So just by this investment we’ve added additional tech and all sorts of things that have rippled out across all the classes.
Was the added mobility difficult to balance without making the class too powerful in any situation?
Cory: For sure. Any time we build a new class I think it’s an extremely difficult endeavor to figure out where does that class fit into the archetype for all the different types of gameplay we have. Overall, with the Demon Hunter it was super fun. Watching the guys come together, seeing new ideas, asking the animators about the glide and how the wings would work. There was just a ton of excitement around this character. I don’t think anyone ever saw it as work. Obviously, it was challenging but I think there was just so much excitement around it that it made people want to do their best.
Most other classes have three talent choices, with the exception of the Druid now having four. Why does the Demon Hunter only get two and will it eventually receive a third?
Cory: We did two because it’s what felt right for the Demon Hunter. They didn’t feel like a classes that needed a healing spec and they certainly didn’t feel like they needed another tanking or DPS spec. For many things across WoW, we just do what feels right for that individual class.
Julian: It’s kind of the purest distillation of that fantasy too. It’s been a very big push for us to really improve and crystalize the fantasy of all our classes, so the Demon Hunter had a very similar treatment.
What kinds of new cosmetic features can we expect in Legion?
Cory: The transmog feature is by far the biggest new cosmetic thing we’re adding to the game. We’ve created a whole new UI in the game called Wardrobe that essentially lets you collect all the different looks for every item in World of Warcraft. It works with every item we’ve ever made in WoW, which is a lot. The variety of what players do is pretty crazy, but it also gets you back all the bank space.
Julian: Not only that but it’s going to retroactively pick up all the quests you’ve completed and add all those items to your library. As soon as you get in there and login and open this feature for the first time you’re going to have hundreds of items there. You’ll have a huge library to work with off the bat.
Speaking of cosmetics, how are Artifact item visuals and upgrades going to work?
Cory: The only weapons in the game are Artifacts. You’ll get an Artifact in Legion and that will be your weapon for the entire expansion. The key there is that there are multiple Artifacts to choose from, one for every spec, but once you get an Artifact you can unlock different visual styles. Take Ashbringer for Paladins. You could choose a frost version, which is a unique model that has ice crystals all over it.
In addition to that, you can unlock like 7 colors so you can make your frost version a different color as well. You end up with hundreds of variations to what you can do. Dungeons and raids will drop armaments (like gems) that raise the core item level of the Artifact as a whole. Instead of getting weapon drops you now get gems to place inside of Artifacts.
PvP is going through some major changes in Legion. How will balance and progression be affected?
Cory: The new progression system is essentially unlocking talents. You’ll earn a new form of XP. As you hit different tiers you can choose to unlock individual talents that you feel like would be useful in PvP. When you hit the max level, you have the option to prestige. If you prestige, we would wipe all of your talents and wipe your experience bar, but you have a visual marker in the game that you are prestige level 2.
This doesn’t offer any benefit as far as being stronger or changing the gameplay style. It’s just the fact of showing off to other players that you’re so good you’ve prestiged however many times. Every time you prestige it changes your portrait in-game, which other players can see. This is a completely different paradigm than anything we’ve done before.
We’ve changed our items so we don’t have separate PvE and PvP items anymore. We’ve kind of done some normalization, so even if your gear levels are a little bit further apart we’ll normalize that gear so it’s a lot more skill based in PvP. The highest level items will still make you more powerful, which is important to World of Warcraft because it’s a progression game, but we want to make sure those levels aren’t so dramatic that when you play PvP you get overwhelmed. Our goal is to make PvP feel more balanced but also feel more approachable to more players. That was kind of the intention behind all of these changes.
What kind of new challenges or mechanics can we expect from dungeons or raids in Legion?
Cory: Our new Mythic Challenge mode stuff is completely brand new for Legion. What we did here is when you beat a dungeon, you can choose to charge up a crystal and what that does is make the dungeon more difficult, but it does that in different ways. It’ll assign different affixes, like you would expect from Diablo, to the creatures across the dungeon and we have multiple levels of this.
Every time you charge up the crystal it adds another affix and once you add a certain amount we transition to a new tier and you get affixes that you might not have seen before. It’s changing your gameplay style because if you get an affix of like ‘the creatures will self-destruct within 5 seconds when they get below 20% health’ completely changes the way you run the dungeon. As soon as the guy goes under 20% if you don’t kill him before he blows up, he’ll kill your whole party.
That’s a mechanic you would sometimes see on a boss, but now you’re seeing it across the whole dungeon. Not knowing what those affixes will be and dynamically changing that adds a whole new level of depth to our Mythic dungeons and it comes with associated rewards. Every time you tune up the crystal, we tune up the rewards to go with it.
Were there any lessons you learned from Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor that you plan to apply to Legion?
Cory: Oh, for sure. I think we’re always striving to deliver more content in a shorter timeframe. Obviously, that’s what players want. For us, we have to balance that with where is the current expansion, where is the current patch cycle, and making sure we spread our assets across the team to work on those individual things at the right points.
I think the biggest lessons that we would take is we want to reduce any sort of long gap. So having a raid come out and then having no content for like 9 months is obviously bad; we don’t want to do that. In some cases, if we’re working on an expansion, if we were to come out with another patch it could push the expansion out further. In that case we have to make a call.
What’s better for the community: for us to get the expansion done or to stop and take the whole team off of what they’re working on and put them on a different patch. The lesson learned is that we try to plan better for the future. What we’re trying to plan for Legion is a series of patches that would come out that would be a big patch, a small patch, a big patch, a small patch and to really plan ahead so that we as a team can work on it in a way that is more consistent.
We would like to thank Blizzard Entertainment once again for giving us the opportunity to attend the Warcraft world premiere and Legion conference, and we hope that our viewers learned something new about the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Developer, Event (Real Life), Expansion, Interview, Legion, World of Warcraft