MMORPG.com: You’ve recently decided to delay the Blood Elf redesign. Is that because it’s proving more challenging to get right?
Chilton: When we first decided ‘Hey, let’s update the character models,’ initially we had only planned to update the vanilla character models. We ended up adding Draenei to the list because Draenei are featured so prominently in Draenor, shockingly, that they kind of stood out. Everything else was in high definition and looked much better, and then you had these old Draenei models by comparison. They were better than the originals because the Burning Crusade did have a slightly higher fidelity level than the original models did, but they still really stuck out compared to what we were doing now.
So we felt that the expansion’s just not going to look right unless we do Draenei also. At the time, Chris Robinson felt that we’ll probably be able to do Blood Elves also, because some of the other things in the expansion are taking us longer than we anticipated, and he probably spoke a little bit too quickly and said we’re going to do them too, when we hadn’t really scoped it out as well as we should have yet. We’ll still be getting to the Blood Elves, but it wasn’t really initially on our list to do, then got added to the list, then fell back off the list.
MMORPG.com: When you’ve got other MMOs that have moved to a more active and dynamic form of combat, how do you feel the Warcraft experience still holds up?
Chilton: I think that it holds up surprisingly well. I think that some of that is because we’ve had ten years to refine our combat mechanics, so that from a mechanical standpoint it’s pretty strong. There’s still a lot about World of Warcraft combat that, I think, hits a good balance of the amount of interactivity versus – I don’t want to say accessibility, but you have more time to chat with people while you’re doing stuff than you do in a really frenetic action-y game. Also in some ways it makes it easier to learn: that would be the accessibility part of it. So I think that we strike a pretty good balance.
I definitely believe that we can go a long way to updating the feel of combat, just the viscerality of it, and that’s something that you’ll probably see from us in the future, is really taking that on in the same way that we’ve done HD character models. I definitely imagine that in the future we’d like to do HD combat that mechanically is the same as it is today – your fireball still is a fireball in the same way, we don’t really change how the spells work, but we can make it feel a lot cooler than it does right now.
MMORPG.com: Any thoughts around movement while casting?
Chilton: Well, we do it in some places. I think that this is one of those places where it’s almost like flying. We did that, and honestly, if I could go back in time and not do it I would probably not do it; I think that it cost the world a lot in the long run.
But I think that moving while casting is an interesting dynamic, but so is not moving while casting – it creates opportunities for interaction, it creates opportunities for strategic play, so I think that by having it we gain something in how action-y it feels, but we definitely lose something in terms of the depth of combat. I think it’s something that we should use, but use sparingly, we’re not trying to move WoW to a completely action-y model, so you’ll continue to see us use it in some places, but I don’t think it’ll be across the board change.
MMORPG.com: One of the early criticisms for the expansion was the lack of strong female NPCs. There was a saying that was bandied around – I’m not sure if it’s fair or not – that was ‘Dudebros of Draenor.’ How did you respond to that?
Chilton: Certainly, I think that some of that is a fault in the way we presented it, because I think when people think about these Warlords of Draenor, they’re thinking about these classic characters that people are familiar with, and so there isn’t a classic deliberate exclusion, it’s just they’re not obviously and clearly included on a poster like that.
Whereas, right from the beginning, we have these characters in mind – female characters – that are very important to us, like Yrel for the Alliance with the Draenei, Draka, other awesome kickass characters that are very important to us, and they’re something that continues to evolve throughout development of the game. I think that, as players continue to play through content in the beta, they’ll see more and more of how that’s developing. It’s definitely something that’s important to us, and at no point do we really sit down and think ‘How do we exclude…’ I guess in some ways, when we did this poster, it didn’t even occur to us that we’re not putting some of the characters that we should as forefront as we could have.
MMORPG.com: One of the big anathemas at end-game was the prevalence of daily quests. How are you combating that in this expansion?
Chilton: We’re taking a very different approach to the endgame world content with Warlords. What players will see is, once they get to max level, they will be presented with a daily choice of different points of interest in the world to go to, and that’s pretty much the only way in which a daily quest manifests – which point of interest would you like to go to. When you go to that point of interest, it’s much more freeform gameplay, it’s more like the Timeless Isle in Mists of Pandaria.
For example, if you decide to go to Shattrath to fight the Burning Legion forces, you go to Shattrath, there are hordes of Burning Legion enemies, they’re all doing different, interesting things, there are bosses you can fight that will give you a lot of progress to disrupting the Burning Legion forces, there are treasures you can loot that will make progress, there are prisoners you can set free, all different kinds of things you can do, just more of a sandbox-y kind of environment, to help that from becoming as stale as some of the repetitive daily quests could be.
Versus Mists of Pandaria, you kind of felt you had to do all of them. That wasn’t really the intent, but that’s how it played out. It felt that if I’m not doing all of it, then I’m falling behind on some of it, and so there was this mounting pressure that even got worse as you made progress on those and even more content unlocked. This crushing pressure of stuff to do that was repeated. So hopefully it will feel very different. It’s a new approach for us, so it’s very difficult to say authoritatively how it’ll play out, but the intent is very much to solve that problem.
MMORPG.com: What’s the player feedback been like from the beta?
Chilton: There’s a mix of everything that you’d kind of expect. I think we’re getting a lot of positive feedback in terms of the quality of the content; people are really enjoying exploring Draenor and seeing what it has to offer. There’s also the controversial stuff, like slimming down the characters, in terms of the number of abilities they have – that’s something that players are very sensitive about. No flying, that’s a controversial topic - there are some people that love it, there are people that absolutely hate it. So there’s a mix of it.
The garrison stuff is another interesting topic, because a lot of that system is still coming together. It touches practically every part of the game, and it’s one of those things where, until all the pieces are in place, we’re only seeing little snippets of it, and it’s hard to see how it’s all coming together, and also there’s a lot of it that’s just being iterated on, as we decide that some things just aren’t as cool as we thought, and doing other things. So there’s a lot of like ‘it seems like it has potential, but it’s not there yet’ and, for sure, it’s one of those things that has to all come together before it’s ‘ah, cool.’
Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.