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World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Developer Interview

Robin Baird Posted:
Interviews 0

In preparation for the official launch of World of Warcraft Wrath of the Lich King Classic, I had the opportunity to participate in an interview with Brian Birmingham and Ana Resendez. They are both Lead Software Engineers on WoW Wrath of the Lich King Classic. There were a lot of topics covered during this interview, but here are some of the highlights.

To Add or Not to Add Features

Dungeon finder is one of those features in Retail WoW, which makes finding groups to do dungeons incredibly quick and easy. However, it is often cited as something which helped erode the sense of community of players because we weren’t organically finding groups ourselves and seeing the same names over and over, which helps to build new friends and community ties. Birmingham pointed out that right from the beginning of Classic, they said if they ever get back to Wrath, they wouldn’t put dungeon finder back in.

However, there has been a lot of desire for it expressed in the community, forcing the team to reevaluate their stance. He went on to say, “the biggest argument we hear against it is ‘if you don’t like it, don’t use it,’ but it doesn’t really work that way. Once it’s available in an ecosystem, it tends to leach players away because it’s so convenient.” This is true; we saw that playout with WoW the first time. As soon as we could automatically queue for things, the number of players looking to make groups other ways crashed. Even when it was just trying to find one more person, it’s easier to throw your group in the queue than use different methods to find people. So automatic dungeon finder is something you either need to do and know it will change how the community functions or you can’t have it in the game. There’s no real compromise possible with it.

Another change the team had looked at making was combining the raid lockouts between 10 and 25 person raids. One of the pressures many guilds faced in Wrath was they felt like to maximize chances at gear, they needed to run raids on 10 man and 25 man every week. This was problematic mainly because it increased the amount of time that had to be spent raiding, and doing the same content twice as much can lead to players getting tired of it twice as fast. Additionally, there’s no easy way to break a 25 man raid into a 10 man raids, so that was an additional stressor on raid groups in Wrath. This especially became an issue with Trial of the Crusader because that’s when Heroic difficulty was added, and suddenly instead of two versions of every raid, there were four.

Wrath of the Lich King

Birmingham mentioned they received a lot of feedback from players who didn’t want the lockouts shared because people like doing one version of the raid with their friends and doing the other with pick-up groups. He explained their solution this way, “So what we decided is actually, it wasn’t really a problem until Trial of the crusader, so we’d really like to try the Ulduar model where the lockout is split between 25 man and 10 man so you can do each of those in a week. But still, the Heroic versions are something you can do optionally inside the normal version, so we are going to try and see if we can do that for Trial of the Crusader.” This is honestly an excellent solution. I’ve always been sad they moved away from having the fight change by players doing things differently during the fight and instead having it be a completely different difficulty. There are tradeoffs with each method, but if they can make that work well in ToC then it’d be wonderful to see that also applied to ICC.

Another thing that was mentioned is the UI overhaul which is coming with the Dragonflight expansion, and if there might be some possibility for some of that to go into the Classic branch as well. Birmingham mentioned that it is on their radar as something they could maybe pull in parts of, specifically mentioning the ability to move more things around on the UI. He also said, “one of the things that we were really excited about with the original Classic release, was bringing the original UI for people who were nostalgic for it, I know I’m one of them I really liked the way it looked. We worked really hard to make sure that first impression you get coming into the game is like ‘Oh right I remember this, this is what it looked like’”. With that in mind, it’s probably unlikely for Classic to get the full UI overhaul we are getting in DF, but players may see some aspect popup if the community desires it.

Harder Heroic Dungeons

A recent interview revealed that Wrath Classic would also have harder Heroic Dungeons, which will release with phase two. This is a massive change from how Wrath originally functioned, but overall it should be a positive change. If nothing else it will make it easier for raids to backfill their teams after the first tier is over because it will certainly function as a bit of a catch-up mechanic for players. One of the questions this leads to is if the Heroic+ dungeons will cease dropping rare gear and only drop epics instead.

Birmingham was quick to say that he didn’t know the exact plan to deal with loot in Heroic+; they are still in the development process for it. However, he did say that he believes the current plan is for the additional loot, which drops to be actual additional loot. So, the rare gear that normally drops in Heroic will still drop, but you’ll also get the new epic loot. He also mentioned that if that isn’t how they end up doing it, players will still be able to go back and do the regular Heroic version of the dungeons to get those rare and be able to get the enchanting mats that way.

Wrath of the Lich King Classic

Another thing people have been wondering about in regards to Heroic+ is if it would be just straight % increases on health of mobs and bosses in dungeons, or if there would be new mechanics in place similar to what has been seen with the Season of Mastery content and Mythic+ in Retail. Resendez explained that the season of mastery has been great for them to explore what can be done in Classic WoW, but they are still in the early stage of designing for Heroic+. She also said that “a philosophy the designers have gone through in Classic, and we’d like to stick with it as much as possible, is to keep some of the fantasy alive. Part of it that is we do want it to feel more organic, and I know that that’s one of the plans that they want it to feel that the added difficulty is not just an added percentage to the health. The designers are definitely looking into exploring something more immersed into the game.”

This sounds like there might be things happening in the world and in the dungeons, which might explain why everything has gotten stronger and gained new abilities. There could even be new events that occur around the increases in Heroic+ difficulty, which, although not keeping with the old historical experience of Wrath, would, in the long run, add a lot of fun and interest to playing Wrath Classic. It’ll be exciting to see if they can tie what’s happening in Heroic+ to what’s going on in the expansion itself. That’s something I’ve always wished for more of in Retail.

This entire interview was a great chance to review some of the bits we’ve known about for a while and also take a peek at what is on the horizon for Wrath Classic. Some people might be disappointed with the idea of changing some of how raiding worked and the addition of Heroic+ once they release phase two, but these changes have the potential to make Wrath Classic even better than it was. I know everyone always talks about how great Wrath was, but there were some real pain points to it as well, and it’s incredible to see the team take those challenges on with some new solutions.

Wrath of the Lich King Classic will launch globally on September 26th at 3 pm PDT. Please visit the Wrath Classic launch page to find your local timezone info.


Robin Baird

Robin loves RPGs, MMOs, JRPGs, Action, and Adventure games... also puzzle games... and platformers... and exploration games... there are very few games she isn't interested in. When it comes to MMOs she focuses on WoW and GW2 but will pick-up other games as they catch her fancy. She's a habitual returner to FFXIV because that game is an all-around great MMO.