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General Articles: Learning from Past Releases

By Darren Bridle on July 15, 2008

Learning from Past Releases

Blizzard is set to release a new expansion for its world renowned MMO and questions need to be answered. How big do you make it? What type of player do you cater to? Are there more raids, more mobs, more loot! However the real question should be, “What have you learned from The Burning Crusade?”

What didn't work

Location location location!


It’s clear that moving away from Azeroth, away from the lands of Dwarves, Elves, Goblins, Orcs and the like, was possibly a wrong move. It was a brave adventure that almost paid off. Moving away from traditional character backgrounds and giving a detached feeling from the mainland really was its failing. Wrath of the Lich King (WOTLK) has a big bonus; it’s ripped straight from Warcraft 3 and contains proven lore and strong character backgrounds. Die hard Warcraft fans will instantly feel comfortable on the new continent of Northrend. The team working on WOTLK is huge and contains personnel that have worked from as far back as the original game, this is really important in terms of deciding what works, what doesn’t working, and keeping a consistent feel across the expansions. But what about arriving there on day one, along with 9 million other people…

Release day blues

On the release of TBC, every player on every server had to go through one portal and battle through the same zone to kick off the levelling frenzy. In WOTLK, you enter Northrend via a Zepplin however you will not see a scene reminiscent of “how many people can you fit in a Mini Cooper”, because players will arrive in one of two zones; Howling Fjord or Borean Tundra, essentially cutting, in half, the massive number of players eagerly setting a precious first step into the new world. This is a valuable lesson from the release of TBC.

The Secret of Illidan

In TBC, the main arch villain was Illidan. You heard about the guy everywhere, weapons, quests, NPCs and monsters all named after the elusive Illidan. But the only time you ever get to see Illidan is to kill him in Black Temple. Rubbish! Blizzard admitted that they were too protective over Illidan. An important change in terms of perception is about to take place. For 99% of the World of Warcraft community, the story was never really started let alone finished, it just kind of started in the middle, and followed what can only be called fragmented quest lines. And the only way you hear about how it all ends is from the remaining 1% - hardcore raiders. With WOTLK, you will be able to learn about the main character – Arthas - as well as see him and talk to him from the second you step foot on the new continent. The quests will have smoother transitions and storyline that flows better. That with the background of Warcraft 3 : The Frozen Throne, means that we are in for a great story and some really interesting quests to dig our teeth into.

What did work?

 Blizzard has been quoted saying that they are happy with how Auchindoun Spirit Towers and Halaa in Nagrand worked. Having PvP areas within a zone that benefit everybody for that particular faction worked really well. Realising the positive effect of such areas prompted adding an entire non instanced PvP zone, Lake Wintersgrasp in WOTLK. The new zone features siege warfare and destructible buildings, meaning players can enjoy a much more engrossing PvP atmosphere. That’s quite a step up from controlling a couple of towers. Hopefully further down the line, we will start to see more risk in PvP rather than simply a ghost or a lost objective.

Caverns of Time was a big success in the “what worked” department for Blizzard. Trapping various events in time forever is a great way to explain how past story lines come together to have effect in the current world. With WOTLK, the story of Arthas is retold in “The culling” using Stratholme as an additional “captured in time” dungeon. Using this way of telling stories from the past, players will find out just exactly what happened to Stratholme to turn it into such a forlorn place.


TBC introduced smaller raid zones. Originally raid zones were built for raid sizes up to 40, Blizzard reduced this to 25 and added two zones for a raid size of 10. It was quickly realised that the 10 man zones were extremely popular and had many of the complexities of 25 man zones (Take Zul’Aman compared with Gruul’s Lair). In order to take what worked for the new raid zones in TBC, Blizzard has created several raid zones that have the option of either raiding it with 10 or raiding it with 25, with the only change being the difficulty tuning. Essentially, the strategy will remain the same, with the same event scripts. This is a big step for the game that currently has a huge separation between guilds that can complete 25 man raids and guilds that continue to complete 10 man raids with no desire for larger style events. Additionally, if you look back on what I talked about with the quests, it will no longer be the 1% of the game that can witness the final demise of Arthas (assuming slaughter him). Instead, since it can be completed on a 10 man (again another assumption), then it opens the content to a lot more of the player base.

Trade Skills

Without knowing too much about trade skills other than the crafting levels going up to 450 and quotes along the lines of “bigger and better stuff!”, the addition of inscriptions is certainly a new and extremely innovative idea. Not only does it mean bringing in tons of new spells which make the old spells redundant, but it means having sets of new spells along with increased old ones, giving spell casters a huge arsenal of potential spells to look forward to.


This article is about lessons learned, not necessary about new content, which is why there is no mention of the hero class being added. WOTLK’s biggest success is going to come from Warcraft 3 : Frozen Throne, it’s a long time favourite with Blizzard’s core fan base. However, since it has proven to be successful, even those that do not follow the lore and storyline that closely, will still find an excellent expansion and part of this will be down to the lessons learned from its big and somewhat awkward brother, The Burning Crusade.