What will it take for you to get back into World of Warcraft? If you’re a lapsed player of this genre-defining game, Blizzard is hoping that one of the many new additions they’re introducing in the upcoming expansion, Warlords of Draenor, will be enough to grab people’s interest. And if those features don’t work, then there’s one other thing they can hopefully fall back on: peer pressure.
Peer pressure only works, of course, if enough of your friends are also into the same thing. This seems to be one of the major reasons why Warlords of Draenor allows you to jump one character straight to level 90. Blizzard’s senior game designer Steve Burke, speaking to GameSpot at PAX East 2014, said the ability to jump to the highest starting cap allows groups of friends to start the new expansion at the same point.
"As the game has gone on and we’ve created more content, the delta between the player who’s been playing for a long time and someone who’s coming back into the game is becoming bigger and bigger. It just felt that this was the right time to bring people back to the same point," he said.
"Expansions are big events, people come back to the game for expansions because they want to play with their friends. And people who are still playing want their friends to come back. But there’s always this problem of 'well, I'm still level 85, or 80.' Some people just take an expansion off. (But now) everybody is at the same point, everybody is at the same content, so let's just started."
Jumping to level 90 is, of course, a very handy thing if you don’t have the time to spend leveling up a character. But it also has drawbacks. Getting to a high level without gaining the experience, skill, and nous that develops from playing a character for hundreds of hours means that the newly playable land of Draenor could fill up with players with poor skills (but excellent gear). So how does the experienced player looking for good team members for a high-level raid sort the wheat from the chaff? Blizzard PvP designer Brian Holinka says Blizzard has a solution for that problem--requiring players to earn a silver ranking in specific roles in Proving Grounds before they can join Heroic-level dungeon raids.
"You’ll still be able to get into dungeons with others, it’s not going to be a stiff arm to the content, but it’s going to make it so that those veteran players aren’t inundated with people they feel they have to retrain, and it’s not going to dumb down the game too much for them. But also for the new players they’re not going to be intimidated by these veteran players who’ll just be shouting at them the whole time," Holinka said.
With Warlords of Draenor, returning players will also see something that hasn’t been seen in any of Warcraft’s previous expansions--a significant visual upgrade.
The visual bump is readily apparent. Characters--both players and NPCs--feature much more detail and animation, with a dwarf character I saw sporting actual, moving fingers, as opposed to the oven mitt-like movement in previous expansions. Burke, half-jokingly, points out the new details in character facial hair, praising Warlord of Draenor's beard technology.
"We keep saying we have awesome new beard technology," he says smiling. "But seriously, the beards are awesome."
"We just felt that this (introducing a significant visual upgrade) was the right time to do it. Mists of Pandaria, the worg and the goblins, those were times we introduced races. And we were kind of developing our technology and making it better. And the panda was our test case for getting this new thing up and going. And once we got it going for one race, well then we decided to propagate it for the rest."
"You can actually see the evolution of getting to this point from the worg, goblins, to pandas, to now spreading it out to all races. It’s not as if we woke up yesterday and decided to do this, it's actually been a long process getting to here."
As for how this upgraded visual fidelity will affect the game's recommended specs, Burke says he has no specific information yet on what those specs will be. But he does insist that the game will still perform well for lower-end systems.
"We have some low-res versions of the character models, so there's the ability for players to have lower performance requirements for the characters. We’re very conscious of the fact that players can play this on almost any computer out there, so we want to preserve that. But at the same time we felt it’s time to provide some higher fidelity," he said.
Warlords, of course, isn’t all about looks and skipping to level 90. There are numerous changes and additions--big and small--planned for Warcraft’s fifth expansion. One of the biggest is the concept of garrisons, which has players build and maintain their own home base in Draenor. This base will be a way to farm resources, as well as be a “home” for certain NPCs that will become your allies.
Expansions are big events, people come back to the game for expansions because they want to play with their friends. And people who are still playing want their friends to come back.Blizzard's Steve Burke
"One of the cool things about garrisons first of is that you’ll have a mine, you’ll have a barn, and a farm you can start with straight away. All of these are going to do, sort of what the farm did for you in Pandaria, but blown out. Those are going to be producing resources for you even when you’re logged off," Holinka said. "You’ll always have more buildings than plots in your garrison, so you’ll have to make some tangible choices. Each one of those buildings will have specific benefits."
"But also as you’re leveling up you’re going to encounter a lot of NPCs that are recruitable and that you can send back to your garrison. And they can do a few things--you can plug them into your crafting--a blacksmith can hammer away, and he’ll level up his blacksmithing skills, he’ll discover new recipes for you. You will also be able to open up missions, and these are basically quests for your minions."
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor is slated for release for PC and Mac in fall of 2014.See more coverage of PAX East 2014