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Feature Article

WoW's Battle For Azeroth Expansion Might Be The Best Intro To The MMO Yet

We talk with John Hight about what Battle for Azeroth will bring to World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft has a new expansion on the way, but even though this is the seventh major addition to Blizzard's MMO, it still might be a good place for newbies to join. At Blizzcon 2017, we talked with WoW production director John Hight about that new player experience and what features will be introduced in the newly announced expansion.

You can read our full interview below, or catch up on some of the big Blizzcon news you might've missed right here. And in other big Warcraft announcements, we also have a feature focusing on some of the big questions raised by the legacy server World of Warcraft classic that was also announced at the show.

The transcript below has been edited for content and clarity.

I feel like the Horde and the Alliance have actually been getting closer and closer together, but Battle for Azeroth pushes the two sides apart again. It's really focusing on that original faction experience. But what was the impetus to separate the two again?

John Hight: As they have been historically right? They'll come together, they'll fight a common foe, and then their rift will form. And this is a pretty big rift that occurred during Legion. It was kind of an uncomfortable alliance between the Alliance and Horde to defeat a common foe, the Legion. But now that the Legion is defeated--spoilers but I think everyone knows that at some point we're going to end the expansion--things happen that left scars between the two sides. And then things happen in the opening of Battle for Azeroth that cement it. Some of the imagery that you'll see is the scene is with Sylvanas standing in front Teldrassil on fire. Then with the opening cinematic, that event was right before the Alliance finally says, "Okay, we've had it" before they assault Lordaeron. So some pretty heavy stuff is going to happen between them. And we just felt like this would be a really cool time to go back into that age old battle between Alliance and Horde.

Having two new continents...are the cartographers in Azeroth just really, really bad at their job? How do these new landmasses keep popping up?

You know, it's pretty rough out there. I mean we've only got seafaring ships and blimps. You can't possibly see everything. [laughs] They're pretty much crossing known channels.

Is it going to be something like Pandaria where it's been hidden in the mists of time?

No. I mean this was talked about in some of the fiction, and it's an area that we've avoided in the game itself. But it was in an area that's completely unknown. The whole point of it is that both sides are reaching out and trying to pull together additional allies in this big battle. And the last thing they want to do is to have one of these new areas, and people that inhabit them, fall into the hands of the other side.

I've always been more of an Alliance player. But story-wise, I get a lot of flak from Horde friends who say their lore is better. The Horde has that fall from grace, which makes them feel a little bit more relatable in some ways, whereas the humans can kind of seem like the nice guys who end up being dicks.

You know that's interesting. I play Horde more, but I try to play both sides so I have a max level character on each side. And I think I go back and forth on the story myself. I feel like ... sometimes I feel like, "Ah! The Alliance is such a better story! The Horde should have this!"

It's whatever resonates with you, I think. We don't purposefully try to make the Alliance into...whatever you said [laughs]. I think that the characters are pretty powerful. Anduin, in this expansion, is really coming in to his own. He's now stepping up to be the king, and there's a rite of passage. Even in the cinematic that we showed, there's this discovery on his part where he basically kills off a lot of Horde people around him. And then you realize, is that really his shtick or not. And he ends up doing this big mass heal, which is more what he's about. So I think he's incorporating a little bit of his father, the Alliance, and his own identity into this.

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By the same token you're gonna see a lot of the evolution of Sylvanas. We saw some of her in Legion. We told some of her story--she's the chieftain of the Horde--but you're gonna see a lot more of her in Battle for Azeroth. Obviously these stories are less about this one common foe as in Legion but more about the two sides.

In that way, it seems like it's going to be a more personal story, because we've already done these kind of world ending, huge narratives.

Absolutely. It's not a big giant monster or a titan like Sargeras. Now, it's about the greatest enemy that you could possibly have. Well, it's the other guy, the other faction.

In some ways, this feels like going back to the beginning, to the original conflict of orcs versus humans. Do you feel like this is gonna be a good place for new players to start?

I think yes, in terms of the story but also in terms of what we're doing in the game itself. For a while, the level up experience hasn't gotten as much love from us as other aspects of the game. So we're going through and we're actually using the technology that we developed for Legion where you can go in to any zone. You can be at 109, I could be at 100, and yet we could have a great play experience together. So we can essentially build our areas in such a way that it's almost level independent, right?

What we're doing is going back and deploying this scaling technology across all the existing areas in Azeroth. And you'll actually be able to make choices too. For instance, as you're leveling up from one to 110, and ultimately 120 in Battle for Azeroth, you'll be able to make a decision: "Do I want to go up to Northrend and experience that content? Or do I want to go over to Burning Crusade?" There's a lot of content to cover, but we want you to have a nice, smooth leveling experience. So we're busily at that right now. We're not getting rid of any of the old quest content, so you're not gonna lose out on your favorite moments. They'll still be there.

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But we just want to make sure that it's a smooth and cool experience. If you go in and play a dungeon, or if you go into quest content in a given area, you're not gonna out level it.

For someone coming in cold, we're still gonna have the beginning, one to 20 acclimation zones that get you used your spells, weapons, and abilities. And then around 20, that's when you're out in the world and you start making choices about where you want to go.

And then ally factions are gonna be really cool for both people that are new to the game and people that have played the game for a while. There are three new allied races for each side. You're gonna go through some kind of unlock content, and then once you do that you can go and create, for instance--if you're playing Horde side--you can create a Nightborn. And play from level 20 all the way up to 110. If you do that you unlock a pretty cool heritage armor set for your Nightborn.

If you don't want to do that, if you say, "Hey. I've done the unlock but now I want to start playing as a Nightborn Warlock, whatever." You can boost and go right to that, but we're trying to give that little extra incentive to people that want to go through the level-up experience again.

Those aren't entirely new races though, right?

Yeah. We call them allied races, they're an elf, for instance, in the case of the Nightborn. They're gonna have, for the most part, the same armor, the same talent tree as an elf, depending on what class you pick. There are gonna be some unique racials for those. So it's largely cosmetic. Obviously some bragging rights if you level up from the beginning and get the heritage armor set, which you can trans-mog into any armor piece. And then the Racial Abilities go on with it.

Thinking about jumping into World of Warcraft now, in some ways it's like a really long-running TV show. Like Doctor Who--you have people who are really into it, and they've been with it from the beginning. But that can be intimidating for someone to jump in from the beginning. Especially as you keep adding more and more content, that increases that barrier to entry. What is your answer to that type of person, who would be down for this kind of experience, but who feel there's too much to catch up on?

Yeah, our expectation isn't that everybody coming to the game new is gonna wanna go from the beginning. That was why we introduced the boost way back with Warlord of Draenor. It's a way for you, if you're new to the game but you wanna play with a friend but they're already at max level, you can upgrade immediately and level together. So if that's what you want to do, that's cool.

We actually have a new boost experience. You saw a taste of it with Legion, and we're gonna be updating it for Battle for Azeroth. Effectively what that does is, if you decide to boost, we are gonna run you through a scenario that teaches you about your class. But we do wanna prepare you so you aren't just completely unaware on what you need to do.

I'd actually stepped away for a while before Legion. But while that tutorial was helpful, I felt like I still had to go online to read up on the best rotations, that I needed some outside help to get a real feel for the best build for my class. Will there be more of that kind of explanation in-game?

Well, there are people that want to be max and are looking for, "I gotta make sure I get the most DPS!" And I think that there's always gonna be a large number of our fanbase that are out there doing an analysis and trying to figure out how can they can get the absolute most out of their class. But I don't think anyone should feel like they have to do that. You can be very successful in our dungeons, in our raids, without having to get the absolute last drop of best-in-slot gear possible.

In terms of the way we make the game, we're always cognoscent of new players coming in. We still have a substantial number of new players every time we roll out an expansion, which is kind of hard to believe. There's people out there that haven't played World of Warcraft! And so every time we roll out an expansion, every time we roll out a patch, we try to fine-tune it, make it a little bit easier for new folks coming in.

It's always a trade off, because we don't want to leave behind our experienced players, but we also don't want to segregate our noobs to the point where they don't get to enjoy the broader community. We are fine-tuning. You'll see little traits and features here and there, but we do have an eye on them.

Thinking about all the changes, how do you approach all these new things that you're adding with Battle for Azeroth balanced against the features and things you've added previously?

It's fun! We always earmark a feature or two in an expansion as, I don't want to call it experimental, but something that we're willing to let go the next expansion. Like, we looked at Garrisons. People wanted some form of their own, customizable space. We learned a lot from that, and I think some of those features made their way forward into order halls and the missions and followers that we had in Legion. But the notion of being cooped up in your garrison and not being out in the world--we decided that's not something we want to incorporate and make part of core WoW.

So that's what's fun about expansions. We can experiment; we keep evolving and making it better. And the stuff that was just okay but that doesn't have enough legs for us to want to stick with it.

Justin Haywald on Google+
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Justin Haywald

GameSpot's Managing Editor and part-time stunt double for Elijah Wood.
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46 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for ApocalypticSpaz

I’m a noob to WoW. I’ve seen very little of the content. I am glad the game is continuing to grow. I’m not really a group player even though I like playing on a busy server.

I prefer the MMO genre despite that limitation, but find group content difficult because I don’t really know a lot of players. I hope that will change someday. I am a member of a guild but they are all max level players that spend all their time raiding. They need to make room for the little guy.

Avatar image for ferna1234

just as there are still Catholics around 2000 years after the hype, there's still going to be people playing wow in 4017

Avatar image for Pyrosa

The plot is on infinite loop.

Avatar image for 4love10

A pain to watch,same very old graphic,idiotic animations,no improvements,lots of animal races,conclusion: PATHETIC

Avatar image for gothsalvation

@4love10: So what are you doing here? No one is forcing you to read this article, watch the video or play the game. Get a life.

Avatar image for darkrat

you know its a lazy a.. expansion when they dont add new races. but mehh its the same stuff, new area with new quests no fly zone till you finish all the quests. BORING!

they killed PVP when they removed enchants for a number system, yep spend years to earn enchants find rare rings n armor only to be removed for a 1,2,3 number on your eqquipment.

as simple as they try to make the game and make you play the way they want you to play, im shur it will be a 1 button attack system soon.

Avatar image for deactivated-5aad91a998f77

@darkrat: It would suit you to research before opening your flytrap.

This expansion contains 6 new races. Yes, they made a mistake when they introduced stat templates (as I told them over and over again) but it is being removed in BfA.

Furthermore, in order to attempt to revive world PvP, there are no longer dedicated PvP servers, but instead if you enable PvP, which can only be changed in capitals, you'll only meet people who have it enabled, so world PvP will actually happen instead of people just running past each other because they're PvE'ers stuck on a PvP server.

Avatar image for justin01

Finally... back to focus Horde vs Alliance. I am so happy!

Avatar image for irishinstigator

Even friendlier to new players than before? I didn't think it could get worse... Haven't they realized by this point, their obsessive catering to new players is what drove off a huge chunk of their original fan base in the first place? Evidently not....

Avatar image for newbpwnr

@irishinstigator: killing off pvp and sharding everything surely doesn't help.

Avatar image for DarkAztaroth

@newbpwnr: Why killing off pvp ? They seem to be trying to revive world pvp with the new features of this expansion.
World PVP died with flight for the most part, which is something they've been avoiding in new areas for 2 expansions now. (heck even thunder and timeless island in mop were flightless)

They even use CRZ to make you see more people in what would have been empty zones on your server.

Avatar image for newbpwnr

@DarkAztaroth: reviving? by removing pvp servers?

the warcraft3ish features look neat. wods warcraft 3 features looked neat too.

enjoy wod2

Avatar image for Zignoff

UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGH Are we really going to go back to that worn out Ally versus Horde crap? Seriously what in Flying Spaghetti monster gods reasons could they half ass come up with to start a conflict, What was the point of the last 5 expansions if not to showcase how stupid it ever was.

Avatar image for infernoxas

@Zignoff: You know they haven't done strictly Horde vs Alliance since Vanilla, right?

Avatar image for jyml8582

The most misleading if nothing else. The intro movie made it looked like they're finally introducing castle siege mechanics into the game, when in fact they had nothing like that planned. It's just more of the old shit, more quests more instances and more raids and gear grinds, period. I left WoW in 2013 and it hasn't given me any reason to return yet, and by the look of things it probably never will.

Avatar image for DarkAztaroth

@jyml8582: While unrelated to the cinematic, you might wanna take a look at the feature they announced, warfronts, not full on castle siege, but still looks interesting

Avatar image for adunai

"we're always cognoscent of new players coming in"

Maybe, cognizant of?

Avatar image for wexorian

Diablo 4 ,D3 Expansion character. Diablo 2 remaster is not missing They are fine since Console players who did not played D2 are fin with it, and Path of exile is Ten times ahead and better than Diablo 3, Overwatch fun to play but still nothing SPECIAL , i don't like OP unbalanced shooter that lasts 3-5 minute, Hots if it had Items /mastery system like Lol it would been interesting to play, Hearthstone their greatest money grab creation ever, It puts player vs player who have better deck and forces you to waste real money for it, SC 2 F2P nice addition , and Wow still going good for me, Anyway still i cheer up for blizzard They can do and BE BETTER than Craptivision.

Avatar image for wexorian

@7tizz: I wait it since wotlk damn it :D

Avatar image for gamingdevil800

World Of Warcraft is one of those games I've been meaning to play but haven't got around to. I suppose it would be easy now with a level booster to just fly through all the story.

Avatar image for aeronperyton

@gamingdevil800: This is a great time to start. The old world will be upgraded with level scaling, so you can choose where you go to level up. And that will get added to the next patch for Legion, long before the new expansion is released.

Avatar image for gvt2000

@7tizz: As badass as Illidan was, nothing beats the WotLK trailer. Resurrecting a dragon while hearing Artha's father narrate how proud of him he was (before going dark) was both emotional and epic

Avatar image for newbpwnr

@7tizz: that cinematic was for a patch not the whole expansion.

Avatar image for aeronperyton

@newbpwnr: The cinematic for the expansion was Illidan saying, "You are not prepared!". The cinematic for Black Temple was Akama telling his origin story.

Avatar image for newbpwnr

the open world is sharted/phased now. its nolonger the "world" it once was.

then they remove pvp servers killing the "war"

but there are always loot boxes.

Avatar image for DarkAztaroth

@newbpwnr: The point of the removal of the pvp servers is to make it so people can toggle pvp on anytime even on what was pve servers. They said there would be bonusses to doing so (maybe more exp or drops or whatever) and that this would allow them to design open world pvp content without the fact that alot of their servers and players will never even be able to partake in it.

Avatar image for newbpwnr

@DarkAztaroth: sharding/phasing is a cost cutting measure not a feature.

i want to know the people on my realm. even my enemy.

Avatar image for wexorian

@newbpwnr: Loot boxes? in wow? where had you SEEN lOOT BOXES in wow .......

Avatar image for newbpwnr

@wexorian: every day when you do emmisaries. Paragon rep. In your order hall every Tuesday.

Not pay2win yet but it's creeping in slowly.

Avatar image for gothsalvation

@newbpwnr: Seriously? Emissaries are "technically" loot boxes but all they give you is gold, order resources, crappy gear and the bonus boxes MIGHT give you a mount, that's pretty much it! You're not force to do the emissaries since you can get all that (but the mounts) doing pretty much anything else in the game.

Avatar image for newbpwnr

@gothsalvation: its still gambling. with your time instead of your money.

Avatar image for afromakka

Guild Wars 2 also has that area scaling system since 2012 aaaaaand their expansions are optional !!

you dont have to own HoT to Play PoF also if you quit the game for one two three or even four years - i didn't play for 2 years now - when you come back all you need to ctach up on is the story which you can read or watch a recap for

your gear and stats are still viable

Avatar image for HenrySix

@afromakka: gw 2 is a bust. get over it.

Avatar image for DarkAztaroth

@afromakka: Scaling's the one feature I'm not sure how to feel about, because I hated it in GW2, not as bad as I hate being scaled down in FFXIV, but darn it feels awkward most of the time.

The only redeeming factor for wow's version of the feature is that it only scales up to a certain level x-x I'm still abit scared tho.

Avatar image for wexorian

@afromakka: Wow's Previous expansions are in Same package you don't need to buy previous expansions since 2012, Naah Gw 2 Sunk deep , Sadly Wow is still best MMO out there and Nor GW 2 ,Tera or Star wars MMO are not better.

Avatar image for TheBigBadGRIM

If I saw it on TV I'd think it was another generic mobile tower defense game until I saw the logo. They really don't have anything exciting for this game and are reluctantly bringing back Vanilla but they don't understand why so many want to go back to the old days so they'll screw that up too.

When Jeff Kaplan left the team after WOTLK to work on the Titan MMO the game started its slow death.

Avatar image for newbpwnr

@TheBigBadGRIM: sadly i have to agree. i hated kaplan back then but he is doing a lot of good for overwatch. too bad the activision machine will ruin that game too.

Avatar image for josefo

No. Lich King was.

Avatar image for Starshine_M2A2

My life for the Horde.

Avatar image for m4a5

Screw you and your 3rd party ad blocked videos.

Avatar image for Richardthe3rd

Sylvanas forever.

"Dark Lady watch over you. "

She just needs to kill Genn now. And I suspect she will.