WoW: Dragonflight is less than two weeks away from launch, and with the Dragon Isles just around the corner, Laptop Mag had the opportunity to sit in on two separate group interviews, one with Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, and the other with Associate Game Director Jeremy Feasel and Lead Software Engineer May Flores Garcias.
We have learned whether or not Allied Races will ever return, if Mythic+ will eventually expand into Classic content, how Dragonflight is going to handle timegating, and whether or not it’ll be alt-friendly right out of the gate.
Will we see the return of Allied Races?
Battle for Azeroth received plenty of criticism, but one of its most successful features was the introduction of Allied Races. Prior to this, World of Warcraft introduced new races infrequently, often every few expansions. We got Draenei and Blood Elves in 2007, Worgens and Goblins in 2010, and Pandaren in 2012.
It wasn’t until 2018 that we’d see another race, and the WoW team decided they would change how this system worked a little. With Battle for Azeroth, we saw the introduction of 10 Allied Races, which is a staggeringly high number considering the game’s history. The big difference is that they cannot be selected from the beginning and must be earned by progressing through each of their relevant campaigns.
Most of the Allied Races are based on an existing race, but with enough changes and some great implications to the lore, it helps make the player feel more in tune with the people of Azeroth. For example, if you felt particularly connected to the Nightborne throughout Suramar, or have fallen in love with the Dark Iron Dwarves ever since Classic WoW, then this system let you finally play as one of them.
Unfortunately, Shadowlands didn’t introduce a single Allied Race in 2020, so I asked Ion Hazzikostas if Blizzard was done with this feature now that Battle for Azeroth had come and gone. He said, “It’s definitely a tool that we have in our toolkit. It was a central part of the story and the BfA expansion. You know, gathering allies to fight the great war back then. Shadowlands wasn’t a natural fit for new Allied Races for a few reasons, you know, they were literally extra-planar denizens for the most part. It was very hard to imagine any of the native inhabitants of the afterlife deciding ‘I’m gonna come back to Azeroth and join the Alliance.’”
This is a fair point, and it’s one that has been brought up frequently by fans, but I can’t help but love the idea of getting to play as some of the ridiculous weirdos that inhabit the Shadowlands. He continues, “It’s something we are open to doing again where it makes sense. Obviously, we don't have any announced right now, but we want to continue to add not just big major new races as in Dracthyr, but also variants of existing races and the other cultures we interact with as Azeroth continues to expand.”
At the very least, it seems like Blizzard isn’t completely done with Allied Races, but I hope that they won’t need to start another war between Horde and Alliance just to get more of them thrown into the mix.
Will Mythic+ expand to include Classic content?
Blizzard revealed a substantial change to Mythic+ last year, one that has me giddy for the future as the company decides to embrace the past. Rather than Mythic+ featuring eight dungeons from the new expansion, it will have four new ones and four old ones from expansions that came out since 2012.
This includes anything after Mists of Pandaria, but as someone who is head-over-heels in love with older content and would relish the chance to experience more challenging iterations of it, I wondered if we’d ever see the stuff from 2004 to 2011 get the same treatment.
I asked Ion Hazzikostas if it were possible that dungeons from Classic, The Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King could be redesigned to fit into the Mythic+ system. He said, “It’s possible, but unlikely without major changes. When we get to dungeons that are from that era, we’re more likely to do what we have done to some dungeons like Uldaman in Dragonflight, where it’s a full reimagining.” It is always cool when Blizzard revisits old content in this way, as I’m sure fans of WoW could never forget our return to Karazhan and how monumental that felt. While moments like these are undeniably incredible, I still wish there were ways to revisit old content on a grand scale without it needing to be fully redesigned.
He continues, “We’ve kind of internally drawn a line around Mists of Pandaria when it comes to how far back we’re going to look for Mythic+. In part because there’s something a bit more modern about the encounter design, but even Mists’ dungeons were designed with a Challenge Mode system, it had a time trial concept, and an extra higher difficulty concept, and built to support people trying to get a silver or gold challenge mode 10 years ago, which was in some ways the precursor to Mythic+.”
Essentially, Mythic+ wasn’t a thing back then, so it’s hard to apply the same design philosophies required today on content that old. “As needed, we’ll still make a bunch of changes to the dungeon, as people who have been running Temple of the Jade Serpent on Beta have seen. There have been some changes to boss abilities and other meaningful updates to make it feel good in 2022,” Hazzikostas says. It already seems like plenty of work to rework dungeons even from Mists of Pandaria, so I can’t imagine how much tinkering would be needed for something like Gnomeregan.
“If we look earlier than that, I think both from an art fidelity perspective, but also just the goals of encounter design for that dungeon, when they were primarily focused for pick-up groups and random group finder groups of five just going through, we weren’t necessarily asking ourselves the same questions that we ask when making dungeons today. And so I would say, unlikely in their current form, though as always, anything is possible.” The possibility is enough for me, Hazzikostas! I will never stop holding out hope, as unlikely as it may be.
Can we expect timegated quest lines from Dragonflight’s endgame?
Timegating isn’t uncommon for World of Warcraft. After all, it’s a core foundation of the game’s design, and although it may be “normal,” I can’t help but think back to all the times it has frustrated me. I remember back in Battle for Azeroth, I would be running around Nazjatar desperate to continue the main campaign so I could unlock The Eternal Palace raid, but I was unable to progress unless I engaged with the daily follower missions. This meant I had to log on for 20 minutes a day, unable to do anything else but wait for the dailies to reset so I could progress the main story.
When the Chains of Domination campaign was introduced in Shadowlands, you could only progress through the chapters with a particular level of Renown. I wasn’t interested in grinding experience to continue the main story, so I decided against it, but was ultimately able to catch up when Zereth Mortis tossed Renown at us like candy.
I wondered what fate would befall Dragonflight: would it suffer from a similar flaw like the last two expansions have, or has Blizzard finally learned that some of us just want to experience the main story without grinding? I asked Jeremy Feasel how often will players feel gated when reaching Dragonflight’s endgame and post-launch content, especially in regards to progressing the main story.
Jeremy Feasel claims “There are a number of different quest lines that are going to unlock as you progress into the max level Renown, and I think one of the most interesting things about our particular endgame system this time is that everything in that world is encrypted. It hasn’t even been played on the beta, so players are aware there are chapters that unlock at the max level and they’re tied to the Renown, but they’re not exactly sure what those chapters are. We’re really looking forward to seeing how people react as the sort of in-the-moment storytelling where you didn’t know what the next story was going to be and you get to, you know, watch the next episode sort of, as it happens.”
It’s clear that Renown-based questlines are still present, which is worrying. Grinding reputation to continue the main story was exhausting, but it entirely depends on how many activities actually grant the reputation I’m looking for in Dragonflight. If I can play the game casually and earn enough Renown at a steady pace to unlock those questlines, then I won’t mind. But if I find myself forced to redo repetitive world quests to get my Renown up, it’s going to be frustrating.
He continues, “We’ve tried to really center things around a weekly cadence this time, so you can sort of play however you want during the week and you can pick which one of those Renowns you want to increase during the week in order to hit your weekly reward.” The idea of playing how I want within a week sounds appealing, especially since he claims it’ll be pretty “open-ended.” If flying around and having fun in the ways that I desire is enough to progress a Renown track, then I’m all for it.
How alt-friendly will Dragonflight be?
Jeremy Feasel seems excited about how alt-friendly Dragonflight is when compared to previous expansions. Back in Shadowlands, it wasn’t until a post-launch patch that players finally had the opportunity to apply some of the Renown they earned on their main character to others. It helped me a lot when leveling my Druid alt, so it’s great to hear the team is prioritizing this.
Jeremy Feasel claims “this isn’t something that we’re bringing out in like a 10.5, this is how we’re going to come right out of the gate and make it easy for you to progress your alts and get your alts geared up.” As far as what we can expect that makes these new systems alt-friendly, he shares some insight on that, too. “As you progress each of those tracks, you’re going to unlock progression speed-ups for your alts, and also unlocking all of those Renowns unlocks a ton of stuff for your alts as well.” This is also apparently the case for Dragonriding, with the team going for “maximum alt-friendliness.” Apparently, additional unlocks, races, and dragon-riding powers will be alt-shared, with Fessal citing that the “mount system already felt very account-wide.”
He continues, “There were a lot of learnings from 9.1.5, in terms of taking a lot of the covenant elements and making them significantly more alt-friendly, that we’ve really attempted to come out of the gate with in Dragonflight.” At the very least, this means I’ll feel less discouraged to jump into my other characters right away, especially since I want to get my Dracthyr, Druid, and Rogue to max level.