Laptop Mag had the opportunity to sit down with World of Warcraft’s Lead Software Engineers Ana Resendez and Brian Birmingham about Wrath of the Lich King Classic. The expansion just launched and there’s so much to discuss in what is often regarded as the greatest WoW expansion of all time.
It’s also one of the most important video game experiences of my childhood, but enough of me being overly nostalgic. We discussed what loot to expect from Heroic+, the future of Cataclysm Classic, openness to including Dragonflight’s minimalistic UI, and far more.
How community feedback shapes Classic
It’s no secret that World of Warcraft Classic isn’t a complete replica of the original game and its expansions. With the inclusion of the shop, bug fixes, and Wrath of the Lich King’s removal of Dungeon Finder, the Classic team puts plenty of thought into what they should and should not change when bringing an expansion back to life.
Dungeon Finder, which was initially introduced in Wrath of the Lich King, allowed players to queue up for Dungeons and quickly run through them with strangers. Its omission has split the community down the middle in terms of popularity. Some believe its removal is great for maintaining the game’s sense of community; others believe the game is lacking an important progression feature and quality of life change without it. Ultimately, the Classic team decided to stick with its gut and keep the system out.
But the Classic team hasn’t stuck to every change they’ve tried to push. Birmingham discusses how the team wanted to combine raid-locks between 10-person and 25-person raids for Wrath of the Lich. “We kind of liked that idea, that kind of immersion of, the place is the place, you go there and it is how it is,” he said. “There’s not two different settings you can set on it.”
The team also felt that this change could be beneficial to “player behavior and their experience.” Birmingham specifically cites Trial of the Crusader due to its four different instances in which players would constantly run to get as much loot as possible. He talks about how if people wanted to keep up, “they had to run all four versions, especially after those first couple of weeks when it came up, because the loot was so much better than Ulduar.” The team felt it was “to the point of being tiring,” so they decided to keep things locked to a single instance.
However, the community didn’t like that very much. “Players were saying, ‘I really want to have my main raid guild that does the 25-person,’ and then ‘I want to be able to do pick-up raids with a different group of people on 10-player raids.’ And [these] different groups of people having repeat interactions is part of building on that social fabric,” Birmingham continued.
After this feedback, the team decided to back down on the change. “It wasn’t really a problem until Trial of the Crusader, so we really like the Ulduar model of the lockout is split between 10-man and 25-man, so you can do each of those in a week.” Trial of the Crusader is seemingly still going to be changed, but every other raid instance is safe for now.
Of course, not every change is as controversial. Resendez details how the team decided to completely remove Arena Teams. This was to give players “more organic ways of finding partners,” as in the original expansion, they often wouldn’t be comfortable playing with friends due to the constraints of the team. She says “Okay, I am in this arena team. If I leave it, will I have enough points for this week if I’m trying to get one of the season rewards? Can I leave and go help these friends out and then come back in?”
This ultimately resulted in the removal of Arena Teams, which wasn’t particularly controversial with the community. Giving players the opportunity to more freely play competitively with whoever they wish is a great change.
Where will Heroic+ loot come from?
Wrath of the Lich King Classic is introducing Heroic+, a third difficulty that allows players to experience a slightly more challenging Dungeons. This was not available In the original Wrath of the Lich King, as only Normal and Heroic were present at the time. This begs an important question: where will new gear come from?
Birmingham stated: “It’s more about repositioning the loot.” Resendez went in-depth on what this means exactly, explaining how the changes that the team has made to 10-man and 25-man raids has resulted in the loot that’s normally dropped from 10-man raids no longer having a place to go.
“We’re exploring the possibility and looking into the details of creating a little-bit-harder heroic mode or an addition to the heroic modes that we have where part of the loot will be including the 10-man drops from these raids,” Resendez said. Essentially, what was once available in 10-man raids is going to shift over into Heroic+.
Birmingham claims that’s not the only motivation, though. “Heroic dungeons felt like they were kind of trivialized by the end of the expansion. You got this top tier raid gear and you’re still being incentivized to go and run heroics at their original difficulty level in order to get more badges for top tier gear, so it started to kind of create this feeling of like, it almost being a chore to go out into dungeons,” he said. Birmingham believes a more challenging difficulty level for Dungeons will make reruns less exhausting, and he hopes “the level of power and challenge feels like it’s something that’s going to reward you appropriately.”
Sharing technology between modern WoW and Classic WoW
World of Warcraft Classic and the retail version of WoW don’t just exist singularly. Both teams are part of one large group, and ultimately, they’re working on parts of the same game. It might seem like each team does its own thing, but that’s often not the case. Resendez described how the teams are “always on the lookout for things that make sense to either share or to bring from each other.”
Not only does this involve new systems, but it also includes bug fixes. “There’s been many times we in the Classic team figure out a tough bug that the modern team also has. We fix it and we also give them the same fix,” Resendez said. Even modern WoW’s social contract was implemented in Classic WoW due to its usefulness, as it puts some accountability on the player for possible toxicity.
I was curious what this meant for Dragonflight’s new user interface. The newly implemented UI takes a minimalistic approach, allowing the player to focus on the world first and foremost rather than overwhelming HUD pieces. You can also go in-depth customizing the location of each UI element, so I was curious if we’d ever see it introduced into Classic as a toggle.
Resendez didn’t dismiss the idea: “We’re definitely open to hear from the community and what they think. Something that’s amazing about World of Warcraft is that if you go to a stream or something,you get to see everyone has their own unique flavor of UI. It’s something very unique for World of Warcraft.”
Birmingham talked about how the team was actually really excited to return to Wrath of the Lich King’s original UI: “I really liked the way it looked, so we worked really hard to make sure that the first impression you get coming into the game is, ‘Oh I remember! This is what it looked like.’” But even then, he also didn’t dismiss the idea of introducing Dragonflight’s UI into Classic at some point. “It’s certainly something we’re going to continue to think about and it’ll be on our radar of like, is there a way we can support that, especially on the backend of like, making things movable,” he added.
However, Birmingham is certain it won’t be easy. “It is still work for us because some of our code is segmented off so we can recreate Classic behaviors,” he said. “So we have to make sure we can identify which pieces make sense to share and which pieces make sense to stay separate.” It’s possible Dragonflight’s customizable UI isn’t applicable to Classic’s technology, but only time will tell.
What can we expect from Cataclysm Classic?
Whether or not Cataclysm Classic is still happening is up in the air. It hasn’t been officially confirmed, and there’s no denying that certain people in the community would rather not see it at all. However, Blizzard recently sent out a survey to community members to gauge interest. I asked about this, wondering how far the team would be willing to go to redefine Cataclysm if the community wanted it.
Birmingham offered a brief response: “We want to figure out how far we can go, whether or not that’s the right path for us and what the kind of community feedback is here. We really want to start this conversation early, because, of course, we know that we’re going to have a long time to work on that.” He went on to describe how Wrath has so much going on, but Cataclysm will come knocking before they know it, so the team needs that flexibility to give them time to work on it.
He didn’t directly respond to how far the team would be willing to go to change the game, but it seems they’re willing to listen to community feedback and see what the players want. Perhaps if there’s enough desire for something drastic, it could actually be implemented and fundamentally change what Cataclysm is.
Letting the WoW community break the game
Bringing any old game back into the spotlight comes with a pressing question: which bugs should be kept and which ones should be fixed? Birmingham comments on how the team was originally against making any changes, but something caused them to completely shift that mentality after dealing with an item called the Ectoplasmic Resonator.
It was a quest item that was powerful. Players never completed the quest as a way to keep it with them at all times. It allowed Tanks to gain an incredible amount of threat generation, even while in Dungeons and Raids, effectively breaking the balance of the game.
“So we said, ‘Yeah, this is clearly gonna be game breaking. It will completely, fundamentally, alter the way that you play the game, so we can’t leave this alone,’” Birmingham said. “It was the most obvious decision point that kind of made us switch from that ‘no changes’ mentality to like, okay but sometimes, we really do have to make a change.”
Not everyone in the community is happy with these changes, but it’s clear the team is confident that certain bugs just need to go. However, they never want to go too far with these changes. Resendez continued: “Our main goal in Classic, in Wrath of the Lich King, is to recreate the same experience and keep the spirit of Classic and the spirit of Wrath. So we’re not going to be making changes that you’re going to log in and be like ‘What is this? Is this wrath?’”
How the developers feel revisiting a beloved expansion
Although the team is incredibly excited to revisit Wrath of the Lich King, it’s also been nerve-wracking. Birmingham describes how it’s one of his favorite expansions. He loves the storytelling themes and how Arthas constantly follows the player throughout each zone. However, he also noted that “so many people have such strong memories that we really feel like this enormous responsibility to do our best to make sure it’s the experience that everybody remembers.”
Resendez was getting quite nostalgic about her favorite zone, the Underbelly in Dalaran. “When Beta went up and I went to the Dalaran sewers I was like, it’s happening again, it’s bringing these memories back.“ Seeing players dueling and getting competitive seemed to strike a chord with her: “It brought back really good memories for sure.”