Millenium Interview with Ion Hazzikostas - No Patch 8.3.5
Gaming website Millenium recently
interviewed Ion Hazzikostas
, Game Director for World of Warcraft, talking about Patch 8.3, N'Zoth, Shadowlands, and a big reveal in that there are currently no plans for a Patch 8.3.5 between now and
. Although we highly recommend reading the full interview, you can catch our recap with questions bolded and answers italicized below, along with our thoughts on the big talking points.
Check out the full interview on Millenium.us.org
After all the cataclysms suffered by Azeroth, is it difficult to make players realize the power of N’Zoth in-game without wiping out an entire planet?
He’s not going to blow up our planet; he’s actually going to subvert the minds and the wills of all the living creatures on the planet. He’s going to transform Azeroth into Ny’alotha, into this nightmarish, alternate future if we don’t stop it.
This shouldn't come as a surprise for anyone who has been keeping up with the story of
Battle for Azeroth
, or previous lore. The Old Gods are insidious creatures, and none of them have been incredibly overt presences on the battlefield - they have people for that. Though other Old Gods have certainly been dangerous, the machinations of N'Zoth have had longer reaching effects than perhaps any other Old God, going all the way back to corrupting the black dragon aspect Neltharion the Earth Warder into Deathwing the Destroyer during the War of the Ancients. This one event runs along the backbone of virtually everything we as players have experienced throughout Warcraft history, not only paving the way for both demonic invasions and weakening the power of the dragons, but influencing the Second War (Warcraft II), the early history of World of Warcraft (Onyxia/Nefarian) caused the Cataclysm, led to the creation of the Twilight Dragonflight, and led to research in corruption which eventually resulted in the Black Prince known as Wrathion.
It may not feel like it, especially for newer fans or those who don't follow the lore, but our showdown with N'Zoth is a major event in Warcraft history on par with facing Arthas or Illidan.
Let’s talk about Ny’alotha. In the process of creating a raid, how do you decide the number of bosses players will face, and what elements influence these numbers?
When it comes to what is the final raid before an expansion, that may last a little bit longer than some of the others, so we try to have more bosses in those raids. Antorus at the end of Legion was one of the largest raids there; going back to Hellfire Citadel and the Siege of Orgrimmar, those were the largest raids of those expansions.
As pointed out, end of expansion patches and raids are usually the longest, but that doesn't always mean the time until the next expansion is longer. We know
development is in full swing, and Blizzard has been trying to push expansions out faster, but it doesn't always go according to plan.
Mists of Pandaria
is often criticized for how long Siege of Orgrimmar stretched out over a full year, but that was actually the fault of
Warlords of Draenor
development rather than an intentional content drought. Time will tell when Shadowlands will become available, though the prevailing theory is sometime around August, which would allow for ~6-7 months of patch 8.3.
What happens if a creature dies in Ny’alotha, including N’Zoth? Does this change anything, compared to the battles against Yogg-Saron and C’Thun?
Ny’alotha is not even an imaginary location — it’s real, it’s an alternate reality in some ways that is almost merging with ours if we don’t prevent it.
So, when we go in there and we are defeating minions of the Old Gods, then it’s fair to assume and expect that we are destroying them pretty heavily. If we are victorious against N’Zoth, that should be the last that we hear from him — but we’ll see!
Maddening cliffhanger aside, the amount of "alternate reality and timelines" we're dealing with this expansion is a little confusing. That said, it aligns with
Alex Afrasiabi's BlizzCon 2018 interview
, in that although we've defeated the Old Gods and don't expect them to return, there's a cycle to life and death in the Warcraft Universe... which coincidentally is the main theme of
That said, I think we all expect to move away from Old Gods for awhile. While Blizzard may never fully close the door on any idea (see: resurrecting Illidan 9 years later), we shouldn't expect to see them for quite some time. If we ever face the Void Lords though, it's likely the Old Gods or similar entities may show up again.
Account-bound Essences have been one of the most-requested features for a while now. Can we expect them to be released later, such as in 8.3.5 or 9.0, or will that definitely not happen?
At its core, when it comes to the question of what is account-bound versus what is character-specific, the line that we’ve always drawn is that access to content is something that we had to unlock across an entire account.
But power, and Essences at the end of the day — when you’re getting them by defeating a raid boss, clearing a Mythic+, buying them off a vendor after earning the currency to obtain them — they’re not that different to trinkets, items, or things like the Legendary ring or cloak we’ve had in the past. They’re core player power.
But account-wide Essences are not on the table for Visions of N’Zoth.
The short version being "content should unlock account wide, but power progression should not". While we can cite examples which may poke holes in this theory (Bind on Account legendary tokens at the end of Legion), Blizzard has taken a pretty firm stance on this one, so we shouldn't expect it to happen.
The fact that we can get Corrupted gear from Ny’alatha in Mythic+ chests is a very interesting feature, can we expect that in Shadowlands or later each game style will have its own gear system.
For example, allowing Mythic+ players to get special Mythic+ items with specific stats that boost them in Mythic+?
...we’ve wanted to move away from Warforging and Titanforging for a while. We’ve heard a lot of player feedback in the last couple of years, and we’ve agreed with a lot of it, about the feeling of randomness and the way that it can undermine the value of item level.
Now, in the case of Visions of N’Zoth, we’re always excited when we can find a way of marrying our systems to the world we’re building and the story we’re telling, and as we’re telling the story of the Old God power corrupting some of the sources of Titan power, it felt like a great place to kind of twist Titanforging a little bit.
We’re going to learn a lot from how this plays out, in terms of a world without Warforging and Titanforging, and I can say that those systems won’t be returning as players are accustomed to them in Shadowlands.
So no Warforge, Titanforge, or Corruption in
, but almost certainly some new system. This can be good or bad news for players, depending on their opinions, as one of the good and bad things about Blizzard is their continual innovation. Love it or hate it, they try to come up with new systems for each expansion to hopefully make things interesting and unique... unfortunately it's not a perfect science; invariably some things are going to work spectacularly and others are going to flop. Ideally you hit more than you miss, but one poor system can be the difference between a great expansion or a mediocre one.
Aren’t you afraid that Corrupted gear could be even more RNG than Warforged and Titanforged items?
There’s effectively a limit on how many Corrupted pieces you can wear, because of the nature of the Corruption stat itself — unlike Warforging and Titanforging where it affected ultimately every single piece of gear you were wearing except for your Azerite Armor.
We’d like to get back to a place where when you kill a Mythic raid boss and you get a piece of Mythic raid gear, you can feel confident that that is as good as that piece could be, in terms of its raw power.
You’ll see many more Corrupted items than you can use, which gives you the ability to choose which combination you want to wear at a given time.
Again, this is the kind of minigame that some players will love and others will hate. Unlike Warforge not every item needs to roll with as bonus - you're limited by how much Corruption you can safely wear, and that makes Corruption an interesting system, because it gives players a reason to hold onto different corruptions and change gear between activities or raid encounters - on progression you might want to stay below 20 or 40 Corruption, but once we get into farm, playing riskier could be a lot of fun. Other players won't like that, and while you can cleanse items to avoid all the negative effects, it also means they'll fall behind in terms of optimization as well.
The Awakening Affix looks very interesting. Are the obelisk locations meant to change each week, or will they remain the same for the whole patch?
I’m not 100% sure on this but I believe there are a couple of different locations, and the bosses associated with the obelisks go through a small rotation, similar to how the Beguiling Affix worked in Season 3, with their slightly different Emissary locations from week to week. ..we want there to be some variety and new challenges to look forward to.
One of the best parts of Mythic+ is the weekly rotation leading creating different strategies and experience, but the unfortunate byproduct is that it always leads to "good weeks" and "bad weeks". The Corrupted affix seems like it could shake up player metas by reducing dependency on classes with skips, but there's some question as to whether those classes won't still be a part of the meta anyway, ultimately making it a matter of balance more so than design.
Returning to the lore, does the Emerald Nightmare have a hold on the Shadowlands? We know the Drust have gone through to the Shadowlands, but also that the realm where we saw them last, Thros, belonged to the Nightmare.
Looking at the Shadowlands, I think it’s very likely that we’re going to see a continuation of some of the storylines from the Emerald Dream and Emerald Nightmare, that we saw back in Val’sharah, as we go into the zone of Ardenweald in particular.
Those two realms are very connected, and beings of nature that went through the Nightmare, were affected by the Old Gods there, may well find themselves in Ardenweald.
As mentioned earlier, the story of Shadowlands is focused on the cycle of life and death within the Warcraft Universe, which is something that the Emerald Dream/Nightmare have also touched on repeatedly, with characters such as Cenarius and Ysera dying in the "real world", but not staying entirely dead. The demons of the Burning Legion exhibit simiar behavior, reborn in the Twisted Nether unless they die in their home realm, but even then their energies persist to eventually form a new demon. Similar themes are exhibited in
, and we'll be sure to see familiar faces as we explore those realms.
Horrific Visions remind us of Torghast from Shadowlands in the way it has been described, but only a few rewards have been introduced on the PTR so far. Are more rewards planned for release, even in a hypothetical 8.3.5?
First of all, just to get it out of the way, we currently don’t have any 8.3.5 plans — there may be some small systems tweaks or updates for stability between now and Shadowlands, but Visions of N’Zoth is really the concluding chapter of Battle for Azeroth, and we’re excited to focus our attention on Shadowlands and the upcoming beta for Shadowlands that’ll be opening up over the course of the year.
With regard to Horrific Visions, there are definitely some elements that have parallels with Torghast, but Horrific Visions aren’t designed to be the same sort of roguelite or having a dynamic experience.
Players should expect what they’re going to find going in. We’ve structured it where the goal is more trying to get to that next boss, or trying to do it on a slightly higher difficulty than last time, and less about not knowing what you’re going to find when you go in.
Torghast is going to have much more variety and replayability in that sense, but Horrific Visions are more about structure or having challenges.
No 8.3.5 isn't particularly surprising, as those smaller patches are usually storyboard setups for the following major content cycle, and doesn't mean that there won't be hotfixes, tuning, or other non-patch changes. That said, we had a 7.3.5 at the end of Legion which setup the removal of our Artifact Weapons, and it will be interesting to see how they handle the Heart of Azeroth from a narrative point of view without it.
With regards to the PTR, are you satisfied with player feedback regarding patch content and balancing so far?
Yes, it’s been invaluable. Due to the holiday break we had a slightly longer PTR than we generally have for our updates, but that has meant we’ve had a lot more feedback on things like specific Ny’alotha encounters, and on the relative balance of Corruption, Affixes and drawbacks.
It’s been incredibly useful getting feedback and bug reports throughout the PTR, and we’ve made a ton of changes — even just in the last few weeks — that we’re excited to see hit the live servers next week.
Players who have seen the power gain from certain Corruptions such as Infinite Stars or Echoing Void might tend to disagree, though we typically see another round of tuning when the raid releases.
There are still complaints about grinding in game for some players. You have already said this is going to be reduced in the future, but how do you determine the right amount of grind for players?
Grind is always one of those potentially loaded terms. We have a wide range of rewards and goals, and there are different paths to obtain different goals as we set them up. Some can be earned very quickly, if your skill is high enough.
Obviously, sometimes we get the numbers wrong, and a reward may feel mandatory for someone who doesn’t enjoy the type of content that’s required to obtain it.
Generally, the more skill something requires, perhaps the less time it may require, and we’re trying to balance those things out to give a wide range of rewards to a wide range of playstyles.
That’s something where we’re always trying to listen to that feedback and adjust, but one of the great challenges is balancing all these systems for an incredibly wide variety of players, playstyles, skill levels, and amounts of time they have available across World of Warcraft.
We've seen this with gear, as
Battle for Azeroth
has far more individual activities and sources of gear than previous expansions, though activities do tend to trivialize each other as you push into higher content. There isn't much point to doing world quests for gear once you're farming Mythic+, or doing normal raids when you're clearing Mythic, however, this is where Titanforge was meant to be a good addition - given lesser content a chance to compete. The likelihood of getting a humongous titanforge isn't high enough to warrant farming every single world quest or normal mode raid, but maybe if there's a particular trinket that's really good if only it drops at a competitive level, you might want to prioritize that.
Unfortunately, this is where the issue of player perception comes in. If something feels that important, it's hard to escape the feeling that you have to try for it if you want to be competitive, and can't be competitive if you don't happen to get it, leading to an inordinate amount of emphasis on grinding one particular thing. We see this represented in essences on alts as well, as players feel like they can't compete without their best essences, it isn't that it necessarily takes too long in the grand scheme of things - anyone could have found three weeks to grind out their best essence in the time between 8.2 and 8.3, but the amount of time it takes playing without the defining thing they're trying to get in order to get to the point of optimization turns players off to the entire idea.
Last question — the heat always reminds me of Teldrassil, so I’d like to book a Greek cruise for mid-July. However, as the last two expansions have arrived at the end of summer, I’m questioning that call. What’s your advice?
I mean, I’ve heard Greece is lovely in the summer! Growing up we’d go visit family there often, I recommend it highly.
Certainly, with regard to releasing Shadowlands
, we’ll have a lot more information there later in the year, as we get into Beta — but I really can’t recommend Greece highly enough!
Can't say I've ever been to Greece, but we're definitely looking forward to visiting
later this year.
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