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World of Warcraft's Endgame-level Event - BlizzCon 2023 Interview

We sat down with Gameplay Lead Software Engineer Darren Williams and UX Lead Crash Reed at BlizzCon to discuss all things World of Warcraft, including how the Worldsoul Saga will bring a potential end to the story.

Audio transcription

"Hello everyone, I'm here at BlizzCon, I'm here with Crash Reed and Darren Williams and we're here to talk about the very, very exciting new developments in World of Warcraft.
I have to say, to quote sort of, I guess, my favourite inspiration of it is probably The Sopranos."

"Right when I thought I was out, you guys pulled me back in.
You guys have probably dropped the biggest bombshell perhaps in WoW in 20 years.
I'm not going to go on about it anymore. Can you talk a bit about The War Within and I suppose the wider story that you've just sort of given us in terms of what we're looking forward to."

"I am super excited about everything that we're showing here.
I feel like this World Soul Saga is something that we've never done before and it's this giant culmination of everything that we've done in the past, everything from those last 20 years, but then also looking for that future thing."

"It's not just making another expansion like we've been doing.
It's setting the stage for this really big epic moment and so that alone is super exciting.
And then I just love the idea that we're bringing back like Zalatath and these threads that have been in the past.
I mean, she gave us a huge warning at the end like I'm coming back and here we are and she's not just coming back, she's coming back with force in this huge World Soul Saga."

"And so I think that alone is very, very exciting and then I think the other part of it that's really exciting to me is the idea that players who, you know, veterans are going to love all this stuff.
They're going to love all the threads, all the pieces that are there, but I think also there's this moment for the new player coming in."

"The new player has, yes, maybe you missed a few expansions, but now you have this moment where things are coming together.
The cinematic, I think, nailed it in the sense of like you're so used to seeing an orc and a human staring each other down and now they're having this moment of like, man, we have to come together and we're feeling something and I think that resonates with people."

"Even if you're a new player, you don't know what Anduin's gone through, but the look on his face, you know that they've been through something or he's been through something and that is super rich.
It's going to bring new players in."

"I think they're going to be able to experience this in a way where maybe you felt like, I missed Legion or I missed these things.
I don't know what that means.
You're not going to need that for this."

"This is that feeling of I'm involved in a conclusion, a big climax to a huge 20-year setting and I think that's exciting.
Yeah, that's cinematic.
Seeing the emotion, that quiet moment between two traditional enemies in the Warcraft universe and having this huge orc thrall just say, I trust you to this human, Anduin, who's obviously been through pain."

"I think that sets the stage for all these threads coming together.
You don't need to know all those individual pieces.
If you are a lore buff, there's so much here.
But it's like, cool, these characters I know, I can get along on this journey and it's going to be three expansions."

"This World Soul Saga and then just diving into what War Within is.
We've talked about this sword.
The community has talked about this sword for so long.
Oh, yeah, we're getting visions from that now."

"We saw Elyria's getting different visions, right?
The void, what are they up to?
The Nerubian kingdom of Ajkahet, right?
You saw a couple of shots over there."

"It looks amazing.
Going under the surface of Azeroth, right?
What people think of underground and then there's what we're giving.
So much variety."

"I'm so excited to get on my dragon dynamic flight mount, which isn't a dragon anymore.
It doesn't have to be.
From the start of the expansion, dive down from the Isle of Dawn through the Coreway, explore these zones."

"There's the Ringing Deeps, which is kind of where the Earthen machinery is, the forge, the Titan infrastructure that's hinted at.
We talked about the last Titan, two expansions out.
And then going into Hallowfall, which is not a cave, right?
This is a massive underground zone with its own weather."

"It's got a huge crystal illuminating it.
It's flickering.
It's got kind of a night cycle under there.
It's so much variety, right?
So I think new places to explore is the theme here."

"So this brings new people along to this expansion as well.
Technologically, there's so much cool stuff we did to do this, to bring these weather systems, the lighting, the variety to the underground zone."

"So I think it's really going to be a fresh, exciting area to explore as well.
For my sins, I've not touched water in years, and you got me.
You got me.
So I will be back."

"But just as you touched on, there's this cinematic that we've seen, this sort of really heartfelt cinematic.
And we're going into this World Soul Saga now, a sort of long-term storytelling."

"I mean, we've gone through 20 years of storytelling, but this is sort of long-term in a way that you guys haven't done before where you've said, we're going to be at this point in so many years' time, three expansions' time, whereas before it felt like, okay, we're getting these sort of arcs that will wrap themselves up by the end of the expansion."

"Is this sort of your endgame, if I had to put it in sort of a term, a wider media term, is this sort of a conclusive element to WoW?
Because there's something quite sad about that, I think, and there's this real sort of sadness in the cinematic that you showed where it does feel like it's the end of an age, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's over."

"Yeah, so I think kind of hearkening on what was talked about there is it's the idea that we have all those loose ends like the Titans.
We have the loose ends of the Nerubians.
We have all of these things that are from the old gods, you know, the Black Empire, like all of this stuff that's happening that they've been a part of WoW for a long time, part of Warcraft."

"And I think to tell their story and do justice to 20 years, you can't fit that in an expansion.
So to a sense, endgame, sure, but I think it's also just the scale of the story we want to tell."

"It just could not be done in one expansion.
And so it made sense to have something grand.
It is a saga.
If you were going to try to wrap up 20 years, you kind of needed to be a saga at that point."

"And so I feel like in the idea that it's a wrap-up, like you said, it's sad, but it's more the idea like, yes, we are helping to finish the story of 20 years, but also setting the stage for the next 20 years because you don't just want to have an expansion after expansion."

"And we could keep doing that, but I feel like there's just so much more to tell.
And the Titans have been here forever, like Metzen has mentioned.
What are all these little satellites sticking out of the earth?
What is this? Can we keep going expansions?
Yeah, what is the sword?
And so I just feel like it is time, and it's great that we're going to get to tell all of that."

"And yeah, I think to your point, not necessarily an endgame, but the scale of it, for sure.
Yeah, I mean, Metzen said it well on stage, right?
It's been 20 years building stories to this point, and we're setting up for the next 20 years too, right?
Like it'll be fresh, interesting stories."

"I'm not sure where those folks like Metzen and our creative narrative team will take us, but this World Soul Saga will kind of be the culmination of 20 years of amazing WoW history, and then there'll be another 20 years, probably with its own endgame, right?
And it was so cool being in the Hearthstone Tavern, actually adjacent to the Warcraft area, right?
We knew what was coming, right?
We're not just announcing one expansion, we're announcing three expansions."

"I was talking to a fan there.
We get so much energy from interacting with the fans, and I was like, what do you like to do in WoW?
And she mentioned she, in Legion, played every single order hall, every single class, every single storyline to get all the story, and she said, my favorite was Shadow Priest, where I heard the story of Zalatath, and I'm really wondering what Zalatath is up to now."

"And I was like, cool.
You're going to...
I was like, I'm going to watch your reaction during this, and I checked in with her after, and she's like, this is amazing, right?
She really..."

"So there's stuff there for people who know all the lore, but yeah, to crash this point, right?
Bringing this story together now is also something we hope new fans will want to kind of come in and be a part of."

"They'll see this kind of human aspect of, like, orcs and humans, and like, oh, okay, this is a great jumping in point to be part of the story."

"Jumping away, I guess, from story a bit more towards gameplay, we've seen with Dragonflight sort of a lot of positive reaction from sort of the revamped core experience.
Are these changes going to carry over to the WoW Within and beyond, and are there any sort of more major core experiences or major sort of core revamps that you guys can talk about as we jump into this sort of new age, I guess, we'd call it, of World of Warcraft?
Yeah, the main one I wanted to talk about there was the dynamic flight."

"Like, so Dragonflight, we hoped that players would react to dragon riding the way we loved it, right?
Like, just this new way to explore a huge world, so fluid, you can upgrade, and there's a system we hoped would get the response it does, it has, and we bring it forward."

"This is part of WoW evergreen forever, where when you get to the new continent of Khaz Elgar, you can dragon ride straight away.
If you have the boost and you're ready to go into the expansion, you'll get straight to that continent, and you'll be able to dragon ride as well."

"So the system of glyphs where you would gather them in the world and improve your flight, that'll carry forward as well.
So still to be doing exactly how that will work, but it's a system going forward, and we're expanding it to so many more mounts."

"In the video, you saw Invincible and Ashes of Alar there, which are, you know, not easy to get mounts, but they're representative of the types of mounts we want to expand to."

"Yeah, so, but, you know, they'll have their kind of, their animation's going to be slightly different, but, you know, it's how you explore the zone.
I mentioned a little earlier, it's just kind of a tech we've been building for seamlessly loading between zones."

"It allows us to construct things kind of vertically stacked, so you can dive down.
If you saw the What's Next panel, you maybe saw a bit of the video there of flying through those zones, right?
Basically all the way from the surface, you can fly down through rain deeps, Hallifall to Ajkhehet, like from surface to deep below, and it's so cool, right?
You're zooming in out of narrow spaces into big, expansive caverns."

"So that's an example of one thing we often try and do, is put something out to players, see their response, and we hope we can incorporate it back into the core game."

"There are lots of UI enhancements that I also, that I was going to throw over here.
Yeah, so, in terms of the revamps, nice little plug there, I love, so I am a UI, like, I just love enthusiasm."

"So everything that we did with Dragonflight, you know, if I harken back, all the way back, the things that we've revamped in Dragonflight are the things that I've wanted to do since I began playing WoW long ago before I was even a developer myself."

"And so, in line with that, we definitely have more revamped things coming.
We're obviously going to be revamping little things that you'll see here and there, but one of the big announcements is the Spellbook."

"It will be joining with the Talents Pane, so now it's part of the Talents Pane.
It will also be thematic to your class.
So, like, if it's Druid, you'll have Druid art on it, and very cool things there."

"And then, me being a UX person, the thing I'm the most hyped for, obviously, is a search bar.
Because if you've ever looked through the Spellbook and you're flipping through pages, you're like, where, okay, is it what?
So now, you can just search the spell, it'll pop right up, there it is, easy peasy."

"And then also, we're revamping the way that questing, the quest log works.
And so, like, the quest log itself, adding and removing things will be much more seamless, much easier to do."

"Tracking things, untracking things.
Filtering, we'll now be able to filter on the side, so the things that you're, where you're at and what you're looking at is more meaningful to you, instead of having just all of your quests on the side."

"And so, a lot of those types of quality of life things are coming into the UX side of it.
And then, I think the other thing to harken on to that I think is really amazing, is that a lot of what you saw, like you mentioned in Dragonflight, this idea that no more borrowed power."

"It's the idea of bringing in things that are evergreen, that exist for, like, dragon riding, or the new talent trees, or bringing in the hero talents."

"Or, it's just, I think the focus is more in that, that field.
And I think we're going to continue that moving forward.
That's the idea, is it has a lot of impact."

"The players have spoke to us about it.
They love that.
And so, I feel like we're hitting that stride and it's going to look great."

"I think two things that got the biggest reaction, maybe even someone fainted near me, were the warbands and the new hero mastery.
Could you talk just a bit more about that and why it's got people so hyped?
I think, yeah, where I was, the warbands, I think..."

"The roof came off.
Yeah, right.
They announced, you know, shared bank, shared reputations, and then the crowd was already nuts."

"And it kind of, I don't think the people near me heard the transmog changes as well, right?
Which, the transmog changes, I can, as my fury warrior, which is my main, I can go run older raids to collect appearances for cloth or druids."

"And it's kind of that philosophy of, the game has changed from when we first started playing single character.
You have a lot of investment there."

"A lot of people play alts.
And there's a lot of, the concept of the warband, it's kind of, things players have wanted for a lot of time to facilitate, play the game the way you want to play with the characters you want."

"They can be cross-faction, cross-realm.
Something we're announcing tomorrow is, so cross-realm guilds as well, right?
So that applies to your warband and your login screen even."

"So you'll be able to see all your characters on all your realms, pick those that you know, you can play the most if you want.
Your fantasy of that is your warband and you're playing together."

"But all your characters, regardless if they're in that, are going to contribute to these key progressions, achievements as well, right?
So I think this, the reaction we saw from the crowd is like a lot of people play the game that way now."

"And it's just like, it's so refreshing, excited, wanted, asked for for a while.
Engineering-wise, there's a lot of efforts going in under the hood for things that would be stored per character to be stored per Battle.net account, a lot of kind of infrastructure work there that our team of engineers are super excited for as well because they're players."

"I'm excited to play my main, still play my main in my Fury War all the time.
I'm going to be a Mountain Thane in the Hero Talents.
I knew that immediately, but my Druid's going to get some more time now, right?
Yeah, I'm going to have more squads."

"So yeah, I think it was cool to see that reaction.
I was thinking like, this is like the low-key, cool things coming, but it was really, BlizzCon is a place where we feel that, right?
We have a lot of fans, play the game a lot of different ways, and it's like, yeah, this is why we do it, right?
For those moments."

"Cool, and then I'll mention a little bit about, because you talked about it, the Warband screen at the select screen.
So in going back to what's being revamped, that also gives us a moment to change that screen and update it to something that's more fresh."

"You'll be able to select, like he was talking about, the different Warband people that you want to see around your little campfire and what you want to see in this scene."

"And I think that's really impactful.
So that'll give us that chance to refresh that UI.
And then to your topic about the Hero Talents.
So for me, I've been a Shaman since forever, and I was always like, I want to be like Thrall, but Thrall's not a Shaman, he's a Farseer."

"How do I, so now here we are.
And so I think these really cool things are coming together where now I can, I get two things out of it.
Players who really want to have that fantasy can lean into that fantasy, and you'll be able to kind of chase that idea."

"But then the second thing is, is for players who are very, very invested in deep, rich talents and like customization, you'll have that opportunity to do as well."

"And then being able to switch between those heroic specs will be very seamless, just like you do your specs right now.
So maybe you prefer one of the specs, like maybe I prefer Farseer for like say PvP, but I want to try Totemic when I'm going into PvE."

"Like maybe that makes more sense to me.
So being able to switch between those is very seamless.
And then to the point too, like you'll be able to fill all of the talents out in the tree, but there'll be some that are choice nodes."

"So even then you'll be able to flip to those choice nodes very simply.
So I think it's a very rich system that allows for the depth for gameplay, but I think the fantasy part is just really rad."

"Going to be fighting against some Nerubians, by the looks of things, by the looks of this wonderful art behind me.
How are we going to see sort of Nerubians refreshed in sort of combat?
And is there going to be a level of verticality considering how we're also traveling sort of vertically downwards as we head into the world of Azeroth itself?
Yeah, you mean verticality in terms of the combat as well?
Yes."

"Yeah, I'm not aware of any specific plans for the combat verticality.
Like even though the zones that you're going down, they are fairly traditional in that they're land-based zones, right?
So in the past we've had areas where we had more 3D combat, like Vashjir maybe notably."

"So it should be more traditional there.
In terms of the Nerubians themselves, Maria touched on it earlier in the What's Next panel, but there's going to be a lot of variety of them."

"They're not related to the Northrend Nerubians that you've seen before.
They're like under the Lich King or some of them are undead."

"These are their own separate civilization.
Zalateh, they kind of evolved by like modification.
Like that's why you've seen the kind of the bigger, like Anub'Arak was one of the Nerubians that I'm thinking of, right?
Like the Crypt Lord."

"But there's the bigger ones like that.
And then there's the other kinds we've seen.
But then Zalateh is also doing experiments and manipulating and making new kinds."

"So they will have interesting twists in the story and combat abilities.
So that is something we talk about a lot, right?
We actually invest in accessibility options, including that."

"So we're very conscious of that.
They're a core part of like Warcraft forever, right?
Like since Warcraft 3.
But we have a team there."

"We do research on that.
Like what are the key things we need to help players with?
How we best provide those accessibility options?
So nothing specific to announce there right now, but we're actively talking about that too."

"When the decision was made to go in this direction as well, that was like front of mind.
That's perfect.
I was going to ask beforehand if you could let me know because there's one."

"Yeah, there is one in mind.
It is to do sort of, I guess, the elephant in the room, the thing that had sort of Phil Spencer come out at the start of the ceremony."

"You guys are now part of the Xbox family, which is very exciting.
Are we going to see sort of any updates to our perhaps even, I'm jumping really far, even a console version perhaps?
Anything that you sort of guys have talked about?
Anything that you're excited about now that this sort of is reality, I guess?
We don't have anything since, I mean, we just joined the Xbox family."

"So we don't, there's nothing really to announce.
But as a player, I think the possibilities are exciting.
I don't know what it's going to lead to, but I think the possibilities of where we could go is super exciting."

"I think, but yeah, I'm trying to think if there's anything now.
There's nothing that we can really announce or talk about, but yeah, exciting future.
Yeah, I mean, touching on the accessibility earlier, something you can do is play WoW with a controller, right?
So that's kind of where we want to focus."

"This was independent of the exciting.
We are very excited by it, by the way, too.
So what we want to do with any decision like this is not fracture the player base."

"Whoever's playing our game, we want to meet players where they are, and they need to be able to experience the core content of our game, dungeons and raids as well."

"So bringing that to a controller or any other accessibility options here, that's a big consideration, doing that carefully, making sure we're not creating kind of the haves and have-nots there for how you can play the game."

"Yeah, but Phil Spencer was out on campus last week now, and it was cool, right?
It was really, there's a lot of excitement.
We heard him get up and talk about how much he loves Blizzard games and playing."

"I think it just reinforced we're all kind of, we're focusing on War Within, obviously, and what we're doing, and it's like, what opportunities are next?
So we're looking forward to finding out more about that, too."

"Perfect. Thanks so much for your time.
I believe World of Warcraft The War Within is being set for release late next year.
Fall 2024 and play now."

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