World of Warcraft: Legacy Items Unveiled in Exclusive Interview

Questions by Ten Ton Hammer,, and MMO Gamer
Questions by Ten Ton Hammer,, and MMO Gamer

Answers by Jeffrey Kaplan and Tom Chilton, Co-Lead Designers for World of Warcraft

Last week, the internet was awash with new information on Blizzard’s upcoming expansion for World of Warcraft, titled Wrath of the Lich King. Although lots of general information was divulged to top media outlets, including Ten Ton Hammer, there really wasn’t too much in-depth information presented to the gathered press. Thankfully, Ten Ton Hammer’s Cody “Micajah” Bye was on the scene – along with MMOG aficionado sites and MMO Gamer – and this trio presented Wrath of the Lich King’s co-lead designers, Jeffrey Kaplan and Tom Chilton, with a whole variety of interesting questions that led to a number of interesting discoveries, including the first mention of Legacy Items!

If you enjoy this interview, make sure you check out our in-depth overview of the Death Knight, Raids and Dungeons, and our 10 brand new screenshots!

A concept drawing of the Death Knight.

How did you decide to pursue the dual (10 and 25 person) raiding system? Was it in response to a community desire? Or was it something that you saw in the numbers?

Jeffrey Kaplan: No, we wouldn't do anything we saw from the numbers. I think when you look at statistics you can bend them any direction you want to make a case for or against anything. I think it was really an evolution of a lot of things. You touched on one of the things which was community reaction, another thing was that we were really just trying out the Heroic system with Burning Crusade and getting a feel for it and what we could do with it and what would be successful and what wouldn't be.

At the same time, Karazhan in and of itself was a bit of an experiment to treat a 10 person zone like a full-blown epic raiding zone and see how that could come off. And it came off pretty well and was very popular, and then Zul'Aman was an evolution of that. We determined that "Ok we did this kind of good entry-level 10 person raid." People treated it as raiding, came up with strategies for fights, got stuck on bosses for a week or two, and I think Zul'Aman really showed that we could do pretty elite raiding at that point and pretty hardcore and epic fights. Fighting a major storyline character like Zul'jin and defeating him with 10 people. It came off okay.

And then on the flipside of the coin there was a lot of discontent from the 25 person raiding crowd about having to go through Karazhan, having to kill Nightbane. (They were saying) "Hey we're a 25 person raiding guild, that's what we want to do, why are you forcing us to do this other content?" The goal with the 10 and 25 thing is not that we want to have sort of easy mode and that's 10, and then hard mode and that's 25. We really do just want to have two separate, clear progressions. And even within those we want to have easy 10 and 25 raids, and then medium 10 and 25, and hard 10 and 25. We want to have progression through those.

So it seemed like an overall good decision, it also seemed like a way that we could get a lot more people to experience the content, and not just feel like "Why are you making this stuff? It doesn't make any sense to us. Who are these people who go in there; I never see them." So it gives us a way to sort of address a lot of issues at once.

Touching on that, how drastic are the encounters going to change between 10 and 25 man, because like Naxxramas Four Horsemen may not really be viable in a 10 man, meanwhile 25 it may be more so.

Kaplan: Yeah the Four Horsemen's actually just a gnome on a puppy dog now. *laughs* It's just Mr. Bigglesworth and we put him in that room.

No - we definitely recognize that as a challenge to us as a development team; something we need to overcome. What we've been doing is analyzing all the fights in a place like Naxxramas, and trying to come up with what was the heart of what made Naxxramas cool, or the Four Horsemen cool. Was it the fact that you needed lots of tanks? Is that what made the fight cool? Or was it the fact that it took a high level of coordination, the stacking buffs, the movement, and really trying to find the essence of each encounter.

And we'll have to do different things between 10 and 25. Already the Four Horsemen doesn't work in 25 person raiding; we're gonna have to make some changes to the encounter. But what we don't want to do is just come up with the gnome on the puppy dog, or like we don't want to just gut the encounter and start over. We want to hit whatever that core was of the initial 40 person Naxxramas, and then come up with a version that doesn't force weird class composition in the 10 and 25.

One other note about Naxx that I've been trying to communicate to people too is, it's gonna feel very different anyway, even if we hadn't done the 10 and 25 thing because of where we're placing it in the raiding progression. It really is that entry-level raid now, so that means it has to be tuned to be more at the bottom of the curve rather than at the top of the curve where it was before. So Naxx will be pretty accessible in both the 10 and the 25 man versions. And later on as we get deep into Ulduar and some of the deeper raid dungeons after that, that's when it'll start to get crazy again.

So, are 40 man raids gone for good? 25 seems a little low for Arthas.

Kaplan: That's a great question. I don't want to say 40 man raids are gone for good, because if we ever felt like the quality of the gaming experience would be better if we did a 40 person raid, we would do it. Conceptually, I don't know what the right number conceptually is that would defeat Arthas. I could make the same argument for Illidan or Zul'jin. Why are these powerful guys dying to so few? What I hope, and I'm sure the community will correct me if I'm wrong, because they are excellent at doing that. But what I hope is that, in the essence of those encounters, we've captured something that was epic.

And for those that were present, sure you might hear "Yeah Illidan died to 25 people and that sounds weird or wrong," but for anybody whose been there and killed Illidan, "Man was that an epic moment", and that's what we're hoping to deliver on. I want anybody who fights Arthas, whether it's with 10 or 25 or that one guy who figures out how to solo him - God forbid - to say "Man, that was the most epic fight that I've ever been a part of."

Jeffrey Kaplan, Co-Lead Designer

How are you guys handling Death Knight in PvP? It seems like - I wouldn't say an overpowered class - but you're introducing a whole new system with the runes and that sort of thing. How do you guys blend the Death Knight into the current classes as far as PvP goes?

Kaplan: That's a really good question. I was thinking of that when we were watching Tom do the demo, and I'm like "Man this is gonna freak everyone out" when he showed the pull ability, or the Chains of Ice, or the Death and Decay with the fear going off. I mean, you can see some of the arena implications behind that... But even if we hadn't introduced the Death Knight with Wrath of the Lich King, if we were to show you the talent panes right now for the remaining classes, and the new abilities that they're getting-  

Sort of the class balance as you know it today is going to change pretty drastically without the introduction of the new class. Because we're adding 10 new talent points, new tiers across all three trees for every class, we're adding those new core abilities, and we're also retuning some of the old abilities. Some of those you can probably notice in there, like take a look at Warrior Rend or Thunderclap. There are ones in there that are like old abilities for classes where they didn't use them or felt they were ineffective. We're going to have to rebalance PvP in this expansion anyway, so if anything it's the perfect time to introduce the Death Knight, and then make sure it just works within that balance.

Resilience was introduced in The Burning Crusade. Can PvP players expect anything new with this expansion?

Kaplan: We haven't finished completely itemizing PvP. Resilience is here to stay, we like the statistic. I don't think we'll be adding anything else to Resilience at this point, it's a pretty powerful statistic, and I don't know if we'll be adding any additional PvP-specific things. Itemization is still up in the air in terms of what exact stats will be PvP desired and PvE, but Resilience is a very clear PvP stat at this point and we're going to continue on that trend.

Staying on the topic of PvP, you're adding your first open world zone in Northrend. Some would say Hillsbrad is the first open world zone, but on that subject are the open world PvP zones going to be exclusive to expansion content, or are you thinking about going back and adding them to some of the unused areas in the old world?

Kaplan: Well, that's a great question. I think before we commit to adding open world PvP to the old world, we really want to see how Wintergrasp plays out. We have a really good idea how we want it to play out, and what mechanics we want to work there, and what we don't want it to degenerate into. So we have some pretty good ideas behind that, but before seeing it play out in action we don't want to immediately go back to the old world and affect some of those areas. I hope though that we've proven, like in the patch where we addressed Dustwallow Marsh, that it's on our agenda to hit lots of old world areas whether it's PvP revamps or PvE revamps, and just taking a hard look at the old world and keeping it viable, keeping it cool. It's one of our favorite areas; we put so much time into building it so it's sad when people move on from it.

I'm really excited about Stratholme for that reason actually - the Caverns of Time Stratholme event - I think it's great not just for the Warcraft III players, since it's based on the culling mission, but just for all the hardcore WoW guys who spent a lot of time at 60, doing a lot of Stratholme runs, it's gonna be cool to see the city pristine as it was.

How are you handling item inflation and that sort of thing in the upcoming expansion? I know with each expansion you have to increase the power level to make players want to get it, but is there a certain point where it becomes ridiculous when you get to higher levels and the shoulder pads can't get any bigger, and the swords can't get any wider?

Kaplan: Our artists have assured us that we haven't even seen the beginning of how big shoulder pads can get. *laughs* We would say that to them, we were like looking at something, "Man that's awesome, but that's the shoulder pads you get when you get off the boat," and then our artists say "Dude don't worry about it, we can go bigger than that."
In terms of item statistics, we planned out World of Warcraft from the very beginning with the inflation in mind, knowing we were gonna have to inflate the item curve and the power curve of players as the game went on. What we didn't do is just plan 1-60, we planned it out very far. It's always shocking to players, and they sometimes look at it as a mistake in the game where they say "What's going on? The items are inflating!" It's next to impossible to just come up with items that are exactly equal in power but for whatever reason you'd want item X rather than Y. So we don't look at the item inflation as a shocking surprise that happens, it's no different from us giving 10 new levels to the character.

We planned for it, and we're hoping we can do a better job of smoothing out some of the bumps. Examples are making sure that the green items as you're questing up or the random world green items aren't over-optimized or split too many ways, making sure that the dungeon blues are better than the quest blues so that when you go into a dungeon that has more risk involved to it you feel rewarded better for it, making sure that Heroic dungeons exist on their complete separate tier. We're also obviously going to make 25 person raids far more rewarding than the 10 person raids to keep that sort of prestige to that, and then in the PvP spectrum - Season 4 is a good example where really the top gear all has rating requirements on it and you really need to earn that prestigious gear. There will be lesser gear that you can earn out of that system that won't have rating requirements, but it won't be at the insane power level as the current arena gear.

And the same goes for the Honor gear; it will be brought much more in-line with the other tiers of content of things that you'll be experiencing. So there won't be these crazy jumps of, you know... "Should I do Black Temple or should I hang out in Alterac Valley and get a pair of boots?"

Isle of Quel'Danas was honestly probably the best introduction to the game patch-wise; the world event, Magisters' Terrace, Sunwell Plateau, all of that... can players expect events similar to that in Wrath of the Lich King?

Kaplan: I hope so. We do want to do an event to kick off Wrath of the Lich King; it will be different than Isle of Quel'Danas, but I think why Isle of Quel'Danas feels really good to players right now, is we've sort of embraced the philosophy. We've always thought along these lines but we're really trying to prove it through what we deliver in patches, that there isn't a right or wrong way to play WoW. It's not that WoW is about the hardcore 25 person raiders, or WoW is about the guys who like to do dungeons, or WoW is about the guys who like to solo and do quests. All of those players exist in WoW, and none of them are right or wrong, and it's our job to make sure that they're all getting content, and that they feel their way of playing is right and supported. I really hope that that's what Isle of Quel'Danas represents. It really just proves that there's kind of something for everyone out there, and that philosophy is going to translate directly into Lich King with how we're itemizing, and how we're building content.

And in terms of the event, we also want to do a "kick off Northrend" event too, and then more events where areas build up. I think that's cool. Players feel like they're contributing. We always wrestle with the dynamic event idea; players in MMOs always go "I want to go into the village and burn it down, and from that day forward the village is always burnt down," and like the guy who comes a week later "Dude, where's the village?"

"Oh it was epic, we burned it down!"

"Well I wasn't there for it!"

But an event like this, you feel like everybody, even if you miss the event, you gain from it having happened rather than feel like something was taken away from you.

Wrath of the Lich King Logo

Probably the number one complaint when speaking to the average WoW player who logs on an hour every night, maybe raid with their guild on the weekend, is once you get 70 their daily existence in the game consists of: farming primals, farming reputation, or doing daily quests, and they seem to feel that's slightly monotonous. Do you personally feel that that's a problem in the game, and if you do, do you have any plans to address it in Northrend?

Kaplan: Yeah, I do think that it's a problem, and it's a very true statement like you said. What I really hope is that getting level 80 is not the end, but just a milestone and a very momentous milestone. I think some of the issues with The Burning Crusade is that the barrier to entry to some of the endgame content was very high, and it made it hard for players who were doing this nice leveling segue through the game.

Once they hit the end of the line, they didn't feel like they could make a nice smooth progression through anything. Everything felt like a brick wall to them. I want to try to smooth out that progression that takes place when players hit the endgame. Even in the daily quest example, which I think is a great example for players who don't want to go PvP, or they don't want to do 5, 10, or 25 person content, they just want to play by themselves and do quests.

I think we can do a better job with the daily quests. The daily quests that I've really enjoyed lately are things like the fishing daily, the cooking, the battleground, the dungeon dailies because they have randomization in it, so you don't feel like you're in a set pattern of activity every time you log in. I would rather players do daily quests for money than farm primals, which is a very repetitive sort of behavior. So I think we can do things to smooth out what feels like a grind, and make it not the same every day that you log in. That's when it becomes an issue, is when you log in and do the same activity every time, because certainly when you're leveling up that's not your experience.

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