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In a small, improvised black booth with a familiar blue logo on it, right smack in the middle of the Games Convention in Leipzig, the crew at ActionTrip was lucky enough to meet up with lead designer Jeff Kaplan and Art Director Chris Robinson from Blizzard Entertainment, to discuss various subjects in regards to the hotly-anticipated next big World of WarCraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King.
We learn some new details and get to understand the logic behind some of the game designs decision. We also have an exclusive announcement in store for the fans.
ActionTrip: As far as art design for "Lich King," it feels as though you guys are going for a more retro Warcraft look, something that old-school Warcraft fans could appreciate. Is there any truth to this?
Chris Robinson: Sure, absolutely, we all really respect the look that has been established in the original Warcraft games, and, obviously, World of Warcraft sort of submits you personally into that world, which it does very effectively. Obviously, we tried to build on that as much as we could in Outlands. We did specifically sit down and we thought about how we could push things further, and I think we pushed it as far as we possibly could (because of the crazy high fantasy stuff). And, certainly, for Lich King, we are sort of trying to get it back to the real world, back into that Gothic fantasy style.
Or Norse mythology perhaps...
Yeah, I think (Wrath of the Lich King) supports some Norse mythology and style, but there are plenty of cultures that will be going into "Lich King;" anything from Peruvian-inspired art (to other things); there are plenty of different cultures that will be included.
AT: Are you planning on bringing any of the old characters back into "Lich King?" (Something that dates before World of Warcraft, lore-wise.)
Jeff Kaplan: We have a lot of plans to bring back certain elements from old Warcraft games. We haven't officially done anything with the Juggernaut yet; there is one at the bottom of the Dead Mines; we might do more with that... so, we are constantly in a push and pull; we are creating a universe that we want to be broad and deep. We want there to be stuff that players of the old Warcraft games can refer to, but also push it and make new things.
AT: How important will the 5-man stuff be in Lich King, do you plan on expanding that segment?
JK: It's very important, and for Wrath of the Lich King, we're gonna do just as much in the terms of instances as we did in the Burning Crusade.
We also want to do more with 10-man instances because those are very popular with the groups who can get 5 but can't get 25 (players), so we plan to have more instances like that, just like Kharazan.
And, also, this is something we haven't really talked about, so this is somewhat of an exclusive for you guys; Sunwell Plateau, which is an upcoming patch just before Wrath of the Lich King, we've announced that it's gonna have a 25 person raid instance. We will also be doing a 5 person instance which will have both Normal and Heroic mode. (So, after Dire Maul, this is the first 5-man instance that will be coming in a patch - 2Lions)
AT: As far as PVP goes, how satisfied are you guys with the Arenas basically?
JK: I think PVP will always take its own direction, because it's so player-driven; I think our PVP has come a long way and it's in a really good place right now. A couple of things for people to consider: One is that PVP in 2v2, 3v3 and 5v5 is drastically different; cause certain classes that are really powerful in one of those forms are actually not so useful in other forms, so another thing I'd like to point out to people, is that the game is constantly evolving; it's not just a set way and will only be that way for all times. I'd like to point out where our PVP used to be originally: Tarren Mill and Southshore...
AT: I loved that...
JK: Everybody looks back to Tarren Mill with nostalgia. The old honor grind... then we got the honor change right before the Burning Crusade, and everybody was into playing in the Battlgrounds and earning honor, so where we started out and where we are now with the Arenas and the current Battlegrounds, I think we've come a long way and done a lot of improvement, and I want people to realize that with "Lich King" maybe we can bring it that much further and get to the next level of PVP.
AT: Do you guys have any plans for world PVP for Wrath of the Lich King?
For Wrath of the Lich King we're gonna have a full non-instanced zone that's about roughly the size of Westfall; Lake Wintergrass is right in the center of the continent of Northrend. It will be massive; it will have various points of interest and objective to spread players out, so that they are not all on one spot, and we'll also incorporate our siege weapons and our destructible buildings into that.
Our goal is, we felt like, with Burning Crusade, we have done some things right and some things wrong with world PVP.
Looking at Hellfire Peninsula, it was too fluid, it was changing hands too fast and it didn't feel like it had an impact. And, then, we felt that Halaa and the Spirit Towers were more in the right direction of how world PVP should feel. It should feel chaotic and frenetic, but with an impact and an ending that feels like it has changed the world a little bit. Not that we're gonna copy those exactly (Halaa and Spirit Towers), but I look at those as things we did right, and, hopefully, we can apply those lessons to Lake Wintergrass; really epic, like effecting-the-whole-continent type of PVP zone.
AT: Can we expect any drastic changes in terms of class balance in The Wrath of the Lich King? (I just wanted to make sure they aren't, really. - 2Lions)
JK: We never want to do drastic changes. Occasionally, it happens, and, occasionally, sort of an unfortunate series of events leads to having to drastically change things. Let's say time froze right now and WoW classes were what they were when we stopped developing or patching the game. The players that kept playing those classes, just in the mechanics that the players contribute and the strategy that the players contribute, changes the classes over time even if Blizzard hasn't changed it. Part of our job is not to keep all the classes exactly equal, but at least within the relative balance of one another.
Our other thing that we do, that I try to point out to people, is not to make extreme changes of classes. What we'd rather do is look at a class and, maybe, if they are powerful, slowly bring them back, rather than doing a major change to the class.
AT: What about hybrid classes in that respect?
JK: I think hybrid classes are challenging in the expectation of the player at character create. When you have a player making a Druid at character create screen, for a lot of people that means, "it's nature, I heal people and I'm caring, and that's how I want my Druid, its possibilities to play out." Another person might go, "oh a Druid can change into a cat, it must be the most ferocious, savaging class there is. The hybrids, even more so, suffer from an identity crisis that happens at character create, and have to deliver upon those expectations when they are made at character create.
Wrapping up the interview as I was being reminded my time with the guys is up, I asked about the Death Knight Hero class.
The whole Death Knight questline, if you can call it that, starts at around level 55 to level 70, so you won't be waiting till level 80 to start on that. You will be able to play with the Death Knight while keeping the old character. It's also not going to be this all-powerful unit, and when asked about how hard it would be to get a Death Knight, I got the sense that the team wants to make it as accessible as one such class would allow. I jokingly made a comment about a thousand Death Knights running around and they (also semi-jokingly) responded with approval to that comment. So, obviously, the Death Knight hero class is not something that they plan to keep exclusive to a select few of the most hardcore players. At least that's the impression I got.
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