Visions of N’Zoth interview with Patrick Dawson

World of Warcraft’s next content patch goes live this week with Visions of N’Zoth, where we take on the last Old God of Azeroth. Lots of new systems are coming to the patch that will bring Battle for Azeroth to a close and we will be fighting a completely untethered Old God in their monstrous glory. We spoke with production director Patrick Dawson about the upcoming patch.

The Black Empire is something that some players have been looking forward to for years. Are you not rushing things by having it be just a patch and not an expansion?

Patrick: Well, you never know where we are going to end up in the future. There is a chance we could go back to look at the Black Empire in more depth later. If you look back at Warcraft’s history and lore, any content update we do tends to be pretty heavy. We did the whole of Argus in a content update and that is a whole planet that had a tremendous depth to it. We are not going to the Black Empire but rather to NZoth and Ny’alotha itself so we are definitely leaving that door open for the future. We are pretty happy with the offering we have of being able to explore Ny’alotha and ability to take down the final Old God of Azeroth. It is going to be exciting.

Will we ever see global reputations?

So character progression is something that is really important to us. We do some things at the account level like mounts and pets and even achievements to some extent. But it is very important that your Rogue feels very different to your Mage that feels very different to your Warrior and that your progression on those characters is different as well. We would never do something like considering sharing gear, while reputations is something in that murky area. We feel like they should be earned, so we don’t have anything planned to do full sharing. We have had some catch-up mechanics in the past and that might something that we consider looking back into and seeing what worked there and how we can maybe accelerate all progression rather than just doing a full sharing solution.

Will there be any catch-up mechanics for alts and returning players for the Legendary cloak?

With returning players that come back for 8.3 it is a brand new technology and thing, so there is nothing to catch up to. You log in, you go and get it and you can start immediately. There is nothing to prevent a returning player from jumping straight into that experience. In terms of catch-up mechanics I don’t think we have any plans right now to accelerate that progression for alts or someone who misses a week or two. But I do think that the cloak itself is so powerful that even just that first week of progression and starting on that tech tree is going to make you feel much more powerful. Every week after that is just going to help you more with Horrific Visions and progression there. I don’t think the goal is for someone to come in on an alt three months later and do some of the higher progressions right away. They should go through that reward loop too and feel good about their progression. As I mentioned before, each character should feel like its own different entity with its own unique experience and we want to design a game that has you go through that.

As a Horde main I would love to play as some Alliance Allied Races but it is a lot of work to unlock them. Any chance of a catch-up mechanic?

As a Horde player myself, I have had the same experience. I actually just got my Kul Tiran Allied Race two weeks ago. It is quite a lot more challenging than getting say the Zandalari Trolls. That one I got pretty much by logging in because of my progression on my Horde characters. We have gone back and loosened restrictions on previous Allied Races in the past and that is something we feel good about and we will probably continue to do as time goes on. I think one of the core concepts of Allied Races that has really resonated with the fans is that it is a story. How do you recruit these people as allies? Learning that story and going through that process has some meaning behind it. As a Horde player and not knowing about Kul Tiran history or culture, it would make sense that you want to get to know that before recruiting them into your alliance. Going back and doing that is important. In terms of the restrictions in place today, I don’t think we have any plans to lower it right now but it is something we have done in the past and will consider doing in the future.

Will we see anything regarding the Horde and Alliance breaking the cycle of war in 8.3?

That was definitely a very powerful story moment for us. It doesn’t come with any gameplay changes as of now. In the future, you never know what is going to happen, where the story is going to take us and what makes sense for the game. To me as a Horde player I still like going out into World PVP and smashing Alliance and that feels good and I think there is a large part of our player base that still needs that and we want to serve that. In terms of cross-faction, we have experimented a little bit with it internally to see what it would feel like. We don’t have anything to announce today but it is a cool idea.

Will any of the content on the PTR be time-gated when it hits live as we saw in Nazjatar?

I’m not aware of any time-gating beyond the release of the raid, which will launch on the 21st and the mythic difficulty will happen the week after that. I am not aware of any hard gates. We have heard feedback that gating is not something that players enjoy and we want people to be able to get in and enjoy the content. I know in my playtests I can get into Horrific Visions in just a couple of hours, which is a very high-end progression thing. It feels very good to be able to get in there on day one and experience some of that high-end endgame stuff right away.

Why not use a system of upgrading items rather than Titanforging?

We experimented with this in the past. In Mists of Pandaria you could spend your Valour Points to upgrade the item level on your items. It is something we have played with and I don’t think the idea is off the table for the future. For this patch we wanted to try something new. We brainstormed this and asked what would maybe feel a bit better. We are really excited to roll out corrupted items with players being able to get more power but at a cost. We are hoping players will get to make interesting choices and we are hoping to get some feedback on that next week to see how fans like it. If they like it, it is something we will continue with, if it is not we will go back to the drawing board and consider all the options that we have.

Where to from here? Will we see more about the Void Lords? What villains are still to be fought?

Yes, we are killing the last Old God. We do big things, we have done them before and it is going to be really interesting to see how Void Lords react to their last agent dying. You are not necessarily going to get the answers in Visions of N’Zoth, but this certainly sets the table for answering this question in the future. Void Lords are definitely paying attention, they know what is happening and they’re probably not happy about this.

For villains in the future, I think World of Warcraft has such tremendous, immense lore. We have a long list of people to go visit, explore and dive into depths with here. In the next expansion that is completely new place that we haven’t been to which allows us to be creative with those people and the stories behind it. It also doesn’t have the same history with our cosmos, like Void Lords. There is a rich story ahead of us here, both with Shadowlands and beyond. The actions of Visions of N’Zoth will influence what that future is.

It feels like we get new systems per content patch rather than per expansion currently, is this something we will see going onwards into future expansions?

In Battle for Azeroth I think we experimented a little bit more than before with our system updates and they have been pretty significant. If you look back at the history of World of Warcraft this isn’t a new concept. Releasing one single system for expansion and then trying to maintain it over multiple content updates would feel a little stale. Even with Artifacts in Legion, later on you got the relic slots and more traits and a different endgame progression for them too. Systems tend to not stay stagnant through content updates in WoW and that is what you are seeing here with Visions of N’Zoth. These are a little bit bolder but what we do is listen to the community and people want some bolder ideas and changes to our systems so we are really excited about what we have. The feedback from the PTR seems pretty awesome and we have been able to iterate on that and get that out in front of people quickly. Essences were a big hit too and I love how that has evolved and we are adding more in 8.3 and there is a lot of new content for you to experience there.

With the Corrupted Item system tied to the theme of Visions, will we be able to have Corrupted Items later?

Usually with our new ideas we tie them or theme them to the expansion or content update that suits them. If they work and we like them and want to use them again we will come up with a solution to theme that or fit it with different aspects of the content in the future. This one is absolutely tied to Visions of N’Zoth and the corruption aspect of the future in which N’Zoth wins. Now we are at the part where we want the feedback from the players and to hear what they think as they play with it.

Will we see other areas invaded by N’Zoth?

For Visions we are really only looking at Uldum and The Vale of Eternal Blossoms being under attack by N’Zoth. There are reasons for that: there are ancient Titan constructs that exist in those zones that he is really focussed on as he wants to gain a foothold there. The assaults will be pretty persistent in those two zones for you to go out and try to defend against.

Will we see any changes to M+?

We saw that the meta was getting pretty stale with Rogues and the skips being a big part of it and now with Awakened and being able to choose your skips, I am interested to see how players come up with strategies on a per dungeon basis and that will be very engaging in Visions. Any changes to M+ beyond that will be done on an expansion boundary rather than a content update.

Where can we see the interaction between the Old Gods and the Void Lords in the game?

We have comics, stories and other various things outside of the game that we use to tell that story. I think at some point you will absolutely see us telling more of that story in the game. For the purposes of Visions of N’Zoth it is very focussed on N’Zoth himself and not the Void Lords as we have an immediate threat to deal with. And we will and this will definitely garner the attention of the Void Lords in some way, shape or form. There is a lot of story to tell there in the future.

What is Wrathion’s true intention?

Wow, he is an interesting character. He is your ally, he is helping you out and giving you a legendary cloak but he is very mysterious and you never really know what he is up to. You never really know his plan. Clearly he sees the need for us to take care of N’Zoth right now and this threat to our world and he has a lot riding on this too. In the future? Who knows, he tends to vanish for a periods of time with no knowing what he is up to and I think there is a whole lot of story to tell.

How difficult are Horrific Visions?

We wanted something that would be more in line with Legion’s Mage Tower. I think you are going to have a lot of fun there, with a hard, challenging experience.

Will we see changes to allow easier essence collection for alts?

This goes back to the feeling of individual character progression that I was talking about and how that is an important concept to us. If you were able to jump too far ahead on an alt you would feel like you didn’t really earn that on that character, which is an important thing not just to us but I think to players that they want to be able to earn these things. That being said, yes some of the stuff is really grindy and we want to take a look at what those are and when we change it we would look at what universal changes we want to make first and then secondly if the universal change doesn’t make sense is there a catch-up mechanic that we can add to it.

Tell us about the changes to the Auction House and will it reduce the use of addons?

The Auction House was a major undertaking and we have been working on it for a year at this point. It has been a labour of love for the team that has been doing it. They have gone through many different designs and many iterations and it has gone through changes on the PTR even. Ultimately what we noticed is that it is the same Auction House that has been for 15 years and it was time for a facelift. There were a lot of addons in the community that did some of this work for us and one of the goals is to have people rely less on that. Also, we take a lot of inspiration from those addons because it shows us that this is what our players want, this is how our players are interacting with it and we tried to establish goals for the system around that. I think introducing things like commodities is going to be a major positive so you won’t have 8,000 stacks of one linen cloth which is just ridiculous and I’m glad that we are finally sunsetting that. We always listen to feedback from the community in terms of what is working and what isn’t. If there are future patches required for the Auction House based on player feedback we will absolutely do those. If mods can do that in the meantime that is great.

Will we see in-game resources that will teach us about the Old Gods and their reasoning and nature?

Even though Old Gods have been villains and enemies that we have killed, we certainly haven’t explained a lot around that and that is intentional: You don’t necessarily know their motivations or their origins or where they came from or why they are on Azeroth. You don’t know what is going on with the Void Lords and what their plans and goals are. We do explain a little bit more out of game but that is a large vector for us to explore in-game, should we choose to do so in the future. There is a lot there and this book is not done, the door is not closed. We might be killing the last one but it provides just as many questions as it does answers.

Can you not bring back Mythic raiding for 10 player groups?

There are a lot of challenges with that, some of which we have addressed with scrolls, personal loot and other things. But balancing the most challenging, best of the best content for a team of 25 vs a team of 10 is very challenging. In Mists of Pandaria certain bosses were just easier on 10 man, or easier on 25 depending on the situation. Going to a static raid size of 20 was a middle ground that let us focus on what that challenge level should be so that every boss we have is providing that high-end challenge to the most progressed players in our game. What you see for the levels below that, that are possibly more forgiving or casual is the flex-raid system that allows you to go between 10 and 30 so that if you do have that larger group or guild you can invite them to play, you don’t have to sit people. They can join you and enjoy this content at a still challenging level. Or if you have a smaller group that is more tightknit you can still experience this high-end heroic content with a group of that size as well.

Visions of N’Zoth goes live on Wednesday, January 15.

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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