Wrath of the Lich King is bringing some big changes to raids and dungeons. From the 10/25 man option on all raid instances to the shift in focus from an exponential difficulty curve (aka the "Sunwell Plateau" effect) to a focus on making content accessible to as many players as possible, these changes will have some deep ramifications for how groups will experience World of Warcraft come November 13th.
Join Cory Stockton, Lead Level Designer, as he leads us through some of the new raid and dungeon experiences we'll be encountering in Wrath of the Lich King!
"We wanted the dungeons in LK to be filled with lore, to be shorter and faster with a more epic feel." The new dungeons in LK have a more expansive art style, but smaller play areas to create that "epic, but faster" feel. Blizzard has achieved this by placing many of the dungeon spaces within vast expansive caves or outside environments.
Halls of Lightning
Cory then guided us through the Halls of Lightning, a 5 man dungeon in Northrend, to show off this new focus in dungeon design. The Halls of Lightning deal with the story of the Titans, powerful beings who created all the worlds you visit. The whole dungeon has a retro-techno-mechanical feel to it that's very attractive.
Hit the jump to continue reading about The Halls of Lightning, Ahn'kahet, raid instance design in LK, item balance, and more!
As he panned out to an area of the dungeon crisscrossed with connected platforms, we saw a named boss making his rounds through the platforms. "We wanted to give players more choice. Here you can choose where you want to fight the boss encounter. He patrols all around this area."
As he continued on, we saw actual windows that looked out onto Northrend from inside the dungeon, showing us that we were inside the bowels of a mountain cave system. "We want to emphasise that dungeons are a part of the overall world, instead of separate areas. We want to get rid of the 'instancy' feel."
"We also wanted to design for suspense," Cory said as he panned out and we saw another boss hanging out on a platform playing with a bucket of lava that Cory couldn't reach from where his character was standing. "You see this guy and think 'wow, he's a cool guy, wonder how we can get to him?'"
The dungeon is divided into distinct sections with their own artwork style. "Players need to have landmarks they can recognise and navigate with. We've created this striking artwork so that they have something they remember."
This is when he came up to another boss encounter, this one with a character that looked part wind elemental and part ethereal with his body composed of swirling dust. "We've been coming up with a lot of new custom models. And it's hard because we come up with a model like this and we think it's so cool and we want to use it in other places in the game, but we don't want you to encounter a mob that looks like a boss in the world. We want to keep these new models exclusive to bosses."
Ahn'kahet: The Old Kingdom
Ahn'kahet is all about the old gods story. The dungeon represents the vast underground city built by the old gods. "This is where Kael pulled Naxx from, so as you can see, it's got a similar art style. We wanted players to recognise the connection."
He panned out to a vast cave system with glowing mushrooms lighting up the cave and a Nerubian city nestled within. "We've come up with this new technology that allows us to create these massive spaces in an enclosed area. It lets us create an inside/outside feel even underground."
Ahn'kahet has plenty of old school influence, with the Twilight Hammer playing an important part (remember them from Silithus?) in the lore.
"We've also come up with new technology for this boss fight," Cory told us as he came up to a very large faceless one, tentacles writhing like some Davey Jones casting reject. "In this fight, each player is put into their own phase where they have to 'damage' other party members to break out. However, we knew that similar mechanics like this (e.g. evil twin mechanic in SSC) cause a problem for healers, so we've designed it so that as DPS classes break out of their phase, they can help the healers out," he said to applause from everyone in the audience.
The goal in the new 10/25 man raid design in LK is to allow more group sizes to participate in raiding content and to see the content that Blizzard produces. They've grown tired of only the top raiding guilds seeing some of their content.
"We'll show you a couple of the raid dungeons in LK today."
Chamber of Aspects
The Chamber of Aspects is meant to be a raid that functions as an introduction to raiding in LK. "We made a mistake in BC. The first two raids available to players were Gruul and Magtheridon. They were too hard. ZA didn't really help things much either because most raiders were doing Hyjal/BT already, so ZA wasn't as relevant. We're fixing that at release in LK."
That's when he showed us a walk through of the Chamber of Aspects, which contains Black Dragons flying in an open air mountain environment. "The whole instance is black dragon themed. We're really working with the dragonflight aspect."
The really cool feature of the Chamber of Secrets is the scaling encounter ability. The main Black Dragon boss in the chamber has three drakes nearby that serve as his lieutenants. You're able to pick these drakes off one by one before engaging the main boss, and doing so makes the boss encounter easier; however, the loot he drops won't be as good. If you leave one drake up, the encounter will be somewhat harder, and better loot will drop. Two drakes up, and it gets more difficult, and again, the loot level will rise. If you leave all three drakes up and engage the boss, the fight will be very difficult and you'll get the best loot drops. "This scaling ability is a new technology we developed for LK, and we're going to make use of it so that raid groups can make the fights as hard as their skill level allows them to take on."
Eye of Eternity
The Eye of Eternity is an Onyxia-like single boss encounter dealing with the Blue Dragon Aspect, Malecgos. "We wanted to make this fight really unique, and emphasise the aspect of magic in the fight. You'll be using new effects, even vehicles. Let me show you how the fights starts."
Cory showed us his paladin waking into Malecgos's chamber, a floating platform in the middle of a galactic backdrop, with the dragon ignoring his presence and flying around to multiple crystals floating in the distance. "He's a big magical dragon, so he doesn't really care about you. You're meaningless to him." He explained that one member of the raid team will need to have a key acquired through a quest line to start the encounter. "He ignores you until, of course, you do something to piss him off, like mess with his orb here."
Unfortunately, Malecgos didn't seem to be distracted by Cory's attempts at sabotaging his magic orb. "Err... oops we forgot that we're still invincible. Malecgos doesn't want to fight us like that," said Cory as he chuckled to himself. "Sorry we can't show you how the encounter starts, but trust us, it's amazing and it's got a lot of really cool effects."
Blizzard has also given thought to redesigning the currency system in LK so that they avoid the "Mechanar Effect." (i.e. running the same one dungeon over and over merely to get badges to purchase loot.) Part of the solution to this has been to introduce two levels of epic badges. One level of badges drops off of Heroic 5 man dungeons and 10 man raids, which allows you to purchase certain items. The top level of badges, which drops off of 25 man raid bosses, allows the player to purchase even higher level items, and even pieces of tier loot!
"We also wanted a smoother transition between low level raiding and high level raiding, so the sets from 10 and 25 man raids will complete each other in respects to set bonuses," Cory revealed to much applause.
"Also key to our Heroic Dungeon loot is that we wanted all the loot that dropped to be better. They must have better loot. We didn't want the same loot dropping in Heroics as Normal dungeons."
Question & Answer
- Will you be adding tools to kick people from a raid dungeon, instead of having to wait for AFK people to be logged out? A: "Yeah, we know how much of a pain it can be when someone just disappears in a raid. We like the idea, and we're working on a solution for raid leaders" (w00t!)
- What are your plans for legendary weapons? A: "We want more caster legendary weapons, less random drops. We want to make them more like in the original game were you build them."
- With the new spec switch system you're planning, will you be designing raid encounters based on that, requiring people to switch specs in different encounters? A: "No way! We really don't want to design raid encounters for specific specs." (I guess they've learned.)
- What about Azeroth dungeons, any plans to update them or add to them? A: "We'll keep them in mind. It all depends on lore and whether it will fit. Right now there's no plans for anything new there, other than the Stratholme update."
- What about balancing item drops based on class makeup? A: "Yeah, we're looking into that, specially because of all the hybrids."
- What about preventing certain class items from dropping if that class isn't in the raid? A: "No. The badge system will let you buy pieces if your loot doesn't drop. We're even letting badges buy some of your tier gear."
- Are you planning on having any more keys/attunements for dungeons or raids? A: "No more keys! We want to allow for more content access. The only 'key' that will be needed is in Malecgos, and only one person in your raid will need it to start the encounter."
- What about making Hunters viable main tanks (with pets)? A: "We only plan on them for off-tank only, not main tanking. No way." (Yes, the guy who asked this got booed off the mic.)
- Are you going to ramp up the difficulty level in Lich King to Sunwell levels? Naxx is pretty easy. A: "Yeah, we'll be ramping up the difficulty in LK. We're not going to go all the way to Sunwell difficulty level, though. That's too hard. We don't want to push players to have to use cheesy strats like we saw on M'uru."
- BRS in the original game was easily puggable by raids, could be run at any time without lockouts, and bridged the gap between 5 mans and raids, Karazhan in BC didn't mainly due to the lockout timer. Any plans for a BRS like raid? A: "Right now, no. All raids have lockout timers. This allows us to assign them better loot."
- In BC and even in Azeroth, related dungeons (like TK 5 mans and Scarlet Monastery) all required you to go back outside to access the next dungeon in the group. Do you have plans to have more dungeon interconnects in LK to provide a smoother flow? A: "That's actually one of the big things we've been talking about. We're trying to improve cohesiveness, and we're looking into that issue. We don't want that 'separate' feel for sure."
- Are you looking at dropping one of each tier token each time? Balancing their drops? A: "We're not looking at having one of each drop. The way we're balancing the random drop system is by allowing you to purchase some tier pieces with badges obtained in raids now."
- Are you looking to lengthen how long it takes the top guilds to beat your content? A: "(laughs) Yeah the top guilds beat LK content in two weeks. Naxx even less than that. We really can't build for those guilds; they go through content too fast. We want to design for the average guild, so that more people can see content. We hope not to have Sunwell Plateau again."
- Does the LFG tool look at your spec and group you accordingly? A: (at this, they looked around at each other for a bit before answering) "I'm pretty sure it does, but we are looking at making general improvements to that interface."
This article is one in a series of in-depth articles detailing all the news from BlizzCon 2008.
Stay tuned for the rest of our coverage!
For the rest of the articles, here's the schedule with links to previously published portions of our series: