It's been a few days since the launch of Patch 8.0 for World for Warcraft, the pre-patch intended to set the stage the Battle for Azeroth expansion. Things did not go as planned. There were major server issues on patch day, with players unable to log in for most of the day. There were also a host of additional problems and bugs related to changes developer Blizzard Entertainment made in various systems and mechanics.
Today, World of Warcraft director Ion Hazzikostas sat down with community manager Josh Allen for a scheduled Developer Q&A on Twitch. Given the state of the patch, it's no surprise that many of the questions were regarding developer intent behind some of the changes and planned fixes for those issues.Watch WoW Live Developer Q&A w/ Ion Hazzikostas from Warcraft on www.twitch.tv
Before the developers even addressed any questions, Hazzikostas offered an apology on the state of the game post-patch 8.0. He pointed to the server issues being a result of the new Communities feature, which is why that feature was disabled after the server reset.
"It's been an eventful couple of days. Not the smoothest of pre-patch launches. Not the experience we wanted to deliver, not the experience you deserve," said Hazzikostas.
"A lot of investigative work was done to trace that back not to Communities themselves, but actually the one-time process that was being run every time someone logged in as the first person in their guild," he explained. "It was doing a process that would migrate their accounts over and convert that old guild to use the new Community infrastructure. It's something we tested extensively, however we didn't test it with accounts that were in very old states. There are people who haven't logged into since Battle.net accounts existed. A lot of those edge cases led to a significant amount of load on our account server."
Hazzikostas said that he believes that the problem has since been fixed, with Communities coming back after today's planned hotfix. He then tackled other issues introduced by Patch 8.0, notably related to level scaling and the compression of player statistics. Hazzikostas said that the problems are a result of extensive changes made behind-the-scenes in terms of combat mechanics, changes necessary for the future health of the game.
"Once people got online, there were a lot of gameplay, quality of life issues. Those are regrettable. We will do better in the future," he told players on the stream. "What we've undertaken in the 8.0 patch was not just to squish and rescale our game, but also to do so in a way that would make doing so in the future simpler."
He called the previous stat squish in Warlords of Draenor a "painstaking, manual process," with Blizzard having to hand-edit thousands of spells and creatures. The process was "incredibly error-prone and laborious," which is why Blizzard decided that Battle for Azeroth's compression would be done differently.
"So what we did this time around was actually convert a lot of the guts of our combat system to be inherently more scalable under the hood," said Hazzikostas."In the future, we can just turn a knob. That conversion process is touching eight games worth of content. It's not just Battle for Azeroth, when we make a code change that affects mob pathing, that can have ripple effects on seven past games worth of content."
At the end of the opening section of the Q&A, the director asked for patience on the part of the community. He noted that the team is currently going through many of the issues, adding hotfixes and corrections in response to player feedback.
"We're literally fixing hundreds [of bugs] a day," Hazzikostas said. "All I can ask really is for your patience. What you experienced yesterday is the worst it'll ever be. Hopefully within a matter of a few days all aspects of the experience, whether that's doing Legion raids and dungeons or leveling up, will be smooth."
Hazzikostas and Allen eventually did move on to player questions about a number of different topics. I won't recap all of them here in this article, but here are some of the more notable responses about different aspects of Patch 8.0 and the Battle for Azeroth expansion.
Horde Players on Their Faction Leader's Actions
Part of what has defined World of Warcraft all these years is the ongoing conflict between the Alliance and the Horde. Blizzard Entertainment has done its best to keep both factions on even footing morally: the Alliance isn't all upstanding citizens and the Horde isn't all horrific monsters. A player may have problems with their current faction leadership, but both sides have been equally wrong and right in the past.
That's until some upcoming story content, showing Horde faction leader Sylvanas Windrunner undertaking some distinctly evil actions. Sylvanas has always been a hardliner, but these actions have Horde players questioning their allegiances.
In the Battle for Azeroth beta, players can experience the Battle of Lordaeron scenario, where the Alliance attempts to retake the city of Lordaeron, where Sylvanas' Undead currently reside. After the battle turns in the Alliance's favor, Sylvanas orders the release of the poisonous Blight upon the battlefield, killing Alliance and Horde soldiers alike. Even fan-favorite Horde character High Overlord Saurfang decides to leave the Horde completely over this.
Despite this and other actions—like the potential burning of the Night Elves' home of Teldrassil—Hazzikostas said there's more to the story of the Horde.
"It's hard for me to full answer this without getting into spoilers," he said on the stream. "What I can say to players of the Horde is not to lose heart. You're not necessarily wrong to be alarmed or dismayed at some of the actions you're seeing, but there is more to the picture that has yet to be revealed. The heart of the Horde still beats."
Legacy Loot's Level Requirements
With Patch 8.0, Blizzard Entertainment introduced the new Legacy Loot option for tackling older dungeon and raid content in World of Warcraft. Now if you run an old raid by yourself, loot will drop off of bosses as if there's a full raid in attendance: run a 25-man raid and 25 players' worth of loot should drop.
When the feature was first announced, players were told that Legacy Loot would activate if the player level was 10 levels or higher than the content itself. When Patch 8.0 went live, the patch notes changed that to "more than 10 levels" above the content. This means that while players expected that Warlords of Draenor content would be subject to the Legacy Loot system, that ended up not being the case; Draenor raids have a maximum level of 100, while the current maximum player level is 110. This is apparently working as intended.
"That's how it's always been implemented. It wasn't changed at any point," said Hazzikostas. "It's always intended to be more than one expansion behind. That means in a few weeks when you level to 111, that system will apply to all of the Warlords raids."
Hazzikostas said that the power curve is pretty stable from Blizzard's point of view. With a single expansion's distance, the average solo player should be as strong a full dungeon group of five players. Two expansions later, that same player should be as strong as a raid group. Blizzard doesn't want to immediately trivialize the content from the last expansion.
Countering Growing Player Levels and Stats
Patch 8.0 represents the second major compression of character statistics to get them to a manageable level. The first was in Warlords of Draenor, lowering player and item stats while still retaining their general power. Two expansions later, Blizzard is doing it again. When asked if there's an alternative to doing a stat squish every other expansion, Hazzikostas admitted that it's just the best option the studio has at the moment without "some complete reimagining of our combat system," which he says would be a "daunting prospect".
"At its core, power progression is important to the game," said Hazzikostas. "It's because we have large numbers of content tiers. We found that where we've settled right now—15 item levels, around 15 percent power as a gap between Normal and Heroic, Heroic and Mythic, and tiers themselves—that's about what it takes for upgrades to feel consistently rewarding and meaningful."
Blizzard could make it so that upgrades in player progression and power were smaller, but Hazzikostas believes that wouldn't be satisfying to players. It would also make it more difficult for Blizzard to balance harder content, which sometimes relies on hard gear checks. (A gear check is when a boss or scenario in World of Warcraft is unbeatable unless you have a certain level of gear or damage output.)
The director admitted that Blizzard previously played around with the idea of mega-damage, keeping the numbers the same behind the scenes, but dividing visible numbers by a hundred or thousand. In the end, the studio decided that option wasn't feasible.
"We don't think of it as perfect. We think of it as the best thing we've come up with so far," said Hazzikostas.
What about a level squish though? With the upcoming Battle for Azeroth, the maximum player level will be up at 120. That's pretty high for leveling a new character and it can act as a barrier of entry to new players, something Hazzikostas acknowledged.
"It's something we've genuinely discussed and considered. The reason why we haven't? It's a mix of the complexity of the game in terms of how it's built as a whole. If you thought things have been broken the last couple of days, the risks of doing [a level squish] would be far, far greater," he explained.
More Transmog Options
Since its release in patch 4.3 during the Cataclysm expansion, the Transmogrification system has been a key feature for many fans. The system allows you to change the appearance of your equipped gear to another piece of gear you own. There are restrictions though: you can't equip weapons or armor outside of your Class and Specialization. This means a Paladin, which is a Plate armor class, can't transmog down into Leather armor, or a Rogue can't change their daggers into a staff.
There were a few questions about the current Transmog system, especially with Artifact Weapons—the current Legion staple weapons—previously sitting outside of the system. One player asked why Artifact Weapon appearances haven't been unlocked account-wide yet, but Hazzikostas said this won't be changing until players receive new weapons in Battle for Azeroth.
"What you're probably seeing is if you are using an Artifact Weapon, the way you change the appearance is at the Artifact Forge in your Class Hall. That is a character-specific unlock system," he said. "Down the line, when you're using a different weapon in Battle for Azeroth, the Transmog appearance associated with your artifact should be account-wide."
Blizzard Entertainment also relented on Transmog restrictions with certain specializations. The Holy Paladin Artifact Weapon was The Silver Hand, a giant two-handed mace that was outside of what the specialization had previously used. With Battle for Azeroth, the spec will be switching back to using a one-handed weapon and shield combination. To handle these discrepancies, Blizzard has introduced a new Artifact Pair feature for the Transmog system with Battle for Azeroth, covering specs like Holy Paladins, Shadow Priests, or Fire Mages. Basically, these specs will be able to transmog their weapons to these Artifact appearances, despite using alternate gear.
This has touched upon the dreams of the Transmog community, many of whom hope that these restrictions will be lessened overall. Hazzikostas said that Blizzard is looking into the system for Fist Weapons, but doesn't want to allow players to switch between say, one-handed and two-handed weapons at will.
"I think the main area we're looking to expand in the future is fist weapons versus other weapons in particular," he said. "Two-handed or one-handed gets really tricky in terms of spec identity and readability; when you look at somebody, you can tell that they're a Frost or Unholy Death Knight. That's not something we want to change."
He also acknowledged that the specs mentioned above are mostly casters, meaning their attack animations are not based on weapons. With melee-based classes, many of their attack animations are dependent upon weapon assumptions; the animation team assumes a Frost Death Knight dual-wields and thus animates those characters accordingly.
The full Q&A was an hour long covering a number of topics, so if you want to know more I'd urge you to watch the entire thing above. Blizzard Entertainment is listening to player issues with regards to Patch 8.0 and beyond, though everything won't get fixed immediately. What the studio set out to do today is let players know that it is listening to their concerns.
We'll see if players have the patience to wait for those fixes. World of Warcraft's Battle for Azeroth expansion will be launching PC and Mac on August 14, 2018.