At the recent 2013 BlizzCon, Blizzard Entertainment announced the fifth expansion for their hugely popular MMORPG, World of Warcraft, dubbed “Warlords of Draenor.” This expansion sends players to a different world at a pivotal moment in history to fight against and alongside heroes from Warcraft’s past. The expansion will let players explore a new world which is home to both the Orc and Draenei races and discover brand new zones. Players will also get to build a garrison, which is a customizable stronghold that can serve as a base of operations. The level cap is being raised to 100 and players will be allowed to instantly boost one character to level 90. For more about BlizzCon check out our Day 1 Report and our Day 2 Report from the show.
Executive Editor Sean Gibson sat down with Warlords of Draenor’s Lead Narrative Designer, David Kosak, for this exclusive interview. The two talk about the history and lore behind the fifth expansion, the differences in theme and vibe between Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor, plus talk details about many of the new features. As Blizzard Entertainment’s lead narrative designer for World of Warcraft, Dave Kosak works with multiple teams to help create the overarching story vision for the franchise, and then works to see this vision implemented into the living game world. Prior to joining Blizzard Entertainment, Kosak was a co-founder and original creative director of GameSpy.
Gaming Illustrated: All right, this is Sean Gibson at BlizzCon 2013. I’m with Dave Kosak, the lead narrative designer with World of Warcraft. Obviously you had the big news here with Warlords of Draenor. As a Draenei myself, I’m very excited.
Dave Kosak: Oh, really? Good for you.
Gaming Illustrated: Yeah. I love the lore so I think I’m getting two big giant birds with one stone. I get the Orc back story, which I think is some of the best lore in World of Warcraft.
Dave Kosak: Fantastic, yeah.
Gaming Illustrated: Then I get to find out about where the Dranei came from, right?
Dave Kosak: Yeah. One thing we love about this expansion is it really gets to take us back to our roots, so it feels very Warcraft-y, probably the most Warcraft-y expansion we’ve done. Between your garrison, which was like building up a town from the RTS games, you’re building a whole city and then going back and meeting these old warlords… these original characters from the game franchise, and we think it’s really cool. It’s a really good place to go.
Gaming Illustrated: I was a huge fan of “Orcs and Humans” and “Warcraft II” and this expansion seems to give an homage to those two great games from the past. Doesn’t it?
Dave Kosak: It really does.
Gaming Illustrated: For those of us who have been around since the beginning, we’re really going to see the origins of this whole story more so than perhaps we already know about.
Dave Kosak: They’re kind of retold in a different sense because the Orcs are not drinking the blood of Mannoroth. They’re not becoming the demonic horde that we know, which is cool because we get to see their characters as it was before they were demon possessed. We get to see who someone like Grommash really was before he drank the blood.
Gaming Illustrated: Or Ner’zhul before he became a Lich King.
Dave Kosak: Ner’zhul, exactly yeah. The Ner’zhul story is going to be great.
Gaming Illustrated: Mists of Pandaria was a nice departure from what we had seen in Cataclysm, and it was fun.
Dave Kosak: Yeah, by design it was kind of like a vacation for us. We wanted to do something. We knew this next expansion was going to be dark and so we wanted Pandaria to be like a nice break… a breath of fresh air.
Gaming Illustrated: No more vacation. The honeymoon is over?
Dave Kosak: The vacation is over!
Gaming Illustrated: All right, bring it on man. Sounds good.
Dave Kosak: I think players are ready for that and we’re ready for it, so it’s nice. World of Warcraft is almost 10 years old now. It will be 10 years old next year and the Warcraft franchise goes back 15 years, so it’s important to incorporate new stuff, to venture out and do new stuff. Like Pandaria, we’ve never seen before. It’s very different bringing that into the franchise but then also going back to the core so people know what it’s all about. This is us really going back to the center, yeah.
Gaming Illustrated: We did some tweeting to see what the pulse was with the WoW community. The biggest question I got asked about were Garrisons. Everyone is thrilled and excited, and while everyone wants to know everything there is about Raids and Dungeons, they are all buzzing about garrisons. Tell me more about garrisons. From what I understand, there are three tiers, you’ll have followers and then you’ll be able to see another player’s garrison if they’re a party leader. Is that how it works?
Dave Kosak: Yeah – technically I’m not sure how we’re going to do it. It’s probably going to be the party leader and then you can see their particular garrisons. We’ll probably do that so you can show off your stuff to your friends or show off your build or maybe so that they can use the profession buildings. I’m not sure. That’s something we’ve been talking about. Like if your garrison is totally dedicated to blacksmithing they might be able to come by and use your building if they need to, that kind of thing. There’s not a whole lot of reasons so far to show off your garrison other than to just show it off.
Gaming Illustrated: Right.
Dave Kosak: Once we get the feature in and working, there’re all kinds of other ideas we can do going forward if it’s working really well.
Gaming Illustrated: I think people are excited just to be able to create a space of their own within the World of Warcraft and ideally customize it so it’s like ‘this is my piece of the game and this is what I’ve done with it.’
Dave Kosak: It’s something we talk about a lot. From the very launch of World of Warcraft, we talked about player housing but we always want the focus to be gameplay and so just building a house just to show stuff off didn’t really have any gameplay in it, and it would have been a lot of resources on our side just to show off a building. With garrisons, we are really confident that there’s a lot of gameplay there. There’s really interesting tactical decisions to make about which buildings you build and when, and then there’s gameplay in finding followers out in the world. We haven’t talked about that a lot yet, but there are quests and there’re things you can do in order to get followers and bring them in. Then once you have those followers, leveling them up, figuring out what they can do, sending them off on missions. There’re all these choices you can make about how you equip them and send them off.
Gaming Illustrated: Are they going to be able to join you in a party if you want to roam around?
Dave Kosak: No, we think our AI is not-so-awesome that they could follow you in a party and be effective. We’ve actually experimented that a little bit with the daily questing. There’s a lot of work there to make an NPC feel really good when he’s adventuring with you, so we wouldn’t really do that we don’t think, but definitely you can send them off on missions and while you’re offline they’ll hopefully be finding loot for you, so that it’s building up your character in that way.
Gaming Illustrated: We heard a lot about the new dungeons and the new raids. Could you speak about what you’re most excited about, about some of the logic changes that we’ve heard about here? Are you really hoping that with flex raiding the community will embrace what has been announced here?
Dave Kosak: We’re always looking at how people are playing the game and looking at the numbers of growing progression and all that and so far Flex has worked really well for us. Also, anecdotally, just within Blizzard and our own Guilds that we’re in, we’re starting to see patterns of growth. Flex is really working for us, and our Guilds are getting bigger and we have more opportunities to adventure together. One of the main themes of this expansion is just being able to adventure together with your friends, like bringing more friends together, hence the level 90 boost. I think that changed to embrace flex mode ratings for all except for the upper tier players. We call it the mythic tier which is meant for the hardest of hardcore players. Everyone else will have that flexibility. I’m really excited about that because I think it’s just great for Guilds, it’s great for social game play, it’s going to really help people maintain really active Guilds and get their friends involved. I’m stoked about that.
Gaming Illustrated: I think it was a great response from the World of Warcraft, back in past expansions like in Lich King where we would all rage/quit if someone drops and there’d be in-fighting within the Guilds. I think this solves a lot of those problems. This is more about, like you said, just building community and making sure everyone is having a good time but that the level of difficulty is in the right place. We want it to be hard, but if we wanted it to be really hard we can do that too.
Dave Kosak: Yeah and that’s something we learned from the last couple of expansions is what works for people is let them pick their difficulties. Right now flexible mode, it’s for casual Guilds. You want the friends and family and those kinds of people. We want to bring players and that will become the normal tier, so normal tier rating will fulfill like flex rating in patch 5.4. Then you can step up. You can do heroic, which will feel a lot like normal rating in this and that will be tricky. Then you’ve got to bring the skills all the way to the mythic tier, and that’s a fixed size because then we really wanted to have those encounters tightly tuned so that that is genuinely the most challenging content. You’ve got to really pick the right 20 people and really go to it. That works great because then everybody has something to play. For a lot of people Heroic will be the biggest challenge for them, and that will be fine, that will be great, but everybody can pick their difficulties, which is important.
Gaming Illustrated: Interacting with everyone here at BlizzCon, it’s been two years, could you give us your perspective on how this convention has been?
Dave Kosak: I said at the beginning of one of the panels, like we get so much great energy from the fans and if you saw the costume contest, people top themselves every year. I could not believe it. It was amazing. That gets us so fired up and honestly I think it’s the most fun gaming convention out there just because of the people. The people make this so much fun.
Gaming Illustrated: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Dave Kosak: Hey thank you very much.
Gaming Illustrated would like to thank Dave Kosak and the Blizzard Entertainment PR team for their hospitality at BlizzCon 2013.