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World of Warcraft Interview - Blizzard on Closing Out the Shadowlands Story with Eternity’s End
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 05:09pm 23/02/22 | Comments
With Eternity’s End live we had the chance to sit down with Pat Dawson, Production Director and Maria Hamilton, Lead Quest Designer on the World of Warcraft team to discuss all things WoW.


Eternity’s End or Patch 9.2 is not only the latest content drop for World of Warcraft, but the closing chapter in the World of Warcraft: Shadowlands narrative. In the new Sepulcher of the First Ones Raid players will finally go face-to-helmet with The Jailer, and before that venture into the strange and mysterious new zone called Zereth Mortis to make that a possibility.

The cosmic birthplace of, well, everything life and afterlife. The new Zone brings with it new quests, story, activities, and rewards. Throughout exploration players will also be teaming up with a cute little automa sidekick to learn about Zereth Mortis and the lost language of the Progenitors.

9.2 also paves the way for even more balance and quality of life changes for players, not to mention the upcoming 9.2.5 update that will allow Horde and Alliance players to, well, play together for the first time. With Eternity’s End now live we had the chance to catch up with Pat Dawson, Production Director and Maria Hamilton, Lead Quest Designer on the World of Warcraft team to discuss all of the above and more.


What are some of the challenges that come from pushing a story or expansion to a conclusion and this sort of final state?



Maria: "We always planned for the story to end this way. When we paced it out we intended for there to be three separate acts. Coming into a Patch is always exciting for us. We're trying to get everything cleaned up on the PTR and fix everything. That’s always a challenge, but it’s like that every time."


"Coming into a Patch is always exciting for us. We're trying to get everything cleaned up on the PTR and fix everything. That’s always a challenge, but it’s like that every time."



Pat: "From my perspective, one of the interesting things about every expansion is getting to see all of the different places. Each update takes you on a journey, not only through the four disparate and distinct Shadowlands zones, but then getting to see Korthia and now Zereth Mortis. We want all zones to feel different and have their own personality, and that was something that we really leaned into this time. Eternity’s End presents a very interesting and fun new zone that harkens back to the exploration side of World of Warcraft."

Zereth Mortis is home to the creators of the universe, a strange place where the beginning and end of all things was designed. In designing its look what did the team look at for inspiration and how did its unique and mysterious history shape the design?



Maria: "The biggest challenge for Zereth Mortis was figuring out what a place like this would look like and how it might work, what the rules of the environment would be. Because The First Ones are so unknowable, could we translate that to something players could begin to understand over time? That was where the idea for the Cypher of The First Ones came in, that you could learn a bit over time but you maybe never know absolutely everything."


"It was also finding those familiar pieces. When you look at the geometry in Zereth Mortis and you see that the creatures are made of those same shapes as those found in Azeroth. That gave us the idea that what you’re seeing is almost like a first-attempt at what a place like Azeroth might be, or what the Afterlife might look like. Once we had that basis we were able to move forward and start thinking about what kind of quests would make sense, again, leaning into the idea that you don't necessarily understand everything that's happening. But, you could still find it interesting. For us, having that ability to progress your knowledge was really cool."


"The biggest challenge for Zereth Mortis was figuring out what a place like this would look like and how it might work, what the rules of the environment would be. Because The First Ones are so unknowable, could we translate that to something players could begin to understand over time?"



Having an Automa or robot-like side-kick in Zereth Mortis, does that serve as a bridge between The First Ones and Azeroth?



Maria: "There's places where having Poka-Poke with you is definitely helpful, as a way to absorb some understanding. But, we wanted to encourage exploration of the Zone without being fed answers – and that’s very important to us. That you were exploring this very fantastic location, and finding out what’s it for, what’s going on. We didn't want a creature that was with you constantly dump information on you. We want you to feel that moment of discovery. So Poka-Poke doesn't dump information on you as you travel around. Plus, it's very cute.”


Eternity’s End also sees the story and big battle happen in a new Raid, one that will also feature a familiar face in the form of Anduin. There’s word that you’ll be able to either defeat him or restore his soul.



Pat: "It's a fantastic Raid with 11 bosses and it’s going to be truly epic to go through all of them. Anduin is certainly a focal point, of course The Jailer is another. I don't want to spoil too much, let’s just say there are some surprises in store. For Anduin it's about learning how to do that fight, figuring out how best to defeat him. You will get to see some cool follow up and get some resolution to his story."

Maria: "We always have high-level story points to work from. We know what the arc is. With quests we’ll look at that arc and pitch. We pitch ideas for how to tell that story and what those quests would be and what the gameplay should be and what gameplay would support that story. That's also how we come to things like, if we're going to fight Anduin in the Raid we have to figure out what's going to happen after the fight. How do we address that in the story? It would be weird if you fought Anduin in the Raid and then the story didn't reflect what just happened. Similarly, how can we go up against The Jailer? We need to have a way through questing to explain why it's possible now."


Confronting The Jailer is essentially going up against the big bad of the Expansion, and taking the fight to someone that was previously seen as untouchable. In designing the new Raid, how does that factor in?



Maria: "With a new Raid we start off with an initial design which then immediately goes through a lot of iteration. Eventually we start play-testing and it's always important that narrative considerations are a part of the process. The kinds of powers you encounter when fighting The Jailer, they should represent what you've seen and what you know. The fact that we can even attempt to take on The Jailer at this point needs to be resolved too. If we couldn’t touch him before, why now? There's a lot of moving pieces story-wise, a lot of iteration, a tonne of testing, and ultimately a lot of effort goes into making an end boss fight feel as amazing and epic as it should."


"We're trying something a little different and interesting this time too. The final three bosses, including The Jailer, we're not available on the PTR. This is the first time players are going in without that prior knowledge."



Pat: "We're trying something a little different and interesting this time too. The final three bosses, including The Jailer, we're not available on the PTR. This is the first time players are going in without that prior knowledge. In fact, those last three bosses won't be accessible the first week of Eternity’s End. We're holding them so that the Mythic Raiders will see them at the same time, without that prior knowledge. That means testing has been a challenge as was evolving the encounter over time. But we have a fantastic Quality Assurance group made up of some of the best Raiders in the world. During that first week we’ll monitor progress, see how people are doing, fix any problems or unforeseen issues. And we’ll try to be on top of that in real-time. It should be an epic race to world-first this time."


With World of Warcraft existing for so long, looking at the broader concept of a Raid in WoW, is the team confident that it knows exactly what goes into making a Raid fun?



Maria: "We have a lot of experience to draw on for sure, but we always want to evolve and move the gameplay forward. There's always an effort to find interesting and cool combinations of abilities that in and of themselves are intriguing. There are certain considerations when planning out an encounter or a fight, but we’re always pushing the boundaries too and there's some pretty amazing things in this Raid. Looking back at Painsmith from Chains of Domination, that boss encounter got a lot of praise because it was interesting and different. Our designers are good at creating fun mechanics that make things exciting and interesting."

Eternity’s End is also Patch 9.2 and it includes a suite of balance changes and bug fixes and even some big stuff in terms of how mechanics from previous updates work. Does player feedback drive this side of the update? What were some of the key areas the team focused on here?



Pat: "Quite a bit of the direction has come from player feedback and how people are engaging with the game. Whether that’s related to the Covenants, Legendaries, or what have you. We’ve even seen it during this PTR cycle, where we got a lot of feedback about flying and how that was acquired. We responded and changed the method of how you obtained that and legendaries where it’s now tied to the story. We're always trying to listen to what the community is saying and then respond to it in kind. That's been a focus certainly for this patch, but also beforehand throughout the entire expansion. 9.2 is the culmination of listening to the community and making sure they get a game they’re excited to play."


Looking into the future there’s another patch in the works that will add the ability for Horde and Alliance to play together. What was that decision like internally? Was there a back and forth, and what are your thoughts on that fundamental change?



Pat: "Any decision of that gravity and magnitude is going to have opinions on both sides and we certainly had those discussions internally. Ion outlined the idea behind the change really well, explaining what we're doing and why. Ultimately this is an opportunity for people to play with more of their friends. We don't want barriers when you want to run an instance. Maria and I were talking about it the other day. I'm Horde and she's Alliance and I've signed up to carry her through some Mythic Plus runs. We couldn't do that before, but that's something we will be able to do in 9.2.5. And I'm looking forward to it. I imagine a lot of our players are in that same boat, so it was the right decision and it was the right time."


"Ultimately this is an opportunity for people to play with more of their friends. We don't want barriers when you want to run an instance."



Maria: "It has some narrative issues, of course. Warcraft was built on the idea that there was this conflict, but we've also seen heroes of the Horde and Alliance get along and work together at times. There's a good argument to be made that it’s reasonable for players to do that too. It's opt in so you don't have to play with the other people if you don't want to. We're always going to have people that are in the Horde that are upset with people in the Alliance and vice versa, and that will still factor into our stories. You're not going to be hanging out in Stormwind as a Horde guy and not get attacked."


Are big changes like this, stuff based on community feedback, going to be indicative of WoW going forward?



Pat: "The game has been evolving and the community's been evolving, so it's important for us to stay in touch with them. The Community Council has absolutely helped with making sure we're in tune with the diverse needs of players. And we are absolutely committed to looking at our game critically and trying to figure out what changes would be best for the community. Stuff like this is a good indicator that we're doing that. Being more open to listening to the feedback and making positive changes."