World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria launch interview

By Dave Cook
24 September 2012 21:50 GMT

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is launching worldwide this week, so VG247’s Dave Cook spoke with Blizzard about why its latest expansion has been worth the wait.

Yeah, yeah OK, let’s get this out of the way, it’s got giant Pandas in it, Jack Black and so on. Now that’s done, and your rib cage has been suitably tickled let’s get to the nitty gritty of Blizzard’s fourth expansion, World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria.

It’s big, and it caters to such a huge spread of players that even newcomers entering at such a late stage will find something to hold their interest. Plus, the Starter Edition free-to-play segment lets WoW virgins play all the way up to level 20 for no charge.

However, it’s no secret that Blizzard’s MMO has lost a lot of players over the last few years, and as such, the studio has opted for the ‘please everyone’ approach in Mists of Pandaria. Dungeons and starting areas are easier for one, but to bemoan the developer for widening the game’s appeal a little is perhaps a little premature.

“No matter what you want to do in the game, there is something for you – be it, pet battles, raids or scenarios – so it’ll be great to see how players respond.”

So why should you get excited about Mists of Pandaria? Read on to find out as we chat with Blizzard’s Senior Game Designer Scott Mercer and Senior Software Engineer Darren Williams.

VG247: So here we are guys, it’s the Mists of Pandaria launch. How are you guys feeling to finally be here?

Scott Mercer: Yeah we’re really excited to launch Pandaria as it’s been an amazing piece of work over the last couple of years, and there have been a lot of interesting thing that we’ve added to it such as the Pandaren race, the Monk class and a lot of new content that we haven’t had before.

It’s not just dungeons, quests or raids, but adding quick challenge modes, scenarios and pet battles. I think players are really going to get a lot of excitement out of it just because of the huge amount of things we’ve given them.

Darren Williams: Just in terms of the expansion I think that it gives so many things for different players to do. It’s going to be awesome.

Watch on YouTube

This official Mists of Pandaria trailer reveals just some of the expansions new features.

That decision to add new features is one that has to be planned so thoroughly each time an MMO updates, and of course, it’s important to keep the game interesting. What was your thought process going into Mists of Pandaria?

Scott Mercer: I don’t think we felt like we really had to, it’s just that we’re always looking to make the game as good as it can be, so expanding out the types of gameplay was a very natural process for us.

We’ve added different things over time you know, like the raid system we tweaked from one of the patches from our last expansion, and now we’re expanding raiding all the time. I think it’s just a natural thing that we look at all the time to give our players the most epic experience.

You guys must have had a lot of feedback from Cataclysm that has helped form your approach to Mists of Pandaria. Was there anything in Cataclysm that players perhaps didn’t like, or that they wanted to see you fix in this expansion?

Scott Mercer: Well we’re always very self-critical of our work. and whenever we do expansions there’s always things we can look at. Some people didn’t like Cataclysm’s initial difficulty and some of the dungeons, so we fixed those things over time.

In Pandaria we have an awesome dungeon experience and it won’t be as difficult this time, and there’s other things. But yeah, we’re always looking at ways to improve our game, and we’ll just keep on doing that in future.

Darren Williams: Yeah one of the things is that, no matter what you want to do in the game, there is something for you – be it, pet battles, raids or scenarios – so it’ll be great to see how players respond.

It’s good to see that you haven’t run out of ideas so late in the series, and that is where many long-running games fall down. But what would you say to newcomers who are only now just considering the series?

Darren Williams: I think our starter edition is really good. You can start and play up to level 20 for free, and one of the things that we’ve done is you can even start with the new Pandaren race, and play through their starting area which is really tailored to new players as well.

Scott Mercer: It’s so much more about experiencing much of the game, and it helps that the starting area on the Wandering Isle is much more friendly for players. The guys have done a wonderful job in giving players a lot of stuff that helps them understand the game’s core concepts. We’ve also given a lot more gameplay choices to people, so I think there’s never been a better time to get involved and learn to play World of Warcraft online.

The oriental vibe really hits home.

Giving newcomers a chance to ease themselves into the game is admirable, when so many MMO expansions simply raise level caps and difficulty for players lingering around in the endgame.

Darren Williams: Yeah, we definitely tried not to concentrate on that 1% of our player population, and something we’ve learned over time is that people will play World of Warcraft for a lot of different reasons, so that’s why we to divide our expansions across many different types of content as possible.

How much content can free-to-play Mists of Pandaria players experience? Is it simply everything up to level 20 as with the rest of the game?

Darren Williams: Yeah, so if you play as a Panda, and you can tackle the starting area, or you can start as a Blood Elf, Goblin or Worgen and tackle their starting areas as well since Cataclysm.

Those starting areas are more recent so they are some of the best content we’ve done. Many of the systems were just implemented in our last update, so those new, Starter Edition players will be able to check out the new class balance, and a enjoy a lot of the benefits of Mists of Pandaria.

“The new skill system breaks it down into a clear choice between three different options. We tried to make all three of those options different and provide an interesting choice for you.”

One of those biggest new additions is your pet battle system. Do you think that might grow significantly over time?

Scott Mercer: Yeah and coming into this launch we’re planning new content for it. We have trainers in the world, like master pet trainers that you can take your team to battle them or get quests from them, and we’re looking to expand that too. at the moment there are so many pets you can collect in the world, and that really is now such a big part of the game, and there’s still a lot of room for expansion there.

You also have a new skill system that we’ve spoken with Blizzard about briefly before. It really is all about giving people skills that feel diverse and impactful, rather than boosting an existing skill by say, 1.5% or something small like that, isn’t it?

Scott Mercer: The original design of that system was to give a balance between gameplay choices, but it became very difficult over time to actually provide balance between 1% of one thing and then say 1% of tanking or whatever.

The new skill system breaks it down into a clear choice between three different options. We tried to make all three of those options different and provide an interesting choice for you.

So you might have a particular row that’s all about movement, and you get to choose a particular type of movement ability. Some of the choices we tried to make hard so it definitely makes creating your class a lot more interesting.

Darren Williams: You can also change a lot more customisation as well – a lot more fun stuff – right down to customising your warrior so that when he charges, he leaves a trail of fire. So it’s really just stuff that adds a lot more personality to your character.

You have added a lot to the game with the last update and in Mists of Pandaria. Where could you go next?

Scott Mercer: Well with every expansion we examine what players really liked and what content did we provide. We really benefit from the feedback from our players, and although I can’t say too much about the future, we’ll figure something out.

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