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How World of Warcraft: Classic's patch content will roll out, and more

The Opening of the Gates of Ahn'Qiraj!

When World of Warcraft: Classic launches next summer, the only raids available will be Onyxia and Molten Core. It will be, in other words, as World of Warcraft was circa March 2005.

It's notable because although World of Warcraft: Classic is built on the foundation of patch 1.12 from August 2006, it will actually take many months for WOW Classic to reach a similar point-in-time content-wise.

There will be "waves" of content, Blizzard said in a WOW Classic panel (available to watch if you're a Virtual Ticket owner) at BlizzCon 2018. Here's how it looks currently:

  • Stage 1: Molten Core, Onyxia, Dire Maul, Kazzak, Azuregos (March 2005)
  • Stage 2: Blackwing Lair, Battlegrounds and PvP rewards, Zul'Gurub (July 2005)
  • Stage 3: Ahn'Qiraj 20/40, Tier 0.5 quest lines, Silithus content, Green Dragons (Jan 2006)
  • Stage 4: Naxxramas, Scourge Invasion (June 2006)

Stage 1 does not include PvP rewards, like those from Alterac Valley (Unstoppable Force/Immovable Object) and those for the High Warlord/Grand Marshal Honorable Kill grinds, because they're better than - and devalue - loot from Molten Core and Onyxia. "There's something wrong about that," said WOW game director Ion Hazzikostas.

Stage 3's Silithus Content does include the memorable Opening of the Gates of Ahn'Qiraj event, which had whole servers working together for weeks to unlock the new raid, culminating in a spectacular war.

When each wave will roll out is "something we'll determine as the game evolves naturally and organically", said Hazzikostas. Blizzard doesn't have to create the content this time around (although there will be development work involved) but wants to let preceding content breathe. "We understand that World of Warcraft, especially back then, was about a journey," Hazzikostas said.

Authenticity is a recurring theme. There have been many improvements to WOW over the years but WOW Classic will ignore plenty of these for the sake of authenticity.

Take the dungeon-finder tool WOW currently has, where you can look for groups and teleport to dungeons no matter where you are in the world. It's quick and convenient and makes things like dungeon-runs on lunch breaks a possibility.

Back in vanilla WOW you couldn't do that. You had to stand in a major city spamming chat channels looking for a healer, and it could take an entire lunch break to find one. But it had its plus points, Hazzikostas said. It meant when you found a healer who could do the job and wasn't a douchebag, you clung to them. Finding people to reliably group with was super-important, and it created friendships.

WOW Classic footage from BlizzCon 2018.Watch on YouTube

Dungeon-finder, then, is excluded from WOW Classic (you might see some elements of it in the WOW Classic demo but these are being removed).

Similarly, cross-realm grouping won't be included - "no way", said Hazzikostas. Realm identities and reputations within them were key parts of vanilla WOW. Seeing players in the best gear parading around capital cities, and getting to know their names, was an important part of the experience, said Hazzikostas.

Flying? "I'm not going to even dignify that," he said (that's a "no" in case you're unclear).

Achievements? Nope. Apparently it layered motivations onto a world which didn't really need them.

Unified (Horde-Alliance) Auction Houses? Nope. It's back to only being able to trade with the opposing faction at lawless places like Booty Bay, where auctions came at a premium.

But "these were easy decisions", Hazzikostas said.

Harder decisions included things like debuff limits. Back in vanilla WOW, enemies could only have eight (and, soon after, 16) debuffs on them. Imagine a raid of 40 people, all with debuffs, competing for space on one boss, and you see the problem - debuffs would get pushed off. "It's frankly not great game design," Hazzikostas said. But it was a technical limitation of the time; today the debuff limit is apparently 255 and effectively uncapped. Nevertheless, the old way represents the authentic experience. Moreover, Blizzard doesn't know what unrestricting it would do to the game's balance - would warlocks suddenly become overpowered? For this reason the 16 debuff limit will return.

Mail used to take an hour to arrive back in the day, whereas it's instant today. This meant some people decided to travel entire continents to hand-deliver items because it was quicker, and in doing so the feeling of inhabiting a world was reinforced. The one-hour mail-wait will, then, return.

Rogue energy regeneration worked differently because of technical limitations. Energy returned in chunks rather than more gradually and accurately, but not quite having enough energy for Sinister Strike, and then all of a sudden having enough energy for a few abilities besides, was part of the experience, and so the old way will prevail.

On the other hand, some newer systems will win out. The user interface wasn't as easy to customise in vanilla WOW, so it didn't make sense to return to it. Add-ons Blizzard is still discussing. Some 2005/2006 add-ons could do so much you could be an automaton running on macros, but this is against the spirit of WOW, Hazzikostas said, so won't be allowed.

Wrath of the Lich King's loot trading will be included. It was developed to help deal with accidental boss-kill looting and works well. Sorry any ninja-looters readying the 'accidental' excuse, Hazzikostas said.

The rest of the WOW Classic panel highlighted what a considerable technical archaeological dig this project has been, hence the wait. Patch 1.12 was chosen because it was the earliest existing set of complete data Blizzard had - but it hasn't been a simple copy and paste. So much has changed with how WOW works that significant technical work had to be done. Many environments had to be - and are being - hand-tweaked to recreate their original look. It's a labour of love, but it is very much a labour.

"WOW Classic is not a small side project," reiterated lead engineer Brian Birmingham, "this is a fully-integrated effort that has the full support of the WOW development team."

A WOW Classic demo is currently available to people with a BlizzCon Virtual Ticket, and will be until Thursday, 8th November