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Gameplanet: Are you planning more work outside of Pandaria?

Hazzikostas: Potentially, we’ve upgraded the Scarlet Monastery instances, and Scholomance for 5.0. Those were beloved instances, iconic World of Warcraft, and something that we’re looking to do when the opportunity presents itself and it feels like the right time in the future. We don’t have any specific plans to announce right now regarding other classic vanilla WoW instances, but odds are we’ll update some at some point in the future.

Gameplanet: Thinking particularly about the new Talent system, has that radically changed, or even changed at all, the way you think about designing instances?

Hazzikostas: Not tremendously, in some regards it makes it a little easier because when mechanics moved from just being one spec of this and one spec in a certain class, to being available to the class as a whole through the new talent system, we could more readily design encounters that favoured those tools. It’s one thing to say, “You must have an Unholy Death Knight in your group if you really want to take advantage of this mechanic,” whereas now if you have any Death Knight in your raid, you’ll be fine. We’re assuming the latter a lot more readily, and that lets us present mechanics that let players use these new abilities, and feel good about applying that, and choosing the right tool for the right situation.

Blizzard's Ion Hazzikostas on Pandaria's encounters

Going forward, we’re certainly looking to create new mechanics in future encounters that really take advantage of all the new tools players have to work with. For the 5.0 raids, the talent system was very much in a state of flux and evolving rapidly while we were working on the encounters. So they do reflect each other to a certain extent, but we had to be conservative because we didn’t have a final system to work with, and we didn’t want to plan around a certain set of talents for a particular encounter, only to find the class team needed to change those for other balance-related reasons. Now we can be reasonably confident the talent system will not undergo massive overhauls for the next few patches.

Gameplanet: So you’re expecting more class-specific tasks in future raids as opposed to the launch raids?

Hazzikostas: Potentially. It’s more that we know many players have access to certain broad mechanics, such as the ability to escape from roots, or the ability to move faster, or the ability to stun something else, or what have you. So we can create situations that really encourage the use of those tools, whereas before it might have been overly restrictive because we didn’t know exactly what people would have available coming into the fight.

Gameplanet: What can you tell us about the goals, the implementation, and perhaps the future uses for the scenario system?

Blizzard's Ion Hazzikostas on Pandaria's encounters
Shado-Pan Monastery

Hazzikostas: Scenarios are a bit of an experiment, honestly. We’re trying to go in some different directions with them. What they offer is acceptable, small-group content because there are no role requirements for any scenario. You can team up and be playing. It’s the kind of thing you could hop on and do in your lunch break without having to worry that you’re going to be in a queue for 15 minutes and stuck in a dungeon for 45 minutes before you’re done.

Similarly, because there are no role requirements, it’s a very different feel, a very different kind of gameplay to that you’re ordinarily encountering in a dungeon, for example, where you have a tank, a healer and DPS, where the tank is holding the aggro, the healer is keeping the tank up and the DPS is chipping away at health. At times that can feel very static and controlled, whereas in scenarios you might just have three DPS thrown in there, so you have to use tools that you ordinarily might not – the priest may have to use psychic scream to get something out of the way because it’s hitting and there isn’t a tank to pick it up.

So it’s a mix of that accessibility, that different type of gameplay, and we look to use them as something of a storytelling device. They can supplant what some group quests might’ve been like in the past, or major capstones for daily events. Because they’re instanced, we can give players more control over their environment and we can set up staged events.

Blizzard's Ion Hazzikostas on Pandaria's encounters
Brewmoon scenario

For example, there’s the Brewmoon Festival scenario, where one of the first things players are doing is helping to set up defences around a village in preparation for an incoming invasion. Once that invasion arrives, they can then make use of the defences that they chose to set up in different ways in order to help repel the attackers. That’s the kind of thing we can do effectively in an instanced environment that we couldn’t do in the world where multiple players are trying to do it at the same time.

Gameplanet: And Challenges are only coming to dungeons at launch. Will they be coming to raids?

Hazzikostas: So Challenges are only for dungeons. They’re a difficulty above Heroic, they have a time trial element to them, and rewards for reaching certain bronze, silver and gold thresholds. We’re really excited about the feature, and seeing players jump in. It’s something we could see ourselves extending to raids in the future, though if nothing else, perhaps the leaderboard system and technology that we have. Something we heard from a lot of players is that once they’ve beaten a zone, having some further motivation to keep improving is a helpful and positive experience, it’s a lot of fun to always try and meet a new goal every week. Informally in the community, there are websites that track the fastest recorded kill of certain bosses, and there are a lot of guilds that will go in every week and try to set a new personal best. So having a way to formalise that process, where we can have leaderboards that are visible as a part of our Armory website for servers, or even the entire region: we think that would be really cool.