With the final content patch of WoW's current expansion releasing next week, players will be facing off against the Old God behind so much of Battle for Azeroth's conflict – N'Zoth. Taking the fight to him, the fifth raid of this expansion heads into Ny'alotha; set deep in the Black Empire.
Beyond that, the patch introduces new encounters that scale from 1–5 players, called Horrific Visions, and unlock new Allied Races for Horde and Alliance in the Vulpera and Mechagnomes respectively.
Having a chance to speak with two of Blizzard's developers behind the latest patch, I got some insight as to what players can expect from the epic conclusion of the game's current expansion.
Q: It feels like we’ve been building to a confrontation with N’Zoth for quite some time - what can we expect from the Ny’alotha Raid, and the N’Zoth boss fight in particular?
Morgan Day: Ny’alotha is something that we are incredibly excited about. Every time we work on a new raid and a new content update – in this case Visions of N’Zoth – we always have our early kick-off meetings where we discuss things like “what’s the story, who’s the big bad, and where are we going?” and as we were talking about Visions we all just looked at the evocative image from Chronicles that showed the Black Empire.
There’s this really cool image with ziggarauts and a huge eyeball mountain of an Old God off in the background, so someone pulled this image up and just asked “we’re making this, right… can we just go back to our desks and get started?” So that was something very early on that we knew with Battle for Azeroth we wanted to build towards this conflict, and finally fight against N’Zoth itself.
This fight is actually a two-part encounter… I think the last time we tried something that feels like this was back in the Dragon Soul raid where you fought Deathwing. For N’Zoth there will be the carapace of N’Zoth where that battle will just be about “breaching eyeball mountain” so to speak. So here players will be solving the problem of “how do we get inside this thing, how do we pierce this veil?”
The second part will be facing N’Zoth himself in a more traditional Old God encounter that people have come to expect. He’s going to be messing with your head, you’re going to be seeing things and going places that you might not expect – similar to the Yogg’Saron encounter where you had to go into Stormwind or see these other really famous moments in time. Here you’ll see behind the curtain and see more of the influence of the Old Gods throughout the history of Azeroth.
Q: You mention going inside N'Zoth similar to Yogg-Saron – similar mechanics were seen back in the days of Ahn'Qiraj when fighting the C'thun. Players fought that Old God head on, but also had to attack from the belly of the beast. Is that a deliberate theme for Old God encounters?
Morgan Day: Yeah, when we talk about anything encounters-related we really start with "what's the fantasy of this thing?" and the expectation of what players want to see. With Old Gods, they're all about pulling those strings and influencing the events of Azeroth, so as a player one of the things I want to know is "what has this guy been responsible for?" and "what has he been doing for all this time?" ...I just spoke about Deathwing, and obviously N'Zoth was the Old God that played a huge part in the Cataclysm and the actions that Deathwing took.
Jeremy Feasel: I think it's interesting that you mention Ahn'Qiraj because we wanted to do was look at some of the things we'd done with Old Gods before... C'thun was hanging out in an old structure in Silithus and it still felt like Silithus... Yogg-Saron was hanging out in the Storm Peaks and it still felt like the Storm Peaks from the outside. This gave us the opportunity to see what a completely different world as imagined by this Old God would look like. This isn't Titan architecture, this is Old God architecture and we're seeing it for the first time.
When we've seen Old Gods previously they've always essentially been in their prison. C'thun was imprisoned in Ahn'Qiraj just as Yagg-Saron was imprisoned in the Ulduar raid. For N'Zoth, he's risen... with the Rise of Aszhara and the end of that encounter, he got released – what does that look like? And that was one of the things we explored with this update. Ny'alotha exists almost everywhere in Azeroth, so how do we zone into this raid?
As you play through zones like Uldum and Vale of Eternal Blossoms there will be threats from the agents of N'Zoth and that will be where the entrance will be. This is the first raid where the portal moves around, and that's because this isn't the kind of place that would just have a front door. This isn't a prison like previous Old Gods have occupied, this is N'Zoth's own space.
Q: We’ve already faced and overcome the rest of the Old Gods, with N’Zoth’s defeat is that the end of the story for their kind or will there be lasting repercussions?
Jeremy Feasel: Well it's certainly the last of the Old Gods that we know about. There's still the forces that sent these creatures to Azeroth to grow inside and devour and corrupt it. There could still be countless more off in space, so I think there's plenty of stories yet to tell.
Q: Now that Raid Finder offers access to raids for every single player, how has this changed your philosophy towards delivering key narrative points within these encounters?
Morgan Day: The Raid Finder has been a really awesome addition to World of Warcraft in no small part because of this. Raids for a while now have been one of the focal points for wrapping up a specific narrative arc. When you look at raiding back in Legion when we confronted Gul'dan – that was the end of a really long story arc that spanned multiple expansions, not just multiple patches.
This is true for raids and it's also true for dungeons, going all the way back to Westfall. Deadmines was the perfect conclusion to that zone where you confront the villains in there. So raids have really continued that philosophy for a while now and Raid Finder has allowed our broader audience to experience that story.
Q: We’re getting two more Allied Races in this expansion with the Vulpera and Mechagnomes, rounding out the total number of playable races to 23. Is there a danger of offering too many options? Do you worry about player burnout?
Jeremy Feasel: I think when you're looking at the character selection screen there's certainly the possibility that it might be overwhelming, so we need to be careful – especially with new players. However we feel like with the cadence of Allied Race releases, it's felt like the right amount of things over the right amount of time.
We've had a great amount of fun designing everything from the new dances all the way to the brand new racial abilities. It's always fun making something that feels new and unique to play with. Vulpera characters have a bag of tricks that you can pull a bunch of power moves out of and there'll be some collectible aspects to it which is something we've never done before.
I think when it comes to Allied Races we always answer the questions of "what is the character that we've come to know over the course of this latest expansion?", "Have we built up their lore to the point where they feel like part of the universe?" and "does it make sense for them to side with the Alliance or the Horde?"
Morgan Day: Also, for a new player, they don't get all 23 races straight away – that player has to go through and unlock a certain amount of story and content to have the option of creating that character. And for the player that has gone through and unlocked all of the Allied Races, they've completed a bunch of content, so at that point they would be familiar with the content and not overwhelmed.
Q: Many of these unlocks require gaining Exalted reputation with certain factions that takes a lot of work, with players being rewarded with a character that now has to grind out that faction reputation again. Will that always be the case?
Morgan Day: So the requirements to unlock the Allied Races is definitely something we're looking into as we go into the future; we don't necessarily want every player to have to go all the way back to Legion to unlock some of them, so you might see some news coming out about that for sure.
Q: In addition to a new raid and new Allied Races, we’re also getting some new challenges with 1-5 player Horrific Visions. These have been compared to the Mage Tower challenges of Legion - just how powerful should players be to solo these?
Morgan Day: There's actually a lot to dig into with Horrific Visions. While the Mage Tower was designed to be a solo experience, and the only reward you got out of that was a prestigious transmogrification. In Horrific Visions there's all kinds of cool stuff to plunder, as well as a tonne of progression to help you along the way – not the least of which is a new legendary cloak. As you progress through Visions and get deeper, you'll actually be able to upgrade this cloak to give you more resistance against the attacks on your mind from N'Zoth.
So with Horrific Visions there's actually a tonne of content and space to explore where you go into different versions of Stormwind and Ogrimmar and see "what if N'Zoth wins? What would the bread vendor look like if he was driven mad by N'Zoth?" Both of these cities are really big spaces, and the expectation isn't that you'll be able to do the entirety of Ogrimmar or Stormwind the first time you go in there – as you delve deeper the influence of N'Zoth will be stronger and will reduce your sanity faster and faster. Not only will the cloak help you progress through these spaces, there's also an entire tech tree that can be upgraded.
Jeremy Feasel: One of the things that I think makes this feel fun over time is that it feels akin to the Withered Training scenario from Legion, but with a very deep upgrading scheme and a much higher top-end difficulty. In this case, even if you're a solo player, you can take on all of the corners of Stormwind or Ogrimmar, but you're not going to do them on your first attempt, so rather than a win or lose scenario, you're making constant progress.
Because there's so many districts in each vision, you may go in for a number of weeks and still not see every corner of it – you may not make it all the way to fight Mathias Shaw in Old Town.
Morgan Day: Something we're really excited to see how it plays out is that as you and Jeremy mentioned, this is not a solo piece of content and it's not exclusively partied. This is the first piece of content that should scale whether you want to do it by yourself or you want to bring in a full party. It should also scale depending on what roles you bring in, so if you don't have a tank the content will actually scale differently. This is something we've never tried before and we're really excited for players to just put together the group they want.
Jeremy Feasel: The name of the game here is player agency and we're really looking forward to hearing from players about how the feel about the system.
Q: Will there be a limited window for completion similar to the Mage Tower challenges?
Jeremy Feasel: We don't have anything to announce about that today, but as you may recall in Shadowlands there's going to be a reduction in the top-end level and a rebalance of the levelling experience and that might have an influence on things, but we'll have to see.
Morgan Day: Just speaking to the philosophy of why put a timer on things like this... part of the challenge there is doing the content in the gear you're able to acquire at the time. We want there to be a prestige attached to players that can say "I was able to do the Mage Tower at this time," rather than going in during a later expansion when your gear is much higher and you're more powerful than what that content was tuned for.
Q: The last we saw of Sylvanas, she was fleeing after denouncing the Horde. We’ve since seen her in the cinematic for the upcoming Shadowlands expansion, meaning we’ll be hearing from her soon… can we expect any breadcrumbs for her narrative in this patch?
Jeremy Feasel: Not in Visions of N'Zoth. Both the Alliance and the Horde are solidly focused on this worldwide threat. Sylvanas has gone a little bit quite... she's discussing things with her minions and in the weeks leading up to Shadowlands you may start to see some hints as to what the future holds.
Visions of N'Zoth releases January 15th.