Blizzard Entertainment is unleashing the beta for the fourth World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria. Tom Chilton, the game's director, recently took some time to explain what's in store for fans of the game in this exclusive interview.
Game On: What were your goals heading into this expansion?
Tom Chilton: Our goals for Mists of Pandaria, more than anything else, are just to deliver a more fun overall game experience than anything we've ever had before, with more depth, more activities for players to do, a higher degree of quality, and refinement for all the types of content that we normally do.
Game On: How did player feedback from Cataclysm impact this expansion?
Tom Chilton: The player feedback from Cataclysm definitely impacted this expansion. One of the things that we were really feeling after releasing Cataclysm and watching players play all the way through to the end was that so much of the mindshare of the development of that expansion went into the creation and revamp of the Level 1 to 60, that I feel like we didn't do a good enough job of adding new things for players to do at Level 85. I think in a lot of cases, when players jumped into the expansion and went from Level 80 to 85, they were really hoping to not only see fresh content, which we did deliver, but also to have some new things for their character to do that would entertain them and keep them occupied beyond the things that they had already been doing in Wrath of the Lich King. That's something that I don't think we did a good enough job of, and we really want to make sure that we nail that with Mists of Pandaria.
Game On: Can you talk about the world that players will get to explore in Mists of Pandaria?
Tom Chilton: The world in Mists of Pandaria is really awesome. It is visually stunning, for one, and we have a wide variety of different environments. I feel like we've always done that well with our different continents in World of Warcraft, in general, where when you go from one zone to another we really change the environment a lot. You go from a heavy bamboo jungle in the Jade Forest to open terrace plains, or grassy, rolling plains in the Valley of the Four Winds. Then you go into a coastal jungle in the Krasarang Wilds, and we have the Himalayan-type of mountain range in Kun-Lai Summit. We have a very magical zone in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms. We have the Townlong Steppes in the Dread Ways, which are a lot more harsh type of environment; scary and oppressive.
Game On: Can you tell us a little bit about some of the new races or characters we're going to be seeing in the game?
Tom Chilton: With Mists of Pandaria, we're introducing the ability for players to play the Pandaren. That's our one new playable race that we're introducing, but along with that, we're also adding a lot of new "culture kits." Those would include the Jinyu, which are a wise, noble, elegant race of fishmen. In addition to that, we have the Hosen, which are some kind of wild and crazy monk dudes. We have the Youngal, which are descendants of the Tauren, which are like a Yak version of the Tauren that are a nomadic hoard. In addition, we have the Mogu, which are these massive, brutal enemies that have enslaved Pandaria in the past, and were the overlords of the continent. They've been shut away for some time now. We have the Mantid, which are a major enemy. They are a mantis-type of creature. They're actually highly intelligent and civilized. We also have other creatures, like the Gremals that are these pack creatures. There's a wide variety of different characters and races for players to encounter.
Game On: What's in store with the new Scenarios system in this expansion?
Tom Chilton: With the scenarios we're trying to give players the type of content that they used to be able to find with group questing, but we're trying to do it in a way that is a lot easier to digest than the group questing was. For a lot of players in the past, their experience with group questing is that they'd be doing their solo quest and come across the group quest and say, "That sounds really cool, except I need three or four or five players to do the quest." They'd spend a bunch of a time in a chat channel. That's really not time that players feel like is fun. It can be really frustrating to sit there trying to spam chat channels finding group mates. Finally, when you actually get to go and do it, the content itself always didn't feel quite right because there could already be other groups in progress doing the content. The scenarios allow us to slice out interesting parts of the world that ordinarily would be solo content, and then create environments with them that lend themselves well to group content. This can be content that you play along with just one or two friends and small groups of players, but it really makes a difference in terms of how the content feels.
Game On: How will this group play differ from dungeons?
Tom Chilton: What makes it feel different than traditional group content that we have in dungeons, is that we don't have a traditional tank/healer type of set-up for scenarios, so the combat tends to be a lot more frenetic. There are more different things for the players to do at any given moment, because there isn't the absolute control that players have when they have a tank holding all the aggro, and a healer pumping heals onto the tank to keep them alive, and the DPS just going through their DPS rotations.
Game On: How about the pet battles? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Tom Chilton: The pet battle systems are also really an interesting new concept for World of Warcraft. We've for many years now wanted to be able to do mini-games like poker or backgammon. In this case, we started to realize, players have had these little companion pets for years now. They've faithfully hopped alongside the players for many years now, but players have always had this desire to have a little bit of gameplay associated with those beyond just the collection aspect. Now players will be able to level up those pets by having them battle their critters out in the world, or NPCs with their collections of pets. They'll also be able to battle against each other to level up their pets and expand the number of abilities that their pets have available, customize what availabilities their pets use, name them, and that sort of thing.