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Talking Augmentation, BFF Bracelets And Not Destroying The Holy Trinity With Dragonflight Class Lead Graham Berger

Trying not to tip the scales

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight is perhaps the most dragon-ish thing that has ever dragoned. It is wings, scales and fiery breaths the whole way down – and a huge part of its identity is the presence of playable dragons, known as the Dracthyr. Launching with two playstyles, they happily nestled into the usual roles of damage or healing, but now something new is coming. The Augmentation specialisation offers the ability to play as a special friend to your allies, souping up their damage and giving them new toys to escape danger, it aims to be a super unique presence in the World of Warcraft. Is it going to change the entire landscape of gameplay? Will PvP or raiding ever be the same? Should we just accept that it will be World of Dragoncraft from here until eternity?

Look, this intro is starting to drag-on. Thankfully I got to speak with the incredibly charming Graham Berger – who has been leading class design – about why the Augmentation Evoker is not here to destroy the MMO status quo, but instead make everyone feel even more awesome.

WellPlayed: How early on did you know that you wanted to create a crazy third option for Evoker? Was this on the drawing board at the start or is this something that manifested during the development period?

Graham Berger: Yeah, it is something we were definitely talking about really early on, kind of when we were first talking about Dracthyr Evokers – what should they be? One of the biggest themes for them is like we have access to these five different schools of magic. What do they all do? What are they all used for?

We ended up using red and blue for devastation, green and brown for preservation. And there’s a little bit of black magic in there with abilities like Obsidian Scales and Landslide. It was this whole space that we wanted to make sure it was touched on in the class because it is important that Evokers show that they can use ALL these types of magic – but didn’t end up being core to those initial two playstyles we created.

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So as a team, we were like, well, what’s awesome about black magic for Evoker – what is unique about it? It’s this pure magic that we haven’t seen before. We’ve seen corrupted black dragon magic, but not really how it was before Neltharion fell to corruption.

WP: That’s a big note – every time somebody has seen black dragons doing black dragon things, it has always been on the ‘not very nice’ end of the spectrum, hasn’t it?

GB: Right!

WP: Do you think people will be surprised to be like, wow, there’s more to these dragons than just destroying things, conquering things, perverting things. There’s really good holistic stuff in there as well?

GB: Yeah! I think what is so cool is that we have been seeing that play out in the story of Dragonflight, With Wrathian, Sabellian and Abyssian – their interactions and the way they’re getting to know each other and starting to work as a team. So, you know, not in the same sort of combat sense of what players get to play with, but seeing that side of the Black Dragonflight that isn’t just death and destruction, enslavement…all those things.

So it was definitely something we planned super early on – this idea of a support playstyle we’ve talked about for a long time internally, but this finally felt like we have an opportunity here with the styles of magic and the story we’re trying to tell.

WP: Has the concept of having a really buff-heavy class or spec floated around in the past before this point?

GB: As designers, everyone’s got cool ideas they want to see in the game. So it’s something that gets talked about here and there – I don’t know personally of any concrete plans up to this point.

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Certainly once we started talking about it more seriously, many people on the team were like, where is it? Give it to me! So, lots of excitement for it, even without the concrete details.

WP: Does it prompt any thought of possibly having a similar spec or playstyle that could be leveraged to another class? What about giving Demon Hunters a third spec that makes their friends feel stronger?

GB: Yeah, it’s definitely something we’re going to be talking about internally and learning a lot once this goes live and the full player base starts engaging with it. I think we are open to it, but it will be based on how the community reacts. Is it something they’re asking for more of? Is it the right thing for the game? Is it the right time to tell this story? With Demon Hunters, we made them because we were fighting the Legion and it just made so much sense. We made Evoker because we were going to the Dragon Isles. You want to be a dragon? Of course! I think any time we add a class or spec it has to have that weight behind it so it matches cleanly with the rest of the story we’re telling.

So if all those things align, I could see it happening. But I think, no plans right now and it is something we’re gonna be talking about and seeing how it plays out. We don’t want to close off any doors!

WP: Do you think people will be surprised to be like, wow, there’s more to these dragons than just destroying things, conquering things, perverting things. There’s really good holistic stuff in there as well?

GB: Yeah! I think what is so cool is that we have been seeing that play out in the story of Dragonflight, With Wrathian, Sabellian and Abyssian – their interactions and the way they’re getting to know each other and starting to work as a team. So, you know, not in the same sort of combat sense of what players get to play with, but seeing that side of the Black Dragonflight that isn’t just death and destruction, enslavement…all those things.

So it was definitely something we planned super early on – this idea of a support playstyle we’ve talked about for a long time internally, but this finally felt like we have an opportunity here with the styles of magic and the story we’re trying to tell.

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WP: When it comes to Augmentation Evoker, it does represent a very unique class and playstyle. There have been small glimpses of player abilities that make their allies stronger, like Power Infusion. From an analytic perspective, did you want the damage boosts from an Augvoker to feel smooth or spiky? Is it a case of rotating cool buffs to make people feel ‘a bit more awesome’ for a long period, or spiky in the sense they feel ‘A LOT MORE AWESOME’ for a short period.

GB: So, super good question. It’s both. Kind of where Augmentation has landed – they do have the capability to do both. I would say, a lot of what they are doing is the more ‘steady state’ buffing. Their most important ability is Ebon Might, which you cast every 30 seconds and it has a 10 second uptime – and then you can extend this with your damage dealing spells. I think that’s important, because it makes you feel like you are always buffing people, you’re always engaging in that gameplay of maintaining the strength of other people – and that is primarily what you’re focused on.

But it is also a sort of question of approachability and burden of knowledge. The first versions of Augvoker we explored were much more of a ‘best friend’ playstyle – pick one person, like Power Infusion, and make them super strong and we didn’t love that for this spec, for two reasons.

One, it meant everyone else in your group was asking …why are THEY getting all the buffs? You know, “I want to play too.”
The second was the burden of knowledge. If you’re only buffing one person, you have to know what EVERYONE else can do. You don’t just need to know your capabilities, but the spec and capabilities of nearly 38 other possibilities within the game. I think that may be cool for some players, But for the first introduction of this playstyle, we really wanted it to be much more approachable, much easier to learn. If you haven’t played dps before, or haven’t played Evoker before, you could theoretically show up and immediately be pretty successful at it.

So the ‘steady state of buffs’ do a better job of achieving that – you don’t need to know whether your buddy is popping their cooldowns or not. Just keep buffing them and it’ll all be good.

Of course, if they DO have cooldowns and you are a bit more of an expert player, you can align with what your allies are doing and get better bang for your buck that way. So it’s a bit of both, but definitely leaning more towards the steady side of things.

WP: Is there room within the Augmentation playstyle for an Evoker to have a specific player focus? For example, could somebody be a tank-focused Evoker versus a DPS buffing Evoker?

GB: Interesting. I mean that is not how we specifically approached designing it, but certainly with the talent system, it can lean into that. If you want to take Blistering Scales and the two talents that modify it to do more for your tank, you can – But the way we approached it was so that everyone in the group is excited that you’re there. You’re very group minded, buffing everyone and giving them damage – but then you have these extra utility spells that are more oriented towards the other roles. You have Blistering Scales for tanks. You can take Spatial Paradox for your healers.

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You can really go deep and actually trade some of your points that would normally go into damage spells to pick up Dream of Spring and Symbiotic Bloom, which amplifies how much healing others receive – thereby helping your healer do their job. It was really important for us that you were always helping others do their job better, not doing their job for them.

WP: That’s a really great tenet of making sure that it’s not about stealing the glory from other people – you are enhancing it.

GB: Yeah, exactly.

WP: What’s your favourite Augmentation Evoker ability? Is it one that you helped to design or had a hand in creating?

GB: So I have two that are my personal favourites. One which is very powerful – it’s one of their capstone talents, and it’s called Time Skip.

It’s a three-minute cooldown and you channel for two seconds and all this bronze magic warps around you – and it makes all of your abilities recharge and cooldown 1000% faster.

WP: That… is NOT a small number.

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GB: No! Anytime I can put a four digit number in the game is a joy. Watching everything on your action bar just WHOOSH and rapidly recharge is very satisfying. So that is one I like a lot.

The other one is fun – it’s also bronze themed – it’s called Bestow Weyrnstone. It’s one of the weirder utility abilities that I don’t think is gonna be in every build, but some players will figure out a use for it. You conjure a Dracthyr artefact, called a Weyrnstone and give it to an ally – then you make one for yourself as well and it goes in your inventory like a warlock healthstone. And you can use it to teleport to the ally that’s holding the other one – up to 100 yards away. So I anticipate players doing some very interesting things with that ability.

WP: That sounds like it’s almost ripe for abuse, but we don’t use those words – I am sure it will be a “creative use of gameplay mechanics.”

GB: Exactly. The PTR cycle is great for finding those edge cases, but being able to create those moments where players go “Oh no! I got this debuff in the raid that I need to move super far away!” and offers the perfect moment for the player and the Evoker to reposition themselves. Those are the sort of players’ stories I’m really excited to see from that spell.

WP: Just to clarify – can they jump TO YOU and you jump TO THEM?

GB: Yes! It’s a two-way gate. So if I hand you one and I activate it, I teleport to you and you activate yours and you teleport to me – kind of separately, asynchronously.

WP: I sincerely hope that the community starts calling it a “BFF bracelet” or something like that.

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GB: I would LOVE that. That’d be amazing.

WP: Has the art team cooked up some awesome visual indicators for players to know that their scaly friend is making them kick more arse?

GB: Absolutely. That was one of the big questions we wanted to answer before we got too far down the path of making this – how do you tell that you’re having an impact on others and how do others know you’re having an impact on them? From the Augmentation Evoker’s perspective, we’ve done a ton of stuff in that regard. There is a bunch of new floating combat text when you apply your buffs – when you cast Ebon Might, it says ‘plus 1000 strength’ over the warrior and ‘plus 1000 intellect’ over the mage to give you that feedback. Regular damage dealers see numbers from dealing damage, so you get the same for your buffs.

As far as spell visuals, the art team as usual knocked it out of the park. They are all super cool looking and really capture the Black and Bronze fantasy. Making others aware that you’ve given them a benefit is much more challenging because there isn’t clear messaging – we can’t realistically put words in the middle of your screen because there’s a lot of visual real estate already happening in the game.

So we were really, really careful about picking our moments. For example, Ebon Might, it’s super important to the Evoker that it’s up all the time – visually, the artist who worked on it came up with a really cool idea where when you put the magic on a target, it actually kind of swirls around their biceps, which feels powerful, right? Big biceps! It’s not a space on the character that we use very much for other visuals, right? If it’s on your hands or around your feet, like that gets used by all kinds of spells. That was a really clever solution, using a space that won’t get overshadowed by other things, but also won’t get in the way.

Conversely, they also have a buff called Prescience which is bronze themed. It grants a target the gift of foresight, which really means they get 3% critical strike. This is also up a lot of the time – but it is not as core to the rest of your rotation. It’s something you put up and then like it’s just doing its job. We made the cast animation of it very impactful – Like, you release bronze magic into the air out of your mouth and the ally has this kind of a beam of bronze fall on them and swirl around them – and then it’s done. There’s no, you know, ‘state effect’ as we call it ongoing because neither of you need to know that it’s still going, you just want to know it hit you. We are making those choices on a spell-by-spell basis to celebrate what you’re doing but not be overwhelming with it.

WP: Obviously we live in a world of classes being able to swap specs when they need to do – but tell me, how does a player built around making others stronger fare on their own? For example, in a fight that might separate the player and ask them to solo their way out of a problem. Do they struggle without a target to buff?

GB: So, Augmentation is able to buff themselves when in those situations. Ebon Might increases the damage of some of your own abilities, you apply that, you can cast that Prescience on yourself. You can cast Blistering Scales on yourself which increases your armour and gives you kind of a thorns effect. The way we’ve approached it is considering the outdoor world solo experience. If you’re just doing questing, how does that play? In those cases, Augmentation plays a lot more like a tank than a traditional dps. They will kill things slower than devastation might, but they’ll live a lot longer, they can pull more. Initially we thought maybe it will play like a healer and heal themselves, but going down this sort of protective defensive tank route felt more in line with black dragon magic and kind of the kit we were building for them to give to others.

WP: I was mostly looking at it from a perspective of sort of group environments – raid or whether it’s a party – rarely, an end boss might actually separate you from everyone else and you’d have to fight your way out of that situation. Would a player that is entirely specced to help others, with no ‘selfish’ talents still be in a pretty good position to get out of that?

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GB: I believe so! That’s always something. We do testing on the PTR for our raids and dungeons and I think our players are great at kind of calling those moments out. If there were cases that came up where it was like, I can’t beat this – that’s something we could look to address. We have a lot of tools to handle that – it may simply come down to the kind of ratio of how much damage do they deal versus how much they buff others. It’s something we’ll need to dial in and adjust as more players get their hands on it.

WP: Is there a little bit of fear within the team for when 10.1.5 goes live and they need to start looking at how stuff is balanced?

GB: Fair question, you know we are in contact with the encounter team, talking to them all the time about this stuff – they’ve been aware of Augmentation and using it in their internal play testing. Releasing it in 10.1.5 was a very conscious choice actually to address this – we’re in the middle of a season. Raids are getting into farm status, people know the fights and introducing Augmentation is at a way lower risk of disrupting things at this point in the cycle. Imagine releasing this when the world first race is going on!

WP: Is there any concern that Augmentation Evoker might be considered super essential because of all the shiny toys they bring?

GB: Ideally, no. We designed it very intentionally to not be a required specialisation. It is a damage dealer role, not a new fourth role and deliberately all of their buffs are target capped.

WP: Oh, so you wouldn’t consider it a challenge to the MMO holy trinity of Tank/Healer/Damage roles?

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GB: Correct! That was a deliberate choice very early on as well, along with how do we balance this in smaller PVP matchups versus massive raid groups. Really putting in the hooks for ourselves to manage all those situations – ensuring they don’t have anything that is a second Bloodlust or Heroisme equivalent, right? They aren’t amping the entire raid – Ebon Might hits four targets, Prescience hits one target, Blistering Scales is on one tank, that sort of thing.

With all of that in mind, the goal really is – this is a play style option for DPS players who want to try it. It is NOT a new requirement for every raid to have one.

WP: This is a way for DPS players to start helping out more if they really want to?

GB: My personal player story is that we always had one too many healers come to raid, and one of them doesn’t like playing DPS, but maybe they will like Augmentation because you’re still helping others.

WP: What is something that you personally are excited to see people start doing when AugVokers start coming to raid?

GB: One is at, at a macro level – I think there is an audience for this type of playstyle that has not been served well by World of Warcraft in the past, except in those rare cases like Enhancement Shaman in Burning Crusade or Shadow Priests for keeping mana up, right? I play with a lot of those people – they’re my guildies and my friends. So having a thing where it’s like, playing a healer was close, but this is actually what I’ve been wanting to play – that’s the best feeling in the world. The way you WANTED to play WoW. Well, now you can.

In terms of how players approach the spec, we’ve made some weird utility spells. How are people going to use Weyrnstone Stone? When are we going to see the Spatial Paradox play where the whole raid got separated, but one healer was able to keep them all alive? That sort of stuff, that’s the thing where it’s gonna be wild but it’ll be cool.

WP: My sneaky selfish final question: does this finally put the groundwork in place to maybe think about having a Bard class in World of Warcraft?

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GB: I do think our sound department would have a ball working on that. So, we’ll see.

WP: That’s awesome. Well, thank you very much, Graham.

 


The next content patch for World of Warcraft is titled Fractures in Time – containing the Augmentation specialisation for Evokers and a range of other fun content. It is scheduled for release July 11.

Written By Ash Wayling

Known throughout the interwebs simply as M0D3Rn, Ash is bad at video games. An old guard gamer who suffers from being generally opinionated, it comes as no surprise that he is both brutally loyal and yet, fiercely whimsical about all things electronic. On occasion will make a youtube video that actually gets views. Follow him on YouTube @Bad at Video Games

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