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World Of Warcraft The Guardians Of The Dream Interview – “We Tell Stories By Punching Players In The Nose”

We talk with Kate Bankson and Michael Nuthals from Blizzard about what awaits us

As we dig deeper into World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, you might start to question just what stones may be left unturned in the search for all things draconic. Well the answer is simple – we move that search to a mystical plane of life magic, by way of the iconic Emerald Dream. Patch 10.2 will see players recruiting more dragon friends, while stepping into the domain of the Green Dragonflight to protect a fledgling world tree from a scenery-chewing pyromaniac.

It sounds like a whole mess of fun, so who better to shed some light on this green-tinted adventure than Katherine Bankson, Assistant Lead Quest Designer and Michael Nuthals, Lead Encounters Designer at the house of Blizzard to answer why Druids get all the fun toys?

WellPlayed: How are you enjoying the player reaction to Fyrakk?

Katherine Bankson: I’m loving it. I absolutely adore it. I mean, I adore him as a character, like the more we see him on screen, like the better it is, just let him chew that scenery. It’s so good.

WP: How do you feel players are going to be reacting to Vyranoth’s offer of cooperation, given that Fyrakk is getting a little bit too big for his fiery britches?

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KB: I hope they’re going to be intrigued. With the cinematic we put out, we’ve seen some good reactions to her and Alexstrasza’s relationship. And I hope they’re going to want to find out more and want to journey on, have her join us on this journey. I think that she has an interesting point of view that she’s still, you know, not necessarily wrong. And Vyranoth has called out Alexstrasza on it. And Alexstrasza, has kind of agreed with her that she’s messed up in the past. So I think that it is cool to have that as a voice in the storyline. I’m excited for it. I really hope players are also excited for her to come in.

WP: You mentioned that there is a part of the content patch where we will be approaching not only the Netherwing, but the Storm drakes for help as part of the ongoing need for dragon-support. Does that mean we’re going to check in with Neltharaku?

KB: Yes! We’re going to be checking in with the Nether drakes and the Thorignir brood.

WP: So does that mean we are going to get new Nether drake mounts – or an update to our existing Nether drakes?

KB: Well, I think you’re going to have to play and see what happens in the content update. That would be spoilers if I told you about that!

WP: Talking a little bit about encounters and characters, one of the things that I saw in the concept was a new character labelled Nimue, Weaver of the Cycle. Is there anything you can tell me about this incredibly unique individual?

Michael Nuthals: I would love to tell you about them. They are a custodian of the dream – Nimue is kind of a weaver of patterns. And they help bring order to the life magic that is coming into the Wellspring Temple, which if I’m not mistaken, is the seat of the raid. Their job is to order the raw life magic that was being pulled in from the plane of life. This temple was actually used to channel that energy and help facilitate and maintain the Emerald Dream. But the Druids of the Flame have actually come in here with the help of Fyrakk and have turned the dial from pulling in life energy to creating a conduit to the Firelands.

And we’ll see some really interesting people show up in the raid like our friend Smolderon from Cataclysm. Smolderon is going to be here as not – I don’t want to say lieutenant of Fyrakk – but like a partner. Fyrakk is like, hey, I’ve been promised some power here. Let’s work together and try to burn some stuff, right? And so we have a chance to fight Smolderon in the raid.

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WP: What does Firelord Smolderon have to say about the current incursion?

MN: He’s pretty excited about it. He’s been promised a lot of power by Fyrakk, and he’s looking forward to burning down the Emerald Dream.

WP: The Firelands was an amazing raid that people really enjoyed. Can we expect some familiar faces from that experience coming back here? Even if they’re not encounters, are they mentioned? Do they have some reference to them?

MN: I think we will for sure see some denizens. There’s been a regime change in the past since Cataclysm, right? And in Legion, we even helped Smolderon take control. We haven’t really heard a lot of what’s been happening at the Firelands since. So it’s an opportunity for us to confront the new Fire Lord and see where the story takes us.

WP: What’s an encounter that you’re excited about?

MN: That we’ll have another chance to fight Druid of the Flame – our penultimate encounter, Tindral Sageswift. This is the encounter I’m probably most excited about, because we’re doing something we’ve never done in a raid encounter before, and that is letting you use your mount to fly from platform to platform. We have this really awesome flame owl transformation form that Tindral will take, and you’ll actually be able to chase him around from platform to platform. It was the best way to let you make your way around Amirdrassil – as we put him in as that final defence as Fyrakk tries to make his move.

WP: The fight takes place around Amirdrassil??

MN: Yeah, that’s part of the thing that I’m most excited about. We wanted to see what we could do as an encounter design team to let players engage with their dragon riding mounts during an encounter. So there’s three platforms spread around the outside of Amirdrassil, the tree, and we will fight the steward of the flame on each of these platforms.

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WP: This is the first new raid that will have augmentation Evokers stepping in from day one. Did it have any impact on encounter design at all?

MN: Yeah, we definitely internally test our raids with augmentation. When designing raids, our first pillar that we kind of hold up to is that we tell stories by punching players in the nose. And the second is we want to empower players so that their buttons feel strong and powerful. It’s kind of like the combat team makes all these keys that end up in players’ hands, that they can press – and the encounter team is really responsible for building locks that those keys open.

We want to encourage the use of all classes, right? We want to make sure Shaman have a reason to drop stun totem just as much as we want augmentation Evokers to feel really strong because they’re able to buff their allies. We definitely want to make all classes feel strong at different points in the raid. We want to make sure over the course of the raid, like everybody has a chance to shine.

WP: We’re going to get a new world boss in the form of Aurostor. Any relation to the bear god Ursoc?

KB: Not so much a relation to Ursoc actually. We were kind of thinking of him as being more of a wild god or a Loa of the Furbolg. He’s not from the Druid canon. He’s from a different part of Azeroth’s culture.

But he is Aurostor, the hibernating bear, and he’s been sleeping – except that all this fire and ruckus that’s been happening around the tree has kind of disturbed his sleep. So we’re going to have to go punch him in the nose until he goes back to sleep again. It felt bad to kill a Loa where they were just sleeping, especially in the Emerald Dream and after everything we’ve seen with Ardenweald.

WP: So defeating him is not slaying him? It is putting him back to bed?

KB: Yeah. It’s putting him back to bed. I mean, if you can have a reason to be grumpy, I think waking up to your house being on fire is sort of allowed. It also puts another Loa on the table that we can play with in the future.

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WP: On that note, who is Q’onzu – and are they related to Anzu? Is there a naming convention for like bird gods that I missed?

KB: No, that’s just a coincidence. But Q’onzu is the Loa of Change! He is an interesting new character that we’re putting into play and you’re going to get to learn about him a little bit. They’re an interesting new character that we think that players are going to enjoy. He’s a mercurial sort of, has a bit of a Loki-ish, trickstery sort of vibe going on.

WP: Moonkin customisation!

KB: We are going to be getting some moonkin customisations! So Balance Druids rejoice if you’re not using Glyph of Stars. We’re actually rehauling how the underpinnings of the barbershop work entirely. It’s boring stuff players don’t care about, but the upshot is that we’re going to be able to do customisations a little bit more easily on our side. And that includes getting moonkins some interesting customisations for their big bird forms and stuff like that. So it’s going to be great seeing what people choose to pick for their boomkins.

WP: This is probably one of the bigger visits that we’re going to have to the Emerald Dream. We’ve sort of taken glimpses of it in the past, had small fleeting visits, gone there for encounters. This is players properly stepping foot into it and sort of exploring. The interesting thing I’ve seen on the map is that it shows that this is a land mass off to the side. Is this going to be a gateway to us doing more Emerald Dream things in the future? Is this us finally setting up shop to really experience the Emerald Dream, or is this just a nice slice of what we can expect for now?

KB: This is, I would say, the latter. It’s a nice slice of what we can expect for now. Like the Emerald Dream is basically the ordered, beautiful, perfected version of Azeroth. So in theory, it is the size of all of Azeroth. So we’re not going to show everybody the entirety of it – that’s a bit too much for a patch. But what we are going to be showing is this part of the dream where Tyrande and Malfurion planted the worldtree seed. Amirdrassil’s seed got planted here and it’s been growing ever since. And it’s grown huge and has begun to fill in the gap where there was one in the real world, as you might call it, So we’re going to be seeing the lands and the denizens and everything kind of reacting to this great change in this otherwise mostly unchanging place.

WP: So the Emerald Dream technically is an analogue of Azeroth. So is this landmass the Emerald Dream equivalent of the Dragon Isles?

KB: This is new. This is a new land mass that has kind of grown up around the tree. So should that area come into being, and we’re successful in allowing Amirdrassil to bloom and we stop Fyrakk from usurping that power, when it comes into the real world it’s going to be bringing that island with it.

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WP: Will we see some old friends in the Emerald Dream? Can I say g’day to Eranikus?

KB: That’s a spoiler. But there will be many, many faces that we haven’t seen for a while, faces that we have seen somewhat recently, as well as, you know, the cast of characters that we’ve been adventuring with recently in the expansion.

WP: Well then, the Emerald Dream has such a massive set of ties to the druid player fantasy. Are there going to be unique things for druid players to experience and see for them here?

KB: Oh boy, is there. The answer is yes and yes. Everybody is going to get a taste of the Emerald Dream that has previously been kind of exclusive to druids for the most part. We saw a little bit of it at the end of Xavius’ encounter in Legion, but usually it’s the druids who are the ones who are using it as a crossroads to basically fast travel around Azeroth, let’s be honest. So this is a larger slice of life that everybody is going to have access to, and it isn’t just druids who have this connection to the plane of life. You could argue that shamans and maybe hunters might have some interesting connections as well, but definitely, druids are getting some special love here.

There’s actually going to be a number of druid customisations that we’re going to be giving out that are going to be coming from the Emerald Dream. So there’s goodies to look forward to if you are a druid, aside from just enjoying the cool awesomeness that is the Emerald Dream and getting to show all your non-druid buddies. “Hey, look, this is the cool place that I get to hang out with, you know, Ysera and stuff.”

WP: Do druids get to dress up as Aurostor?

KB: Actually, yes. That is one of the customisations.

WP: Awesome. Rockbear. So, How was it bringing dungeons like Darkheart Thicket and the Everbloom back?

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MN: I think the goal when we go back and we kind of look at these legacy dungeons is that we want to bring them up to modern gameplay standards, but keep their core fantasy and the core experience there for players. So the biggest challenge is trying to make sure we meet player expectation, especially with the dungeons that are kind of in the “classic” category. We want to make sure that we’re just hitting that player expectation when we bring in this stuff into the mythic plus pipeline.

WP: Are there particular standards, or design pillars that you need to have in mind when adapting an older dungeon to the ‘modern gameplay standards’?

MN: Well oftentimes class buttons that may have existed in those expansions have changed or don’t even exist anymore. We need to make sure that we’re accounting for those kinds of things when we look at content. And then we’re looking at things like how the combat team has created a whole bunch of new keys and there’s opportunities to create some new locks in those scenarios. Looking at opportunities for modern classes to interact in fun and interesting ways. Really it’s about keeping that fantasy and theme of the place that we’re going but really letting the classes shine in their modern form.

WP: Finally, What’s the one piece of content that you’re most excited for players to get their hands on, from an encounter perspective, from a questing perspective?

MN: Sure. I’m actually just really excited to see players get their hands on the 10.2 content update in general. I’m so excited to see players just get in there and be able to explore a new zone, a new Mythic Plus season, and a new raid. I think those are just awesome opportunities for our players to really come back, see what we’ve been working on, and get a chance to really dig in and explore all the hard work that the team has put in. Just all the love that we want to share with our players. So I’m just really excited to see the response. I think it’s really going to be something special.

KB: Yeah, for me, and perhaps not too surprising, I’m interested in player reaction to the story and to what we’re doing there, into the blooming of the Amirdrassil, into the fight to defend it. And for some of the smaller stories. We have the opportunity here for Alexstrasza and Ysera to have some closure, as well as for Merithra and Ysera to have some closure. And we have some really, really amazing moments with those characters as well as some really cool epic fight moments that we have during the campaign. So I’m really interested for people to see what we’ve been working on and to see their reaction to that and see if they’re jiving with the beats we’re putting down.

WP: You feel that long-time night elf players are going to approach this content sort of chewing on their fingernails, going “Not another tree, please don’t let this one get burnt down?”

KB: Yes, and to be honest, I think we’re chewing our fingernails a little bit, like, “Oh gosh, please, please like this, please like this.” You know, you can’t ever replace Teldrassil. It’s too iconic – so we’re not trying to replace Teldrassil. This is a new home potentially for the elves, and so we definitely don’t want that to burn. It’s cool to see everybody banding together to save this world tree from fiery Fyrakk and his forces. He wants to turn it into a tree of malice and fire. He doesn’t necessarily want to burn it down. He wants to grab hold of that moment of transition as it blooms. So it’s going to be interesting to see what the player reaction is to the story we’re telling.

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WP: As a long time Night Elf player, I am on the edge of my seat. Thank you so much Katherine and Michael.

So strap in for a whole new horizon beyond the normal realm of Azeroth, the next content patch for World of Warcraft is titled Guardians of The Dream – aptly named because you got some protecting to do. The battle to save Amirdrassil is on!

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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