World of Warcraft's patch 6.2 has been on test servers for a while now. When it goes live in the coming weeks, it will bring a number of major new features to those playing the popular MMO, most notably a whole new zone called Tanaan Jungle.
We spoke with World of Warcraft lead designer Ion Hazzikostas to find out what players should be looking forward to with the new zone.
1. You've seen Tanaan Jungle before
When the Warlords of Draenor expansion first launched on Nov 13, 2014, Tanaan Jungle was actually the first glimpse players got of the new/old (time travel!) world of Draenor. But after a series of quick quests, players were whisked away to elsewhere on the planet, unable to return to that starting area.
"We knew this was coming pretty much from the start," Hazzikostas says. "Things have come full circle. After fighting and defeating the Iron Horde in all the other zones of Draenor, we have managed to lay siege and finally make some headway into Tanaan Jungle, which is their base of operations."
However, this isn't exactly the same Iron Horde as it was at the beginning of the expansion. The first big bad of the expansion, Grommash Hellscream, has been replaced by the warlock Guldan, and that has major implications on both the story and the look of this new area...
2. Things have changed from your first visit to Tanaan Jungle
Deep in Tanaan Jungle rests Hellfire Citadel. And within Hellfire Citadel, Guldan now controls the armies of the Iron Horde. But Guldan may not be the one pulling the strings.
"History and time have a way of repeating themselves," Hazzikostas says. "Demonic influence in the form of Guldan and the Burning Legion have brought this former Iron Horde under their sway."
"There's rivers of demonic fel energy and demonic corruption eating away at this once-lush jungle," he says.
3. Tanaan Jungle will have something for every kind of player
While there's a major story arc progressing in the new zone, Blizzard wants it to appeal to everyone, from those obsessed with quests and lore to hardcore raiders.
"There's a lot of completionist content for people who want to explore and dig out every secret of the zone," Hazzikostas says. "In many ways, we built Tanaan Jungle building on our experiences and lessons learned from past outdoor zones like the Isle of Thunder and Timeless Isles in Mists of Pandaria."
The main story of Tanaan Jungle will be told through a series of "big setpiece quests that tell the story of bringing the confrontation to the gates of Hellfire Citadel." Within Hellfire Citadel itself will be the latest, cutting edge raid, full of the hardest encounters and best equipment in the game so far. And beyond that, Blizzard is looking to keep players busy in the zone for a long time to come.
"We're adding a couple of reputations for players to earn from multiple factions in the zone," Hazzikostas says. "You can gain those by defending certain areas that come under attack or going out and hunting rare creatures. You can unlock cosmetic upgrades, some player power items, some convenience items. There's a wide variety of things."
4. There's still no flying in Tanaan Jungle ... and there probably won't be in any new zones or expansions
When Warlords of Draenor first hit, some fans were surprised to discover that even upon reaching the new level cap of 100, they couldn't fly with their air-based mounts in the new zones. Initially Blizzard expected to patch in flying at some point, but now it has changed its mind.
"Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways," Hazzikostas explains. "While there was certainly convenience in being able to completely explore the world in three dimensions, that also came at the expense of gameplay like targeted exploration, like trying to figure out what's in that cave on top of a hill and how do I get up there."
"It made the world feel in many ways much smaller"
Hazzikostas gives an example: Before flying was introduced to World of Warcraft, if you got a quest to rescue a prisoner from an enemy encampment, it would play out a certain way. Players would need to fight their way through the camp. After flying, players could just fly into the center of camp, land on top of the hut where the prisoner is, free him and fly out.
"It made the world feel in many ways much smaller," he says.
Originally, Blizzard took out flying in Warlords of Draenor as an experiment, and Hazzikostas says he would have bet "slightly better than even money at the time" that they were going to bring it back eventually. But as they played the expansion and watched others play it, they discovered that they liked the game better without flying.
"The world feels larger, feels more dangerous," he says. "There's more room for exploration, for secrets, for discovery and overall immersion in the world. At this point, we feel that outdoor gameplay in World of Warcraft is ultimately better without flying. We're not going to be reintroducing the ability to fly in Draenor, and that's kind of where we're at going forward."
Hazziokostas confirms that this direction includes future expansions, though he doesn't discount the possibility of adding flight options in to specific expansion ideas or zones that would benefit from it. In general, though, he believes that exploration in Blizzard's massive world "works better and feels better in our view when you're doing it from the ground."
He also promises that Blizzard will continue working to improve its network of taxi flight paths in the game to prevent any major frustration from this change: "The goal is to maximize convenience in getting from point a to point but retaining as much of the gameplay and depth as possible once you do get to that point."
5. Tanaan Jungle will not be the only major addition to patch 6.2
A new zone is a huge deal in World of Warcraft, but that's not all Blizzard is bringing to the table with this major content update. Another big addition being included is the adventure guide, a new user interface tool that will help point players toward content that's relevant to them.
"For a lot of people, particularly those coming back for a new patch, it's very easy to get overwhelmed and be uncertain about what you should be doing," Hazzikostas says. "This is definitely something we saw in Mists of Pandaria."
The adventure guide will combat this uncertainty by giving players tips on where to go next based on their level, item level and quests and achievements they've already completed. It will also allow players to accept some quests or queue into some dungeons directly from the guide.
"We see it as kind of a greatest hits collections"
Blizzard is also introducing a new series of rotating weekend events to help motivate players to try all the different pieces of World of Warcraft. These events will run Friday through Monday, and each week will highlight a different type of content in the game. For example, one weekend might push everyone toward player-versus-player battlegrounds with the promises of special rewards for competing. The next might encourage players to partake in the Pokemon-style pet-battling system by allowing pets to level up at triple their regular rate.
The weekend events will include another major element of Patch 6.2: timewalking. As we've previously covered, the timewalking feature will allow players to revisit old dungeons while being leveled down for the process. Initially this will focus on a handful of dungeons from The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King expansions, but Blizzard plans to expand from there.
"Timewalking can be applied to any old dungeon," Hazzikostas says. "Because we're scaling the player down rather than the content up, it's pretty flexible. We definitely want to expand it to include Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria dungeons in the future. We see it as kind of a greatest hits collections."
Hazzikostas says timewalking could be applied to raids eventually as well, although that brings up some new challenges. "It's a feature that's designed for random, match-made groups," he explains. "It's positioned as a fun, not super-hardcore experience. It's a jaunt down memory lane. The intent isn't to make it trivial, but they're not supposed to be brutally hard dungeons either."
6. Patch 6.2 isn't the final update for Warlords of Draenor, but Blizzard is working on the next expansion as well
"We've got plenty of more story to be told after this," Hazzikostas says when asked whether patch 6.2 would be the last big content update for Warlords of Draenor. But Blizzard is also working hard to make sure players aren't left waiting for new content in general.
"One place where we all agree — players certainly agree — that we fell a bit short was the number of months between our last content patch and the next expansion," says Hazzikostas. "As great of a launch as Warlords of Draenor was, it also came about 13 months after patch 5.4, which was a pretty rough drought of content. We're really focused on balancing that patch cadence with also making sure that we're working on the next big thing."
While you're waiting for that next big thing or just for patch 6.2 — which Blizzard says will be out "soon" — you can take a look at the initial presentation of Tanaan Jungle during the expansion's launch in our Warlords of Draenor overview video below.
Update: We've adjusted the attribution for the quote about the possibility of future content past patch 6.2 to make it clear what question was asked.