Last week, Blizzard hosted a Battle for Azeroth Developer Q&A on the same day that the pre-orders for World of Warcraft’s seventh expansion went live. The Q&A was packed with World of Warcraft information ranging from the state of PvP solo queue, or lack thereof, to a new allied race. But the Q&A ended with a rather difficult question for game director Ion Hazzikostas.
Player Ranthae asked, “In the Dev Watercooler, it was mentioned that you want to return a lot of class and spec specific benefits and abilities, a la [crowd control] availability and the like. How will this be balanced in order to avoid class-stacking?”
Hazzikostas took a moment to confirm that they’ll be bringing more individual class utility (like raid-wide buffs) for Battle for Azeroth. But he had a counterpoint to Ranthae’s question, suggesting that more tools should help increase class play rates, rather than narrow them.
“The goal here is actually to encourage a wide diversity of player class and spec representation,” Hazzikostas said. “The most successful [Rated Battlegrounds] groups, the most successful Mythic raids. These should have people with as many different tools as possible.”
From here, the conversation lead somewhere a little different, yet still related. Blizzard’s community manager, Josh Allen, brought up an old, controversial WoW phrase: “take the player, not the class.” Rather than shirk away, Hazzikostas answered bluntly regarding the tired phrase.
“Bring the player, not the class is one of the most misinterpreted phrases over time,” he said. “I remember when [ex-World of Warcraft lead systems designer] Ghostcrawler posted blogs about this in early Wrath [of the Lich King] days. It was a response to a completely degenerate situation at the end of The Burning Crusade.”
This is an old WoW philosophy from the days of the game’s second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. The idea is one that promotes inclusion but waters down the depth of picking classes to raid with. Instead of worrying about if that class has the tools you need for a fight, you should be more concerned with bringing the player behind the character. A good player is always more useful than a powerful class. Or at least, that’s the suggestion. Some players have always stuck to the idea that you need both class diversity and player skill to make WoW complex and fun.
We didn’t have raid-wide buffs for the most part except for things like Prayer of Fortitude or Mark of the Wild. Almost everything was party based. It was Battle Shout, it was Windfurry Totem, it was Leader of the Pack, it was all of that stuff that lead to this bizarre, Tetris, jigsaw puzzle situation just constructing groups.
You could say, “we really want an extra Rogue, because they have a great tool that’ll help us on this encounter, but there isn’t room in the melee group for them and unless they have Battle Shout, unless they have whatever else, they’re not actually going to be effective. You need to bring a caster because there is room in the caster synergy group.” And that’s what we meant when we said way back when “we want you to bring the player, not the class.” We don’t want you to be in a situation where you’re saying “OK, the only thing that will fit right now into this group composition matrix we have is this particular, narrow thing.“
Hazzikostas goes on to suggest that this philosophy, for all its good intentions, has made the community focus too much on the character or their gear and not their chosen class. He brings up group leaders picking up certain players for a raid because they have the highest item level (a number denoting how good their gear is) or the top Raider.io score. The team has spent so much time trying to balance the classes that they’ve lost some of what makes them unique.
The goal for Battle for Azeroth then is to return some of that missing class utility. Your choice in class won’t just matter to you anymore. Instead, you’ll exist to help support your group rather than just worry about yourself. This idea is key to what makes World of Warcraft special to so many people.
The choice of which class composition you need to take into each fight helped build World of Warcraft into the massive MMO that it still is today. According to its game director, Battle for Azeroth is looking to take the series back to those kind of hard choices.