On June 2, 2021, World of Warcraft Classic players will have the opportunity to return to the Outland for the very first time since 2007 in the brand new classic expansion, Burning Crusade Classic.
We sat down with lead producer Holly Longdale and production director Patrick Dawson to chat about the upcoming launch, new features and how the team has used modern technology to breathe new life into a beloved expansion while remaining true to its original vision.
Burning Crusade launched over a decade ago which means that this will be a first-time experience for many World of Warcraft players. What are you most excited for those players to see?
Holly Longdale: For me, the journey through the Dark Portal, of course. That’s going to be a huge moment and the entire team is very excited about reliving that adventure again, but also going from Azeroth into this, you know, otherworldly experience that’s very deep and rich. Not just its lore but the visuals. It’s just a staggering experience. I’ve been replaying it myself on beta and I’m so excited for everyone to get in there and see it, it’s gonna be great.
Patrick Dawson: Yeah, for me, I think Burning Crusade represented some of the most iconic villains in the history of World of Warcraft. I mean, if you look behind me, we have Illidan Storm Rage who you get to actually fight against. There are some amazing boss encounters that existed then. Lady Vashj, Kael’thas Sunstrider, Archimonde, the list goes on and on. These are some of the most memorable fights in the history of World of Warcraft, and you get to experience them again as if they were relevant at that time because they are. They are legit, hard fights again. So that, to me, is something that new players can look forward to.
When Burning Crusade originally released, it received phenomenal critical reviews and was praised for just about every aspect. Is that intimidating or inspiring when it comes to delivering it to a 2021 audience?
HL: We’re ready to go for round two!
PD: Yeah! We set the bar high for ourselves, we’ve done that ever since we released World of Warcraft, so the bar is high. We know that but hitting that is something we absolutely expect to do.
We’re committed to delivering a fantastic player experience to everyone who jumps in and we’ve done a lot of work to make sure that that’s possible. In fact, one of those things that I really like about what we did that’s a little different is offering the Dark Portal pass, which is a way for players to get in if you haven’t played before, and you’re worried about catching up. You can just get in right alongside the rest of your friends and go for the Dark Portal alongside them as a level 58 character.
That way you don’t miss out on that awesome moment.
We understand that Classic is designed to stay true to its original form but with new technology available in 2021, have you been able to implement anything that enlivens the original vision but just couldn’t be done in 2007?
HL: So of course, there’s this archaeology with Burning Crusade from 2007. We took all that data and put it in a modern engine and in the modern backend, so we’re using modern technology. So this is going to allow us, for moments like the Dark Portal, we’re going to be able to get five times the number of people in that area than you could in 2007.
And, of course, we’re going to have all the bug fixes that came towards the end of Burning Crusade. But at the same time, we’re rolling back the content to make sure that it’s as difficult as it was, and as challenging as it was, when it first released. So there’s a lot of archaeology and making sure it feels right. We do have what we call a reference client, which is what the game was like, originally in 2007. We’re constantly comparing to make sure we’re getting it right.
It’s definitely a labour of love to make sure we’re getting it right but also taking away some of that friction and some of the pain points and things that may not have been perfected back then. But, of course, the team then, and Dawson was there at the time, they would have loved to have done that then. So, we’re being very selective about what we do make adjustments to but we’re making it stay true to that nostalgia and have it be an authentic experience that people remember.
Players will be prompted to decide whether to keep their characters on their current server or transfer them to a classic exclusive server. Do you have data about what percentage of characters are World of Warcraft Classic and which will be shifting to Burning Crusade?
PD: It’s a little early to say, we just released our pre-patch where we now have two new environments just a week ago. So we’re still seeing how players are going to spend their time. That’s the important thing, is to figure out where they’re actually spending their time.
You may have a character in Classic, you may have one a Burning Crusade, and you may spend your time predominantly in Burning Crusade. I’d say right now Burning Crusade Classic, the pre-patch has a lot of things for people to do. So, my expectation would be most people would be spending a lot of time there. There may come a time when that’s less true and Classic starts to have another wave of popularity. You know, ultimately, we’re just committed to supporting both communities. We want them to be vibrant and welcoming to play for anyone.
Obviously, the development process of any game has its fair share of challenges. Can you tell us about any challenges particular to Burning Crusade that cropped up during production?
HL: I mean, as with anything you’re doing in technology, there’s you know, surprises here and there. Dawson’s definitely a pro at that. Mostly, it’s just this passion and attention to detail on the team’s part to make sure we’re getting it right.
[There’s] some weird stuff, like when you’re taking 2007 data, and technology and putting it on a modern system, sometimes it doesn’t read it quite as well as you think and you get Draenei with pink hair and, you know, some oddball stuff happens but it’s honestly the community on beta and they keep giving us feedback and letting us know that some things may not match up. We’re completely dedicated to continuing, as we always have on World of Warcraft, to deliver the best experience we can.
But yeah, there’s that’s the wonderful thing about game development is you know, players will always surprise you either with what they find, or you know, what’s discovered. So it’s a daily journey, right?
New starting areas, new races for each faction, a new soundtrack. Burning Crusade introduces a lot of brand new content. Is there a particular facet of the expansion that you are especially fond of on a personal level? My first ever World of Warcraft toon was a Blood Elf, so even though I’m an Alliance player now, I still feel a certain affection for them.
HL:Fel Reaver. I mean, you only need to hear it and then when you see it, they’re both pretty terrifying.
My tenant in World of Warcraft, since you know, I’ve been playing since vanilla, or since it launched, my rule — and I believe for me World of Warcraft is the only game where this is true — is anywhere I go, I look up because I love art, I love game art.
Anywhere you go in the world and you look up there’s detail, there are things that an artist is painstakingly taking care of and has thought of. So you get a truly immersive experience. And you get to live in that world. And it’s all around you. So, that’s one of my rules. And I love it. I’m usually left behind in dungeons because I’m looking around and looking at the detail and what’s been painted. I’ve always loved it. It’s perfectly magical for me.
PD: Yeah, I could probably go on for hours about this topic. I’ll just sum up a few things that I’m really really looking forward to. For me, the arena system is something that I really remember fondly I was a very avid PvP-er — or actually still am.
But I remember when Burning Crusade came out. Finally, we got to do an organised version of PvP, rather than just the battlegrounds. I got to go in with my team and have some fun there. There are other things like attunements that are fun, I really had a great time, not just running through them, but running my friends through them as well. Another one is I mentioned the boss fights earlier. But Kael’thas specifically is one of my favourite boss fights we ever have done in World of Warcraft and learning the phases one at a time, working through that encounter with my friends was something that was truly marvellous.
So as I said, I probably could go on and on for a long time here. But those are just a few of the highlights that I can’t wait to see.
HL: I will say one thing I love is that I have to read. In Classic, you have to read and I read every quest because like in Blad’s Edge [Mountains], I would have no idea where I was supposed to go if I didn’t read the quest. And I love that, I get really immersed in what’s happening with the story.
One of my greatest joys right now is I’m obviously reading everything so I can to see how the community is feeling about Burning Crusade and I’m seeing a lot of photos of now dads with their kids and moms with their kids playing and getting ready for Burning Crusade. It’s fantastic.
You mentioned difficulty before. Raid content was notoriously difficult in early expansions, has that changed at all with Burning Crusade Classic?
PD: Yeah, well, we’re not releasing them with any sort of unfair bugs. Like there were some things that caused class balance issues or maybe didn’t work the way that we wanted. We’re not going to make them hard in that way. We don’t want to make it unfun or unfair.
So, all those things that that we fixed over time will continue to be fixed. It’s really the tuning that’s more difficult. So the amount of health, the amount of damage they do, that’s all gonna exist in the pre-nerf state. And yeah, it might be intimidating, I think but I do think there are some raiders that are on the cutting edge that really are hungry for that. And there are others who maybe are not quite wanting to do that level.
I think in that case, what we do is we take a look over time and in maybe a month, or two months, we decide to go back and look at that and say is that the right numbers for today? Every guild that wants to do the competitive thing and beat it so let’s take a look. And just like we did in Burning Crusade, we look at maybe we should lower some of the health and damage numbers to make it so that more people can accomplish these goals and still keep it hard, but maybe not quite so cutting edge.
You mentioned that with modern technology you can have up to five times the number of players going through the Dark Portal at once. Do you expect this technology to help combat lag and realm queues on launch day?
PD: Well, it’s always a tricky balance right? Our goal is to get as many players playing as much as we can. However, if you get just an enormous amount of players, the server can’t support that in terms of a community. So, we use queues to make sure that we can balance that out in an appropriate way. It helps guide players to a server that maybe would be a little bit more comfortable for them.
In terms of the community, you can always join and play with your friends. And if you want to sit in, hopefully, what will be smaller queues, you can do that if there’s a specific server you want to play on. The queues are meant to encourage a more even distribution so that we don’t have a few mega servers. But in terms of the experience, we want to make sure we have a fairly lag-free, responsive, stable experience for our players to play in. And the technology has come so far in the past fifteen years that yes, as Holly mentioned, we are absolutely taking advantage of that to make sure we can deliver that to our player base.
World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic is currently in pre-launch patch status and available for beta testing.
The full expansion will launch at 8am on Wednesday, June 2 2021 AEST.
If you already have a World of Warcraft subscription, you’re already entitled to access to World of Warcraft, World of Warcraft Classic and World of Warcraft Burning Crusade Classic. But if you’re checking it out for the first time, you can learn about subscription inclusions and offers, and jump in with the other champions of Azeroth right here.