In patch 4.1: Rise of the Zandalari, the devastation wrought by the Cataclysm drives the troll tribes of Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub into a renewed frenzy that threatens to escalate into outright war.
To learn more about this troll onslaught, the Blizzard Insider recently sat down with World of Warcraft Lead Encounter Designer Scott Mercer. Read on to get the behind-the-scenes details of the upcoming content patch, which will bring back the legendary raid dungeons of Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub as 5-player Heroic instances.
How did Rise of the Zandalari come about?
Scott Mercer: Well, it's always a good time for trolls! No, just kidding, there's more to it than that. The idea first came up after the launch of 4.0 when we reintroduced 5-player versions of Shadowfang Keep and Deadmines. The classic dungeons ended up being a big hit with players, so we knew we wanted keep the momentum going by remaking more dungeons. Zul'Gurub was an obvious choice as it was a long-time player favorite, and many people were sad to see it go when Cataclysm launched. We started revamping it as soon as we could. Much later, when work on Zul'Gurub was nearing completion, we decided to add Zul'Aman to the lineup as well. The team felt Zul'Aman was one of our best raid dungeons of all time, but that it launched late in the Burning Crusade expansion cycle, so not that many players got a chance to experience it when it first came out. It was really the "hidden jewel" of Burning Crusade raiding. We're hopeful that bringing it back as a 5-player Heroic will open it up and allow a much larger portion of the player base to try out the encounters.
Can you give us any indication of the how the major bosses and features of Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub will be updated for the patch?
Scott Mercer: Zul'Aman was ahead of its times in a lot of ways, and it actually adheres pretty closely to the encounter design philosophies we use today. For that reason, we didn’t feel the need to change the encounter mechanics too much aside from a few tweaks here and there needed to retune it for 5 players instead of 10 or 20. On the other hand, Zul'Gurub needed to change a lot to bring it in line with our current thinking on encounter design. For starters, we simplified the dungeon layout by closing off some of the wings with doors or fallen debris. This should make progression through the dungeon more streamlined and obvious. We're also completely redoing the non-boss NPCs in the dungeon to make them easier to clear with a 5-player group. A lot of the Zul'Gurub boss lineup is changing as well, and players can even expect to see some new faces in the crowd.
Were there any specific challenges in taking a 10 or 20-player raid instance and revamping it for 5 players?
Scott Mercer: Knowing that there will only be five players at an encounter introduces some constraints that aren't there for larger raid encounters. For example, you can't use tank switching mechanics when you know that most 5-player groups are only going to have one tank. In the same vein, events that require a lot of crowd control aren't going to work either; there just aren't as many players available for crowd control as you would have in a 20-player raid. We also had to be careful to limit encounter mechanics that could potentially disrupt or lock down the healer. These kinds of mechanics tend to be much more devastating in 5-player groups, mostly because there are no other healers available to pick up the slack. Of course, I'm not saying players aren't going to see any disruptive mechanics at all, I'm just saying we had to use them much more carefully than we would with larger raid encounters.
You discussed how several of the encounter mechanics are changing for the revamp. Can you give us any specific examples?
Scott Mercer: Sure, take Akil'Zon, the eagle boss in Zul'Aman. He used to interrupt players by launching them straight into the air, which could be devastating in a 5-player encounter if he chooses the healer or the tank, so we changed this mechanic slightly. Now his summoned eagles pick players up and try to fly off with them instead. The player that gets picked up can still act and cast normally, even while being carried away. So the group just has to make sure the eagle dies before it carries the player away. This works better, because the eagle mechanic still creates a sense of urgency without completely disrupting the targeted player.
Let's talk phat loot! What kinds of rewards can players expect from the new versions of Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman?
Scott Mercer: The bosses drop epic quality item level 353 loot, which we hope will help players gear up for Cataclysm raiding. We also reworked the Edge of Madness event as an optional boss encounter which requires the archaeology profession to activate. At a certain point, an archaeologist can release one of four randomly chosen troll spirits, each with unique loot. We're also releasing new versions of the special mounts that used to be found in Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub. Players who successfully complete a timed run of Zul'Aman can get the new version of the war bear. Anyone who has the old version of a mount can still get the new version. Also -- though this isn’t really part of the dungeon itself -- we're adding a new mini-raptor pet for people who do the Stranglethorn Vale lead-in quests. Oh, and of course, Mojo the toad can still be found in Zul'Aman.
Going forward, can we expect more raid dungeons from past expansions and patches to be revamped as 5-player Heroic dungeons?
Scott Mercer: We definitely want to, but there are a few technical limitations we will have to solve first, especially with some of the older dungeons. That said, we know players like the classic dungeons and we’re open to updating just about any instance that has memorable encounters, especially if the dungeon as a whole meshes well with our current philosophy of encounter design. Several dungeons in particular keep coming up as potential candidates for 5-player Heroics. I've heard Scarlet Monastery and Scholomance discussed a few times. We also think it would be cool to revamp Blackrock Spire and Blackrock Depths given their obvious tie-ins for the storyline of Cataclysm. Nothing's been ruled out yet, so I guess we'll have to wait and see which ideas rise to the surface and we move further into Cataclysm.