With Chains of Domination, fans are being treated to the first major patch in the Shadowlands story- complete with a new area, new raids and some long overdue comeuppance for a certain Banshee Queen. We spoke to Johnny Cash, Lead Quest Designer and Frank Kowalkowski, Technical Director on World of Warcraft about the epic next chapter of the fight for your afterlife.
Admittedly, this interview has a bit of insider knowledge going on for it- if you want a proper introduction to the Chains of Domination patch, consider checking out our earlier interview from BlizzConline
Welcoming Players to Chains of Domination
Q: Could you talk about what different players can look forward to in Chains of Domination?
Frank: There’s a lot to do in Chains of Domination. What we see with World of Warcraft players is there’s players who love to play every little aspect of World of Warcraft. There’s some players who like to come in, do a lot of the story, do some questing, do some collecting, there’s players, myself included who are really into Mythic Plus, and then theres raiders, PVP-ers that Johnny was talking about.
There’s a lot in Chains that will appeal to a wide array of player types. Theres a lot of content there no matter what type of content you like to play in World of Warcraft. There’s a brand new Mega Dungeon so if you are a Mythic Dungeon Runner like me then there’s an exciting new challenge there in the amazing 8 boss Mega Dungeon Tazavesh, The Veiled Market. If you’re into the story that’s one aspect Johnny touched a lot on whats going on in Korthia, we’re gonna get to finally go through the raid there and meet Sylvanas up at the end, and that multi-year story arc is gonna reach a climax there.
In Tazavesh theres an opportunity for us to explore more lore with the brokers, I think there’s a lot there for players to enjoy no matter what aspects of World of Warcraft they enjoy the most.
Q: Can You Talk About What It’s Like Making The 9.1 Update Fun For All Players?
Frank: Like previous content updates we do provide very robust mechanisms for players to catch up whether its renown or gear, we try to make sure players are familiarizing themselves with whats going on in the world and have the opportunity to very quickly get to where their friends are because we want people coming together, overcoming these challenges together, and we recognize that its in everybody’s best interest to catch them up.
Johnny: If you make a character in Chains of Domination that just hit 60, maybe its a character you stopped playing because you swapped to another character or whatever, in Chains of Domination all you need to do to play the new content in Korthia is just do the Covenant tutorial quests. If you’ve done them on an Alt before they’re still skippable, so you can skip the vast majority if you’ve done them before and get straight to the unlock quest for Korthia and we’ve actually also added more to that.
Alts have become a really popular thing for players to do, I know I have my own stable of alts, so if you’ve unlocked Korthia before you can also skip that introductory sequence.
If you’ve already done them on your account we recognize the player behidn the keyboard there so you can get straight to Korthia and doing visitor dailies and covenant assaults, all the things you probably care about on your second, third, 8th character.
Q: Do you have any tips for players who are eager to try their luck on this new content?
Frank: I think that really depends on what kind of content you enjoy. I think that’s one of the great strengths of Chains of Domination. If you’re a person who likes to grab 4 friends and hit a dungeon there’s obviously Taszavesh, there’s a new Mythic Plus Season with a brand new affex? and several other things to help players with the amount of valor they gain per run with the mythic scoring system.
If you’re a raider theres brand new raids, like we’ve gone over, culminates in Sylvanas and Johnny hinted at some of the shards of domination extra rewards that will help your progress inside of the sanctum of domination.
If you like to do quests and story and you just like to hang out and explore, Korthia’s got a whole bunch of new secrets to unfold, there’s a whole bunch for people who like collections, theres a lot to do in terms of collections.
There’s not a lot you need to do necessarily to prepare for Chains of Domination other than log in, bring your character and pick the content you wanna play the most.
Johnny: Yeah my advice, to jump off of that, would be to take your time and have fun and explore Chains of Domination. Korthia’s known as the city of secrets like Frank mentioned and that’s true with finding how to activate the hard modes in Tazavesh and finding the new strategies of how to use ice wall in an arena match to be the most effective.
Just take the time and try something you haven’t tried before. Or explore that corner of Korthia you haven’t explored before. And I think more often than not you’re gonna find something really cool there or something you didn’t know that you can do and it’ll be a really good time.
One example I like to talk about from Korthia is theres a new system called the Archivists’ Codex. We know that we’re building the city of secrets, well there better be some secrets to uncover, there better be some ancient relics to unearth. So this system is kind of themed around that.
Cataloguing some of the secrets of this realm. As you dive deeper, you begin to find new ways to find even deeper secrets than you could before. Eventually you might find yourself within an Ethereal Rift within the Korthian space and you might find a towering boss in there, who you can then use an item you crafted to pull it out into normal Korthia, and then you and all your friends can jump on it together and kill it and get epic loot.
Thats just one of many examples of the cool things we’ve hidden throughout the patch. I think players are gonna have a lot of fun figuring out all the things we’ve put in for them.
Q: How does Chains of Domination affect the Horde V Alliance Story Going Forward?
Johnny: So Chains of Domination is really more focused on the covenants coming together and uniting against the threat that The Jailer poses and that’s really the story that we’re trying to focus on telling right now is, ok we’ve spent all this time we’ve been building up our covenant strengths, making them stronger, but the Jailer at the same time has been building up his strength as well.
And now this is all kind of coming to a head and when we return to the Maw and go to Korthia, this new space that’s been kind of anchored to the side of The Maw, what was once us as players venturing through the Jailers territory you know, kind of sneaking beneath his watchful gaze kind of thing, is now kind of more of an open all-out conflict.
So in terms of the conflict we’re focusing on that’s the one, and you can see it in the Covenant Assaults where you can join your Covenant and help defend or attack key points in the Jailer’s forces, all the way to the top of the Sanctum of Domination raid.
Of course if you’re a PvP person you can always journey through Korthia in War Mode, there’ll be a new PvP season and we did do some new PvP talents that I think are really cool.
So while narratively it’s not the focus, there’s some really cool stuff that players can do there. I think my favorite one is one of the warlock ones where you can create this shadowy void and after a brief delay it pulls the target into your demonic circle.
So you can see some really cool plays whether it’s in a Raid or PvP scenarios or out in the World you can trick people into walking off the edge to their death which is always really funny. So in terms of story we’re gonna focus on the Jailer stuff, but if you’re a PVP-er theres really a ton to do.
Raids And Beating Up Sylvanas
Q: Was there a discussion in the team over who got to lead designing the Sylvanas raid boss? I imagine a lot of people would have had their own ideas on how to do the big showdown.
Johnny: Neither Frank or I are on the encounter team specifically that work on our dungeons and raids so I don’t know all the drama that may have unfolded, but certainly Sylvanas is a very high profile Raid fight, I know that all the teams involved like the art teams, design teams, they’ll all have to come together for this.
They really put a lot of love into this fight to make it really epic. I don’t wanna go into spoiler territory of course but there’s all sorts of custom effects, you get to fight Sylvanas in all the incarnations of what we’ve known her to be over the years from the Ranger General to the Banshee Queen to the Maw-powered lieutenant that we’ve kinda known her as more recently.
That goes down even to the rewards you’re going to get, I know that players have already uncovered a very special bow you can get from Sylvanas because of course, shes an Archer. If you’re a hunter it grants you access to a new ability, the wailing arrow thing that is kinda one of her Marquee spells. We really wanted to make Sylvanas a special fight. We know this is such an important culmination of so many story threads we’ve been talking about through years and years and we wanted to make it epic and I know that a lot of designers and a lot of different people came together to do that and you know, people are gonna be really excited to see the final product when they get to the end of the raid.
Frank: Everything we do is a collaborative process. While there’s somebody involved who might be the point person who’s doing the majority of the design and the work theres really the encounter team, the art team, engineers that will come in and help with the fight. The audio also coming in and making sure every attack that Sylvanas unleashes at the players sounds as terrifying as it needs to do.
And all of these are elements that come together to make the fight so while one person may be leading that, it really is the effort of dozens of people that come together to make a World of Warcraft boss fight.
Q: Sanctum of Domination is gonna have a lot of returning fights with Kel’Thuzad, etc. Can we expect some new things in those fights?
Frank: Yeah I mean no boss wants to repeat their greatest hits right. They want new, fresh material. Kel’Thuzad, , who you fought in Naxxramus, he’s learned a few things, now that hes been floating around in the Shadowlands. So you’re gonna get a chance to see a whole new side of Kel’thuzad.
Q: Going into the new raid,Sanctum of Domination, can you go into some of the detail of designing the raid as a whole. Was the team happy with the way Castle Nathria panned out?
Frank: I think we’re pretty happy with the reception Castle Nathria got. I think that players seem to really enjoy the encounters, especially the aesthetics of the castle. It’s a little bit something fresher in World of Warcraft.
Likewise we see a lot of domination themed through Icecrown and Torghast. What we’ve done with Sanctum is to turn all those knobs up and every dial we have in terms of Domination theme is turned all the way up and we have the opportunity to afford different space with these giant spires and you know, burying areas where we can fight bosses like Kel’Thuzad and the Tarragrue, the Eye, and eventually you get up to Sylvanas and I think that space is one of the most unique we’ve ever done for a boss fight.
Q: Since the Tarragrue is gonna be in the Sanctum of Domination, is there still gonna be a punishment for dying in Torghast?
Johnny: No it’s exactly as you said, the Tarragrue has been called up to its master’s domain to protect the castle gates. As a result we’ve done away with the death penalty that players know from Torghast from base SDL. We think that just opens up a way for players to enjoy the tower, right?
People can feel a little more open to experiment and see. If you’re the player that wants to try to do things more efficiently we think the scoring system will help spur players on to find more efficient builds to kill things in a quick manner. If you’re that person who maybe wants to take things at a slower pace, wants to experiment with a different build with the Cube of Many Things, that’s totally cool. You should be able to have your own gameplay experience. So the Tarragrue is definitely not present in Torghast but he is present in the Sanctum of Domination.
Q: Could you talk about designing Tazavesh in a way that’s challenging and not just bumping everyone’s health to make it harder?
Johnny: Our encounter designers that focus on making raid bosses, making dungeon bosses, they’re always looking for interesting methods to throw players’ way and our community’s skill has really risen over the years and so there’s really these smart people running the dungeons, and a lot of smart people making them.
So in terms of finding new ways to have difficulty, obviously we’re always looking- we’re looking at those mechanics, looking for ways to have things players haven’t seen before and also, I think its exciting for Tazavesh, as its become kind of a marquee thing we do for our Mega Dungeons, theres some hard modes that players can discover how to activate.
So if you’re a player that’s really looking for that extra challenge outside of the health and damage increases you can expect, theres some really interesting stuff much in the way you might have seen in the Mechagon dungeon, things that activate new mechanics and new ways of interacting with the bosses that you might not normally do.
Q: With Flying in Shadowlands being locked behind a covenant story quest, could you talk about making it so the quest itself is enjoyable, but also not too in your face for people who just want to get their hands on flying.
Frank: It’s a fairly quick unlock in terms of how soon players will be able to fly, they have to get to Renown level 43. Most players who’ve been playing the game for a long time and players who can catch up very quickly will be able to get there in a reasonable amount of time. I thin kthe second week is when those players will be hitting that and then you merely need to complete a quest in the covenant campaign and Johnny can probably talk about how fun that quest is.
Johnny: I think it’s awesome, as the lead quest designer. I think my team has been working very hard to make sure that quest is appropriately epic and feels like a really rewarding moment. We’ve heard a lot of feedback in the community that at the end of the day we’ve tried different approaches over time with pathfinding and we’ve listened to the community and think hey maybe this is a little too much and we agreed that that felt like too much in Shadowlands.
The really simple version, how do I unlock flying in Shadowlands? Just play the story. If you play the story we have much more aggressive renown catchup than we did in base release, so you’ll catch up really quickly. You can basically just do the story quest and you’ll kind of get along and you’ll get flying before you know it, its really easy.
Q: Are We Likely To See A Return of Battle Pets Related Quests?
Johnny: Yeah we’re always looking for different opportunities to tell stories using all types of different systems. You may remember the Wailing Caverns experience that you can do that is kind of telling of Pet Battles as a Story.
In Chains of Domination that’s not the focus- it doesn’t feel like an especially pet battles focused patch right? The Jailer’s domain is decidedly hostile to our little friends. But again, we’re just looking for stories and there’s certainly pet battle things to do. But if you’re the kind of person that wants to explore different nooks and crannies there’s certainly other things that you can venture off and do. We talked about the Archivists Codex, theres also daily quests that take you around Korthia, kinda different members of the covenants who visit the space and offer you different things and while theres not a pet battle focus there they are talking about different stories that they’re uncovering or relics they’re chasing after, you know giving us the covenant perspective because even if you’re a member of the Kyrian, right, you probably haven’t interacted with the Necrolord covenants in quite some time, like the actual characters.
So this gives you a cool opportunity to get those story perspectives and that felt like the right way to focus on the story that Korthia had to tell us.
I definitely hear you on the Pet Battle system, its something we talk about on the team all the time. I was actually involved in making the original Pet Battle system earlier in my career so it’s really cool to see people enjoy Pet Battles.
Q: Could you talk a bit about what fans can look forward to with PvP Season 2?
Frank: The biggest impact is gonna be the new PvP talents. Things like the Warlock portal that can change the phase of where everyone is on the battlefield. We also have abilities like the mage ice ball that can change where players can be at in the arena, or whenever they can use their PvP talents.
In terms of season 2, you know. It’s gonna have all of the old standbys so it’s gonna be able to earn honor and Conquest and get new upgrades to pursue. There’ll be new rewards, new mounts to pursue.
So there’s a lot new players are gonna say they’ll love about PvP seasons, and it’s an opportunity for it to get refreshed with Chains of DOmination
Q: Are there any plans to buff professions or make them more relevant?
Johnny: We’re always looking at new aspects of the game and trying to evaluate where can we make this thing cooler. And that goes all the way from those dungeon and raid mechanics we talked about earlier to new stories we can tell, new characters we create for professions too- new things we can have players craft , new ways they can integrate with the system.
Sometimes we try new things, sometimes they’re for specific expansions like the scrapper in Battle for Azeroth, and sometimes we rely on the things we’ve done before. So in terms of Chains of Domination, the new profession stuff, theres certainly stuff to chase within the new content release, but in terms of major changes to the way Professions weork we’re not changing anyhthing right now. But we certainly always appreaciate the feedback and the ideas you have on cool things you’d like to see.
One thing that’s in a similar vein to that as far as customizing your character and customizing your gear is that theres a couple new things on the more systemic side. For your Covenant, we have new Soulbind rows. There’s 4 new rows that players can unlock as you proceed through the new renown levels. With a couple new traits and the new conduit slots, some of which are actually empowered conduit slots. You can actually put an existing conduit there and have it be more powerful than it would have been otherwise.
Also on the customization front there’s these new Domination sockets, they’re especially themed around the Sanctum of Domination raid. They’re kinda Deathknight-themed, so you can get these Frost or Holy or Blood Gem type of things, these Domination runes that you can get into your gear and if you get 3 of the same type you get kind of a powerful mini set bonus, that is especially useful within the sanctum of domination raid.
So those are some of the special ways while they’re not explicitly professions that have some of the same felel as what you might see from Jewel Crafting and things like that in terms of customizing your character a bit more.
Thanks to Johnny and Frank for agreeing to talk to us, as well as Blizzard for setting up the interview. Chains of Domination is available June 29th in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, so make sure to check it out if you want to see the cool features Johnny and Frank talked about here.