WoW Wrath of the Lich King Classic: Back to Northrend

WoW Wrath of the Lich King Classic: Back to Northrend 1

This week marks the launch of another WoW Classic expansion, Wrath of the Lich King Classic. Players can go back to Northrend and face off in PvP in Wintergrasp, or fight the Lich King himself at the Icecrown Citadel. About a month short of the original WotLK’s 14th anniversary, players can head back into one of the most popular WoW expansions to date with all the nostalgia WoW Classic brings to the table.

Before WoW Wrath of the Lich King Classic servers go live this Monday, a pre-patch is available. Head in and create your Death Knight now, ahead of the September 26th launch. Get ready to dive back into Naxxramas, Icecrown Citadel, Ulduar and more. Make sure to make friends along the way and find some in the new Dungeon Finder or hang out at the Barbershop. With these new additions and adjustments, the team at Blizzard seem more excited than ever to bring WotLK Classic to life.

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WoW Classic servers started in 2019 with a focus on bringing World of Warcraft back to the basics, with the original WoW Classic, followed by Burning Crusade Classic in 2021. CGMagazine got the chance to celebrate the WoW Wrath of the Lich King Classic launch by talking with the team bringing the popular MMO Clay Stone and Kevin Vigue before the WoW Classic servers go live.

Clay Stone: I’m Clay Stone. I’m the Associate Production Director on WoW Classic. Essentially, I oversee the development of WoW Classic, the team, our production efforts. I’ve been with Blizzard for a little over two years. 

Kevin Vigue: My name is Kevin Vigue. I am a senior software developer on WoW Classic. I joined the team around four and a half years ago—that’s right when the original 2019 release of Classic was spinning up development. I’ve been on the team ever since working on that, the Burning Crusade Classic, and now the Wrath [of the Lich King] Classic

CGMagazine: Let’s talk about what players can expect from WoW. Wrath of the Lich King Classic.

Kevin Vigue: Our motto on the Classic team is: we’re bringing back the games that players love and the expansions they remember. Everything that you remember from Wrath of Lich King the first time around, we’re hoping to recreate with this version. That includes a brand-new class, which is the Death Knight. 

It was the first class that was ever added to World of Warcraft back in 2008. They have a unique resource system called runes, which our players might remember. There are different types of runes: There’s blood, frost, and holy and each spell consumes these runes. That’s something we’re bringing back. We’re bringing back rune forging for Death Knights, bringing back their unique intro experience where you’re initially under the thrall of the Lich King.

So lots to look forward to with the Death Knight class. One change from 14 years ago, when we released the Death Knights the first time originally, we required you to already have a level 55 character in order to create your first Death Knight because they started at a higher level.

This time around, we know that if a player is coming into the game, and they know that Death Knight is the class that resonates with them, or maybe they’re coming into [WoW] Wrath of Lich King Classic, they’re like, “This is my expansion. I know I want to be a Death Knight”, we’re going to let you make a Death Knight without any other character restriction. So you can make one Death Knight as your first character if you want to. 

We also have the continent of Northrend for high-level players to go to. They’re going to have all 12 dungeons, three new raids at launch, and then a redo of Naxxramas as well. That’s coming a week after the actual Wrath launch, I believe. On top of that, there’s also all the systems that were added in [WoW] Wrath of Lich King that we’re bringing back as well. That includes things like achievements, dual spec, the Barbershop, so there’s lots to look forward to in this expansion.

Wow Wrath Of The Lich King Classic: Northrend Here We Come

CGMagazine: For people that might have already played Wrath (WotLK) back in the day, how will the experience be different if they’re jumping into WoW Wrath of the Lich King Classic?

Kevin Vigue: The experience will mostly be the same. The class design is still the same, class resources are still the same. The most important thing that we tried to preserve from the original game [WotLK] is the gameplay, the combat and the class design, because we know that’s how players interact with the world and what they remember their character was capable of doing back then. We want them to be able to do all those same things. 

We have to pick one version of the Death Knight to release, though, and one version of all the classes to release, because the Death Knight in particular underwent a lot of different class and balance changes over the course of the original two years that [World of Warcraft] Wrath of Lich King was out. 

So similar to what we did with Classic and then Burning Crusade Classic afterward, we’re pulling that data from the last patch of [WoW] Wrath of Lich King, which was Patch 3.3.5.  Original WotLK players will remember the launch Death Knight as being an absolute behemoth of a class that players had access to, and it was for everyone’s sanity—in terms of making a more balanced game—we decided to go with the final version of Death Knight which is still really cool.

CGMagazine: Why do you think WoW Classic has caught on as it did?  Why do you think so many people are playing WoW Classic compared to playing just the standard World of Warcraft as it is now? 

Clay Stone: That’s a great question. I think back when we originally launched WoW Classic, there was clearly a desire from the player base to return to this moment in time, back when the original WoW was released, that just had different mechanics, different sensibilities. The way that the game was constructed was different, obviously, than how it currently is in the mainline retail version of the game. 

Different balancing is simpler but more complex depending on the way that you look at it, and I think that we’ve just seen that progress through Burning Crusade to really return, not just for the nostalgia but also to the way that the game was designed back then. When we look at Wrath [of the Lich King] Classic, some people consider this to be the pinnacle of that progression of those classic sensibilities and fine-tuning them to the point of near perfection. I think that’s why we’ve seen so much interest particularly in this expansion, in the pre-patch, and in the lead up to it.

Kevin Vigue: I’ll say also that I was on the Classic development fairly early in its lifetime and was listening to those initial conversations. The goal with Classic has always been not to make something that players like to say: “Oh, I like this version of WoW, I like that version of WoW.” The goal has always been to offer multiple versions of World of Warcraft,. I play both versions of WoW as well, and I will choose between them depending on who I’m playing with or what sort of mood I’m in. 

I like to say that Shadowlands is my game, where I try a bit harder and I’m like pushing the high mythic plus keys, and I’m doing Rated Battlegrounds, and I’m raiding. I’m really trying to get into the gameplay and show off my skills with my class. In Classic something is very different to me. It’s more of my cup of tea on a lazy Sunday morning sort of game.  Me and my boyfriend will go in like, “Let’s go explore. Let’s go read quest text, Let’s soak in these RPG elements, let’s make some friends along the way.” 

There’s those social elements that people remember from Classic WoW as well, where if you’re going into a dungeon you have to kind of form up the group, all get together, find your way into the dungeon together. There’s that social element that’s very present. Personally, as a player, speaking for myself, I see huge wins in both versions of WoW. They’re just different games. 

There’s no one game or one game design that is better than all others have. If so, someone would have made that game already and taken over the world. Instead, if we can offer two things that appeal to two different types of players, or appeal to the same player, depending on their mood or what they’re looking for at that particular date, that’s awesome.

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CGMagazine: What challenges did the team face when adapting a game or an expansion from 2008, for an audience that is based in 2022? Were there any issues or changes that had to be made to make that all work?

Kevin Vigue: There are probably a few here and there. Wintergrasp is one that comes to mind. Wintergrasp in the original Wrath of the Lich King was a PvP zone right in the middle of Northrend. The Alliance and Horde every few hours would stage a big battle in Wintergrasp that the entire server potentially could show up to, and then there were limits on how many people could actually get in. Everyone would show up in battle to control Wintergrasp for their faction. If they control Wintergrasp, they’ll get access to Vault of Archavon which is a raid that drops pretty lucrative loot. 

So that was a bit of a challenge when we looked at what our population dynamics were with the current [WoW] Classic for a few reasons. One is that our servers per server, have way more players than were on a server back in the original Wrath of Lich King. That means that even if we can support 120 versus 120 players, that’s only 240 in total. That’s only a fraction of the server that’s actually able to get into that Wintergrasp battle, and battle for their side. 

Another issue is that, in order to support the entire population system that has higher populations, we created a brand-new system called layers, where we actually create multiple versions of the world that are completely internally consistent, but you’re in one layer or the other, so we don’t overload one particular zone. Which then, with Wintergrasp, brings up the questions of: Is there going to be one Wintergrasp per layer? Is there going to be one Wintergrasp with the entire server, and you have to layer transfer from one layer over to that Wintergrasp? It gets really confusing. 

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Players are also more organized, let’s say, in the modern day, than they were back in the original Wrath of Lich King. One thing that means is we have some servers that are also relatively dominated by just one faction or the other, because players are using out of game communities to decide where they’re going to roll to be with their friends and be on a server that’s all about their faction. That wouldn’t be a great experience if the underdog faction could never access Vault of Archavon. 

With all that in mind, we decided to do a fairly large rebuild of Wintergrasp and turn it into something more similar to other battlegrounds. So you’ll still only be able to access it once every three hours, but when that timer is up, the queue will open, you’ll be able to queue into Wintergrasp to be matched with players all across your region. Then, if any player on your server wins Wintergrasp and you return to your home server, you’ll unlock Vault of Archavon for your faction. That also means that both the Alliance and the Horde can control Wintergrasp.

We solve that with a new technology that was in the original Wrath of the Lich King, actually called phasing, where we can show different versions of the world based on different state variables. So Alliance players, if they control Wintergrasp, will see just the Alliance going in and Horde will see just the Horde going in.

Clay Stone: I could also add to that too. There are some things that we looked at the mainline version of the game [World of Warcraft] and we thought, “Okay, well, what are some things that players are really enjoying or that just makes sense in this day and age that we could bring into Wrath“, and one of those areas is our Barbershop, previously in the original version of Wrath of Lich King.

It was much closer to an actual barbershop. You can change your hairstyle, but now we’re going to be allowing players to change things like body type, along with hairstyles, jewelry and skin colour. So there’s some more flexibility there on character creation as well, which expands on what it was originally.

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CGMagazine: On that same note, for someone that might have played Wrath way back in the day and dropped off World of Warcraft completely, what changes overall does WoW Classic bring to the experience? How true to the original formula is WoW Classic

Kevin Vigue: I would say it would hopefully feel like going back in a time machine. We when we built this game, we start with the original game data [World of Warcraft] to find things like: What are creatures stats? Where are they placed in the world? What is the map like? What are the items like? What are the spells like?

All that game data, and there’s hundreds more components that go into that. All that game data we put into our game [WoW Classic], then we are very careful with where and when we tweak that sort of thing. We’re trying to bring back all the old combat rules. We’re trying to bring back the old class designs. I would say it should hopefully feel like going through a time machine. 

CGMagazine: WoW Classic launched in 2019, and you’ve slowly been catching up to the expansions. Do you have a limit to how far you’ll go with the World of Warcraft expansions in WoW Classic, and how do you go beyond that, or do you have an endpoint in mind?

Clay Stone: This is a great question. It’s honestly something that’s come up a lot very recently for us. Wrath [WotLK], of course, is a beloved expansion and we’re thrilled by the players who are returning to it or even come into it for the first time. But where do we go next? The truth is, this is something that we’re really looking toward, the community to help us answer. What do players want to do with their characters after they’ve conquered Icecrown Citadel? Where do they want to go from there? 

In the past, we’ve released Season of Mastery, so something like that is certainly on the table. Progressing to the next expansion is certainly something that’s on the table too. But even then, if we were to look at, let’s say, Cataclysm. There are some of the changes we’ve already discussed about Wrath and I think we would view Cataclysm through the same lens. So how would we want to recreate Cataclysm? Again, it really all comes back to our players. We’re putting the players at the forefront of everything we do, and it’s an ongoing conversation that we’re having both internally and with them.

Kevin Vigue: Whatever it is that we offer after Wrath [of the Lich King Classic], we do want to offer it through that Classic lens, because we’re giving you two MMOs that you can play for one subscription price, right? Ideally, we want them to be different experiences that deal with different people.

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Icecrown Citadel Concept Art by Peter Lee

CGMagazine: If you do decide to continue following the expansions, how will you ensure WoW Classic is a unique experience compared to well the original World of Warcraft expansions?

Kevin Vigue: I mean, that’s our job, right, to figure out the answer to that question. We talk a lot about what are the things that make Classic, Classic? We also came back to the game [World of Warcraft] when it was re-released in 2019, what are those things that made us go “Oh wow, I missed this. I forgot that it worked this way.”  What are those really cool moments? 

One of the things that we will be protective over all others is the social systems. Gaming evolved a lot between 2004 and 2022. What we saw with Classic is that the way that people build friendships is influenced by the design of the game they’re playing. So, as the most obvious example, when people right now are in Classic, they play on a specific server. What that leads to is different server communities that have different personalities, forming over time. You start to see the same people in the world more frequently. You start to see people doing the same things. 

If you’re fighting a mob or fighting a creature and then someone comes along and saves you at the last second, and you keep questing in the zone after you give them a little buff back. Then you’re both questing through the zone, and you’ll probably see each other again. That’s a really cool moment, actually, where you can say, “Hey, that’s the person who saved me, maybe I can help them out as well.” And that’s a bit of the magic of Classic, I think that we remember from that older era of gaming, but still holds that same magic today. 

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What we’ve seen bringing [WoW] Classic back is that wasn’t just a product of its time. That’s also a product of how we designed the game. To the end, one of the big changes that we’re planning for Wrath [of the Lich King Classic] is that in the last patch of Wrath of the Lich King, there was a looking for dungeon system that was introduced.

That was the system where you could select your roles, hit “find meeting group”, wait a few minutes in the queue and then it would throw you into a dungeon group with random people from different servers and teleport you to the dungeon and you would fight your way through that. 

That’s a system that we’ve talked about a lot, because it does break down that sort of social stickiness where you’re choosing your friends because you’re like, “Oh yeah, let me add you to my friends list because I’m going to need a healer for a dungeon I run later in the day, maybe”, or “You’ve been a great partner so far I’ll add you to my friends list so that we can group up again later”.Those are the sorts of experiences that have been happening for the last few years in Classic

There are the sorts of experiences that our current player base have re-fallen in love with, or fallen in love with for the first time. That’s something we want to preserve going forward. To that end, we have a brand-new group finder, because we want to still make it easy for you to find groups with a newly built UI that you can use to easily find groups, but it doesn’t automatically put you together. That’s where we drew the line, where we want to enable people to group up, but we still want to keep some of that Classic spirit to it.

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CGMagazine: This question is for both of you. What kind of player reactions are you hoping to see when WoW Wrath of the Lich King Classic launches?

Kevin Vigue: The pre patch is out right now, and we’ve already heard a lot of great things. Players are able to level their Death Knights right now. I think that hopefully going through the Death Knight experience and seeing that kind of class in its original inception come back to life has been really cool. A lot of people had been achievement hunting with their all their new talents and stuff like that and seeing that’s really cool. 

But what I’m most excited about is just when people get to Northrend for the first time, because it’s such a cool continent. This actually happened to me when we had our first play tests: I normally play Horde. I actually always play Horde. But, much to my chagrin, the team was doing an Alliance play test on our first go and I was like: “Fine, I’ll play Alliance.”

I’m actually glad I did, because I went to Howling Fjord, which is one of the starting zones, and there’s this awesome intro where you’re on a boat that’s going into Howling Fjord. There are these huge cliffs on both sides of your boat as you’re going through this valley and then eventually opens up to this even larger ramp, Icecrown Citadel. 

It just puts into perspective what your journey through Northrend is going to be like, as you’re going through this huge continent, working your way up these mountains into the final zones where you confront the Lich King and Icecrown. It feels like going back there and being on the ground again doing those quests. It brought me back to that very first time I was in Northrend. That sense of scale and that sense of adventure I had along the way. So I’m really excited to see players in Northrend and getting to see that awesome.

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Clay Stone: Gosh, I don’t know what to add to that. That was an incredible experience. I think for myself I did not get to play Wrath [of the Lich King] when it originally launched. I had to come to it after. So the different patches had already been released. Most of the content was there. So I’m really excited to get to experience it from day one, from the start, with all these players that are going to be coming in. It’s been great to be able to do that in the pre-patch as well, with the zombie plague, the Scourge Invasion. 

For me, even though I’ve seen the content before, it feels like it’s going to be a brand-new experience.  I think that’s probably true for players who have never made it to the game, and then, obviously, all the players who haven’t played it since its original launch back in 2008. It really feels like this grand journey and this grand adventure that you’re embarking on, kind of like what like Kevin said. I’m just excited for players to get to experience that. These are some of the most epic zones Blizzard has ever created, and to just be able to put that in the the forefront again, I think it’s it’s awesome.

CGMagazine: Thank you so much, both of you—I know a lot of our team are excited for this release as well. 

Kevin Vigue: Great. We’re excited that they’re excited, so we’re excited as well. It’s excitement all around.

Wow Wrath Of The Lich King Classic: A Look At The Process

The WotLK Classic pre-patch is already live, so players can begin building their Death Knights now, before the new addition to WoW Classic goes live on Monday, September 26, 2022.

What time do WoW Wrath of the Lich King Classic servers go live?

  • Americas (PDT) Sept 26th, 3pm
  • Europe (CEST) Sept 27th, 12:00am
  • Taiwan (CST) Sept 27th, 6:00am
  • Korea (KST) Sept 27th, 7:00am
  • ANZ (AEST) Sept 27th, 8:00am
  • UTC: Sept 26th, 10:00pm

Here are some other events coming to World of Warcraft, directly from Blizzard:

  • September 26
    • Wrath of the Lich King Classic Launches: At 3:00 p.m. PDT, Wrath of the Lich King Classic will launch, and players are welcome to log in.
  • October 4 and 5
    • Arena Season 5 Begins: Season 5 will begin with the weekly reset.
  • October 6
    • Naxxramas, The Eye of Eternity, and The Obsidian Sanctum are Available at 3:00 p.m. PDT
      • Naxxramas, the giant Necropolis and the seat of the dreaded lich Kel’Thuzad, floats over Wintergarde Keep in Dragonblight, eager to aid the Lich King and his deadly machinations.
      • Located in the center of Coldarra, the Eye of Eternity will challenge players to defeat the blue dragon aspect, Malygos.
      • Dragonblight is home to the Obsidian Sanctum where players must venture below Wyrmrest Temple to bring an end to Sartharion and his lieutenants, Shadron, Tenebron, and Vesperon.

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