Blizzard secretly made a battle royale game inside World of Warcraft to 'break the rules' it's had for 20 years

A World of Warcraft Orc and Night Elf battle in pirate outfits
(Image credit: Blizzard)

Today's announcement of Warcraft's next patch event, 10.2.6's pirate-themed "Plunderstorm," marks a number of firsts for the venerable massively multiplayer RPG. It will launch today with no player testing, and includes a wild 60-player battle royale mode.

Not only is this the first time this mode will appear in Warcraft, it's not on standard servers or using existing characters—players will choose between their normal servers and the Plunderstorm event when they log into the modern Warcraft client. Its rewards will include a parrot mount and crab pet available to both modern and Classic players, dual-mode rewards that are also a first for the games. (Classic players will need to download the modern client to play, but do not need to own Dragonflight.)

The Spellbreak influence is clear on this new game mode–in the screenshots we've seen, some of the spell-pickup mechanics look remarkably similar to the now-dead battle royale developed by Proletariat. Blizzard acquired the studio in 2022, and most of the team's members were absorbed into the Warcraft team. 

I spoke with Blizzard's lead software engineer Orlando Salvatore, whose LinkedIn page notes that he works for the "Experimental Gameplay team", and lead producer Ray Bartos about the new mode, which is a huge gameplay addition for a typically-tiny late-expansion patch.

Blizzard was inspired by the most recent Season of Discovery spin-off of WoW Classic, Salvatore said, in making the new battle royale mode a secret. Developers compensated for the lack of public testing by conducting wild in-house trials.

"All of Blizzard have banded together to participate in play tests and give feedback," he said.

"We are really focused on trying to break the rules. We really want to give players something that's super exciting, especially experimental, before The War Within launches," Salvatore said, referring to WoW's next expansion due later this year. "Once that launches, the big focus is going to be on that expansion."

The War Within release date speculation

World of Warcraft void elf character Xal'atath looking intently in a close up

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Season 4 will launch several weeks into patch 10.2.6, which fits it into a larger timeline of updates that helped me narrow down a potential release date for The War Within. 

The team will be watching players’ reactions to the event closely, Salvatore said. "If people are going to social media or creating forum posts about how excited they are about the abilities within Plunderstorm, this could totally be something that we look to bring to the game in the future."

"One of the cool parts about what we're doing with Plunderstorm is, because it's separate, we can do wacky new things that you wouldn't normally see in Dragonflight, Classic or any other flavor of WoW," Salvatore said. "Some of those things will break.”

"Imagine adding no fall damage to WoW. It'd be very different, and difficult, to add that. It would break a lot of the traversing and rules that exist in the game. But here we can do that."

How Plunderstorm works 

(Image credit: Blizzard)

He mentioned an ability that will allow you to ambush other players that literally turns you into a bush that you jump out of.

When you log into the modern WoW client, you'll see the Plunderstorm logo alongside the regular Warcraft logo in the upper left side of your screen. If you choose the Plunderstorm logo, you'll log in to an entirely new game environment, with a different user interface.

When the match begins, you'll find yourself on a parrot headed to a new pirate encampment in the far southeast corner of the Arathi Highlands zone. When you land, you'll receive a quest from the pirate Keg Leg–maybe to kill a certain number of monsters, or collect a certain amount of spells–then you're off.

You won't have any talents, and you'll pick up your abilities from ground spawn items. Those abilities are typically loosely based on Warcraft abilities, whether basic kit, talents, or past legendary/Covenant spells. Amusingly, you can mix and match as you like, so you could finally be that battle mage you always dreamed of. There is no such thing as auto attack, just triggered abilities. Everyone has the ability to double jump, and there is no such thing as fall damage.

If you're in duos mode with a friend and they die, you'll use the basic Healing Keg ability you're given at match start and stand in that zone to resurrect them, Bartos said.

"We've tried to break the rules of what WoW's combat is," Salvatore said. Abilities are intended to keep more-advanced players entertained, while remaining simple enough for newer or more casual players to jump in easily, Bartos said.

Some are just plain fun. He mentioned an ability that will allow you to ambush other players that literally turns you into a bush that you jump out of.

If you kill monsters, they drop gold piles Diablo-style, which you collect by running over them. That currency is called Plunder, and over time it adds up to progress toward Renown with Keg Leg, the Dragonflight-style reputation. At each one of the 40 Renown levels, you'll get some new automatically-awarded reward, with no need to visit a vendor. You'll get plunder by defeating monsters, defeating other players, completing the quest, opening chests and winning the match.

Loot, glorious loot

(Image credit: Blizzard)

The last man or woman standing wins. There are two rewards exclusively for match winners: a tabard and eyepatch. All the other rewards are available for Renown levels alone.

In addition to the mounts and pets, there is a new Pepe shoulder-sitting bird appearance for modern players, weapon transmogs, and a complete Keg Leg pirate ensemble transmog armor set.

Each Renown level takes 2,500 plunder. Each match should last 5-8 minutes, and most matches will award players about 500 plunder, they said. You can complete one quest per match, with no limit.

"You don't need it do it all in one sitting," Salvatore said. "We don't want this to feel like you're required to play every single day for the six weeks that this is active."

The developers are expecting that casual players will require a couple of weeks of non-obsessive play to get all the rewards.

"This is a monumental undertaking for this experiment," Bartos said. "We are charting new ground."