Panda-ing to the hardcore: Blizzard’s Greg Street on Mists of Pandaria’s difficulty levels

Mists of Pandaria -- Pandaren Monk Striking Target Dummy

In World of Warcraft, balance is king. With such a huge userbase, it's essential to ensure noobs are able to play the game without feeling frustrated. At the same time hardcore players need a tooth-grindingly tough experience.

We caught up with World of Warcraft's lead systems designer, Greg Street at Blizzcon. He admits that most recent expansion Cataclysm got it a bit wrong. “In Wrath of the Lich King we heard from our players that the PvE content was too easy,” says Street. “So we were like okay, clearly what we need to do is make the PvE content harder, which we did for Cataclysm and then players told us 'it's too hard, I can't handle it!'”

Blizzard's solution in Mists of Pandaria is to introduce varying difficulty levels for different players. “Halo had like five difficulty levels, Civilisation had eight or something,” says Street. But Pandaria won't introduce set difficulty levels per se, instead delivering a range of experiences within Pandaria's world. “On the hard end we want it to be at the hard end of Cataclysm, but then on the easier end we want it to be on the level of Lich King.”

How do you apply difficulty levels to such a varied game? By setting fire to players. “On a harder boss we might say 'if you stand in the fire you will die, you cannot stand in the fire'” says Street. “On easier difficulty levels we might make it so you can stand in there for a while and with enough healing you can maybe just ignore it completely and stand in there, or you have enough time for someone to say, 'Hey dude, you really should get out of that.'”

In addition, Pandaria will feature a new “challenge mode”, where dungeons become competitive arenas. According to Street, the wider audience of players aren't interested in multiple attempts at taking a boss down. "They just want to kill the boss, and for them that's kind of the end of the story for their character and they're totally happy for that. It was really a very different experience from the traditional raiding model and so we're trying to offer something for both groups of players."