We had a chance to sit down with World of Warcraft's Senior Game Producer, John Lagrave, at this year's BlizzCon to talk about what Blizzard wants to do with PvP in Mists of Pandaria. And they've got some big plans to bring back the memorable chaos of huge open-world fights and group ganking alongside the ultra-serene Pandaren race.
PCG: Having even a semi-neutral race is a big deal for World of Warcraft. Does that indicate any change of direction for PvP in the game?
John Lagrave: We had meetings prior to the launch of Cataclysm, talking about what we wanted to do with the next expansion. We started kicking around a lot of ideas... In lots of those meetings, [we asked ourselves,] "What's interesting about the panda? What do we want to try and do with that?" The idea of having a neutral race has been floated around [the development team] for quite awhile. We thought about the idea for many expansions. We talked about, "Well do we want to add a neutral race? Do we ever want you to choose [a side]? Do we want to leave the race neutral forever? What does it mean to leave them neutral?"
We went back from having Pandaren characters stay neutral. Let's go back to that notion of faction warfare. We do a lot of the "evil, great big nasty villain" thing, but Mists of Pandaren really returns back to what classic World of Warcraft was. It was all about "You're alliance or you're Horde and I can't stand you, I want to kill you." There was all the raiding and stuff to do in there as well, but PvP and world PvP was awesome. You were in Hillsbrad and suddenly the whole place lit up. You were like, "It's on. Its all on." Everybody is calling everyone in; people are flying in. It was great fun.
PCG: During his presentation at BlizzCon, Chris Metzen said that in Mists of Pandaria, "The enemy is war itself." That seems to indicate that the expansion will be about more calm or peaceful activities.
JL: It is really about Horde vs. Alliance. I think the calm before the storm is that you start off going through the starting area and then Pandaria itself. You're going to kill things and find out about the rest of the world and find out how it works. I think that's the calm: the leveling experience and the combat you're going to do before you get to the challenges of the rest of the game. Pandaria is pretty tranquil and peaceful. The vibe is pretty cool in that respect. Then once you are done with that leveling experience, it becomes all about that ganking.
JL: Well, yeah. We're pulling away from what we've done in the past two expansions with zone PvP like with Wintergrasp and Tol Barad. We're really going to focus a little more on what we think is awesome, which is spontaneous world PvP. It really is fun. We want to get players engaged and really outside cities themselves and doing more things in the world itself. That includes world PvP.
PCG: In the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, WoW went towards Wintergrasp style PvP because of how world PvP disrupted the early leveling process. Are you going back to world PvP because the benefit is worth the cost?
JL: I think we overestimated the damage. It certainly is disruptive. I remember my Rogue was in Undercity and I was doing something in the royal quarter. The Alliance rolled in and were killing everyone and I was like, "Oh man. I just want to drop off my quest. I'll stealth out and … Oh, now I'm dead."
So it is disruptive, there is no two ways about it. That said, it was also awesome. That is a very memorable experience for me. I don't remember much of leveling in Arathi Highlands as much as I remember the event of being ganked in the royal quarter.
It will be disruptive to some, but not to everybody. I think we can live with that.
PCG: Do you think the new outdoor monsters will promote a lot of PvP?
JL: Absolutely. One of the focuses is to get more folks out into the world itself. Whatever we decided to put out there, monsters or events, that will drive folks out of the safety of the city. People tend to hole up and wait for the queue to pop. It makes sense because that's the way the game works right now. It's awesome when you're a low level guy and get to see some dude in Tier 12 rolling through and you're like, "Holy crap. What is that? That is the most badass thing ever." That's a great thrill. I hope we do a lot more of that.
PCG: Pandarens can play as Horde or Alliance. Is there anything in the gameplay or lore that address the fact that Pandaren are killing their own kind in PvP?
JL: One of the questions people ask about the Pandaren is, "What about in PvP and battlegrounds?". What you really find out about PvP is that people really look at the tags and not many look at the silhouettes. They're not asking, "Is that a whatever and should I attack it?". In some cases, the silhouettes really are distinguishable like male taurens are easy to see, but really, in the thick of things, you are only looking at tags and the red names. We don't think it will be too confusing.
PCG: So pet battles are a fun twist on dueling PvP. How much time do you expect players to put into pet duels? Is this something a player could spend all their time on, or just toy with between raids?
JL: I think the idea is more between raids, downtime, and waiting for raids to start. Maybe waiting for the group to get back after a wipe. Hopping on for fifteen minutes and doing some pet battles. It is much more a side thing than it is an entire focus.
Now, there will be people that absolutely focus on getting all their pets and getting all their pets leveled up. We have a lot of pets in the game, over 100. If people enjoy it and want to spend the time on it then great! It's seen as another interesting activity for you to do. You as a player don't get specific benefits for leveling your pets: you don't gain more power. Your pet has a higher level but it doesn't matter, as a player. It won't affect you in PvP or raids. Just something awesome to do.