Last week, the massive Thunder King update stormed across Pandaria and the World of Warcraft servers, bringing a new raid, daily quests, gear, and a questing island area using a server-wide content unlocking system. The patch marks the 16th major update for the reigning champ of the MMO genre and its nearly eight years of activity. After a prolonged focus on balances and the endless content churn, Blizzard Lead Systems Designer Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street feels (via IGN ) the patch is a return to the sense of wonder and danger of Azeroth's early years.
"Since Cataclysm, we felt like we'd lost our way a little bit," he says. "We had some really epic quests and we've told some great stories, but the second-to-second combat out in the field wasn't as interesting. So we made an effort with the launch of Pandaria and we redoubled it with this most recent patch to make a lot of cool stuff for players to do out in the world. We still have great dungeons and other instance content, but we also just have fun things to do out in the world with your friends."
The new questing zone, the Isle of Thunder, recalls the faction-wide events of old—such as the gate-opening ceremony for the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj—by unlocking one time as the Horde or Alliance progresses deeper into the island after establishing a beachhead. It's ripe for hotspots of open-world PVP—another pined-for memory from classic Warcraft—especially because of the zone's interesting no-fly restriction.
Street explains it's all an intentional throwback to the game's roots. "Somewhere along the way, we'd lost the sense that being outdoors in the world was kind of a dangerous thing," he says. "Walking around and fighting mobs is basically the heart of World of Warcraft, and we had lost a little bit of that and wanted to make it fun again."
"It's great to give ex-players a reason to come back and try it again, and appealing to their nostalgia is a good way of doing that," he adds.
For those enjoying the Thunder King's good graces, what do you think of the new island? Is it a valid return to the Warcraft of yore?