World of Warcraft Classic has been out for just over a month, and in that time many of its most hardcore players have hit level 60 and cleared Molten Core and Onyxia, the two endgame raids. Since well before launch Blizzard has said that Classic's new dungeons, raids, and PVP features would be released in six main phases, but until now hasn't indicated when those updates will arrive. In an interview with game director Ion Hazzikostas, which will appear in full on the site early next week, I got a partial answer on when to expect phase 2: This year.
"I think it's a matter of later this year, I think we can say definitively," Hazzikostas told me. "Within that timeframe? It's going to depend on a few factors."
One of the biggest hurdles to phase 2's launch is "layering," the new system that helped WoW Classic survive the storm of players who rushed the servers on day one. With layering, a given server could handle many times the normal number of players by breaking them into different copies of the same world, spreading out the population so everyone wasn't in the same area at the same time.
"Without layering, we simply would not have been able to accommodate anywhere close to the number of players we have on our servers," Hazzikostas explained. "And with some of the natural attrition that we've seen, we would've had a number of servers right now that are underpopulated. Instead we had servers that were, due to layering, effectively massively overpopulated even with login queues, during the first couple of weeks, that have now stabilized at large, healthy populations that can endure for the months and years to come."
But layering was never going to be long-term. Hazzikostas explains that one of the new features coming in phase 2 is world bosses like Kazzak and Azuregos. The point of these bosses is that there should be only one version of them up at a time. Layering would make it easier to repeatedly farm these enemies for loot.
"When Kazzak is up, we only want one Kazzak," Hazzikostas said. "That's kind of a central dynamic of how that needs to play out in the outdoor world."
The good news is that the process of retiring layering is only "a matter of weeks at this point," Hazzikostas said. Earlier today, community manager Kaivax posted on the Classic forums saying that most populated servers were already down to just two layers and 13 were permanently locked in at just one layer. The benefit of that is also that capital cities, which at launch often felt like ghost towns because everyone was spread out across layers, now feel like bustling social centers.
Once every server is down to one layer, phase 2 will be much closer to launching. That's good news for everyone: Phase 2 adds powerful new world bosses to fight over, in addition to the Dire Maul dungeon (which will undoubtedly spark a bloody new chapter in Classic's silliest ongoing argument) for veterans. But even players who aren't max level yet will still have something to look forward to with the new Honor system, which rewards (or punishes) killing enemy players.
This news about layering and phase 2's launch is just one part of my interview about World of Warcraft Classic. Check back next week for the full story.