WoW's 7.3 update cuts flying mounts to encourage exploration, says game director

World of Warcraft: Legion's final major update, number 7.3, is now live having teased the battle for Argus at last week's Gamescom. While attending the conference in Cologne, I sat down with game director Ion Hazzikostas and asked why WoW's 7.2 update introduced flying mounts before the latest instalment dropped them.

"The bulk of the expansion [7.2] is set in the Broken Isles and we have this structure where players, once they've mastered that space [and] accomplished what there was to do, they could earn the right to fly—we're very happy with how that's worked out," Hazziokostas tells me. "Argus is a little bit different. I think it fits more of a mould of end-game zones that we've had going back to the Isle of Quel'Danas back in Burning Crusade when flying was first introduced—that in-game island, you couldn't fly there. Part of that thinking is creating a sense of danger and having players grapple with exploring the space from the ground, and Argus is a very dangerous world. 

"We don't want travel to be inconvenient and so you'll be able to unlock this teleportation network through the use of your ship as you explore Argus. In many ways getting around will be faster than ever—you just interact with one of the beacons and instantly teleport to the other beacon nodes you've unlocked, rather than having to get on a flight path and wait for it to go all the way there."

Speaking to the core difference of WoW's latest update and its predecessor, I ask Hazziokostas about how 7.2's reception shaped its approach to 7.3—considering the fact the former relied on time-gated features and had less in the way of story.  

"We definitely learned some lessons from 7.2. In 7.2 there actually was a lot of story, the problem was it was a very class-based patch, and the story of 7.2 was the 12 classes—the rogues, the warriors, the mages, etc.—coming together," says Hazziokostas. "Each class had their own little storyline which meant that the content we made in that patch was literally split into 12. It was also a little bit [time-gated]. Any individual player only saw a piece of the whole, which meant that while there was a big whole, it didn't necessarily seem that way. This has meant we're definitely sensitive to that perception. 

"We've came out in 7.3 that we have a central storyline, and have also made sure there's a tonne to do right away on day one so that no one has any risk of feeling underwhelmed. I think 7.2, once you're a little ways in, people are generally satisfied with it, but the first few weeks were a bit bumpy. There was a sense of: why can't I do more?"

Thinking to the future, I ask Hazziokostas about community speculation on what might feature in forthcoming expansions.  

"We've definitely seen some cool ideas. It's one of those things that we love," explains Hazziokostas. "Every time it gets to around about expansion season everyone has their leaks that come up with, and sometimes there's like ten different leaks that say different things and none of them are really leaks. It's fun seeing the enthusiasm, it's actually cool getting a vague sense of: oh, players seem excited about this or that, even if that's something that remains in the back of our minds when we're planning future expansions. 

"There are at least a couple of things in some of the speculations that I've seen that are true, but that's almost inevitable."  

Joe's conversation with Ion Hazzikostas was conducted in person at Gamescom, with the majority of interview questions provided by Steven "Mr MMO" Messner.