World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth and "Classic" Announced

Where does World of Warcraft go next, now that the Burning Legion has been defeated in the Legion expansion? Apparently, it goes back to its roots, to the times when Orcs fought Humans in an all-out war.

Without a clear release date as of yet, the Battle for Azeroth expansion will see the Horde and the Alliance fight things out on the filed of battle like in the good old days. Now, do I think that such a conflict is a bit too sudden? Yeah, especially considering that the previous open confrontation between WoW's rival factions had to be set up over the course of multiple expansions. And, do I think that at some point some cosmic horrors will enter the fray and become the focal point of the expansion? Naturally.

Still, a promise of new places to explore, new levels to grind, and new battlefields to conquer might be just enough to get me back into the game for a month or two. Plus, as this is Blizzard Entertainment we're talking about, the announcement comes with a great new cinematic:

And then, there's a video overview of the expansion's features:

And if you're feeling particularly nostalgic, together with the new expansion, Blizzard has also announced that they'll be introducing official Classic servers into the mix at some point in the future. And that too, got a trailer:

You can read more about the upcoming expansion on the official website, or check out this press release:

IRVINE, Calif.—November 3, 2017—The battle against the Legion has left the world broken—but the shattered trust between the Alliance and the Horde could prove the hardest wound to mend. Blizzard Entertainment today unveiled plans for World of Warcraft®: Battle for Azeroth™, a new expansion to the company’s acclaimed massively multiplayer online role-playing game that will test players’ resolve as they champion their faction’s cause in a devastating new war.

In Battle for Azeroth, the fall of the Burning Legion has set off a series of disastrous incidents that reignites the furious rivalry between the noble Alliance and the mighty Horde. As a new age of warfare begins, Azeroth's heroes must set out on a harrowing journey in search of new allies, race to claim the world’s mightiest resources to turn the tides of war, and fight on several fronts to determine which side will lead Azeroth into its uncertain future.

"Conflict is at the heart of the Warcraft® saga, and in Battle for Azeroth, tensions that have been simmering for a long time escalate into all-out war,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “World of Warcraftplayers are incredibly passionate about the characters and factions they identify with in the game, and this expansion will make them prouder than ever to declare their allegiance to the Horde or to the Alliance."

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth includes new features and content that will put heroes’ dedication and fortitude to the test. In this expansion, players will be called upon to:
  • Explore Two Fabled Kingdoms: As a champion of the Horde, travel to the Zandalar empire to persuade the trolls to lend their naval might. As a defender of the Alliance, venture to the seafaring kingdom of Kul Tiras, home of Jaina Proudmoore, and rally its inhabitants to fight for your cause.
  • Recruit Allied Races: Take a new form for your adventures as several new playable Allied Races, each with unique racial abilities. Earn the favor of the Highmountain tauren, Void elves, Dark Iron dwarves, and others to create a new character of that race and add their strength to your faction.
  • Plunder the Islands of the Great Sea: Scour Azeroth’s myriad uncharted Islands and conquer an ever-changing array of enemies, environments, and objectives. Battle in groups of three as you race against cunning rival intruders—or enemy players—to collect each island’s resources and fuel the war effort.
  • Charge Into the Warfronts: Fight on the battlefields of a large-scale, 20-player cooperative Warfront to claim a key strategic location. Capture resources to build your faction’s forces, lead the charge as your troops lay siege to objectives, and fight the enemy commander to claim victory in this new PvE mode inspired by classic Warcraft RTS battles.
  • Infuse Your Armor with Titanic Might: Seek out Azerite, an invaluable new resource that has emerged in the Legion’s wake. Imbue the Heart of Azeroth—a legendary neck piece entrusted to each hero by Magni Bronzebeard—with Azerite to customize your armor with new powers and traits.
  • Battle to Level 120: Trace the corruption of the Blood God to the Underrot, unearth the secrets of a lost titan vault, escape from the Drust Realm of the Dead, and more as you quest through 10 new levels—then continue to grow in power through new World Quests, raids, dungeons, and more.
  • Instantly Boost to Level 110: Enter the raging conflict between the Horde and the Alliance prepared to survive on the front lines of a vicious new war.
  • Connect Through Communities: Join up with WoW® players who share common interests in persistent cross-realm Communities. Share strategies with members of your class, fraternize with auction house magnates, talk shop with fellow tailors, and expand your social circles.

And finally, if you'd like to know more about how the Classic servers wil work, both PC Gamer and Eurogamer have articles that cover just that. An excerpt from the former:

Back to Azeroth

Brack says that, as much as Blizzard has been aware of the desires of their community, until recently they just couldn’t see a way to make it happen. "The original problem was that we would have to run two MMOs," he says. "We would have to run Classic WoW, and then current WoW [at the same time]. Classic WoW and current WoW really don’t work the same way any more. Classic WoW has all kinds of bugs and problems, it has all kinds of exploits and hacks that everyone knows about. And in current WoW, we’d done an excellent job of reducing all of those problems, and we didn’t see how we could possibly run two MMOs like this."

The problem is one that goes much deeper than the surface, down to the very base-level programming and hardware that Vanilla World of Warcraft used in 2003. To run Classic servers, Blizzard would have to build an entirely separate server and client architecture different to the current version World of Warcraft uses today. It would mean running two separate, very large MMOs at the same time—a massive technical challenge. Their new solution is still challenging, but Brack says the team has made a breakthrough.

"We think we have a way to run the Classic servers on the modern technical infrastructure," Brack says. "The infrastructure is how we spin up instances and continents, how the database works. It’s those core fundamental pieces, and running two MMOs of that size is a daunting problem. But now we think we have a way to have the old WoW version work on the modern infrastructure and feel really good."

Brack is clear that using modern server architecture doesn’t mean that these Classic servers will have the same features that current World of Warcraft does. There won’t be cross-realm servers or Looking For Raid and Dungeon Finder automatic party matchmaking. There’s still a lot of questions about how the team will tackle it, but Brack says they’re committed to recreating an authentic Vanilla World of Warcraft experience. "One of the tenets of Classic WoW is none of the cross-server realms and different [server] sharding options that we have available to us today. There’s a lot of desire on part of the community that this is something that they don’t want."

This endeavour is being undertaken by an entirely separate team at Blizzard from the one working on World of Warcraft and its next expansion. That’s great news for players who don’t care about revisiting the past but are much more interested in Warcraft’s future. "We’re going to hire people specifically for this job, and we’re going to staff it with people who are interested in bringing back Classic WoW in the best, most authentic way," Brack says. "And that’s how we’ll be successful."

It’s a big project, which is why Blizzard isn’t committing to a deadline and keeping the specifics close to the chest. "What we’re announcing is actually extremely limited. We’re only saying that we’re doing it, that we’re committed to creating and releasing Classic servers. It’s a larger endeavor than people might imagine, but that we’re committed to doing it and we’re excited."

And the latter:

I'll get a couple of questions out of the way here, which I suspect you can't answer. When is WOW Classic going live?

J. Allen Brack: We don't know yet. Just like every Blizzard game.

And I suppose you're not ready to talk, in any detail, about how it'll work?

J. Allen Brack: Some of the reason for why we're not ready to talk about that is... we actually don't know yet. The important announcement today was: we're doing this. We've heard the community, we've heard our own internal teams, we've heard all the comments over the years. When it comes to the details, we don't know all of the answers just yet.

There's also the fact that now we've announced this, we might want to partner with the community on some of those answers. WOW changed a lot in the first two years, before The Burning Crusade came along, and so, how exactly should it work? Those are questions we need to talk about, for sure.

The unofficial servers were clearly a huge factor in Blizzard's decision to return to vanilla WOW. Am I right in thinking the Nostalrius team provided you with access to their build at some point?

J. Allen Brack: Yeah, they did. We did a dungeon run with some of the folks, it was an old school Scholomance run. It was interesting.

Anything jump out at you that you'd forgotten about old school World of Warcraft?

J. Allen Brack: Yeah, I'd forgotten that whenever you buffed one of your party members with Intellect, you had to actually sit down and drink after that. Then you stood up, buffed another party member with Intellect and then you had to drink again. It's a much slower pace. There's a lot of prep time.

It's an interesting part of human memories, right? I think we like to remember the good parts, but the bad parts sometimes go away over time.

Do you think there'll be a line to walk for the team, then? Somewhere between creating that authentic experience that people have asked for, while also figuring out what doesn't make sense anymore? For example, with the Intellect buff, is it important to you that players do need to drink after casting it?

J. Allen Brack: Yes. That's part of the level 60 experience. Our goal is to recreate that classic 1-60 gameplay. Some things changed as time went on, with different patches. How does that get manifested? That's one of the outstanding questions. But yeah, the goal is to recreate that exact experience, for better or for worse.

How far into this process are you? Do you have a build that you can actually play, internally, and figure some of this stuff out?

J. Allen Brack: We've got some infrastructure stuff in place. We've got an old build that's up and running that we're using for reference. Most of this job is going to be infrastructure: making sure everything can work on a more modern setup. Then there'll be the design questions, ones that the community will have strong opinions on: should UBRS be 10-person, or 5-person? Things like that.