Curated for the Inquisitive Mind


WoW Classic Season Of Discovery Looks To Make A 20-Year-Old Game Surprising Again

In World of Warcraft Classic, there are no surprises left. That makes sense; it is, after all, a nearly 20-year-old game.

Though the original version of WoW that launched in 2004 was in many ways overwritten with subsequent updates, mostly notably 2010’s Cataclysm expansion, players never stopped playing the “vanilla” version of Blizzard’s MMORPG thanks to unofficial private servers that were available prior to Blizzard’s official re-release of the original WoW in 2019. In that time, everything there was to learn about the original era of WoW had been exhaustively detailed. Two decades worth of knowledge, in turn, drastically changed how players approached the release of Classic in 2019.

All the quests had been completed time and time again, all the items found. Battling the game’s once-formidable raid bosses became as simple as watching a 30-second encounter guide on YouTube, and solving a confusing quest was as easy as downloading a comprehensive quest-mod or searching for an NPC’s name on Wowhead. Players knew which talent specializations were best and what each class excelled at. The game was one giant math problem that millions of players already knew every answer to.

WoW Classic’s new seasonal servers are looking to change all that. Called Season of Discovery, the game’s new season sounds like it will turn the classic MMO on its head. Classes will be able to learn powerful new abilities by exploring the game’s open world and acquiring runes, some of which allow classes to try out new roles, like tanking, that many have never had access to. New items are being added. Players will only be able to reach level 25 initially, before later updates allow for further progression. There will be a new level-25 raid, a reworked version of the game’s Blackfathom Deeps dungeon, reimagined for 10 players. There’s even a new open-world PvP event where players of the Horde and Alliance can battle it out in Ashenvale for new buffs and rewards.

It’s a lot to take in for players who have become accustomed to playing a game that has largely stayed the same for the past two decades. In an interview with GameSpot, members of the WoW Classic Season of Discovery team discussed what it’s like to breathe new life into a 20-year-old game, how the season looks to build upon WoW Classic’s existing strengths, and what Season of Discovery could mean for WoW Classic’s future.

Runes will grant powerful new abilities for each class.

For years, particularly in the years following WoW Classic’s launch in 2019, players have salivated over an idea the community has come to call “Classic Plus.” What exactly Classic Plus means varies depending on who you ask, but it often revolves around the idea of Blizzard going back to WoW Classic and, rather than treating it as a static game not to be touched, continuing to develop it as an ongoing one. To many players, that entails rebalancing classes and adding new content, but without the game progressing to an expansion that raises the level cap or introduces a whole new world or continent for players to explore, as happened in 2007 with the introduction of the game’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade.

The hype around the idea of Classic Plus reached a fever pitch in the lead-up to BlizzCon 2023, with many players hopeful for some kind of official Classic Plus announcement. Instead, they got Season of Discovery. While not exactly what players wished for, it ticks all the boxes, with some content creators calling the new season an unofficial “Classic Plus beta.” Blizzard even acknowledged the idea of Classic Plus in its announcement of the season, when senior game producer Josh Greenfield on stage at BlizzCon said the new season was “everything we love about Classic, PLUS so much more,” to laughs and cheers from the audience. In the months leading up to the announcement, associate production director Clayton Stone said the team saw the community’s enthusiasm around the idea of Classic Plus grow.

“We saw that discussion grow in the leadup to BlizzCon,” Stone said. “What we felt great about is that we felt like Season of Discovery was delivering on all three of those things. It was kind of aligned with giving people this new, fresh experience in the Classic space [that] still felt fresh, but with some new ideas and unsolved content that hadn’t been solved yet in a game that’s been solved for the last 20 years. I think that’s one of the things we’re really excited about, is delivering on some of those desires from the player base with Season of Discovery.”

Given the seasonal nature of Season of Discovery, Clayton said it allows the team to “take some wild swings” when it comes to changes to the game and its classes. From there, Blizzard can look at the community reception and take those learnings forward into whatever comes next for WoW Classic, whether that’s Classic Plus or something else entirely.

One of WoW's original dungeons, Blackfathom Deeps, is a 10-player raid in Season of Discovery.
One of WoW’s original dungeons, Blackfathom Deeps, is a 10-player raid in Season of Discovery.

That does put Season of Discovery in a bit of a strange situation. Blizzard has already teased the idea of completing scrapped content that never made its way into the original game, like the Karazhan Crypts, as part of Season of Discovery. That content wouldn’t appear in the standard, non-seasonal servers Blizzard refers to as Classic Era, at least at first. But just because Season of Discovery’s new additions are technically seasonal doesn’t mean that some of the new additions will go away forever once the season ends, according to lead software engineer Ana Resendez.

“Depending on the perception of the players and how it plays in the system, it doesn’t necessarily mean you only get one chance to experience these things and that’s by playing Season of Discovery,” Resendez said. “We’re definitely going to take that into consideration for the future…It gives us an opportunity to test these things and see what people really like, but definitely if there’s something we see a high value in and everybody loves to play with, we’re going to try to find ways to bring it again either in a new season or it might find its way back to Era or a completely new environment.”

Many of Season of Discovery’s new features will be tied to the season’s new rune system. As players explore the world, they will attain runes they can engrave onto certain armor slots. These runes, once acquired, can be freely swapped in and out when not in combat. While some runes will be easy to find, others will be far more challenging. Stone said most of the season’s initial level 1-25 secrets will likely be discovered shortly after launch as players scour every nook and cranny of Azeroth to unearth their new abilities, but teased that some stuff is “pretty well-hidden.” In an unusual move for WoW Classic, Blizzard did not hold a public test realm period for Season of Discovery, in order to keep the season’s mysteries secret.

“Some of them are very elaborate, and some of them are very simple,” Stone said. “They are not uniform. It is not one size fits all. Some of them have to be approached with a lot of creativity and a lot of collaboration with other players.”

Many of the new abilities players will earn are pulled from later expansions in WoW’s history, albeit modified to better fit the pace of WoW Classic’s combat. Unlike modern WoW, WoW Classic does not strictly enforce roles like tank, healer, or DPS, and players will be able to freely experiment with different talents and runes as they see fit. Not every class or role, with Resendez using the example of Rogue tanks, will be ideal for every scenario. It will be up to players to create and flesh out these new roles for classes that haven’t previously had them, Resendez said. As for the world itself, Resendez said players can expect enemies out in the game’s world to be more “punishing” than before to accommodate for the increase in player power, but that Blizzard wasn’t going as far to give enemies new abilities.

Some runes will be simple to acquire, while others will require collaboration between players.
Some runes will be simple to acquire, while others will require collaboration between players.

Azeroth itself is a large part of what makes WoW Classic stand out from its subsequent expansions. Players have a huge world to adventure through and explore as opposed to just a few zones that comprise a smaller continent like in the game’s later expansions. Going hand-in-hand with the experience of exploring the wide-open world is encountering players of the opposing faction and the emergent gameplay that arises out of those encounters. With that in mind, and a new PvP event taking place out in the open world, Blizzard is using Season of Discovery as an opportunity to implement something it’s never done before in the history of WoW: faction population restrictions. These will ensure neither faction on a PvP server gains a significant majority. Should one faction’s population start to surpass the other, Blizzard will temporarily prevent the ability to create characters on the server of that faction.

“We’ve been listening for a long time from the community…that [having] balanced factions is meaningful,” Stone said. “It creates really cool gameplay out in the open world especially, and it’s something that players want to engage with. When we look back to Classic 2019’s launch and how it evolved, because of the way players choose which servers they want to play on, a lot of people want to play on PvP realms but they don’t want to lose. They look at which realm has the faction dominance that they want to play on and they end up just choosing that realm. And they get to play on a PvP realm without really any of the challenges that come from playing on a balanced faction PvP realm.”

That won’t be the case this time around. Stone opted not to dive into specifics on how Blizzard would approach whether or not a server was balanced. Instead, he said he hopes players will “trust us and our methods” when it comes to ensuring faction balance, and that the team is prepared to change course if necessary in order to ensure a smooth experience.

Though players know many of the runes that will be available and some of the major new content that will be playable initially, they don’t know how to earn those runes or what exactly will be in store when Season of Discovery launches on November 30. What is coming in later content phases–which will raise the game’s level cap and presumably introduce more new content–is even more of a mystery. And for the first time, the WoW Classic team will be looking to actively balance a 20-year-old game that has suddenly seen its meta broken wide open by game-changing new abilities and new raid encounters.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how that evolves over the course of the season as we raise the level cap and release these new phases,” Stone said. “The way players engage or experience the world and experience the content with their chosen class could change based on the runes they discover, so that’s something that’s exciting for us to watch too, the way players utilize these and build out their toolkits.”

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