As a part of our ongoing development for Wrath of the Lich King Classic, we’ve been hard at work on the Battle for Wintergrasp and wanted to take some time to go over our plans for this content. We have a lot to talk about in this article, but we wanted to start off by sharing that the Battle for Wintergrasp will be available in Wrath Classic as an instanced battleground, similar to Alterac Valley. This was not a deliberate design choice so much as a necessary change due to the nature of WoW Classic and the way that our realms function.
To understand more on how we got here, we thought it might be helpful to give a refresher on how WoW Classic was built. From the start, we very much wanted the game to feel like it did in 2004, with a single contiguous world where all players could interact with as few immersion-breaking or awkward moments as possible. In modern World of Warcraft, each zone can be “sharded” to allow thousands of players to congregate in a single zone but spread over several different copies of the zone. These “shards” are self-balancing, and when a certain shard gets too full, players can find themselves transferred to another shard. For WoW Classic, we didn’t feel like it was a great solution for population management due to how antithetical it is to the idea of a single shared world. However, we knew going into it that there would be a large demand to play the game when it was released, but we weren’t sure at the time how that would play out as the game matured. If we configured the servers to allow even double the number of players allowed in-world at once, we would have needed hundreds and hundreds more realms than we had at launch, and we had some serious concerns about what would happen when realms started to mature, and populations shifted. Would we have hundreds of realms with low populations a few months in?
As a result, we created the layer system. Layers allowed us to effectively create “copies” of the entire game world. When certain conditions are met, instead of creating a zone-specific shard to balance player populations, an entire copy of Azeroth is spun up. There are also additional rules and protections in place around when you are moved from one layer to another to minimize occurrences when experiencing the effects of the world changing around when you are shifted from one layer to another. This allows you to run past another player in Westfall and then run into that same player later on in Stranglethorn Vale.
Put simply, the Battle for Wintergrasp as it existed in 2008 is fundamentally incompatible with layers (or the modern sharding system, for that matter). Behind the scenes mechanisms, events, and scripts that control how the battle is initiated, how it’s resolved, and how the rewards are given out cannot function properly across layers. We discovered this fact early on in during Wrath Classic development and spent a significant amount of time trying to find a workable solution to allow it to function as it did originally, but ultimately, we weren’t able to land on a solution that we felt would allow the battleground to function in a satisfying way on any realm with layers. We wish there were a way to recreate the original vision of Wintergrasp, but that simply is impossible with the community sizes that Classic has grown to support. So, we had to compromise, and ultimately when weighing alternatives like unacceptable performance vs. a limited-access experience that excluded the overwhelming majority of players vs. instancing the experience vs. somehow entirely redesigning Wintergrasp, we felt that instancing was the change that would cause the least harm and allow the largest number of players who wanted to participate to do so.
As a result, we’ve had to make a tough choice to rebuild the Battle for Wintergrasp as an epic, large-scale battleground experience instead. As we set about designing what an instanced version would look like, we took note of some of the unique and iconic features of the original Battle for Wintergrasp. We decided to take this opportunity to draw inspiration from some of those features and create something unique in terms of how battlegrounds typically operate.
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Every three hours, players in the outdoor Wintergrasp zone or in Dalaran will receive a notification that the Battle for Wintergrasp is about to begin. Players within the outdoor Wintergrasp zone will receive a queue prompt, and players in Dalaran may speak to an NPC within their faction’s area to enter the queue during a short window of time. Once queued, players will be placed into a Wintergrasp battleground, and shortly thereafter, the battle will begin. However, unlike Alterac Valley, the threshold and the minimum number of players on either faction needed to start the battle is significantly lower. This means that you could enter a battle with 40 players on the Horde side and 5 players on the Alliance side. At first glance, this doesn’t seem very fair, but the Battle for Wintergrasp had an important and (what could often be for both sides) incredibly fun mechanic that we are bringing forward into the battleground version: Tenacity.
Tenacity is a stacking buff that *vastly* increases the power level of players on the underrepresented side. This can stack so high that players could conceivably become raid bosses unto themselves. This was a challenging and fun part of the original version of the Battle for Wintergrasp, and we felt that it was important that we brought this back in some way. We know that it can be frustrating for one faction to have long queues for battlegrounds, such as with Alterac Valley— and with the design of the Battle for Wintergrasp available only during select periods of time— we felt that it was more important to get players in the battle than for the matchmaker to be too picky about the balance of players on each side before starting the battle.
Another important element of the Battle for Wintergrasp was the buff conveyed to the winning faction– Essence of Wintergrasp. This buff allows you access to additional content, such as being able to fight the Elemental enemies in the Wintergrasp zone after the battle, as well as access to Stone Keeper Shards; a special currency that players could use to purchase powerful items such as mounts, item enchantments, and recipes. Lastly and perhaps most important, this buff also conveys access to the raid zone— the Vault of Archavon.
In Wrath of the Lich King Classic, this works in a fairly simple way, if anyone on your faction participates in and wins a Battle for Wintergrasp, your entire faction is granted the Essence of Wintergrasp and the buff will last until the next time the battle is initiated.
While this isn’t a perfect solution, one silver lining of this approach to the Battle for Wintergrasp is that this will allow more people to participate when the battle begins. As of patch 3.2 in the original release of Wrath of the Lich King, the battle was capped to a certain number of participants, and many servers in WoW Classic have populations much higher than the average realm in the original Wrath of the Lich King, which means it could be difficult to be selected for the battle if you wanted to participate. Conversely, if you are on a smaller realm, you may have issues spinning up a meaningful battle at all. With the Battle for Wintergrasp being an epic battleground in Wrath Classic, it enables anyone who wants to participate to do so and consistently have the battle experience they want out of it.
Wintergrasp will still exist as an outdoor PvP zone in Wrath of the Lich King Classic and will largely function just as it did outside of the times when battles were underway. Players with the Essence of Wintergrasp gain access to the Elemental Revenant Enemies in the zone, and faction NPCs will still be present. Of course, PvP flagging is always enabled too.
We know you may have questions about this, but we are pleased to say that the new version of the Battle for Wintergrasp should be available on the Wrath of the Lich King Classic Beta sometime in the next few weeks, and more information will be available when we get to that point. We want to express our sincere regret for not being able to find a solution to allow the original version of the Battle for Wintergrasp to function in WoW Classic as it was. While we are disappointed ourselves, we feel it is more important to deliver an experience that is as close as it can be to the look and feel of the original Battle for Wintergrasp. We also want to allow as many people to participate in this content as possible while avoiding any delays on getting Wrath of the Lich King Classic in your hands. We hope that we are successful in bringing the best experience possible to you, and we’d love to hear from you once you get a chance to play it in Beta in the coming weeks.