This is a full transcript of the BlizzCon 2016 World of Warcraft: Legion Design Retrospective Panel. The following were the panelists discussing details of the Legion expansion development:

  • Jeremy Feasel (senior game designer)
  • Jonathan LeCraft (senior game designer, Demon Hunter)
  • Owen Landgren (senior game designer, Artifacts)
  • Brian Holinka (senior game designer, PVP)
  • Paul Kubit (senior game designer, Professions)

Legion Design Retrospective


Early Development

Narrator: Welcome to the World of Warcraft Legion design Retrospective panel.

Jeremy: Welcome Heroes of Azeroth to the World of Warcraft: Legion Design Retrospective. This is really our opportunity to talk to you guys about some of the very early iterations of design in World of Warcraft: Legion, to show you some screenshots of things that never even made it to the Alpha, talk a little bit about really what we do for a living, how we iterated it, how we redesign things, and then even in some cases talk a little bit about where we want to go into the future.



I’m going to kick things off. My name is Jeremy Feasel, and I’m gonna be talking about probably the very first thing that you did in WoW: Legion, and that was the Broken Shore experience.



So let me paint a picture for you here of a theme. Can you imagine that was very early on in Legion design? At this point, we had only begun concepting a single zone and that was Azsuna, a beautiful shot you can see up here. And we love this art style. This sense of history in this place.

There is so much that is going on on the Broken Isles. So many stories that we wanted to tell about the ancient elves that used to live there. What happened to them, the sinking of the continent, and it rising again. So it was at this point that we began our first concepting of the Broken Shore, given that we really liked this art aesthetic, and that the Broken Shore is connected to Suramar via a land bridge, we figured: Why don’t we go ahead and continue this ecology into the Broken Shore.



Here is a very early screenshot of what the Broken Shore looked like. As you can see, it is very different than what ended up in the shipping product. There’s a lot of coral there. There are ancient Elven ruins that were very pretty, and at one time you could tell were pristine and beautiful, and we went a little bit further down the Warcraft III direction. If you played the Broken Shore experience in the Tomb of Sargeras (way back in the Frozen Throne), there was a lot of really pretty undersea life there, so we applied that to our Broken Shore as well.



We thought it looked pretty cool. We decided to move forward. We applied color. We added demons, and the fel storm, and this was the end product. So as you can probably tell, there is significantly less demon influence here, and the Tomb of Sargeras at this time was still a pristine entity that demons had only really begun to invade our shores.



So we did our first playtest. As you can see, we like to stand things up very early. A lot of the art assets weren’t complete, but we wanted to see how long it would take, how it paced, and whether or not we were telling the story that we really wanted to tell to kick off the Legion expansion.



In the first playtest, there were a couple of things that you never saw in the shipping product. In one section, there was a giant pillar and you jumped enormous gyrocopters to blow it up. Past that pillar was a pristine city section that looks completely different than everything else on the Broken Shore. It looked like it had been untouched for centuries, like it was something that the highborne would still exist at, and in this pristine city section with trees, with grown Elvei buildings, and Elven architecture … there was Tyrande, standing in the center amongst a circle of dead sentinels.

Surrounding her were the ghosts of the ancient Elven priestesses that used to worship with her at this temple. Now of course, Tyrande being evil, she was being mind-controlled, because that is what dreadlords do, so you damaged her down to 30%, and she called out to the Mother Moon to dispel this horrid illusion that had caused her to lose her sanity.

That shattered the illusion for everyone in the area, and the buildings crumbled, and the trees withered, and the coral returned, and you learned that this was Tychondrius and his brothers. You then completed what we call a bar objective where you do a variety of different things, in this case it was putting down some Elven spirits, killing some dreadlords, and rescuing some Elven sentinels, and you worked your way through the rest of the area.



There was also a significant increased amount of path crossings for the Alliance and the Horde. We thought it was a pretty cool idea that we had a scenario that had both the Alliance and the Horde in it, and we thought it would be really great If you were able to see the other side.

We went a little bit crazy with this idea and at one point the alliance was going over a bridge, and the Horde was going under you, you were jumping over the Horde and waving at them, and it was a little silly, but we thought it was pretty cool.



Ultimately, the entire thing took two, or even three or more hours. Significantly longer than the shipping Broken Shore experience. So we did our first playtest, and we came out of it feeling like we weren’t telling the story that we wanted to be telling. So what went wrong?

When we looked at the story that we were telling (especially with our architecture and level design), a pristine elven tomb off in the distance that was once a worshipping place for elven priestesses. It was surrounded by a city that was once pristine, but was now in ruins, and it was also underwater at one point, and it also had elven ghosts at one point. And if you look at this list of things of the story that we were telling in the space, you are probably saying: Wow, there is something missing…” And it is literally the title of the expansion pack: the Legion. We weren’t focusing on what was cool about the Burning Legion returning to our world.



So what story should we be telling instead of this one? The Legion is here, and not only is the Legion here, they have brought new toys which to destroy us with, they have brought new structures, they have new mechanisms to invade our world, and destroy our major lore characters.



So we sent this back to our artists and we said let’s think about the Legion more like a Warcraft III army. How would they bring in their structures? What would their units be? What would their defensive structures be? And they came back to us with this concept: a Legion Command Citadel shooting out a fel seed into our world out of which structures grew out of the ground and poured out demons, built up defensive structures that destroyed us and pushed us back; and this we really felt like it was a new version of the Legion that we have never seen before.



A version of the Legion that was scary enough that they could kill off some of our major characters. So he sent us back to the artists again and said okay, but this needs to feel like the ultimate expression of power for the Legion.

This is the Legion seat of power in the Broken Isles. Take this idea of these structures and these units, and tell us what would that look like. And they came back to us with this: a fel city, and we all kind of looked at this and said: “Yeah, that’s what I want to see when I crest that hill in the Broken Shore. I want to see our future go up in flames, because the Legion is able to take over a space this rapidly in a way that they have never done before; and destroyed major lore heroes like Tyrion.



From there it was all downhill. We love the art style and we applied it to the rest of the Broken Shore — all the way up to the beginning, and including the once pristine Tomb of Sargeras that you can see here that is completely felled out.



We are happy that you are going to be able to return to the space which we think the artists did an awesome job in patch 7.2, and even experienced both the dungeon and the raid of the Tomb of Sargeras. And with that, I’m going to hand things off to a man who headed up the other half of the introductory experience for Legion Mr. Blingtron himself, Jonathan LeCraft.

Next: Demon Hunter: Behind the Blindfold

Early DevelopmentDemon Hunter: Behind the BlindfoldArtifact WeaponsLegion PvP Goals
Legion ProfessionsWorld Quests

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BlizzCon 2019 Panel Transcripts