FOR AZEROTH! EP. 210 – “STEVE DANUSER TALKS DRAGONFLIGHT”

Following the long-anticipated game development announcements on April 19th, TruVillainManny (For Azeroth!) sits with Narrative Lead Designer Steven Danuser to talk all things World of Warcraft and the upcoming Dragonflight expansion. The interview covers the all-new regions in the Dragon Isles, the Dragon Aspects and central themes surrounding the Dragonflights, new class talent and spec trees, and profession overhaul.


1:19 Manny: Steve, thank you again for taking the time out of your day to answer some of my questions and the questions of the community. I know you’ve got a busy day ahead of you, so I will try and make this as quick as possible.

Steve: It’s my pleasure to be here. I love to see the excitement so far for Dragonflight and can’t wait to answer your questions.

Manny: We’ve already got memes and names going out for “Stoney Tony,” which is I believe actually supposed to be Watcher Azinoth? I forget the name at this point.

Steve: Korinos.

Manny: Korinos! He’s still going to be Stony Tony for me for a while yet. But you may have another Zappy Boi on your hands.

Steve: Yeah. People right away were tweeting out, I would die for him. So that was fun to see.

1:41 Manny: Yes. He was an immediate Champion of Azeroth as it were. So I guess my first question then is: Because we had all these watchers that were left behind and fell into ruin at the beginning of the cinematic, is Watcher Karinos going to be our kind of guide through this expansion? Much like Bolvar or Magni were before him?

Steve: Well, he’s certainly got a role to play as kind of this last survivor of that group that was put into place to be watching the shorelines, you know, waiting when the time was right toight the beacon and signal the dragons home. So he, I think he will, you’ll see that he has one special place within the hearts of Alexstraza and some of the other dragons. So he’ll certainly be a presence there and Tyrhold, we’ll have him in questing and we’ll get to know him better. And, he’ll have some insights because he was around for all that time long ago when this was the pinnacle of the dragons’ kingdom. So we’ll get to know him better. Get some knowledge from him. He won’t be directing everything in the same way that, you know, Khadgar did in Legion or things like that, but he’ll definitely be a presence and I think fans will enjoy the time they get to spend with him.

3:28 Manny: Awesome. Okay, so then, because he lit the beacon and the dragons came, we’re now seeing the return of those primary flights like the red and bronze dragons and so forth. In the video you said that they felt in their bones, that call back to the isles. Will we be seeing any of the offshoot flights? Did they have that same sort of call? So the flights like the Chromatic, or Netherwing, are we going to see those in the expansion as well?

Steve: Yeah, whenever we set out to tell an expansion story, we always think of big themes, themes that will resonate throughout the storyline, throughout the content throughout the systems. And one of the big themes for Dragonflight that we fixed on right away was Legacy. So, dragons have this tremendous history throughout the lore of the world and through its history and a lot of bad things have happened to them over that time and there have been lots of changes. So when they left this land, there were only five flights of dragons and one of them was already splintering off and causing all kinds of chaos. And in the years since then they discovered that other flights had either sprung up due to unforeseen events or through the manipulation of Deathwing and others. And so now as they returned to the dragon isles, just even the what it means to be a dragon has changed over the years as well. And so this will be a time for reflection and thought on the part of Alexstraza and the others because they’re going to have to face that question of like should we reclaim the legacy that was, and put things back to how they were before, or should we think about a new kind of future, and should we include more voices at the table and that’s gonna be part and parcel of a lot of the story lines and the the quest lines that unfold as you play through the expansion.

5:23 Manny: Okay, so with this re-establishing what it means to be a dragon and their new role, or returning to an old role in the past, that really shows that sense of exploration, not only in the physical sense of exploring this new land, but exploring your place in the world in general, but us as players were coming mostly from the Alliance and Horde from these newer races that have found our place in helping the dragons out. So, are we going to be dealing with a sort of main antagonist through this, or is it going to be a sort of medley of different adversaries?

Steve: Well, there certainly are no shortage of adversaries in the dragon isles and something, you know, they vary in scope in terms of local threats, like the Gnolls that largely played the Azure span and the Tuskar settlements there, that will be a nice story that you’ll get to dig into, and it’s more of a local story where you get to know at the ground level, some of these personalities and what the effect of this conflict is on the families and that live among the Tuskar. But there’s other adversaries that are bigger in scope, the Djaradin are a bigger threat across multiple areas. There are these kind of elementally infused half-giant dragon hunters that have a long history of enmity with the dragons and hunted them long ago and are seeking to reclaim lands that the dragons would like to take as well. So that’s one source of conflict. But one of the biggest things that we’ll be delving into in terms of adversaries is, as we learn about the history of this place we’ll find that there’s a lot that we don’t know about dragons.

You know, a lot of the history that was presented in Chronicle has huge gaps in the timeline of what happened to the Dragonflights and what we’ll find is that following the time when the Aspects were first made, when these first, what we now think of as proto-dragons, these kind of more savage versions of dragon kind were infused with the magic of the Titans and kind of in their eyes uplifted to become the Aspects. We’ll find that not all of dragon kind that existed, felt like this was a good idea.

There were some who, unlike the Aspects and their followers, who embraced the Titans’ gifts. There were other dragons who said no, we should remain unfettered. We shouldn’t be making deals with these powers and letting them change us, we should find our own destiny in this world. And what started off as a philosophical difference long ago grew into hard feelings and resentments, and resentments led to conflict, and conflict led to war. And so there was this war that enveloped dragon kind on the one side, the Aspects and their followers and then the other, these primal dragons who turned back to the elements to infuse themselves with their strength.

And we’ll find that the leaders of this primalist movement were these four dragons who were the incarnates of the elemental forces that they had embodied and they were on par with the Aspects; and it took all the coordination and skill of the Aspects working together to ultimately defeat and imprison these Primal Incarnates. And now as the dragon isles are awakening again, those old foes are in danger of being released into the world and the Aspects gave up their power to defeat Deathwing so they’re at a disadvantage. They’re going to have to find some way to try to contain this threat and failing that some way to overcome it and they’ll definitely need the help of their mortal allies in that regard.

9:03 Manny: Very cool. So then I guess that sort of led into the first raid where you have that ancient prison that you have shown on your site as well. I guess the next part of it is that because the dragons have given up their power, they have always had this connection with Tyr who was the first one to recognize them and the other members of the pantheon. Now that they’ve lost that power are we going to be exploring their connection with the pantheon of order with the Emerald Dream and life in terms of like exploring their connection with the cosmos?

Steve: Yeah, the dragons have always had that link to the Titans thanks to their origins. After banding together with Keeper Tyr to defeat Galakrond; he was the one who advocated that these five primitive dragons be infused with order magic to become the Aspects. And for those five that was a relationship that they revered, that they honored, they were close with Keeper Tyr and as they were establishing their kingdom here in the Dragon Isles, they allowed Keeper Tyr to build Tyrhold, this facility that is kind of at the heart of their kingdom. That’s what you see in the cinematic with the Beacon. So that was right at the heart of their culture. And this was a very symbiotic relationship between the dragons and the titans. And as we’ve seen some of the flights tapped into, like with the green Dragonflight we’re tied to the Emerald Dream and the reds were tied to the power of life.

And there’s definitely connections to multiple cosmic forces there and what we’ll see as we come back to the dragon isles again after so much time has passed. One of the things that the dragons will need to reflect on is what does it mean to be tethered to those powers, Is that a good thing? Or are there downsides to that as well? And should we renew those bonds or should we find a different way forward? But because of all the perils and the dangers that the dragon’s face when they’re coming home, in Alexstraza’s mind, a driving a goal is for the Aspects to regain their power, that force that they gave up in order to defeat Deathwing; how can they re-empower themselves and become protectors, not only of the dragon isles but of the world as well? And so that becomes a key part of the story that will be explored through the level up campaign.

11:31 Manny: Okay. But though Alexstraza is still there, most of the original Aspects have passed away, so we are now left with Alexstraza and Murozond (Nozdormu,) but we have a new leader actually, the blue dragonflight itself has been disbanded. The Black dragonflight is down to two known black dragons. So many of these dragonflights are in shambles, are we going to be seeing like a rebuilding of, even if they don’t restore themselves with the titans, are we going to be seeing a rebuilding of those flights throughout this initial part of expansion?

Steve: Yeah, that’s again a huge part of the level-up campaign and some of the max-level narrative chapters that will unfold as well. So like you said it very well, the dragon flights as compared to how they once were are in shambles, Alexstraza still leads the red flight and Nozdormu still leads the bronze. But you know, Nozdormu faced many challenges during Cataclysm, where we saw this future self of him turning into Murozond and becoming infinite. And so that’s, he knows that is coming at some point, that transformation moment and that weighs heavily on his mind and he’s having trouble clearly seeing the time ways right now.

So there’s some things we’re gonna have to help Nozdormu work through. As you said, Kalegos the Blue Flight was almost wiped out and those that survived have scattered. So Kalegos comes back to this land that once was once thriving with his people and instead there’s hardly any of them there. So how does he rebuild that flight? And he was only an Aspect for a very short period of time, remember, his Aspect and leader Malygos turned very dark indeed and had to be struck down.

So that’s also a legacy that haunts him and will be part and parcel of his storyline. The Black Flights; well I’ll go to the Green Flights next because they lost their aspect Ysera, being killed in legion and now she is in Ardenweald in the Shadowlands and she remains bound there. So, her daughter Merithra has had to try to take up some of that mantle and lead, but she faces questions about herself and her role as well. So the Green Flight has a lot of things to answer and explore in their legacy.

And then finally the black Dragonflight the most storied of all with Neltharon’s turn to Deathwing and as you said, we have on Azeroth, we know of Wrathion who had a very unusual origin in terms of dragons, you know, and an egg that was kind of a fusion of eggs and experimented on and he consumed energy of the heart of Lei’Shen and all of that sort of stuff. So he’s had a very unusual journey and he’s made some choices that other dragons would find very questionable I think in terms of tactics.

So he has a lot of questions about him, you have Ebonhorn Abyssian who you know had confined himself mostly to High Mountain and living amongst the High mountain Tauren now that he’s kind of come out into more of the world, seeing that relationship between him and Wrathion build will be a lot of fun and interesting because they both have things to learn from one another, but the future of the Black Dragonflight is certainly the most tenuous of all the Dragonflights right now so all of those stories will be explored through the questing and exploration of Dragonflight and it’s gonna be really fun to see players be able to delve into all those stories alongside these characters that are so beloved and have been such an important part of Warcraft history for so long.

15:16 Manny: Yeah, and it definitely pulls from many chapters throughout World of Warcraft’s history, from, of course, Cataclysm being a big part of it, but we did have a lot of dragon lore in Wrath of the Lich King as well.

One thing that has been revealed is that we’re going to be going in through a non-military and nonpartisan team, where it’s going to be both the Reliquary and the Explorer’s league combining together to usher in both the Horde and Alliance into this new world. There have been some prominent members of the Explorer’s League that have been explored more in Hearthstone but have started showing up in World of Warcraft. One of the big ones is of course, Reno Jackson, who was later on revealed to be a dragon. Now Hearthstone isn’t necessarily canon, but might we see Reno Jackson or some of these Explorer League characters in the new expansion?

Steve: Well, yeah, we have a number of recognizable characters on both these sides that have come up either in WoW or in Hearthstone. We haven’t rolled all the details of the, as you said, um, Hearthstone has its own cannon that goes off in some very fun and interesting directions and we don’t pull all of that back into Warcraft. But we’ve got some, some different characters plan to be part of the Explorers League, whether Reno Jackson and some of the others show up, we’ll see, you know, there’s gonna be a lot of updates to the expansion and the Explorer’s League and the reliquary who combined their efforts under the banner of what they call the Dragonscale Expedition. They’ll be working together for a long time, taking us into new lands to explore in the future patches and updates. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if, you know, we see more familiar faces showing up in their ranks as time unfolds.

17:11 Manny: And as we’re diving into the isles, of course, there’s still a lot that has been happening in Azeroth while we’ve been absent in the Shadowlands, are we going to be seeing that sort of story move ahead or are we going to be mostly confined to this new area?

Steve: Yeah, one of the nice things that we got the opportunity to do in an upcoming patch 9.2.5 for Shadowlands; We’ll get to dip our toes back into Azeroth and see some things happening there and learn some events that have transpired, some of which have been already previewed by folks on the PTR and some of which haven’t happened yet. So seeing those storylines unfold will be really fun and then definitely as we’re ramping up for Dragon Isles we’ll have pre-patch events that help tell the story of what’s going on back in Azeroth and so we’ll get to see some of those characters and get to find out what’s going on in Stormwind and Orgrimmar, how the Horde has been faring with their new counsel, how the Alliance has been faring with Turalyon at the helm, and what’s been different about that since then. So yeah, we’ll get that slice of life back in the familiar kingdoms of the mortal races before we set off into the Dragon Isles and help the dragons with their cause to reclaim their homeland.

18:30 Manny: I am definitely excited for this story, but I’m just gonna quickly turn the interview over to a couple of more mechanical questions. Part of what we’re doing is having crafting being put forward and not just crafting, but all professions, having more prominence. So with a professional identity, are we going to have to make everything at these work tables or will there be some things that we can make away from the crafting tables?

Steve: That’s something that we’re still kind of debating and working out, we realize that there’s big things that people make that are more like one of a kind or rarer things, and then there’s other commodities that you need to make more frequently and might need to make with shorter notice. Potions for your raid, things like that. So we’re certainly keeping that in mind you know, we’ll look for ways to… we really want these crafting stations to feel relevant and like important places to gather in the world, but we also don’t want to completely inconvenience players and make them go out of the way So we’ll try to find a balance there, I think. I’d say it’s still a work in progress and it’s something that we’ll definitely be interested in having people who are playing the Alpha and the beta later, when those are released to get feedback, because that’s something we would definitely respond to based on how our players feel about it.

19:53 Manny: Great! Okay, and so then I guess with the big projects and that sort of thing. Legion had a lot of professional quests. When you were getting to the higher levels of expertise, you would do these sorts of quests. Are we going to see a return of any kind of professional quests?

Steve: We felt like you know, the Legion profession quest had some interesting ideas and some of them worked really well and then some of them weren’t, you know, they didn’t feel as connected and so we really wanted to focus on the system side of, especially the gathering and crafting professions, to really try to revitalize those and come up with some fresh new gameplay for them, and focused less on wrapping them inside specific quest lines and things like that, and we really want the systems to stand on their own, you know, that said, I wouldn’t rule out in the future, something like that, but I think right now the emphasis is on making these systems feel as cool and dynamic as they can and really help you forge your sense of identity as a crafter and we’ll see how that feels for players, again, listening to their feedback.

20:58 Manny: Awesome, okay, we’ve heard about the dungeon Uldaman and it was hinted at before. In the past, we’ve always had, well not always, but in general, lately, we’ve had two dungeons per zone; are we looking at a similar thing for the launch of this expansion?

Steve: We didn’t want to confine ourselves to saying, “well every zone has to have two dungeons in it” so we’re not following, that’s not a formula that we’re following, some of them do and some of them don’t. Uldaman is an example that we know where that is in the world, It’s you know, far off and in the old world. And so this was a chance to revisit a fan-favorite dungeon, one of those, you know, original dungeons from back in the day and we get to see it in a new light and there’ll be some familiar parts of it that will go into and we’ll see brought up to modern fidelity and it’s really amazing to see some of these rooms like the, of course, you can’t go to hold them on without seeing the map room, and so to see that brought up to modern standards, it’s just Chef’s Kiss, it’s just such a nostalgia hit, but it looks so good. And then there’ll be new parts of the dungeon that will venture to as well and what’s sending us back here is again, because Alexstraza wants to find a way to regain the power of the Aspects. She knows that Uldaman held the disks of Norgannon back in the day and what she learns is that there were other disks brought there as well, one of which contains some of the knowledge of Keeper Tyr, and because Keeper Tyr isn’t around anymore, that knowledge he holds, she hopes it has some clue in there that might help them; so she’s asking adventures to brave the depths of Uldaman and go in there, but of course, there will be some complications that players will meet along the way, some impediments to their progress there, and so we’ll have to wait and see how that story unfolds for you once you experience the dungeon yourself. But it was great to go back there. It’s a fun location and, like I said, seeing it brought up to the modern styles of art is just really amazing.

23:03 Manny: I always love when we go back to those vanilla dungeons and get the revamped Scholomances, that revamp was amazing so, I’m looking forward to this. Talking about revamps, the talent system is getting a big revamp in this expansion. So the way that it used to work is that your spec was determined purely based on what you had the majority of your talents in. For this one, you’re going to be choosing your spec and that’s going to influence it. So, I guess the hybridization is going to be coming mostly from your class talent tree. How do these two talent trees balance against each other? Are you getting like one talent for one and then for another, do they interact between each other?

Steve: Yeah, you’ll get two different kinds of points. So there will be spec points that you can spend on the spec trees and then a class point that you spend in the class trees and a big impetus for that was that our class designers of course see how often, like in the current talent system, when you have something that’s competing, you know, that a DPS boost that’s competing against some kind of utility, every guide is going to push you towards the DPS boost; and so they wanted to break some of those things off so that you didn’t feel like you were making a bad choice, just because there was some cool utility or class-specific kind of flavor that you wanted to pick. We wanted to move off a lot of those power choices into the tree that felt most appropriate for them and at that spec level, so that’s going to give you a lot of more flexibility and again, wanting to, to encourage experimentation and trying different things; that was one of the cool things about the old tree system was for as much as there were always like recommended paths and things like that, every once in a while someone would find this offbeat combination of things that would suddenly blow up and people would gravitate to and be like, “oh, this is so fun, this is so different!” And we wanted to give some of that feeling back to it as well. So it’s really fun to see the work that’s been done so far and the class team is busy iterating on all those trees and giving lots of flexibility and lots of freedom. We just think it’s going to bring back a lot of fun to that sort of gameplay for everyone and enjoy that feeling.

25:20 Manny: That is awesome. Okay, I know you’re gonna get a lot of questions about the new Evoker. I will leave that to other interviews, but I did want to ask as we’re going from 60 to 70 in this new expansion, are we going to see some new goodies for the old classes?

Steve: Well, yeah, like we’re still continuing, we loved bringing class sets back for Eternity’s End, and that’s something that we’ll continue to see going forward. way and the revamp of the talent system brings a lot of flavor and choice back to classes that might have felt fairly rigid or static for a while so that, you know, those things all combined to really bring back a lot of flavor for the classes. So people don’t have to be jealous of the Drakthyr Evoker all the time, they’ll have plenty of fun new things for their classes to do and they’ll have a sense of power as they’re exploring the Dragon Isles as well.

26:23 Manny: Okay, well, I’m almost out of time so I’m gonna ask you one last question, what is the new class color for the Evokers?

Steve: (Laughs) it’s a shade of green that’s different from the other shades of green and not being an artist that’s about as specific as I can get for you, but it does read well, they all are artists put a lot of effort into color choices and they know about balance and what, you know, all those different elements of color, God bless them, because that’s not my wheelhouse so I leave it to them, but it looks really good on the breakdown of classes when you see them in a raid team together.

Manny: Okay, thank you so much for your time today. I know you have a busy day and thank you so much for answering all my questions.

Steve: It was a pleasure! Thanks for the great questions! Talk to you next time!


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