Class Panel - BlizzCon 2005

The BlizzCon Class Panel Discussion was lead by:
Kevin Jordan
Rob Paiden - Former Lead Designer, World of Warcraft
Tom Chilton - Current Lead Designer, World of Warcraft

Class History and Philosophy
Rob started the class panel out by discussing the origins of each class in the game. Their goal was to take the traditional RPG classes, and put their own unique spins on them. They first took the hero units from WarCraft III as their starting point. Rob stated that each class had to have a "concentrated coolness" factor. That is, it needs to be "as cool as possible", it needed to be focused, but still make sure that each class had their own separate role to play. It was their goal to not have a lot of hybrid classes. Because of this, the Death-Knight and Necromancer classes, which were originally slated for, got the axe early on.

The Mage: This class was drawn from not only the traditional RPG archetype, but from the sorceress and the arch-mage from Warcraft III. A very high-damage class focused on elemental magic. Originally in beta they had a "chains of ice" single target root, which allowed a skilled mage to lock down any encounter in a Dungeon Crawl. They immediately decided this was not where they wanted to go with the game, and switched it up to polymorph. Their intention was to split up the crowd control responsibilities between all the classes, rather than to have a single class (like the EQ enchanter) which was entirely responsible for crowd-control.

The Paladin: The paladin came directly from the Paladin hero in WarCraft III. It was slated as a very defensive class with divine spells and the protection "bubbles". It was also intended to be the easiest class to play. Actual implementation of the class was a constant struggle between being boringly easy and complex.

The Priest: Unlike the tried and true RPG tradition of a more armored cleric, Blizzard's priest, also modeled from WC3 is more of a caster class. They intended for Shadow spec to be very effective in PvP. There was some original debate as to cutting the priest into two different (good and evil) classes (how do you have undead casting holy spells, for example). They settled for allowing some distinction between priests by giving them their unique racial priest spells.

The Shaman: When they put the shaman PowerPoint slide up, there was a lot of booing and yelling from the audience. The shaman class originated from the WarCraft III hero classes of the Witchdoctor, the Shaman and the Farseer. In WarCraft lore, the shamans were very powerful warriors, not simply a caster, but legendary types among the warriors. Totems were almost tossed out at one point since it was more of a 'witchdoctor's gig. During alpha and beta they tried many different approaches with the totems, ranging from having just one single totem, to having a unique totem item for every single spell the shaman could cast. Eventually they divided them up into the elemental types.

The Warrior: Another traditional class from D&D and other RPGs. The warrior is usually the most boring class to play, and Blizzard wanted to make theirs into a very interactive class. They originally did not have a rage bar, but instead had abilities on a cool-down timer similar to a rogue. The rage bar concept was brought in from arcade fighters.

The Hunter: Another class that was met with a variety of boos and cheers from the audience when the PowerPoint slide was brought up. The WarCraft units that were responsible for the WoW Hunter were the Headhunter, the Ranger and the Huntress. Originally in beta the hunter had a 'focus bar', which increased depending on long you stood in one spot. This made the class very unique, but not much fun to play, so they switched it out to the mana bar. The class eventually became all about pets, and part of the reason why pets are slow to level up is their intention to make people more invested in their pets.

The Rogue: The rogue was the third class that got hisses from the audience when their slide came up. Unlike the other classes, the rogue had absolutely no basis in WarCraft lore prior to the release of WoW, and was taken exclusively from other RPGs. Originally the rogue was called the assassin, which they thought sounded cooler, but was much narrower in scope to the duties the rogue can fulfill now. In implementation, they had problems similar to the evolution of the warrior. The current 'combo point' system was derived from other fighting games, but rather than having elaborate restrictive combinations, they split the moves up into starters and finishers.

The Warlock: Taken from orc warlocks from Warcraft lore. They were given a fire and shadow magic focus, with the intention of them being more 'sinister', even on the alliance side. Originally the demonic pets had very few interactions. They wanted to avoid the typical pet progression where as you level up, you outgrow your old pet and throw it away, so they decided you would be using a different pet for each fight, and you didn't know how long your pet was going to last. The warlock was the first class to get a pet bar. Once they saw how well this worked out they began migrating the concept over to other classes, such as the rogue's stealth bar, the warrior's stance bar and the paladin's fruity bar.

The Druid: The druid was a huge class from WarCraft 3 lore, with three different types: Druid of the Claw, Druid of the Talon and Druid of the Grove. They almost didn't make the class cut, because Chris Metzen (lore guru) was very serious about the class being restricted to Night Elf males only. However, since a one race/class/gender combination wasn't much fun, the lore was loosened up and the druid was implemented with a shape-shifter focus. The druid was the only true hybrid class that was implemented in WoW.

The Talent Trees
This section was lead by Tom Chilton (the current lead game designer).
The very first character customization in WoW was a stat system buy-up, where you could spend training points to raise your stats. Since this was not very meaningful or fun, it evolved into a point buy system in Beta, where you could spend training points to get abilities such as track demons. The next implementation of the 'talent tree' was a stricter system where you could buy your way through a series of upgrades to get a 'gold medal' (key) ability. This eventually made way to the talent tree system you see today. The talent tree is intended to be mostly passive, with a handful of active 'gold medal' abilities. Their important key concept is build game-play by forcing the player to make critical decisions on their build. They drew heavily from the talent tree system in Diablo II.

On a typical PvE server, an average player will redo their talent tree approximately 2.8 times. On a PvP server, they respec their talent tree approximately 3.6 times.

The classes are intended to be balanced 'asymmetrically', having different abilities in 'raid', 'solo', 'group' and 'PvP' categories. Someone in the audience yelled at this point "asymmetrical balance isn't balance at all." and that got a few smirks, but I personally (Cob speaking here) feel that they are wrong - again, in game design it is important to build game-play by having players making tough choices where they want their strengths and weaknesses to lie.

Tom said they recognize there are situations where their vision does not match reality: I.e. "paladins to the back of the raid".

The Future of Classes (I.e. The Burning Crusade Expansion)
The Burning Crusades expansion will see the max level cap expanded from 60 to 70. In addition, they will be rounding out the existing classes better, by adding 4 or 5 completely new spells for the 50-60 level range for each character class.

The talent tree will be expanded (it was designed to be expanded). There will be a few more tiers in the talent trees, leading all the way up to 41 point talents.

They are looking to improve racial differentiation by carrying the concept they used in the Priest racial spells over to other classes. They are planning for hero classes in the future, but not for this expansion. There are no details on that.

Question and Answer Segment
First question was someone complaining about their human priest being `not as desirable as a Dwarven priest'. - Tom kind of evaded this question, but responded that they are looking to spread responsibilities between classes. They typically "layer their anti-crowd control", so some other class will pick up anti-fear.

Next question up was someone complaining about how his mage was so underpowered, and was being out-damaged by rogues, hunters, etc. Tom responded that one of the problems is a lot of the high-end content (I assume he means Molten Core items) is anti-fire, and the mage high-damage line is fire. They recognize that mages have some itemization problems, and are looking into that. They plan to add spell penetration properties to gear (starting in patch 1.9) to allow mages to overcome some of the high-resists they may be facing.

Third question was a Warlock complaining about `when are we going to get soul shard bags?' They responded that they will have very large soul-shard sacks as soon as they get the tech developed.

Next up was someone asking is there going to be a new class in the expansion. They responded that they felt that they did not have the existing classes completed

Paladin question was next up. Tom stated that a review of the paladin class is in for the next patch (1.9). They will address situations where Paladins have to bless the entire raid, and will be adding blessings that hit all members of a particular class.

On a Mage question about invisibility, Blizzard stated that Mages will be getting some form of invisibility back in the level 60 to level 70 spells. Someone mentioned how unfair it is to have night elf hunters doing aimed shots from shadow-meld, and Tom responded that the mage invisibility gave them the power to run around, unlike shadow-meld. It was removed because it was too easy for mages to bypass dungeon content. (Crowd yells: you mean like rogues and druids?)

There was one question that I missed, but their response was that talents weren't intended to pigeonhole people into a particular route. (Like they did with the priest class.) For examples, in the hunter review they split the DPS between all three talent trees, while still leaving marksmanship as the highest DPS talent tree.

Someone got up and said he was spending 20% of his playtime farming shards. They said they said they were working on some ideas to resolve the shard farming problems. They mainly talked about the sinks, rather than the valves on this one: Tom specifically mentioned things such as shadowburn, and how they changed the soulstones to take one shard, rather than two.

The last class panel question was on whether the fact that hunters have to give up an entire bag slot for ammo was factored into balance. Turns out it isn't, and they will be adding larger ammo bags for hunters if it's needed. (Huh? Personally as a hunter I feel that the bag-slot is just a part of playing the class.)

Also see: The GW/BlizzCon Class Panel Photo Gallery.