WoW Plunderstorm, Blizzard’s Take on Battle Royale, Makes Traditional MMO Gameplay Walk The Plank

World of Warcraft’s mysterious next content update is a secret no longer: Patch 10.2.6 is live today and introduces a new, limited-time battle royale game mode called Plunderstorm to Blizzard’s MMO, one that is unlike anything the game has done before.

Though the pirate-themed Plunderstorm is played within WoW, it shares little in common with the game players have come to know and love over the years. There are no auto-attacks or classes. Rather than having dozens of abilities, as WoW players are accustomed to, players in Plunderstorm will have a maximum of six. As such, players will leave their previously created characters at the door and create new ones just for Plunderstorm, which will run for six weeks starting today.

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Now Playing: World Of Warcraft – Plunderstorm Battle Royale Mode Launch Trailer

The MMO’s latest expansion, Dragonflight, isn’t required to play the game mode. Instead, anyone with a WoW subscription can play, including those who currently spend their time playing WoW Classic rather than the modern version of the game.

After making a Plunderstorm character, players can queue solo or with a partner and glide down on the wings of a parrot into Arathi Highlands, a zone that will be well-familiar to longtime WoW players but has been repurposed as the mode’s battle royale map. Up to 60 players will be in a single match, all competing to be the last pirate standing. Players will only have one life, though a duo partner can revive a fallen teammate. After death, players can stick around and spectate other players, should they so choose.

Once their boots are on the ground, players will have nothing but a basic attack (which isn’t used automatically when attacking like in normal WoW but is now an active ability) and a recharging health potion. Players will need to defeat both NPC enemies and other players to gain experience, acquire spells, and level up over the course of a match in order to come out on top. Unlike regular WoW, where players tab-target enemies and auto-attack or use abilities to deal damage, Plunderstorm’s spells—which are acquired from slain enemies or found in chests sprinkled throughout Arathi Highlands—are mostly “skill-shots” that require proper timing and positioning. Over time, a storm will force players closer until only one (or one team) remains as the winner. All the while, players will be earning Plunder, a form of XP that will contribute to a new Renown reward track that will unlock cosmetic rewards like mounts and pets for use in both Wrath of the Lich King Classic and Dragonflight.

Plunderstorm is accessed via the Dragonflight client, but the expansion isn't required to play.
Plunderstorm is accessed via the Dragonflight client, but the expansion isn’t required to play.

Plunderstorm is unlike anything in WoW’s two-decade-long history. GameSpot got the chance to talk with some of the developers at Blizzard involved in the creation of the game mode ahead of its official launch, who shared their insights on some of the inspirations behind it and the team’s goals for the limited-time mode.

Various battle royales were obviously an inspiration for Plunderstorm, lead software engineer Orlando Salvatore said, but so were other genres, like MOBAs, fighters, and RTS games. One notable inspiration, Salvatore said, was Blizzard’s own Warcraft 3.

“When you think back to Warcraft 3, one thing that’s super cool about Warcraft 3 was going around to the different camps and leveling your hero,” Salvatore said. “And level 10 was a major point to get to…What’s super cool is harkening back to that. It [Plunderstorm] is a PvP game but there’s also PvE elements. Leveling up gives you health, leveling up gives you more damage on your abilities, you can find better loot in different places on the map. You can go around and find these camps of monsters and help level up your character each game. It kind of harkens back to that.”

Fans who follow Blizzard may remember that back in 2022, the Irvine, California-based studio acquired Boston-based developer Proletariat, the creators of the well-loved but short-lived battle royale Spellbreak. Salvatore said members of the former Spellbreak team did lend their expertise to the making of Plunderstorm, but that it was a studio-wide effort, with people from all over Blizzard lending their ideas and input.

It’s Plunderstorm’s combat and gameplay that truly sets it apart from what WoW players are accustomed to, opening up all kinds of new possibilities. Players will be able to equip two offensive spells and two defensive spells, in addition to their basic attack, health potion, and various consumables, like a jump pad, that can be found over the course of the match. Unlike in regular WoW, there is no inventory management or gear to equip, something that Salvatore said didn’t feel right in the game mode. Players will swap out spells or pick up consumables found on the map directly, without needing to drag spells to an action bar or find an item in their inventory.

Each player starts the round with a basic attack ability, but it's not the auto-attack WoW players are used to.
Each player starts the round with a basic attack ability, but it’s not the auto-attack WoW players are used to.

Acquiring multiple copies of lower-ranked spells will upgrade them into more-powerful versions, with each spell sporting four different ranks. Salvatore showed off examples of spells including a fiery, frontal cone attack or a long-range mana orb that needs to be charged for maximum effect. Each spell requires proper positioning and isn’t as simple as right clicking an enemy like WoW players normally do. There are a total of 10 offensive and 10 utility spells for players to find and experiment with.

“It’s exciting to be able to take what WoW is so good at, which is that second-to-second combat, and really break the rules of what’s there,” Salvatore said. “That’s one of the main reasons why you aren’t playing as your main character. This is a unique experience, this is a very different experience, a class-less experience. This is more limited, but hopefully deep enough that players will find enough to talk about metas and talk about what strats they go with when they enter a match.”

In another out-of-the-ordinary move, Plunderstorm was not tested on the game’s public test realm like other WoW content updates usually are, and it additionally will not support player-made add-ons that see heavy use in normal WoW. No PTR testing means Plunderstorm likely won’t be “perfectly balanced,” but that’s okay, Salvatore said. Instead, it’s supposed to be fun.

“The no PTR decision was a big one for us because we didn’t want it to come out and already be min-maxed,” Salvatore said, in reference to players using datamining and PTR playtesting to figure out the best builds or items before an update is officially out. “Our players are so good and so smart at figuring out what the best things are. We want this to be a new experience for everybody when this launches, we want this to be a surprise. We’ve learned a lot from Classic and Season of Discovery and figured out there are things there that people want to be surprised about.”

The map for Plunderstorm, the Battle for Azeroth version of Arathi Highlands, wasn’t Blizzard’s first choice. However, the team early on decided it wanted to use a zone in Azeroth’s old world that would feel familiar to current and returning players. Lead producer Ray Bartos said the team leaned on Arathi’s in-game history as a contested PvP zone when narrowing it down as Plunderstorm’s location.

Matches start with players gliding into Arathi Highlands on the back of a parrot.
Matches start with players gliding into Arathi Highlands on the back of a parrot.

“We wanted this experience to have a familiar space in that sense so that players didn’t feel with all the experimentation it wasn’t too jarring in the sense of the playspace,” Bartos said. “The playspace still kind of feels familiar, they still have a strong understanding of it, and then we layered the experimental effort on top.”

Being a limited-time event, players may feel pressured to grind out its cosmetic rewards as quickly as possible, but Salvatore said the goal is not for players to feel forced to play for hours every day for the next six weeks and that rewards can be earned in a “reasonable” amount of time. All in all, Plunderstorm is about bringing different groups of WoW players together, Bartos said, whether they play Dragonflight, WoW Classic, or used to play WoW and want a reason to again.

“Bringing everybody together, that’s Plunderstorm’s goal,” Bartos said. “We have a simplified experience, if you’re someone who’s actively playing WoW a lot right now or maybe if you’ve taken a break for a little while, to come back to something that is simplified, very straightforward. There’s no need to check an in-depth guide or anything like that. You can jump right in and experiment and try the different abilities…This is an opportunity for ‘Hey, everyone with an active WoW subscription, come check this out.'”

There’s plenty more WoW coming in the year ahead. In addition to the continued content rollout for WoW Classic Season of Discovery and two more planned updates for Dragonflight (including an overhaul of its dungeon difficulties), Blizzard will launch both Cataclysm Classic and its new modern WoW expansion, The War Within, this summer. Blizzard’s MMORPG will celebrate its 20th anniversary in November.

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