Of course, if you have been away from World of Warcraft for awhile since the launch of Pandaria, or you just want to get some new gear rapidly, then the Timeless Isle should be where you will be spending most of your time. Hazzikostas said that the new locale is the expansion of an earlier experiment by Blizzard.
"What we were aiming for was something similar to Isle of Giants, which was a smaller, lesser-known companion to the Isle of Thunder in patch 5.2. It was designed to just farm and fight, tackle elite monsters, get pets and get things for your character without much directed game play," he said. "Timeless Isle takes that a step further and blends in some of the random events we had in Battlefield: Barrens. Daily quests certainly have a place, but one of the lessons we learned from the various expansions is that we just can't rely on tons and tons of daily quests and the structured gameplay they provide to satisfy players throughout an entire patch cycle. There's a lot to be said for players feeling like they can do things at their own pace or in a given day without being constrained by a certain quest. Timeless Isle is really about exploration, farming for resources on your own time and the random events and treasure you can find while you explore the island. We are looking forward to seeing how players react to it."
As with most new locations, there will be a new faction that players can gain reputation with, but the overall goal is to collect the new island currency, Timeless Coins. Everything you do on the island, whether it's killing creatures, finding treasure chests, completing hidden objectives or doing random events, all of these things will feed into your supply of Timeless Coins that you can spend on a wide array of things from player power items, temporary buffs cosmetic gear and pets.
If you need gear quickly, the Timeless Isle can provide that as well, filling the void created by the absence of a Valor Quartermaster in 5.4. "Just by farming on the island, you'll get these base items that will turn into a level 496 item for whoever uses them," Hazzikostas said. "Those are bind-on-account until they are transformed into their final item. So you can get a timeworn bracer, send it to your Warlock alt and transform it into a Warlock-specific bracer. So you can gear up alts through that mechanism. Using Timeless Coins, you can upgrade some of these things to level 535 items, which is closer to raid-quality gear that a Valor Quartermaster would have otherwise filled. We are pretty happy leaning on the item upgrade system as a way of using Valor for the endgame. We'd removed the item upgrade vendor in 5.2, but this time, we're keeping it around the whole way through. The reason for that is that Valor had become a source for all of a player's best items, and your endgame progression was really buying things from a vendor, which really wasn't as exciting instead as getting things from a boss you had killed. Players became less concerned about raid gear. Upgrading is a much smoother process. Now you use Valor to enhance the loot you find as opposed to replacing it."
With the 5.4 update comes a laundry list of changes to the various classes, and while there may be a lot of bullet points, most of it is a lot of numerical balancing and not enough to significantly change game play, Hazzikostas said. The biggest class change is coming in the form of talents and glyphs.
"We took a close look at our internal data about how popular the different glyphs and talents were. Ones that were only being used by a small percentage of the player base, we either buffed them or redesigned them entirely, understanding that why they were so unpopular was because there was an issue with their underlying design," he said. "On the other end of the spectrum, glyphs or talents that were being used by 95 percent of players of a given spec was equally, if not more, problematic. One mandatory glyph permanently ties up one of your limited glyph slots so you only have two glyphs of choice to play with instead of three. So in the case of those that were seen as mandatory, we basically set those into the class or specs as an ability and redesigned the glyph to give the freedom of choice back."
And any time changes are made to the classes in any way, players scramble to test their new builds to see how effective they are. While the target dummies will still get a lot of use to test rotations, players will have access to a new area that will not only test their current spec, but will allow them to experiment with different specs as well. Enter the Proving Grounds.
"This new area serves two main purposes. At the high end, it's a chance for players to compare and find out who is the best tank or who is the best frost death knight on their server or in their guild. Can you beat your buddy's score, and that type of thing," Hazzikostas said. "But one of the fun little advantages to the system is its ability to serve as an introduction to teaching a style of gameplay to players who have not experienced it or want to check it out. I think the way most people work in playing a character is questing, and if you aren't doing dungeons as you level up, that may be your only experience with a play style. But if you want to start tanking or you want to try healing, there is really no safe environment in which to learn those skills. So up to 5.3, the best you can do is get the tank gear, enter a dungeon by checking the tank box and pretty much learn at the other people's expense. You may get the hang of it eventually, but you may not have the best time or they may not have the best time in the process. That whole thing will keep a lot of people from trying it. Proving Grounds will let people go into a safe environment and learn at their own pace and practice the skills that are involved."
Hazzikostas said that a side benefit will also assist in forming flexible raids. "People can say they are a pretty good tank or healer because of the medals they have earned in Proving Grounds," he said. "That replaces the need for groups to require expensive gear levels or proof that a player has killed every boss in an instance to join their pick-up group. That can be a tough barrier to entry, while there are plenty of competent people out there who just want a chance."
If you want a complete look at everything happening in Patch 5.4 when it launches on Tuesday, be sure to check the official site. It is safe to say a bunch of us will also be online experimenting with all the new additions, so check back for further updates and features after launch.