WoW: 10.2.6 Plunderstorm devs on new no gear, no classes Battle Royale mode

James Lynch
The Key Art from WoW Plunderstorm

Of all the content updates in World of Warcraft history, few have been as mysterious as Patch 10.2.6. With the big secret now revealed, we spoke to the developers behind the game to get the full lowdown on what players can expect.

In a substantial departure from anything the community has seen before, Plunderstorm is an entirely new mode inspired by games from multiple genres. That said, the Battle Royale influences are clear and this new stripped-back version of WoW could draw in audiences from new corners.

Set in the Arathi Highlands, players are dropped in on their very own version of Fortnite’s Battle Bus (in this case, an enormous parrot). From there, it’s a race to pick up new abilities and take out enemies, both real-world and NPC.

So who better to talk to than the people responsible? Dexerto sat down with Lead Software Engineer Orlando Salvatore and Lead Producer Ray Bartos to discuss exactly what players can expect when the mode launches.

Where exactly did Plunderstorm come from?

The most immediately obvious thing about Plunderstorm is that its entirely different from anything the player base will have seen until now. It’s not accessible in-game, but rather from a separate menu when launching WoW initially. Salvatore broke down exactly how the development team arrived at this unusual destination.

“We toss around a lot of different ideas when we’re developing World of Warcraft. This isn’t the only idea that we’ve ever had. We’ve had a lot of different ideas. When thinking about a unique experience, especially with myself coming from the Classic team, there’s variety and differences in WoW, right?”

“You have Season Discovery, Hardcore, Classic, and Modern—a lot of different flavors and ways to play World of Warcraft. How can we get players into the World of Warcraft ecosystem? We’re putting the World of Warcraft ecosystem together between Classic and Modern—people who used to play and people who currently play.

“We realized we really wanted a way for a low barrier to entry event or game modes that we can deliver to our player base. It required a lot of iteration, a lot of play testing and a lot of figuring out. Exactly how many clicks should it take to enter something like this? How quick should it be? Should people be able to play this and then jump into their Mythic raid 15 minutes later? Or should we require players to level up on their character and all this different stuff? We wanted to try to create a flavor of WoW that has as low of a barrier to entry as we can make it.

“Though we say this is a Battle Royale-inspired event, that’s not the only type of genre or game type that we really drew inspiration from. We have people on the team who play RPGs, RTSs, fighting games, and a bunch of other different types of games. We tried to incorporate a lot of those ideas into Plunderstorm, and by play testing so often, we were able to verify whether it was fun.”

Bartos also explained other reasons behind the unique approach, including making it available to as many people as possible, as well as enjoyable for a broad player base.

“That’s where I was going to jump in and mention that Plunderstorm is totally different and a whole new way to play WoW. Anyone with a WoW subscription is able to jump in, and we want accessibility for anybody. There is no need for add-ons or any kind of mods for that reason.

“When we were thinking about it at the start, it was the experimental idea of “how can we experience WoW with more action, more action-oriented combat, reduced amount of spells, and be able to jump in really quickly. As Orlando had mentioned, accessibility, and approachability is key for Plunderstorm.”

The successes of Season of Discovery played a significant role

When Season of Discovery was announced and launched at the end of 2023, it was an immediate success. Longtime Classic players praised its experimental approach, and it was widely seen as a first attempt at Classic+. The success of this approach seemingly gave the various WoW teams the inspiration needed to take risks across the board, as Bartos and Salvatore explain.

“It’s hard not to think about experimental modes and not feel inspired by Season of Discovery. I’ve absolutely been playing that since it came out, and honestly Hardcore mode as well. I suffered the fate of feeling overconfident as a Paladin running into the caves and being destroyed by kobolds.

“I also died with him, just for the record. We both ran in there. We both got completely destroyed, and then we queued up again, made new characters, and then we died again.”

Plunderstorm is an even bigger departure from the norm than Season of Discovery. Whether this is too out there for some people is unclear, but it will likely attract curious players from other games to make up the numbers.

Plunderstorm will feature no class system

Approaching this from the outside, the obvious choice would have been to give everyone stripped-back versions of the existing classes. Instead, the developer has eschewed this entirely. Players will instead create a character’s design but abilities will be picked up in-game, with everything available to everyone.

Perhaps fittingly for this experimental mode, WoW players won’t have seen anything like this before. Bartos explained the thinking behind this.

“So, one of the things that’s really important with Plunderstorm is that players feel that sense of freedom and the ability to pick up different spells and try things differently. What if I want to feel more like a Mage and I want to stay back in the fight and be able to use range abilities? Or what if I feel like using Searing Axe and doing an absolutely colossal smash of damage on the battlefield?

“As players, sometimes we want to try something a little bit different. What’s really nice about Plunderstorm is it allows players the freedom to try out those different abilities. As I say this, I’m visualizing Plunderstorm and the abilities on the map. It’s very easy to pick up, especially as you’re progressing within the match.

“You’re taking out the NPCs and getting the lay of the land. The first one that comes to mind is we had we had a Moonkin on the map that was absolutely doing too much damage. It’s an example of one of our elite enemies, that takes a little bit more work and effort to take down, but when you do, the reward is there.”

Salvatore confirmed that this decision was also taking with ease of accessibility in mind.

“When we talk about approachability, we now have the minimal amount of clicks needed to enter a match. You load into the character select screen, you see your character list, you click the Plunderstorm button, and from there, you can immediately start queuing up. You don’t need to go in and select a class and create a class.

“Selecting a class and creating a class has a very specific purpose in World of Warcraft. It tells you a little bit about what roles you’re going to be able to play in the game. It’s a longer-term commitment. We want this to feel like a shorter-term commitment, that you can experiment around with different builds and it’s okay if you don’t get the best build because you can queue up again and get another build the next time you go in.”

“We didn’t want to muddy any waters between selecting a class and having that freedom that we want to be able to provide you. On top of that, things like double jumps in Modern WoW have a very specific purpose for specific classes. We wanted all players to be able to have that. We didn’t want to create any confusion in, say, picking a Hunter who now has a double jump in Plunderstorm but doesn’t have it in Modern WoW.

“Players that are coming in from Classic may not be familiar with all the new classes as well. So, we really want this to be as approachable as possible. You go in, you can start mixing & matching different builds and hit the ground running, rather than trying to catch up on reading guides and figuring out what the best classes are to pick. You can just go in and start experimenting around with different abilities.”

Plunderstorm’s loose ability system

Arguably the most interesting feature of Plunderstorm is the ability system. Players will find that these change from game to game. Salvatore broke down exactly how it will all work.

“After you load in on your parrot and fly down into the map, you will fight enemies. When you kill those enemies, you’ll gain experience. They may drop plunder piles, which are gold. But most importantly for your question, they will drop abilities out in the world. These are actual objects in the world that you can click on, and those objects, those spells, get put directly onto your action bar from there.

“Whenever you see one of the same types, it will also upgrade. So, let’s say you have Fiery Axe on your action bars and then you see a Fiery Axe out in the world, and your current Fiery Axe is not max rank. By clicking that, it’ll upgrade your Fiery Axe to the next rank above. If you don’t like an ability, you can click it off your bar and drag it out into the world and that’ll drop it from your character.”

“The other thing is that when you eliminate another player, all of their abilities will drop out into the world. So, by eliminating other players, you’ll be able to have access to whatever they had on their character as well. Abilities don’t really go away, they just get thrown out into the world.

“If you leave it behind, you leave it behind. If you come across one because other players killed it, then you can equip those as well. Nothing’s tied specifically to your character unless it’s equipped on your character.”

Bartos was also keen to stress that there are multiple ways to forge a path to victory. Plunderstorm contains various ways to pick up exciting abilities, and they don’t all involve killing.

“Orlando and I have queued as a duo before, and I’m a big fan of gold and chasing it down. We have chests of different rarities in the game, and when you open them, you have a chance to get plunder and gold, and you can also gain abilities from that.

“It’s a little bit of risk-reward if you’re not fighting NPCs or fighting other players, you can kind of sneak off to the side and work on opening one of the chests, and you have a chance to get abilities that come from those. Depending on the rarity, the level type or the rarity type of the abilities that will come from it change”

The developer on foregoing gear altogether

As with the class system, gear has been removed entirely. Though this may seem counterintuitive for a Battle Royale, there are good reasons for it. Games like Warzone offer full loadouts, but the nature of WoW would add significant complexity to the mode. Salvatore broke the decision-making process down for us.

“Yeah, we actually experimented with a lot of different variations of gearing, getting items and getting abilities. This wasn’t the first iteration of what we have. We’ve tried a lot of different things. One thing that we noticed adding gear was that it created a lot more complexity because you’re layering abilities plus gear, plus leveling.

“Where’s my damage at? What am I actually managing? What is more important? Is leveling important? Is gear important? Are abilities important? It became a lot harder to determine what is actually most important when playing a very short mode. This isn’t like gearing to go take down Mythic Fyrakk. This would be gearing to play for the next five to 10 minutes with a friend or by yourself.

“That decision-making becomes very hard. The other thing, too, is that we experiment with everything from weapon drops to gear drops to other different types of drops. That creates a lot of complexity in what drops out in the world. The iconography starts getting kind of muddied.

“We have a lot of different things on the screen, and we want to feel like a very streamlined, approachable and accessible experience. We don’t have add-ons, and it’s hard to make everything look awesome on the screen when you have so many different competing systems.”

So where does all of this fit into the WoW ecosystem?

The obvious question after learning of the nature of Plunderstorm is why existing WoW players would jump on and play. There are cosmetic rewards for Modern and Classic WoW to earn, but it goes beyond that. As Bartos explains, one simple ethos has led up to this point.

“As devs, we’ve been play testing and the energy is absolutely insane right now, to be honest with you. With those play tests, being able to see the feedback that’s coming in from different areas of the team. It’s all about the what if, right? The what if areas on the team and getting really excited about that experimentation and exploration of what could be.”

Salvatore also confirmed that the primary intention is simply fun and more options for players.

“We playtested this a lot and figured out a lot from the people that are playing this on our team. One of the pieces of this is where does this fit for you as a player? I know for me, before my raid starts or something, I’ll play a couple of matches of Plunderstorm before that.

“Some other people may focus on this being their primary mode. What’s super cool about all this, is we’re all kind of one family, right? It’s one ecosystem. You subscribe to WoW, and you’re presented with many different flavors. You can go play Hardcore. All of those are options.

“This is another option where you can go in and say, this is the flavor of WoW that I want to play. Hopefully, fingers crossed. We’re always looking for feedback on how to improve it.”

Many will simply be relieved that 10.2.6. is now out in the open and has a name. Plunderstorm is undoubtedly taking bold new steps and they could resonate with those traditionally outside of the WoW community.

The new mode releases today and those with a WoW subscription should be able to jump right in. Happy hunting!