Formerly Hardcore #15: Adventure Mode

Ragar would love to see some randomly generated content in World of Warcraft.

Hello and welcome to the 15th edition of Formerly Hardcore, ZAMs column on Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. For this week’s column, we’re going to talk about something that was talked about during the Dragon Con panel earlier this month. Quite a few extra details got mentioned that are worth note: the removal of Multistrike, Demon Hunters starting at 98, professions moving away from the cooldown-gated Warlords of Draenor model, etc. The part we’ll be focusing on however is something the developers teased during the panel: Adventure Mode. Sadly no additional details were given about what the developers meant by Adventure Mode – it was simply mentioned as something to talk about at BlizzCon. That leaves us with a couple months to ponder about what Adventure Mode means for us.

What is Adventure Mode?

Since we don’t have any details from the developers as to what Adventure Mode could mean, all we have to go off of is the game Adventure Mode is likely coined from, Diablo 3. For those of you who haven’t spent hours upon hours in Adventure Mode, I’ll give you a description. Introduced in the Reaper of Souls expansion, Adventure Mode was created as a way to provide players with near-endless repeatable content. Once a player has completed Act V of the main story, they can choose Adventure Mode instead of Story Mode. In this mode, rather than having the same set quests to perform in an act, each act has five randomly generated bounties – complete this event, kill this named mob, etc. When players go off to complete these bounties, all of the monsters they’ll encounter are scaled based on the player’s level and the difficulty they’ve selected with greater difficulties bringing greater rewards.

Each of these bounties gives the player gold and experience, but the real reward comes from completing all five bounties for an act – a chest filled with gold, gems, Blood Shards (more on this later), recipes for set or legendary items, and a high chance of legendary items as well. In addition, every time you enter a game, one act will be marked as the bonus act, meaning that completing those five bounties will give you two chests instead of one and that bonus chest nearly always gives better loot. There used to be an additional reward for completing bounties in the form of keystones for Nephalem Rifts, but the recent 2.3 patch removed the need for running bounties from those.

For Diablo 3 the shift to Adventure Mode and Nephalem Rifts gave the endgame the variety it truly needed. Prior to this, players were stuck with boss rushing since that had the best legendary per hour rate, meaning you saw the same mob over and over and over again as you killed the boss, reset the game, kill, reset, etc. Adventure Mode (as well as the changes they’ve made to endboss loot) shifted the endgame away from repeating the same boss to these constantly changing objectives. If a player happens to go long enough to clear all 25 bounties that the game generated for them and they’d like to continue, all they have to do is reset their game like before and now they’ve got 25 more – combine this with the Nephalem Rifts and their randomly-generated dungeons and you’ve got a virtually endless supply of content to run as players grind out better gear to progress up the various levels of Torment difficulty.

How Does This Apply to Azeroth?

Now that we’ve established what Adventure Mode means to D3, we move on to the important question: how does this apply to World of Warcraft? The current design of WoW is built around pre-built content encountered at specific points in the game world, be it inside of an instance or in the open world. Many of the encounters in those instances are even designed with a specific room layout in mind for environment interaction, be it a hazard generated by that room, obstacles used to line-of-sight boss attacks, etc. Bosses in D3 also use the environment in their encounters, but not to the extent that many WoW encounters do like Heigan the Unclean in Naxxramas or Blackhand in Blackrock Foundry. How do we apply Adventure Mode design mechanics to WoW content?

The simplest idea would be to restrict Adventure Mode design to world bounties since mobs out in the world tend to be simpler mechanics and as such would be easier to place in random locations for player bounties. There’s some problems with this design though. The first and most obvious problem with bounties in the open world is the fact that they’re in the open world. If we use named mobs as bounty targets in the open world, then we’ll run into the problems that cropped up with the Apexis Crystal dailies and normal named quest mobs: overcamping. Assuming that Adventure Mode rewards are significant enough to keep players who aren’t Mythic raiders doing them every day, you would have a large number of players fighting over the same monster kill for their bounty every day. This could be countered to some degree by incorporating WoD’s rare monster design (eg open tag, scales with number of players in encounter), but without an almost instant respawn rate, you’ll still have players waiting for respawns which takes away from the “I’ve got 15 minutes so I’ll knock out a bounty or two” appeal of Adventure Mode bounties.

The other option for incorporating Adventure Mode into WoW is going the instanced route, but how would we pull that off? I can see a couple different ways they could go about this. The first and arguably simplest way this could be done is with phasing in the open world, similar to how WoD handled its solo scenario content like the Battle for Shattrath. When zoning into a designated bounty area, you (and your party members if in a group) could be given your own phase away from any other players in that area, leaving all of the monster kills and local events yours for the taking. The issue with this design is that you would be adding a significant load on whatever server handles phasing for that portion of the world – a problem that could be minimized if the bounty areas were kept fairly small, but a problem nonetheless.

Another possibility if we go the instance route for WoW Adventure Mode is if we treat them like dungeons/scenarios and have players queue for them. This mode would be more work for the developers since you would have to come up with some way of handling the solo bounty hunter, but that could be handled with a new set of scenario-style instances.

If the developers are feeling really creative, they could also take some queues from the Adventure design used in WildStar. For those unfamiliar with the game, Adventures in WS were mostly dungeons in the strictest sense, but with a choose-your-own adventure mechanic. Players could vote on how the instance story progressed with each branch bringing you different encounters, different bosses, etc. Now while it’s possible that the developers could just bestealing borrowing Adventures from WildStar, it seems more likely that they would simply call them Adventures or some other simple name. When D3 specifically calls theirs Adventure Mode, it seems more likely WoW would stick closer to that model.

Regardless we could borrow from WS and their Adventure design for our instanced bounty idea by having branching scenarios. You would queue up for the bounty scenario like any other, but once you’ve zoned in, the game would assign you a bounty branch at the start. Since we’re talking Legion content, let’s assume that our bounty instance is a section of land around the Broken Shore. Once we zone in, we might get an instance objective like “Kill Uthgorr the Bloody and 25 other demons” with the minimap giving us a rough direction of where that named mob would be. Once that’s complete, we’d get some form of reward, then a new random mission would pop up with a target to kill, an event to complete such as “Escort the beach landing party to the forward base”, etc.

With a random design like this, the scenario length could even be variable. Perhaps after five bounties, a prompt would come up asking the player “Would you like to take this base treasure chest and leave now, or would you like to continue for greater rewards?” Players who elected to continue would be given a new bounty and continue on like before until the next check after bounty 10, 15, etc. Every time the players elected to continue, the difficulty of the monsters could even increase, not only giving solo and small-group players another kind of endgame content, but also giving raiders and achievement hunters something to push for and show off like the Endless versions of Proving Grounds.

More Content is Great and All, But Where’s My Loot?

So we’ve established what Adventure Mode could mean for content in WoW, but there’s still an important question left to address: why? Sure there’s players who love running content like this just because it’s fun and that certainly helps pull players in at the beginning, but without desirable loot you won’t keep the players around. At first glance, Adventure Mode style loot doesn’t seem like a perfect fit when it comes to loot since WoW’s gear treadmill is different from that of D3. For Diablo 3 players nearly every mob shares the same loot table (some with better odds than others), so they can run whatever they want in Adventure Mode and simply scale up the difficulty level to unlock better gear options on their loot tables. In WoW the best loot around has always been locked behind the walls of a raid and any non-PvP gear outside of a raid is meant to get you caught up to the point where you can participate in a raid through LFR, Group Finder or your guild. How do we make Adventure Mode loot in WoW viable without cutting into the turf of raiders? In addition how do we do so without hurting the place that dungeons and Heroic dungeons hold in the loot ladder?

Since this is solo/small group content, we’re looking at a cap for dropped equipment below whatever the item level of raid gear is. It’s hard to use WoD numbers as a strict guideline to how all of this will fall since we’ll likely see a major shift in how Timewalker/Mythic dungeon loot falls compared to Heroic dungeon loot since players won’t be using it to skip the two previous LFR tiers. In addition, if we assume that Adventure Mode content is designed to be soloable or with a group smaller than five players, then the loot needs to be scaled back somewhat as part of the whole “greater rewards require greater risks and coordinating larger groups” mentality that raiding is built around.

If Blizzard went with the open world (either purely open or phased) bounty design like we discussed at first, I would expect fairly conservative loot with normal dungeon quality gear for the most part and the rare Heroic dungeon piece. Those rewards would likely go up as we got further into the expansion to serve as another catchup mechanic, but I can’t see them going beyond that for a design that’s essentially another daily quest.

Now if Blizzard went with the randomly branching scenario design we outlined, that’s where they can break out the nice loot. Sure we’d still be restricted to below raid quality loot for the most part, but they could use a piece or two of raid gear as that carrot to get us to push for harder bounty runs. Blizzard’s tried giving solo players some raid gear this expansion through the Garrison – not a bad idea in concept since it helps you gear up alts and gives you that extra chance for loot every week or two, but giving it away for almost free doesn’t feel right. Instead we could make it a weekly or bi-weekly reward of sorts for getting to some tier of the bounty instance; this way players can still get that piece of raid-tier gear on their main and alts every week or two like before, but now they have to earn it. Once they’ve grabbed that raid piece, the player can continue running bounties if they want, but there won’t be any more raid pieces until the reset. Instead there could be more gold or, taking another hint from D3, more of a new bounty-specific currency.

When I described D3’s Adventure Mode earlier, I mentioned Blood Shards as one of their rewards. Blood Shards are another currency in that game used to gamble on unidentified items from Kadala. These items could be anything from the most basic blue-quality piece (think greens in WoW) to a legendary or set item – you won’t know until you’ve already spent your Blood Shards. In theory WoW could just directly incorporate this into their bounty system; run whatever their bounty content is, collect your currency, then go to the gambling NPC to try their luck at getting something great. This could be a way to incentivize players to keep running bounty content, but again we’re restricted by having to keep our loot output below that of actual raiding.

Instead if any gambling function were included on the bounty currency vendor, I would see it being a more limited option. Most of the vendor’s stock would be your basic currency items (eg blue gear, pets, vanity items, etc.), but the first item on the list would be a limited stock cache. Similar to Marvel Heroes’ Fortune Cards, these caches would offer at minimum some base quality item (likely one of those blue pieces the vendor sells) with the potential for something better that can only come from the cache (eg pets, mounts, etc) or even something like one of a small set of epic trinkets or rings. Now players would have a reason to keep running bounty dungeons since not only are those cache-only items not guaranteed to drop, but you’d be limited on how many times you can buy them per day/week/etc.


I’m hoping that we don’t actually have to wait until BlizzCon to find out if the ideas thrown out here for WoW Adventure Mode are anywhere close to what they’re planning. Blizzard has that constant battle going on though between “not enough information given” and “too much info given”. Too little info and the players feel like the devs aren’t communicating enough. Too much and you risk not only different devs giving out conflicting messages but also players getting angry when an early design announcement gets cancelled (eg Path of the Titans, Dance Studio, etc) for one reason or another. Since we’re under two months away from BlizzCon and there’s other aspects of the expansion that players are more vocal about currently like getting more Demon Hunter and Artifact weapon details, I’d say BlizzCon is the earliest we’ll hear about it. Hopefully I can grab a seat at whatever panel they talk about that.

That’s it for this edition of Formerly Hardcore. What do you think of adding Adventure Mode to WoW? Do you think they’ll go with one of the designs we laid out earlier or do you have a better idea? Are you interested in randomly generated bounty hunts or do you only want structured dungeon-style instances? What kind of rewards would it take for you to run bounties? Let us know in the comments below.

Michael “Ragar” Branham


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