Weather has been kind of a big deal this week, at least if you live in the eastern U.S. Though it's an essential part of the planet, weather can be devastating.
Azeroth, like Earth, has dynamic weather. It's a feature that makes the game world feel more alive, and one of the few that players love almost universally. Even so, Blizzard's commitment to the immersion of dynamic weather has been up and down over the years.
A static start
Eight years ago, WoW launched without any weather at all. The game had a day/night cycle, but no other changing conditions. Hillsbrad was always sunny, with no rain to dampen the constant Southshore/Tarren Mill PvP battles. It never snowed in Winterspring, despite the heavy snowfall in evidence.
Blizzard was working on weather. Like many aspects of WoW, however, it would take a long time for them to deliver it.
Azeroth gets stormy
In an MTV interview, Jeff Kaplan explained that it took Blizzard five years to be satisfied enough with Azeroth's weather to release it. Blizzard finally added weather to the world in March 2006, about a year and a half after the game's launch. Appropriately, patch 1.10 was named "Storms of Azeroth." Originally, weather was added to only 11 of the game's 40 zones. Some instances, such as the original Zul'Gurub, also received the dynamic weather upgrade.
When the patch went live, however, many players went looking for weather and just couldn't find any. As Kaplan explained, each zone has been programmed to spawn its own weather events and durations for them, to make the weather feel organic. Blizzard didn't want the weather to be overwhelming at first, and they chose to make these events somewhat rare.
The weather wasn't designed to have gameplay effects, even though some players wanted penalties such as rusting armor and travel hampered by mud. Blizzard didn't want weather to have a negative impact on players. To date, the only known effect of weather on travel is related to Flying Brooms from Hallow's End. Back in 2007, certain brooms wouldn't fly in Zangarmarsh when it was raining. If you flew into the zone, you would be dismounted, to your death if you were high enough. When trying to use the broom, the game would tell you, "The weather isn't right for that." Based on her post, WoW Insider's Amanda Rivera appreciated the immersion factor. I imagine that players who found themselves unexpectedly falling to their doom were less enamored with this feature.
Jeff Kaplan summed up Blizzard's attitude toward weather effects in 2006: "If we ever do add things that would tie directly into the weather, we'd rather do something more as a bonus. Like perhaps more herbs grow after it rains."
In that article, Kaplan also talked about future plans for weather. He mentioned a rain of blood and ash when you kill Hakkar in Zul'Gurub, a monsoon that would rain everywhere endlessly for days, or a magical storm that would make it snow throughout Azeroth during the Feast of Winter Veil. Most interesting of all, he also talked about "storms of arcane energy" for a zone in a future expansion. Alas, none of these ideas ever made it into the game, not as dynamic weather anyway.
For the next three expansions, Blizzard seemed to lose interest in dynamic weather. Certainly the opportunities were there. Imagine arcane storms rolling in and out of Netherstorm or the rains of ash in Shadowmoon Valley that could have been. Instead, only one zone in Outland has dynamic weather. Zangarmarsh has intermittent (broom-destroying) rain. The other zones are static. Players, understandably, were disappointed. I mean, Netherstorm has the word "storm" right in it! The Isle of Quel'danas, added late in the expansion, does have dynamic weather.
Northrend was ripe for dynamic weather. Light or heavy snowfall, fog events, auroras that felt special because they didn't happen every night -- all of that could have been implemented. Instead, it's all static: it rains or snows in set locations. Marrowgar introduced his own unique brand of weather, but it just isn't the same when it's on a DBM timer.
Cataclysm had many missed opportunities as well. Uldum has no sandstorms. Volcanoes in Hyjal and Ashenvale never erupt to spew ash or cinders. Storms never wrack the surface of Vashj'ir, making you glad you're already wet. Deepholm has no earthquakes or light, soothing cave-ins. For an expansion that was all about the elements, the destructive forces of nature, they were in little evidence when it came to weather.
Someone at Blizzard also found this lack of weather disturbing, since dynamic weather is back in Mists in a big way. Thunderstorms, overcast skies, misty rains -- Pandaria at last has the interesting and immersive weather conditions that have been missing from all of the other expansions. Honestly, though, could you really release an expansion that has "mists" in its title and not follow up on that?
(Bonus fun fact: While Googling "weather in Pandaria," I discovered that there is actually a real town called "Pandaria." It is in the state of Chhattisgarh in India. To my knowledge, that version of Pandaria has no talking pandas, but there may be a yak wash.)
For the first time, Mists has also introduced a gameplay aspect to weather. If you're trying to tame wild pets, some of them spawn only during certain weather conditions. The Baby Ape only spawns in Stranglethorn when it's raining, and the Silithid Hatchling only spawns during sandstorms.
Will Blizzard continue to support weather in future expansions? Will weather ever have a bigger impact on gameplay? For now, the future of weather remains cloudy.
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