"We are on this journey to serve all kinds of players," we talked to Blizzard about World of Warcraft's new endgame soloable dungeon 'Delves'

World of Warcraft promotional screenshot
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

World of Warcraft was one of the properties Microsoft acquired when it picked up Activision-Blizzard, and the game is due for a big expansion in the form of The War Within, which is expected to launch later this summer on PC via Battle.net. 

The War Within takes place in a new area of Azeroth, dubbed Khaz Algar. The region is largely underground, winding down into the earth from the Isle of Dorn. The Earthen dwarves are the dominant race here, although their peaceful existence has been threatened by a newly resurgent Nerubian empire, which has aligned itself with saga antagonist X'alatath. 

World of Warcraft: The War Within will bring a ton of new content for existing players, including new playable races, new zones, a big new story campaign, as well as new raids and dungeons. However, Blizzard is also putting a large focus on a historically under-served player base for this endgame: solo players, and players without mountains of free time. We caught up with Associate Director Maria Hamilton and Executive Producer Holly Longdale to learn more about what that looks like. 

Delves: Endgame for the solo player

Delves are mini-dungeons that take place throughout various areas in Khaz Algar. They are instanced areas of the game world, depicted by a fog door not dissimilar to Dark Souls, but don't trigger a loading screen like a typical dungeon might do. The area is unique to your group and can't be invaded by other players. 

The Delve I experienced in The War Within's alpha build took place in a mine shaft, overrun by Nerubian spider-like enemies. It was also part of the main story campaign quest chain, which is another impressive feature about Delves — Blizzard could use these areas to add setpiece combat moments to typical every day quests, in areas free of interference from other players. However, these areas are repeatable, with scaling difficulty modes, with increasingly potent rewards. 

Holly Longdale explained that, the idea behind Delves emerged from research that Blizzard was under-serving one of its largest player segments — solo and casual players. Delves is an attempt to try and fix that. 

"We are on this journey to serve all kinds of players. We know from our research and surveys that we have a whole segment that are like 'I don't want to think too hard, I just want to feel like I progressed in 15-20 minutes," Holly explains. World of Warcraft does have a reputation as a time-hog. Content tends to skew towards Mythic+ 5-man dungeons and up to 30-man raids, which take a fair bit of preparation and organizational work to pull off. If you're not into that kind of thing, up until now, World of Warcraft hasn't had a great deal of meaningful content to engage and challenge solo players. 

"We wanted to make these snackable experiences that are easy to consume, that also keeps you relevant in the content, you can continue to play — but not outsize the rewards for the effort. As you get into doing more complex or more challenging versions of Delve, it will get more difficult and the rewards will increase." 

World of Warcraft Delves are mini-dungeons that'll take players 5-10 minutes to complete, either solo or in a group of friends. Unlike previous soloable content of this type, Delves offer high-end endgame rewards.  (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Indeed, Delves will have multiple difficulty levels, which Blizzard has confirmed, starting off as an easy "story mode" difficulty and scaling all the way up to +11. However, the rewards taper off after the 7th level, and the subsequent ones are more about bragging rights and things like titles. Blizzard is also adding an extra-difficult single-boss Delve for those who want some added challenge. So even though these mini-dungeons are "snackable" pieces of content for 10-15 minute experiences, they should offer some decent ways to challenge yourself. The Delves also appear in various places all across Khaz Algar, all with different themes, events, and mechanics, which should help stave off the sense of repetition that Torghast had in Shadowlands — Blizzard's previous solo dungeon experiment. 

"We saw after an expansion releases, the solo players would go through the level up campaign and then they're like 'cool, I'm good,' you know, and they'd stop playing until we had new larger quest lines. So we recognize that, we're really underserving the casual community, because they're not getting content as frequently, or with as much replayability as the more hardcore player. We looked at what kind of features would be great for them. A lot of people with families and partners that just want to do something solo or duo with their child — but also significant enough that it feels worthwhile. There's also a challenge component that could help it appeal to a broader audience, mid-core or so. Part of the new ethos for our team is that we should be serving all of our player segments equally. We want everyone to participate in Azeroth."

I asked Maria Hamilton about other potential things that could be added to improve the solo-player experience. Back in the day, I'd grind the Archaeology profession to the maximum level, hunting down various toys and treasures alongside the cool Professor title for my character. The lore items were also super interesting to me, but sadly, it seems the old format for Archaeology will be committed to a museum. However, fans of the old Brawler's Guild mini-boss rush area may have more reason to celebrate in the near term.

"With respect to archeology, we don't foresee this coming back in its previous format or as a profession. I do personally love archeology and the fantasy there and do intend to look at new opportunities. We experimented a little bit with that feel in the Azerothian Archives content we included in 'Seeds of Renewal' recently.

For Brawler's Guild, this is something we do want to bring back in an evergreen format, but not right away at The War Within launch."

The War Within looks incredibly promising so far

Unlike previous efforts at soloable content, Delves should offer the kind of variety previous solo dungeons lacked.  (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Having dabbled with The War Within Alpha, I'm really enjoying the experience so far. The flavor injection from Hero Talents adds a refreshing dimension to many of my favorite classes, and it's going to be interesting to face off against the Nerubians in their home turf, especially since I've been battling them since the Warcraft 3 days. 

Dragonflight is wrapping up, and it has been a solid expansion overall for Blizzard after the arguable low point of Shadowlands. Long-time World of Warcraft co-creator Chris Metzen is back out of retirement to spearhead the story direction now, and Blizzard seems to have built a steady pipeline for fresh content throughout this expansion cycle. The pieces are well and truly in place for The War Within to be another solid expansion for the MMORPG, which enters its 20th year in 2024. 

I still think a lot of work needs to be done on the new player experience, and it's a shame how the classic Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms areas have become an afterthought. World of Warcraft also lives in the shadow of the incredibly ambitious Legion expansion, which came with a new class, story campaigns for every class, new races, and tons of large endgame areas. Perhaps with solo players being served better than previously, the game will see some much-needed growth and, thus, more investment from Microsoft on top of it. 

Either way, it's clear that WoW still has some juice in the tank, though, and many more stories to tell as we enter its next decade. Long may it live. 

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!