Blizzard Entertainment has revealed a very significant development that will accompany its upcoming World of Warcraft expansion pack, The Burning Crusade. Blizzard has also outlined the reasoning for the changes, which are founded in the game's fantasy lore.
As announced previously, the expansion will add two new playable races, the Alliance's pale-skinned Draenai and the Horde's Blood Elves, who originally appeared in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. The additional lore that Blizzard has released explains how key characters from each race's past have affected their societies--and these effects will translate into a considerable shift in gameplay.
Specifically, a key figure from the Draenei's past, the priest Nobundo, apparently drew inspiration from the vision of one of his race's noble leaders. According to the Warcraft universe's lore, the Draenei suffered attacks by the orcs. Some, like Nobundo, fled, and abandoned their priesthood to study the primal forces of nature in Outland, the new otherworldly realm that is part of the expansion pack.
Likewise, the cruel Blood Elves will find new opportunities, thanks to their forebears, including the fanatical Prince Kael'thas Sunstrider and the wizard Astalor Bloodsworn. These key figures used a captured Naaru, one of the ethereal beings that infused the Draenei with "the Light"--the Warcraft universe's version of priestly power that infuses priests and paladins--and conducted various magical experiments on it. As a result, the Blood Elves were able to manipulate the creature's essence so that the fanatical warriors of their own ranks, known as the Blood Knights, were able to wield the same sort of holy power.
So what does all this background mean in terms of gameplay? Simply put: In The Burning Crusade, Alliance players can play as Draenei shamans, while Horde players can play as Blood Elf paladins. Previously, players on either side weren't able to access those character classes; paladins were exclusive to the Alliance, while shamans were exclusive to the Horde. According to Blizzard, Horde paladins and Alliance shamans will have many of the same talents of their traditional counterparts, though they "will also enjoy some unique abilities to themselves, similar to the priest class' racial specialties." Since this new feature will fundamentally change the asymmetry between the game's two factions, it will presumably have a significant impact on the way the game is played, especially in competitive player-versus-player combat.
The Burning Crusade is the highly anticipated expansion pack for Blizzard Entertainment's critically acclaimed 2004 massively multiplayer role-playing game, World of Warcraft. Blizzard hasn't confirmed a final release date for the expansion, though representatives have suggested that the studio is aiming to release it this year. For more information, consult GameSpot's previous coverage.