The massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft continues to welcome millions of subscribers to the virtual fantasy realm of Azeroth, and the development team at Blizzard is preparing to unveil its latest content update, the upcoming 4.3 patch for Cataclysm (the game's most recent retail expansion). Though no specific release date has been announced for it, the new patch will introduce six significant content additions: three new dungeon instances designed for five-character adventuring parties; a new high-end "raid" instance for groups of either 10 or 25 characters; a new type of item storage known as "void storage"; the option to "transmogrify" lower-level items by combining them with higher-level items such that players can make current, high-end gear look like lower-end items; a random raid finder tool; and a new legendary weapon for rogue characters that can be attained only as the reward for a new legendary quest line.
Blizzard's game director, Tom Chilton, recently spoke with GameSpot on the update, describing its purpose as being a combination of responses to player requests and to the team's own internal wish list. "We've always kind of had a backlog of features that we've wanted to do, like transmogrify, and it's nice to finally be able to do it. But we have been planning for 4.3 to be one of the most substantial patches for Cataclysm yet."
Chilton went on to explain that the new dungeon instances will tie in directly with Cataclysm's ongoing storyline. The plot continues to focus on the ancient dragon Deathwing, the creature involved in bringing the expansion's titular disaster to Azeroth in the first place.
"[The dungeons] start by sending you to a grim version of the future where Deathwing wins--essentially the extinction of all life, and players get a sense of what that's like," Chilton said. "So, you get Nozdormu, the Aspect of Time, to send you to the Well of Eternity to help Thrall to battle Twilight's Hammer and Deathwing's minions."
According to Chilton, "The key to those instances is they tie in very directly to the new raid, as one big content package, and most players are going to get a chance to experience all of it." The game director suggested that the 4.3 update is intended to serve low-level beginner players who might otherwise find high-end content to be inaccessible.
"So, if you want to experience things like the Deathwing encounter, you won't just be relegated to only a dungeon experience," Chilton said. "All three [of update 4.3's] dungeons lead directly to the Deathwing raid storyline."
This goal of creating content for "middle-of-the-road guilds" was also the inspiration for the update's new random raid finder, which will let players find available raids much like the game's already-implemented dungeon finder feature.
"We've struggled since [the Wrath of the Lich King expansion] to fit our player base into raid content at a challenge level that feels good to different types of players," Chilton acknowledged. "In Lich King, before we implemented the heroic levels, we were servicing the casual raiders and hardcore raiders, but not the people in the middle. With Cataclysm, we serviced the hardcore and middle-of-the-road guilds, but maybe not the beginners and casual players, hence the new random raid finder. I think it's especially important in this tier of content, since we've built up Deathwing to be this ultimate enemy of the world, more so than the Lich King, to let anyone who wants to experience do so."
The director then went on to discuss the patch's other additions as being improvements intended to meet player needs. Transmogrification, which will let you merge a lower-level item with a higher-level item to create a new object with the latter's powers, is a feature that has apparently been on the development team's docket for some time, though exactly how the feature will work hasn't been finalized. According to Chilton, "[The team is] still in the process of figuring out the right set of restrictions, so we don't have everyone running around wearing high-level-looking gear, or low-level gear to deceptively look weak. We need to figure out the customization options while making sure not everyone has a fishing pole, or is wearing low-level cloth armor to purposely seem like an easy target."
Void storage, a new type of inventory management that will let players store up to 80 items, is intended to be an economical way to hang on to even more in-game possessions.
"I see this as being for everyone," Chilton said. "I think the gold pricing will help even people who are gold-poor be able to use the feature. It'll serve as [a money sink] to some extent, but it won't be horrifically expensive. I think it ties in pretty well at the level of [services like] reforging items."
The legendary rogue item and quest line are also being developed, partly in response to the favorable reaction from players to the legendary staff weapon from the Firelands zone added in 4.2. "There's going to be a pair of legendary rogue daggers you can get from the Deathwing content and a legendary quest line that goes through it," explained Chilton, "and we'll continue to make [legendary items] in the future with a good chance of quest lines associated with [each of] them. I can't guarantee how things will work…but so far, that seems to make sense for the time being. The Firelands staff was for casters in general, for instance. But we'll continue to spread the wealth around [to other classes]."
When asked about his view on the game's current state and future, Chilton admitted that while the team "added a lot of new content [in the original launch of Cataclysm], I don't know if we evolved the gameplay as much as we might have, and might not have added enough new activities to do, hence transmogrify and all the other content. We've found that over time with an MMO, the player population fragments more and more in terms of being in different emotional or mental states in the game…at the beginning, everyone is a new player, but as time goes on, you've got people that have been playing for seven years, and they're more likely to want more activities. And on the other hand, you've got players who have been in for only one year, and they're kind of in their prime, and are very sensitive to any changes in gameplay, and then you have new players who haven't experienced any of that, and for them, they're dealing with a game that's very big and complicated and possibly overwhelming. It's tricky to find the right balance of tried-and-true content versus new gameplay."
The developer then concluded his remarks by adding, "More than anything else, I'd want to tell all the fans out there that we appreciate the time you've put into WOW. And it's our desire to help people feel like they can always come back, and can always have fun."