Blizzard chose to announce Warcraft III at the ECTS trade show in London two years ago and returned to the show this year to unveil its next game, World of Warcraft. The new game is an online RPG that's aimed at "orchestrating chaos on a massive scale." Blizzard hopes that the deep and familiar story behind the Warcraft games and the company's experience with multiplayer games will make the game stand out from the mass of online games in development at numerous smaller studios. World of Warcraft will combine faster, more action-oriented combat, a polished interface, and an accessible format to reach a wider audience than games in the genre typically do.
At this point, Blizzard has only revealed three races: the humans, the taurens, and the orcs. There will be more races; however, Blizzard is aiming not for quantity but for a "concentrated coolness" factor. Each of the races will be fundamentally and functionally different--not just slight variations on a theme. The game is fully 3D, and its engine shares some elements with the proprietary engine developed for Warcraft III. The 3D camera can smoothly zoom from a detailed third-person view into a first-person mode or out for a more distant isometric view. The default third-person view has been designed not to let the player's onscreen avatar get in the way of cursor commands, and the player model becomes transparent when you mouse over so you can click through it to interact with the world. Most of the game is naturally focused on monster combat, but there will be areas in which player-vs.-player combat is possible. The designers want to be sure that players aren't harassed against their will.
World of Warcraft will be the first Blizzard game to require a monthly fee for online play. The money for the recurring fee will be put back into the game, as a separate development team will come together to organize events and create new content on an ongoing basis after the game's release.
World of Warcraft has been in development for a little more than a year, but no release date will be announced during the early development process. Blizzard plans to take as much time as necessary during the beta-testing period to fully smooth out gameplay and balance issues. Bill Roper, who led the Blizzard presentation, dramatized the issue by saying that the beta could take "a day or a year." As of today's announcement, the game is only confirmed for the PC, but Blizzard is considering publishing the game for other platforms, and the online world would be cross-platform compatible in that case.
For much more information on World of Warcraft and a look at gameplay movie footage, read our exclusive preview based on a recent visit to Blizzard's Southern California offices.