Today Blizzard flexed its might and threw its rabid massively multiplayer online game fans a bone by ending speculation about the announcement and details for the next expansion pack for its World of Warcraft franchise. Just nine months since launching its Wrath of the Lich King expansion, the new pack, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, will forgo the introduction of any new playable classes and, instead, focus on adding two of the game’s most requested races--Goblins and Worgen--to the playable roster.
Chris Metzen, Blizzard Entertainment’s vice president of creative development made the announcement to the thunderous applause of the convention’s 20,000-strong attendees. We got our hands on a work-in-progress build of the game, which was playable at the show to coincide with the announcement, and took the two new races for a spin.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is taking a slightly different approach and will go as far as to drastically change the physical landscape of the planet. After keeping out of the limelight and presumed defeated, Deathwing, leader of the Black Dragonflight, is positioned to return and become the game’s new antagonist as Azeroth is literally torn asunder. Adding a new continent is one thing, but Cataclysm is already setting the bar high on tearing Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdom realms a new one. Huge volcanic gullies have been cut into the countryside, leaving pieces of land precariously teetering and on the verge of collapsing into the lava below to turn the Barrens into the new Burning Steppes. Elsewhere in Azeroth, the earthquakes have caused huge waterfalls to appear and floods to occur, leaving even the most vibrant parts of the neighbourhood looking pretty trashed. Azshara looks to have been hit pretty hard with most of its trees felled, which leave wide open spaces where there was thick forest before. It’s not all bad news, though, as zones like Desolace have somehow managed to spring to life, transforming their dustbowl environments into lush, verdant fields covered in grass and trees.
As players have come to expect, the expansion will also increase the current player cap and allow you to gain experience again. Interestingly, Blizzard is only adding a modest five additional levels to take it to level 85. Although Blizzard is including only half as many levels as we’ve seen in the last two expansions, it is promising to add just as much (if not more content) in a smaller package. These perks will come in at least three major new abilities per class, a new secondary profession, archaeology, and a new “Path of the Titans” quest line linked to crafting high-end items for your current job descriptions. You’ll also now be able to use your flying mounts in Azeroth, resolving a major bugbear suffered by WoW fans. Though from the sound of it, you shouldn’t expect to be able to take to the skies before hitting 85 because Blizzard is treating it as a reward, not a right.
We jumped into the driving seat and took both of the new playable races for a spin. The Alliance will gain access to the Teen Wolf-looking humanoids called the Worgen, while Horde players will be able to play the ingenious and greedy Goblins. We tried out the Worgen first, and though we were able to roll fresh characters, there was no option to create a female version or customise the look of the human form of our character. All new characters created began at level five, unlocking many of the basic skills. This was presumably to get players up and running faster and into the meat of the experience. Notoriously easy to level, we took up our bow with a hunter and launched into Darkhaven, the Worgen starting area. The zone immediately struck us as a combination of the Darkshire and Death Knight starting area Ebon Hold because of their muted colour palettes of grays and browns.
We began our experience trapped in a torture device with our head and hands bound while villagers stood around watching. A nearby non-player character promises that we will be healed, and after accepting a nearby quest to drink a potion from local chemist Krennan Aranas, we’re freed and let into the town. It’s here we’re given the ability to switch in and out of Worgen and human form at will. It’s a purely cosmetic change, though once you enter combat, you’ll automatically become Worgen. Meeting with Aranas and his associates, we were given a series of quests that saw us needing to locate a crate full of reagents to the southeast, kill Forsaken guards, and cull the local Abomination population by tossing barrels on their heads and shooting them until they exploded.
In a farm cellar nearby, we located our next contact, Lord Godfrey, who asked us to wipe out nearby Forsaken combatants. A distressed mother present is taking up the cause against the undead and requests we find her children, Cynthia, Ashley, and James, who are lost around the area. Once we’d completed the tasks, we were given the job of commandeering a catapult to fling ourselves onto a pair of nearby ships in order to kill the ship captains, Anson and Morris.
Worgen racial abilities were already implemented in our build and included a 1 percent damage buff, a hefty resistance to enemy curses--reducing their duration by some 15 percent--a six second dash on a three minute cooldown, and a 15 point skinning bonus without the need for a skinning knife. The latter of which makes perfect sense given you have such lovely big claws with which to shred targets.
Tossing our hairy human to the side, we switched our allegiances to the Horde with a view to rolling a Goblin. We decided to stick with the hunter class, and after spawning into the world, we found ourselves clinging to life on a bit of driftwood. A short soliloquy from a nearby NPC revealed that the Goblins had been caught in the crossfire during a battle between the Horde and the Alliance. As is only fitting, you’re jolted back to life (after a couple of attempts) with the help of a pair of Goblin jumper cables and given the task of rescuing fellow Goblins caught in the skirmish and trapped in nearby floating escape pods. You’re given a pair of nifty flipper gadgets, which increase your swim speed to get the job done. They were also particularly useful for deftly avoiding the sharks patrolling the water near the crash site.
Once back on dry land, we were given quests that revolved around locating and acquiring missing crates of tools, killing young Teraptor hatchlings, and--in typical Blizzard humour style--feeding bundles of explosive-laden bananas to monkeys and watching them detonate as they chowed down. Farther down the coast, we were given a short escort mission that saw us protecting Goblin miners and returning an Orc journal found on a slain comrade to reveal more of the story behind the battle raging between the two factions.
Like the Worgen, Goblin racial attributes were available for a sneak peek and are unsurprisingly engineering and financially motivated. “Best Deals Anywhere” rewards you with the best gold price for items regardless of your reputation; the vendor “Better Living Through Chemistry” increases your alchemy skill by 15 points; and “Time Is Money” increases your attack and casting speed by 1 percent. Rockets are a Goblin’s best friend, and the rocket jump ability will propel you forward a good distance with a two minute cooldown. The “Rocket Barrage” racial is also on a two-minute cooldown and deals fire damage to enemies. “Pack Hobgoblin” allows you to access your bank remotely for up to a minute once every half hour and provides a handy way to deposit precious Goblin loot when you’re out and about.
We’ve been confined to the two starting zones for the new races so far, so we have yet to see the real effects the cataclysm is having on the world around us, but we’re already eagerly awaiting the chance to get out and do some exploring. Blizzard hasn’t indicated any expected time frame for the release of the new expansion, but this looks to just be the tip of something much, much larger, and we'll be following it with interest.