ANAHEIM, California--Diablo and Starcraft have their place, but the real cherry in Blizzard Entertainment's pie is its flagship massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. With its 11.5 million subscribers worldwide, as of the company's last official accounting, the game brings in some $100 million a month for Blizzard. That, and people seem to think it's pretty fun to play, too, with critics lauding praise upon the original and its two expansions, The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King.
With Blizzard's opening ceremonies for BlizzCon 2009 just concluded, the publisher immediately convened a panel detailing the future of its MMORPG. Specifically, that topic was the just announced new expansion, Cataclysm.
As had been speculated, the expansion will include the addition of two new races--Goblins and Worgen--as well as raise WOW's level cap to 85. Blizzard also said during the opening ceremony that the expansion signals the return of Deathwing, an ancient evil dragon bent on destroying Azeroth.
With the expansion named, Blizzard now holds forth to delve into deeper detail on what gamers can expect from the latest WOW add-on.
[12:31] With Cataclysm just announced, a panel of Blizzard develops prepare to take the stage.
[12:31] The sound crew is checking the mics, with about three minutes left before the panel is expected to begin.
[12:31] The crowd hasn't thinned at all from the opening ceremony, as Alliance and Horde devout are atwitter to hear more about the new races coming to their respective factions, Worgen and Goblins.
[12:31] The AV guys are still doing their thing. It looks like there are four mics set up, though no word on which WOW devs will be running through the expansion.
[12:33] And here we go, the announcer comes on: Chris Metzen, Tom Chilton, Lynn Sparks, Corey Stockton.
[12:35] Tom Chilton is game director of WOW, Chris Metzen is VP of creative development, and Corey Stockton and Lynn Sparks are lead world designers.
[12:36] With Wrath of the Lich King, it felt good to have the expansion focused on a primary villain.
[12:36] He says that with Burning Crusade, the primary antagonist wasn't in the player's face enough.
[12:36] He's not talking about Deathwing, who debuted in Warcraft II expansion, Beyond the Dark portal.
[12:37] Deathwing is one of five dragon aspects that was supposed to protect the world. However, about 5,000 years ago, he heard whispers of The Old Gods deep within the world, and they drove him mad.
[12:37] The fiery, earthen power that he possessed began to rip him apart so that iron plates had to be affixed to his body to hold him together.
[12:38] His sole purpose has been to subject Azeroth to usher in a Day of the Dragon, where dragons rule.
[12:38] According to Metzen, he's a nutcase.
[12:38] The Old Gods have grown in power and provoke Deathwing.
[12:38] In Deep Home, his lair, Deathwing has erupted into the world, and his arrival into the physical plane of Azeroth has sparked the massive cataclysm.
[12:39] He is ever-present, and the great enemy that must be dealt with.
[12:40] Sparks is talking now and says that elemental planes will be the primary new zones.
[12:41] There are four planes that the titans created many years ago to contain the elementals.
[12:41] Metzen says that these elementals were not been keen on being locked away and are ready to wreak destruction now that they've been freed by Deathwing's arrival.
[12:41] Concept art is shown, with a city rising from an ocean, as well as lava oozing rocks rising from the sea.
[12:42] Metzen is now talking about the Worgen, who are essentially werewolves.
[12:43] The Alliance needed a monstrous race, Metzen says.
[12:44] Metzen then regales the crowd with granular detail about the Worgen's roots. Apparently, the Worgen curse was afflicted upon the people of Gilneas and was created by a sorcerer who was attempting to ward off the invading Scourge.
[12:44] Attendees will be able to play the Worgen and Goblin start areas today.
[12:45] Sparks says that these areas top the Death Knight introduction "by a mile."
[12:47] Apparently, there are surprises coming to level one through five, so players will be able to play today at level six.
[12:48] Metzen is now talking about the new Horde race, the Goblins.
[12:49] Goblins reside on the island of Kazaan or somewhere thereabouts. They are a mercantile, technologically advanced race. Think medieval Ferengi.
[12:49] The specific group you play as is from this island.
[12:49] The cataclysm hit the island of Kazaan very hard, and the goblins became shipwrecked on The Lost Isles.
[12:49] A lot of Wrath Gate cinematics will be incorporated into Worgen and Goblin starting areas, Sparks says.
[12:49] Goblins don't start off as a Horde race, he says, but as a neutral race and are forced to join the Horde.
[12:49] Metzen says that the Goblins should provide some comic relief to the Horde and shows concept art of a goblin driving a hot rod. "That's their mount, by the way," Sparks says.
[12:51] Metzen is now talking about the Upheavel, where certain zones have been transformed by tidal waves, storms, and the like.
[12:51] There's a lot of new stress between the Alliance and the Horde, he says. Can't we all just get along?
[12:53] "While the Lich King will get what's coming to him, we left a bit of ourselves up there in the snow." Metzen is apparently talking about PTSD?
[12:53] As such, the expansion, he hopes, will ramp up the drama in WOW.
[12:53] Sparks says that while the game began as very much an Alliance versus Horde experience, some of this conflict was lost in later developments. It's important that this conflict is revived in a big way.
[12:57] Chilton is now talking about new features.
[12:57] Big happenings: The level cap has increased to 85.
[12:57] The level cap was a key decision for Cataclysm, as they wanted to make sure that they focused their time and energy in the right places, he says.
[12:58] Wanted to spend enough time on revamping old zones and making sure there is plenty of new content for max-level players.
[12:58] Chilton shows an in-game screen of the Worgen, who look like wolves in armor, wielding a cutlass. The crowd seems pleased.
[12:58] Goblins apparently have a rocket belt?
[12:58] The belt is used to propel them forward, as well as let loose some rockets that do damage to targets.
[12:58] A screenshot of a Goblin rogue is shown, wearing black armor and looking actually kind of cute.
[12:58] "Lots of players are going to hate him on the battlegrounds. I'm sure we'll hear all about that by next BlizzCon." Looks like we have a time frame for release.
[12:58] Uldum will be in the game in the south, with Mount Hyjal in the north. The Lost Isles and Sunken City of VAshj'ir will be in the middle of the water. Apparently, the Sunken City will be an underwater zone.
[12:58] Deepholm, Twilight Highlands, Deepholm, and Gilneas in the east.
[1:01] Every zone will feature new quests, art, and items, Chilton says.
[1:01] Chilton is now talking about the Guild Advancement System, which is completely new.
[1:01] Everything players do will contribute to the advancement of the guild, with guilds able to level up to level 20.
[1:02] As guilds level up, players gain access to new perks, such as a guild talent tree.
[1:02] Cheaper repairs, less durability loss, and so on. Mass resurrection is another perk.
[1:04] New race/class combos are also in the cards, and he shows a Tauren Paladin.
[1:04] Gnome Priest is also shown.
[1:04] Dwarf Shaman is now onscreen.
[1:04] Chilton is now talking about phased terrain, which was first introduced in the Lich King expansion.
[1:05] The world will be able to change as players progress through quest lines, Chilton says.
[1:05] He shows an in-game progression of a coastline being eroded.
[1:05] He's now talking about archaeology, which is a new secondary profession.
[1:05] Players will be able to explore ruins and gain access to archaeology nodes, which integrates with the new Path of the Titans.
[1:06] As for the new Path of the Titans, Chilton says it is a new way to customize a player's character. There are still 51 talents in the talent trees, but the Path of Titans will be a new type of alternate advancement.
[1:06] These abilities will not be class-specific and include abilities and passive bonuses. Chilton says it is designed to add more customization to a player's character.
[1:07] The Mastery System is also new and is designed to prune the talent system.
[1:08] Stockton is now talking about the new zones, as well as some of the changes coming to the classic zones.
[1:08] He says the cataclysm has affected every zone; some more, some less.
[1:08] There are five new zones, which he calls level up zones, for level 75 to 85.
[1:08] Stockton says that players can now fly everywhere; there are no restrictions.
[1:10] He says that the level flow has changed, with some zones that were once for low-level players revamped for higher level content.
[1:12] Stockton shows a complex leveling chart, which is designed to illustrate how players will progress. Alliance apparently lost South Shore.
[1:12] One of the most heavily affected zones is The Barrens. The zone was split in half, right down the middle, with a flow of lava separating the two sides.
[1:12] Desolace is another zone that has been significantly affected. This zone, which was once barren, has been flooded with water and is now quite fertile.
[1:13] Darkshore has also seen significant changes, with certain camps moving and expanding.
[1:15] Stonetalon Mountain is another changed zone and has been heavily burned with lava flows.
[1:15] Stockton is now talking about the five new zones.
[1:18] Beginning with the Sunken City of Vashj'ir; it is designed for 78 to 82 players. Along with Mount Hyjel, this zone flows directly to Deephom, Deathwing's lair.
[1:18] Entrance into the Abyssal Maw Vortex is in the center of this dungeon, which is the elemental water plane.
[1:19] When players are on the sea floor, combat will function normally. However, they can also swim upward to fight while floating.
[1:20] Stockton says that underwater mounts will be introduced and will be normal, flying speed.
[1:20] He's now talking about Deepholm, which is located in the elemental plane of Earth.
[1:20] It is designed for players level 82 to 84.
[1:21] Deepholm will be a large, subterranean environment, though players will still be able to fly in it. Stockton says that the zone will be massive.
[1:21] Because it is a central hub, players will be able to enter portals to head to the other new zones.
[1:24] Uldum is next on Stockton's list. Two dungeons will be available in this zone.
[1:25] It is designed for levels 83 to 84 and features a layout that Stockton compares to Egypt, with its river delta and pyramids.
[1:25] Stockton says that Uldum is rumored to contain a superweapon, though he doesn't go into detail.
[1:25] The zone will also debut a new race, the Tol'vir.
[1:25] And now he's talking about Mount Hyjal. The zone is under siege by Ragnaros; woh rules over the elemental plane of fire.
[1:26] Malfurion Stormrage is apparently back, as well.
[1:27] Stockton says that terrain phasing will be used heavily in the Mount Hyjal area as fire consumes the landscape.
[1:27] Lastly, there is Twilight Highlands, which is just east of Wetlands.
[1:28] The zone is also near Grim Batol, and this is where Deathwing is, his base of operations.
[1:29] Red dragons will be in abundance here, as well.
[1:30] There will be a lot of new content in this zone, especially as it pertains to dungeons and raids.
[1:30] Correction: There will be a lot of new content in general.
[1:32] He runs through a number of new areas, including The Firelands, Uldum, Blackrock Caverns (which is located in Blackrock Spire), Grim Batol, Skywal.
[1:32] He then says that WOW will have a couple of new heroic dungeons: Deadmines and Shadowfang keep.
[1:32] Lastly, Chilton is back to talk about new player-versus-player content.
[1:34] Tol Barad, which is an island, will be a new PVP zone. There is a prison on the island, and both Horde and Alliance want control of it.
[1:35] Battle for Gilneas Battleground is the second, and Chilton says that three total battlegrounds are scheduled to be with the expansion.
[1:35] New arena maps and rated battlegrounds will also be introduced.
[1:36] And that's it from the WOW preview panel! The team will be on hand to go into more detail on each of the subjects discussed as BlizzCon progresses.