BlizzCon 07: Wrath of the Lich King demo'd

Second World of Warcraft expansion is unveiled, demonstrated in depth at Blizzard Entertainment's annual massing of MMORPG players in Anaheim.

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ANAHEIM, Calif.--It's an exciting opening day at Blizzard's massive fan convention, BlizzCon, where early-morning attendees had to choose between a lineup to play Starcraft II for the first time, and a seat at the first official unveiling of Wrath of the Lich King, the second expansion pack for Blizzard's runaway success, World of Warcraft. The expansion's existence was all but confirmed earlier this week after a series of information leaks from all over the Internet, but fans' excitement was as high as ever when Blizzard ran the first trailer for the expansion.

Lead designer Jeff Kaplan, level designers Cory Stockton and Tom Chilton, and producer Lee Sparks have all taken the stage to present a demonstration of Wrath of the Lich King firsthand. The demo will begin in moments, so stay right here to get all the gory details.

[1:08] "Welcome to Northrend!" Kaplan presents the updated map of Azeroth, showing the arctic continent of Northrend, which is roughly half the size of the Eastern Kingdoms.

[1:09] He promises that while snow zones are certainly cool, Northrend won't be dominated by them--other zones will be there, and we'll see some examples during this demo.

[1:10] The Lich King Arthas is the primary impetus behind going to Northrend, and you'll get to raid and fight against him. Kaplan says he's bad about breaking crowd control, though, so don't group with him.

[1:13] Kaplan goes over the list of bullet-point features for the expansion: level cap raised to 80; the first hero class, the death knight; siege weapons ("because blowing stuff up is cool"); the inscription profession, which will let you heavily modify your weapons and spells, such as adding a knockback effect to a fireball spell (which was met with cheers from the massive crowd).

[1:14] Stocktown now takes the stage to introduce the geographical features of Northrend.

[1:15] Unlike Burning Crusade and its Hellfire Peninsula, Northrend will have two points of entry: Howling Fjord and Borean Tundra. Kaplan goes into the first zone, Howling Fjord.

[1:15] It's not at all snowy--concept art shows lush green forests, large waterfalls, and of course, a massive fjord through the middle of the zone.

[1:16] The zone will feature a new race of 13-foot-tall, vikinglike enemies who are just beginning to feel the call of the Lich King.

[1:16] A quick in-game fly-by video shows a decidedly Nordic-looking village built in a valley on the bank of a river, with a burning airship crashed into one side of a mountain.

[1:18] Now we're seeing Blizzard's internal map showing off the quest areas and dungeons of the zone, though it's too small to make out any real details.

[1:19] Borean Tundra, on the other hand, will be populated by naga, who are trying to melt the ice in the zone. There will also be some fishing villages scattered throughout.

[1:21] Concept art shows some shoreline statues much like Easter Island's Moai heads. Now an in-game video shows a new orc dungeon, Warsong Hold, as well as a new gnome town. There will also be a new race, the tuskar, though we didn't get to see what they look like.

[1:21] Just north of Howling Fjord is Grizzly Hills, home of the furbolg, who have a stronghold there.

[1:23] Concept art for this zone shows a redwood forest with small amounts of snow at the trees' bases. In-game, the zone looks vaguely reminiscent of the Hinterlands or the Hillsbrad Foothills, but with a more desolate, arctic feel.

[1:23] The name of the furbolg dungeon will be Grizzlemaw.

[1:24] Next is the ominous-sounding Dragonblight, which will have an entrance into Azjol-Nerub, the ruined underground fortress of the arachnid Nerubian race.

[1:25] Dragonblight will feature a new ice shader specifically to bring to life the ice caves we're seeing in the concept art, in which some skeletal dragon remains are entombed.

Here's a look at a work-in-progress map of Northrend.
Here's a look at a work-in-progress map of Northrend.

[1:26] The in-game Dragonblight footage is what we expected to see in Northrend--covered in snow, full of fissures in the land, only a few dead trees scattered here and there.

[1:27] How about a capital city? "This place might look familiar." An image of Dalaran, the wizard city encased in a magical dome since the release of World of Warcraft, appears on the screen to massive applause.

[1:28] But Dalaran will be on the move in the expansion. The Kirin Tor--the wizards' governing body--will move Dalaran to Northrend to take a stand against the Lich King. Players will be able to access the city on foot or via flying mount.

[1:29] Discussion moves to the new death knight hero class. But first, "with the addition of gnome death knights, we'll need a way to stomp those gnome death knights." Topic quickly moves to siege weapons.

[1:30] There will be a new battleground and also one entire new outdoor zone that will contain destructible buildings. You'll gain honor by blowing up buildings. Blowing stuff up is cool.

[1:31] The new battleground will feature matches lasting around 30-45 minutes. Additionally we'll see a new PvP zone called Lake Wintergrass that will act as PvP even on a PvE server. A new arena season with a new map and new gear is also on the way.

[1:32] Sorry, that's Wintergrasp--sounds a lot more imposing.

[1:32] Now they're talking about the death knight in earnest. It will act as both a tank and a DPS class. You can tank with a two-handed weapon or by dual-wielding; "no wussy shields needed here."

[1:33] Death knights will be geared toward bladed, runed weapons like axes and swords, some skull-adorned examples of which we're seeing in concept art. The death knight's relationship to his weapon will be central to the class.

[1:33] Death knights wear plate armor, naturally.

[1:34] The class is a bit more caster-oriented than a regular warrior, using a mix of melee fighting and spells.

[1:35] The death knight is the first hero class, so you won't get to start out with a level one death knight. You'll have to "unlock" the chance to play it, but you won't have to raid to do so.

Concept art for the Death Knight.
Concept art for the Death Knight.

[1:36] At level 80, you'll be able to do a quest chain similar to an epic-mount quest, which will tie in to the game's lore involving Arthas, and this will let you use the death knight. Once you've done this, you'll start at a relatively high level (possibly somewhere between 55 and 70). You'll get a solid set of starting spells and abilities to "rip stuff up" with right off the bat.

[1:37] These broad hero-class mechanics will allow Blizzard to add more hero classes in the future. "What it boils down to is, your favorite Warcraft III heroes, playable."

[1:38] The death knight uses a unique rune-based resource system to govern his spells and abilities. Three rune types: blood, frost, and unholy, each with an attached color and symbol.

[1:38] You'll have to carve these runes into your weapons anytime outside combat, so you'll have to choose which sort of runes to emphasize in your spec.

[1:39] An example HUD is shown with the character's runes appearing directly under his portrait, showing six total rune slots. These will deplete somewhat like mana as you use your special abilities.

[1:40] Another example--"this is the death knight I don't want to see"--is one that uses six unholy runes and none of the other kinds. Runes are on a cooldown timer, with talents and attributes that will potentially let your runes recharge more quickly.

[1:41] Now the designers turn the session over to Q&A with the rabid fan base.

[1:43] Will there be any new content from levels 1 to 60? Yes, and some changes will be introduced to speed up leveling up to 60 (and possibly even 70).

[1:44] The talent trees will be extended with your leveling, just like in Burning Crusade. The death knight will have three talent trees of its own, as well.

[1:46] Players will have more reasons to revisit old zones, such as a new Caverns of Time instance. New instances in old zones will also show up, similar to Karazhan in Burning Crusade.

[1:48] There will be a new raid zone added to the game via patching before this expansion comes out, and gear from it will last you well into the new expansion. However, high-powered new items will be available to level 70 players just entering Northrend, similar to Burning Crusade's initial quests.

[1:49] You'll get to use the same flying mount in Northrend, but you may have to "de-ice the wings," as Chilton jokingly says.

[1:49] Question about the evolution of rogues--NEXT.

[1:50] The death knight won't be a more powerful class than the existing ones, it will just be different.

The panel members on hand, lead designer Jeff Kaplan, level designers Cory Stockton and Tom Chilton, and producer Lee Sparks.
The panel members on hand, lead designer Jeff Kaplan, level designers Cory Stockton and Tom Chilton, and producer Lee Sparks.

[1:53] Daily quests will be added to the game in the new expansion.

[1:55] Will players be able to play all of the hero classes or be limited to one or a handful? It's too early to say. Chilton also states no new character slots will be added, to sizeable booing.

[1:58] Which races can play as a death knight? Currently, all of them.

[1:59] Last question: Will players be able to use flying mounts in the pre-Burning Crusade zones? (Massive cheers.) Unfortunately, it would take too long to retrofit those zones for flying mounts, and the designers would rather spend their time working on new content.

[2:00] The panel ends--we're off to bring you more coverage of BlizzCon, including hands-on impressions with Wrath of the Lich King.

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