After most of the details were leaked last week by an internet forum, Blizzard today confirmed expectations and announced World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, the next expansion for its wildly popular MMORPG. The expansion will differ from the first two in that rather than taking players to an entirely new game area, it will return to the original two continents, but with extensive changes. Ancient forces have unleashed an elemental cataclysm on Azeroth, and the results are myriad and seem to involve a great deal of lava.
Using its phasing system, which was introduced in Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard will be able to make changes to environments over the course of gamers' playing experience, as occurred in the starting area for Death Knights. The new Alliance starting zone, Gilneas, will apparently utilize phasing extensively to tell the story of how this reclusive kingdom came to be torn asunder by the Curse of the Worgen and a civil war.
The Worgen will be a playable race for the Alliance, while Horde players will be able to roll Goblin characters. The Goblins started off on a secluded island, but when the volcano there erupted, they were left no choice but to flee for the Lost Isles. This will be the new Horde starting zone, and will feature another improvement coming to the game: better water textures.
Blizzard has been soliciting system information over the past month or so from World of Warcraft players, so a number of graphical upgrades are promised for this expansion. While the game will never be cutting edge graphically, as a result of the company's stated desire to be accessible to as many players as possible, these changes will modernize the appearance of Azeroth, which was after all designed more than five years ago.
Other changes to the game are also coming; in addition to the new races and new zones listed above, as well as the changes to most existing zones in Azeroth, it will now be possible to use flying mounts there, as well as to choose from a wide variety of new character and class combinations. There will also be a new secondary class, Archaeology, added, which will interact with the Path of the Titans, another feature to be added, which at this point has not been fully explained.
New instances are also coming in large numbers; Blizzard has promised more endgame raid content for this expansion than for either of its two predecessors, as well as a number of older dungeons receiving makeovers. Some old bosses will also be reappearing, as Ragnaros makes his return from the plane of fire elementals. There will also be heroic dungeon modes added to the Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep. At this point, other known instances include the enigmatic dwarven stronghold Grim Batol and Uldum, located in the southern reaches of Tanaris, which will likely continue the story last touched upon in Ulduar.
The Achievement system will be revamped as well, as guilds will now be able to acquire achievements and compete against others for supremacy. There will also be new creatures, items, and pets available, and the game's level cap will be increased to 85.
No release date has yet been announced for World of Warcraft: Cataclysm; however, it has been hinted that it will be available by next summer, and a Blizzard spokesperson indicated that both Cataclysm and Starcraft II were expected out in 2010, meaning that a spring or summer release seems likely at this point.
In a first for the game, players who do not purchase the expansion will be able to enjoy some of its features; the destruction coming to Azeroth will be visible to everyone. That said, players will have to purchase the expansion to experience all other features. No pricing details have been made available at this time.