The release of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is two weeks away, but the world ends tomorrow.
PC giant Blizzard is ready to release the patch that shatters the world, WoW Lead Content Designer Cory Stockon told The Escapist - and with the game's customary Tuesday patch date, the Cataclysm will arrive tomorrow, November 23rd. Afterwards, there's no going back.
In patch 4.03a, said Stockton, players would log in to the game and be shown the Cataclysm introduction cinematic - with Deathwing wreaking havoc upon the world - and would then enter the changed Azeroth. All of the zones will have been irrevocably changed, flying mounts will no longer be grounded in the old world, and the new quest chains and mechanics will replace the old ones that have been with the game since it launched six years ago. The update will be applied to all players regardless of character level or how many expansion packs you have installed - if you play WoW, you're getting the Shattering no matter what.
Between this coming content update to the world of Warcraft and the previous systems update that streamlined the old game mechanics, it seemed reasonable to ask Stockton: What do you get for actually putting your change down for the actual expansion? Buying Cataclysm on December 7th will allow a player to explore the new zones like Vashj'ir and Hyjal as they level to the new cap of 85 - and without the expansion, WoW players won't be able to create characters of the new Worgen and Goblin races. As of this patch, however, they would be able to create characters of the new race/class mixes, like Tauren Paladins - Stockton joked that the name "Holycow" was taken on every single server Blizzard operated.
It might seem odd to roll out an event like Cataclysm in such a piecemeal fashion, but long-term WoW players who struggled to play Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King at launch will understand Blizzard's reasons for doing so. The core reason was a technical one, said Stockton - the dev team wanted to be able to focus on the inevitable problems that crop up around an expansion launch without having to worry about rolling out an entirely new world for players at the same time.
During internal testing, he said, the developers quickly found the need to bring all characters to safe locations near wherever they logged out, lest an unlucky (and unsuspecting) player enter the post-Cataclysm world to find himself hovering fifty feet in the air over a lava-filled crevasse and plunge to their doom. "That might be fun for some people, but not for everyone," he said - acknowledging that Blizzard had considered killing everyone in the world at the hands (or claws, rather) of Deathwing but had decided against it for that exact reason.
Developing a game like World of Warcraft means keeping the fun of the players first and foremost in your mind, but what about the fun for the developers? Stockton has been with the WoW team for five and a half years, first starting work fixing bugs in Blackwing Lair (the infamous gate after Vaelastrasz the Corrupt? You can probably blame that on him), and other members of the development team have been working on Warcraft for as long as ten years - is it hard to put a decade of your own work to the torch?
Not as much as you might think, answered Stockton, who said that there was a good sense of humor about the whole thing around the Blizzard offices. In many ways it wasn't so much as destroying your old work as it was correcting things you worked on that you were never happy with in the first place. That's not to say that there isn't anything that he won't miss at all. "I'll really miss ganking people in Stranglethorn Vale," he admitted with a sigh - the infamous zone's new layout made it far less hazardous for low-level players on PvP servers.