E3 2006: Blizzard tells all about Burning Crusade and the ongoing development of World of Warcraft
05.12.06 - 5:13 PM

Aside from the recent announcement of the final new race to be unleashed upon Azeroth, RPGFan had a chance to sit down with members of the World of Warcraft Live and Community team about their upcoming expansion as well as some exciting upcoming changes to the game.

On the expansion front, both the Blood Elves and the Draenaei will have not only all new starter areas, but an intermediate area that will cap at level 20, similar to the Alliance region of Westfall and the Horde territory of The Barrens. When asked about the inclusion of low level dungeons akin to Dead Mines and Wailing Caverns, Blizzard stated that they have no current plans of adding any new beginner dungeon content. However, they are currently revisiting the older, less visited instances like Blackfathom Deeps on a make-over mission. Namely, adding new quests and revitalizing the itemization to give players more incentive for braving these dungeons.

Thus far, Blizzard has released information about Hellfire Citadel, the first of several planned new dungeon encounters. When asked about the possibility of including more small scale content for endgame players, they were emphatic about their new dungeon design philosophy: tailoring content for all player desires. Hellfire Citadel is a perfect example of this. The dungeon is slated to have three wings – each wing is geared to a specific player audience. One wing will be designed for 5 man team play, while another will be geared for a larger 10-20 man raid encounter (tentative), and the final wing will host full-scale 40 man raid content.

Also of note is that, unlike most MMORPG expansions, Blizzard has stated that players who purchase and install the expansion won’t have to jump through hoops to experience the new material. Once patched, adventurers have but to step through the Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands and find themselves transported to Outland and the perils therein. When asked about how many new reputation factions would be added with the expansion, a clear “no comment” was received. However, Blizzard stated that there would be new allies, new enemies and new quests unlike anything we’ve experienced before. In fact, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade is stated to increase the current geographical size of Azeroth by a whopping 25%.

Previously announced is the increase of the level cap from 60 to 70 and the addition of Jewelcrafting and socketed items. While Blizzard was very hush-hush about further details, we did learn that upon gaining these new levels, the Talent Trees of all classes would be expanded along with the ongoing revision to the class system occurring at this time. Players can also expect to spend a great deal of time pursuing those final ten levels. When asked about the possible addition of Hero Classes, we were told that the idea was still on the table, but that they were still working on how to incorporate the concept and that their current emphasis was on the planned expansion content. Regarding the addition of flying mounts in Outlands, Blizzard was unable to tell us how players would acquire these steeds (or how much they would cost), but that they would be paramount in exploring the harder to reach areas of Outlands. An example we were given was that players might find very important quest NPCs and possible special enemy encounters among some of the floating islands in the sky.

In regards to the ongoing state of the available content in World of Warcraft, Blizzard emphasized their commitment to enriching and expanding the existing game world and experience. The upcoming 1.11 patch, which will introduce the dungeon Naxxramas along with the next stage of character class revision, is another sterling example of how much new content the development team provides to their subscriber population at no extra charge.

Finally, we inquired about the technical aspect of the current state of World of Warcraft. Many players have voiced complaints about being unable to login to the game during peak hours, server lag, etc. Blizzard assured us that they work tirelessly to fix bugs and resolve network issues as quickly as possible. One of the LIVE members stated, "All of us play our game, alot. We get frustrated just like everyone else who has a hard time getting onto the world server." They were very succinct in letting us know that even though they work on the game, they receive no special treatment and have to brave the same problems as the rest of the playerbase. In many ways, this makes them even more accutely aware of problems, and more motivated to fix them. Though with almost 100 world servers and six websites worldwide, there is an inhuman amount of work needed to maintain and manage World of Warcraft. They were kind enough to let us know that they are currently in the process of upgrading all of their hardware. The process would take a great deal of time, but many of the issues can, and will be resolved.

Before we finished our time with members of the Blizzard team, we asked them how it felt to have come so far in such a short period of time, emerging as the industry leader in MMORPG development. The response was quite candid, “We were honestly very surprised... When we hear so many people come up to us and tell us how much they love the game, it makes it all worthwhile – it’s why we keep doing what we do.”


Stephen Harris