Last week, a select number of fan sites earned the chance to visit Blizzard HQ and see — but not photograph — how Cataclysm has been progressing behind closed doors. No, Lore Hound didn’t go because Blizzard doesn’t love us. But they will. Oh, yes, they will (pretend like I just made a really evil cackle.). The NDA was lifted tonight and now they’re ready to share that information with the rest of the world. Now, for the more, shall we say, “curious players” out there, some of this is already known. However, there are some details in the development of the game that haven’t been leaked yet. For all the good little boys and girls out there not sneaking through the back alleys of the internet, it’ll be completely fresh!
I’ll bore you with my idiotic ramblings no longer, but I admit I have strong thoughts on some of these changes, so expect a side of commentary with the dish. The details are too numerous to fit them all on the main page, so why don’t we just start off with some of the biggest?
Path of the Titans — GONE!
Path of the Titans was meant to be a method for players to continue improving their characters after hitting the new level cap. Now, it’s been completely and utterly axed. Wowhead confirms my suspicions as to why: “Tom Chilton explained that Blizzard had spent a long time working on the Path of the Titans system, trying to balance making it complicated enough to be interesting, but simple enough to be understandable. At the end of the day, they realized that they had ripped it all down until it resembled an upgrade to the glyph system.” Considering that it may have allowed people to start specializing in areas outside of their normal capabilities, I can imagine it made things more of a nightmare than a dream.
I loved the original concept, which reminded me much of Final Fantasy XI’s Merit Point system, but looking back on it now, I agree that the Path’s implementation was kind of clunky. Not only was balance an obvious issue, but they were gating progress through it via patches so that players with more time on their hands wouldn’t get too far ahead of those who work day jobs or are constantly interrupted by their crying children. Of course, if they take one thing out of the game, they have to replace it with something else, right? That brings us to…
Medium Glyphs — Its Replacement!
With Path of the Titans scrapped, Blizz decided to go with something simpler and more in line with something players are already familiar with — glyphs. As their name implies, they’re more powerful than Minor Glyphs, and less powerful than Major Glyphs, allowing for one extra degree of flexibility. No word on precisely what “epic skillz” they’ll afford players (perhaps similar to those that the Path would have offered), but at least once Cataclysm comes around, it’ll be easier to figure out which ones you actually want. Improvements to the system will include a full list of available glyphs right there in your UI so you won’t have to go to the Auction House to figure it out every time, and the possibility of making glyph use permanent. That’s to say, you will only have to buy them once, and then they can be switched out depending on which ones you want to use. While Medium Glyphs will expand the market for Inscriptors, this implementation may actually decrease their economic viability in the long run.
Archaeology — Now Less Cool Than Before
Players were supposed to use archaeological finds to progress through the Path of the Titans. Now wannabe Harrison Jones will have to settle for something that looks to be more like Fishing, but hopefully less boring. Now firmly a secondary progression, Archaeology will dole out rewards in two forms: Rare Artifacts (which will be cosmetic and/or usable) and Common Artifacts (which will, as we Lore Hounds will appreciate, reveal the history of the Azeroth and its many different races). Finding certain sets of the latter might be used in special collection quests which can no doubt be turned in for further rewards.
Guild Advancement — Changed Significantly, But Still There
One of the other big promises of Cataclysm was the way in which guild progression would evolve. Performing actions as a collective would afford your guild special privileges, such as free repairs, one-time mass resurrection, and so on. Well, instead of using some mystical currency and putting all the power squarely in the hands of your GM, Blizzard has decided to treat your guild more like an actual player. Now you’ll be using gold to buy cosmetic rewards like special tabards and guild mounts, but the rewards you have access to will be determined by Guild Reputation. This can be earned by doing quests, killing raid bosses, participating in rated Battlegrounds, and earning Guild Achievements.
Guild Achievements should be similar to those that an individual can earn, but grander in scale. For instance, instead of getting one for reaching Level 85, how about having a Level 85 of every class in your guild? Raid meta-achievements may be folded into this system so that they can facilitate true group activity.
The other thing that’s changing is the way in which your guild earns all those cool special abilities. Instead of having a Guild Talent Tree, you’ll now just deal with Guild Leveling. This is a very linear system in which you will get one extra special perk for each level the guild achieves, up to the current cap of Level 25. Experience is likely to be earned in the same way that rep is.
Whew. That’s a lot to get through, but if you’d believe it, there’s more, including further previews of new zones, upcoming raids, and a handful of new high resolution screenshots. Hit the jump for the critical details!
Rated Battlegrounds — Show The World (Of Warcraft) How Much You Pwn
We knew these were coming, but the members of the press tour gleaned a few new details. Pre-mades of 10, 15, and 25 people will be able to participate (in order to accommodate the different sizes of Battlegrounds). Those old Honor titles will be coming back and awarded to the top teams of each season, but anyone of at least “Gladiator” level will received an epic land mount. Why land? So you can show off in Battlegrounds, of course.
Raid “Downshifting” — Because Sharing Lockouts Was A Crappy Idea
That’s not to say that there aren’t some advantages to sharing lockouts. Players who don’t have the time to run the same raid twice or more a week might appreciate the freedom. And if this leads to more difficult 10-mans, that’s great for those who prefer delving dungeons with their closest friends, as opposed to their closest friends and fifteen other people. But a lot of guilds are used to the 25-man paradigm and have the members and capability to field multiple groups on a regular basis, making shared lockouts a frustrating convention for those who live, breathe, and poop the raiding lifestyle (probably into a sock).
But even those guilds are having a rough time right now. Finding people to group with may not be a big problem when Cataclysm hits and everyone re-subscribes to the game, but it is right now due to the end-of-expansion blues and Summer doldrums. And it’ll happen again, eventually. That’s when the concept of “downshifting” will be a most welcome and useful feature, allowing guilds to split a 25-man lockout into up to three 10-man lockouts that will continue on from the point the 25-man left off. For logistical reasons, there are no plans to allow “upshifting,” but hey, this is about combating raid fatigue, right?
The nature of lockouts themselves are also getting a slight tweak. You can now join any raid as long as bosses you have already killed that week are dead in the one you want to join. This means that Raid IDs will no longer be binding contracts, though this mechanic still ensures that as an individual, you can only down each boss once a week.
New Raid: The Bastion of Twilight
This is said to be Cataclysm‘s Naxxramas, which means it’s likely the first raid most guilds are going to be able to attempt (well, if we’re talking about Wrath’s Naxxramas and not the original incarnation, and we are). Part of the Grim Batol area, The Bastion is, predictably, filled to the rafters with Twilight Cultists just creaming themselves for the chance to slay you in the name of Deathwing. Six encounters will test your mettle, including a council fight against “ascended cultists” who have turned into elementals, and the final boss: vile ogre and once-herald of the mighty Old God C’thun, Cho’gall. Ever since he was depicted trying to raise his former master from the grave in the World of Warcraft comic series, there have been suspicions of his return, so it’s nice to see that Blizzard has made good on that storyline. Will he still be trying to resurrect Ol’ Eyeball Face or is he serving yet another be-tentacled ugly writhing beneath the surface of Azeroth? In the Bastion of Twilight, we might just find the answer.
The interesting bit? Even after you defeat Cho’Gall, there still remains a super-difficult, optional boss in the vein of Algalon to tackle!
New Raid: Skywall
One of the four elemental planes, Skywall is slated to contain at least one 5-man dungeon and a full raid. Called Vortex Pinnacle, the 5-man will have you fighting your way through the clouds against, at the very least, a Djinn, a Storm Dragon, and a Lesser Elemental Lord. The raid will take you through similar environs, ending with an epic fight against Al’Akir the Windlord, master of all Air Elementals. Skywall is reported to be an incredibly beautiful area (and from what I’ve seen of the unfinished version, this is absolutely correct) and you’ll use your own flying mount to get from one floating terrace to the next. No messing around with silly summoning items a la The Oculus.
New Raid: War Of The Ancients
Few details were released about this one, but if you know anything about the War of the Ancients, you could probably make a few guesses (especially the parts in which Deathwing is involved). This raid will be accessed through the Caverns of Time, but will not be available right at launch. Expect this to be a major part of one of the content patches. My rough guess right now? 4.2.
New Zone: Uldum
Apparently this was shown, but we still don’t know a whole lot more about it than we did before. Imagine Ulduar with an Egyptian theme and you’ll get an idea of how it looks, pyramids, stone cat-people, and all. It will feature a pair of 5-man dungeons and will likely also be the zone from which you access the Skywall instances mentioned above.
New Zone: Deepholm
Deepholm will serve as the “hub” for all new Level 80+ content, minus the accouterments of, say, a Dalaran (though you’ll be able to access your home cities rather easily). Though it was once home to all manner of Earth Elemental denizens, Deathwing’s escape has thrown the entire zone into disarray. The really odd-looking (and only friendly Elemental Lord) Therazane the Stonemother will no doubt task you with putting her homeland back in order through a series of daily quests with Sons of Hodir-esque rewards. It’ll be nice to have a faction like this at the nexus of new content instead of out in some cold, dark corner of the map. The airships from Icecrown have found their way here, but Ogrim’s Hammer has crashed while The Skybreaker remains defiantly in the air. Figuring out how, why, and what was involved in the crash (all three answers point firmly to the Alliance) should figure into the questing experience of Horde players.
Revamped Zone: Orgrimmar
We already knew Orgrimmar was getting a major facelift, and oh boy, is it ever. Apart from The Drag and a vaguely similar shape, the new Horde capital city will be virtually unrecognizable. Garrosh is, of course, the new Warchief and lords over the Orc metropolis from its center (unlike Thrall, who led it from his seat in the Valley of Wisdom). Instead, the Valley of Wisdom will now be a Tauren-themed district. Goblins will also be moving in and transforming the city in their own, unique way. Though Garrosh doesn’t seem to like them, he tolerates their presence (while most Troll, Undead, and Blood Elf NPCs have been chucked out of the city gates). They have their own area in the Valley of Spirits now, and a new gate leads out of the North into Azshara where Goblin players will do much of their early leveling. You’ll also find that a new trade sector has popped up in the Valley of Honor, and the possibility of more (much-needed) Forges in the area, as well.
While I won’t go into specifics, I’ll say this: Orgrimmar really does look significantly different. In addition to the Dark Iron-plated motif, many buildings have changed both in location and size/shape. There are new Zeppelin platforms and the Orcs have finally discovered the wonder of stairs, making the journey from the lower levels to the upper levels of the city that much easy for the ground-bound masses.
Revamped Zone: Stormwind
The Cataclysm won’t leave Stormwind quite the same, either. Tough not as extensive as those made to Orgrimmar, Alliance players will still be interested to know what’s different. For instance — the Park District? A mere crater in the ground! Deathwing apparently one-shots it in his escape from Deepholm, and also leaves a pair of massive claw marks on the turrets atop Stormwind’s entrance before shooting off towards Grim Batol. New additions to the city include a small lake, a new graveyard, and a trade area added to the Dwarven Distict. Some new quests will be sprinkled about to give life to these areas.
The Best Of The Rest — What Wouldn’t Fit In Other Categories
There are some great tidbits that just didn’t merit a header of their own, but they’re still worth digesting:
- Thousand Needles and the Shimmering Flats are both submerged in water, though most quests and action will still take place on those bits left above the surface.
- Zones that don’t change much in visuals may still change significantly in story (Westfall’s quests will be roughly 95% new).
- Accompanying the various visual changes, new music will be conducted for some old zones.
- As we’ve seen in some recent, official screenshots, the Forsaken will update and expand many of their areas with the new, gothic architectural style currently ound in Northrend (no more moldy Human inns and cottages).
- There is a new leveling animation, which will show your level above your head and tell you which spells, talents, or game features you have gained access to.
- The one Bastion of Twilight is just the first ultra-difficult, optional boss in Cataclysm. They plan to add more as they go along for hardcore raiders.
- Legendary items will also be available in 10-man versions of raid dungeons.
- You’ll have to buy new heirloom items if you want to take them to Level 85, but Goblins and Worgen will be able to use them right from the start.
- Wrath had about 1000 new quests. Cataclysm will have over 3000 (now doubt due in part to the re-jiggering of old zones). That’s a hefty amount of content!
- The heroic versions of Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep may not be ready at launch, but instead added in a later content patch (these must be really low on Blizzard’s priority list, then).
- We may still see cross-server raiding, but the logistics are making it tough.
- No new arenas, at least not at release. Rated Battlegrounds seem to be the main focus right now, as well as the new maps Twin Peaks and Battle For Gilneas.
- Many new zones will be linear in quest structure and featuring phasing. Mount Hyjal, in particular, appears to have somewhere around 11 different phases. Some old zones may get this treatment, as well, depending on the need of quests.
- In terms of leveling from 80-85, Deepholm, Uldum, and Twilight Highlands will be the most important. Though players will no doubt eventually do both, they could do either Hyjal or Vashj’ir and still reach the cap just fine.
- Players will feel Deathwing’s presence in the leveling process, but it won’t be as “in-your-face” as with the Lich King.
- Eastern Plaguelands still maintains a significant Scourge presence (though, I’d keep an eye on Light’s Hope Chapel). They’re going to run with the idea that the new Lich King is keeping them in check.
- Iconic quests, such as those involving Linken, should still remain in the game, relatively untouched.
Well, that’s what we’ve managed to gather from around the web so far (thanks primarily to Wowhead and World of Raids), but we’ll continue updating this post (or make a new one) if anything else makes it through. Make sure to browse through the great new screenshots below, showing some areas you may not have seen before!