Player vs. Everything: Analyzing the Wrath of the Lich King news explosion

Wow. Or more accurately, World of Warcraft. It's all over the internet today in a big way. Blizzard released a ridiculous amount of information about their next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, and some of the changes they've announced are pretty major. I thought I would use today's article to go over some of the most exciting announcements, discuss what makes them so interesting, and talk about what it means for the game (and for you). I'll be pointing out the links as I go along, but if you just want to go check out the articles, this post will send you everywhere you want to go and this post has a nice synopsis of all the available info in one easy place.

Before I start digging in, I just wanted to mention that I would never, ever, want to compete with Blizzard as a game company. Those poor guys at Funcom... The Age of Conan release date was set for a month after Blizzard's big Sunwell patch -- it looked like they were in the clear, and they could ride people's boredom all the way to September and maybe even hold them. And then, Blizzard drops a bomb like this (ten days before AoC's release, which I'd bet my shirt was no coincidence). People will be talking about this stuff for months, it's going to be hard to get a word in edge-wise over the buzz, and the promise of a mystery patch that will let us spend our gold on "cool new items" will keep people happily grinding dailies for a while. That's got to sting. Anyway, without further ado, lets take a look at these announced features.

The Death Knight

The Death Knight is the thing that's been on everyone's mind since the day they first announced them for WotLK. How would it work? What will it do to existing tanks? Where do they start, and at what level? Finally, we have answers for many of those questions. If you read the write-ups here and here, there's a plethora of information. I'll let you read the articles for the minute details, but here are the things that jumped out at me about the class:

  • They start at level 55 at a new zone in or near Eastern Plaguelands and do quests there to learn their abilities and get starting equipment.
  • They're an anti-mage tank in raids, are capable of tanking heroics and 5-mans, and they seem to work a lot like a druid (they get a 45% armor boost/25% threat boost aura instead of a shield).
  • You can make a Death Knight on any server provided that you have at least a level 55 character on any server (you can make only one Death Knight per server). They can be any race.

Lets tackle the issue that's probably the most pressing: Death Knight creation. It seems that they've removed the quest pre-requisite for making a DK and allowing anyone with a level 55 on their account to roll one on any server (see Chilton's comments in the TTH article). However, no one has said anything about PvP or PvE restrictions. As someone who has recently leveled to 70 on a PvP server, I can tell you that that's not really fair if people are going to be able to just start up their 55 Death Knight on the PvP servers and go around ganking the people trying to level their non-Death Knight classes on those same servers for the first time. You thought ganking was bad now? Just wait.

There's another little problem this is going to create: Any number of people play on servers separate from their friends right now. A lot of them are going to take this opportunity to switch servers and start with a new high-level character. At the same time, plenty of people will be re-rolling as Death Knights on their own server. For these two reasons, we're going to have a simultaneous influx of Death Knights on every server at the same time we have a huge outflow of traditional classes (the server hopping thing is going to make it even worse than it would be otherwise). A lot of those lost classes will probably be healers, too. Get used to seeing, "4 DKs LF Healer, any 5-man instance" in the LFG channel.

There was also the implication in several of the articles that the Death Knight was a "test" to see how the introduction of high-level characters affected WoW, and that we might be seeing a feature to allow other classes to pop up to 55 as well, if this works out. Honestly, that's not a bad idea. It's the only way I can think of to fix that problem of having a massive over-abundance of Death Knights all the time (since they're the only server-hopping class). However, this also drives another nail in the coffin of the lowbie content by allowing players to skip it completely. Instead of keeping players so focused on the ever-increasing endgame levels all the time, I'd rather see Blizzard work on enriching the mid and low-level content and work on broadening the game rather than extending it. I hate that players will be skipping 55 levels of cool content in the old world -- that stuff is fun, but water flows toward the path of least resistance, and no one is going to ever play it again with the option to magically level to 55.

All of the new Death Knight info is great, but I think I have more questions now than I did before. As a final note (and a matter of personal interest for me), I also noticed that no one mentioned Death Knight tradeskills. You might have a level 55 character, but it looks like you may have to start your mining at 0. Have fun with that.

Raids and Instances

Another few bombs got dropped here. In a move that both shocked and awed me, Blizzard announced that all raid instances will be doable as 10-mans or 25-mans. The only difference is the level of gear that drops: You can still see all the content in the game whether you have 10 friends or a full guild. Since the only thing that PvE gear is good for is more PvE, there's no reason to do the 25-man version other than to go link-happy in trade chat or if you have a really tight guild you want to keep raiding with. This change is huge.

First, I want to applaud Blizzard for opening up the raid content everyone. I think that a 10-man is a totally manageable size for a small group of friends to tackle -- I've been saying for a long time that I think it's the ideal raid size for most players. However, I think that this change is going to shake the raiding scene to its foundations. Managing a guild that can field a well-oiled raid force for 25-mans is several orders of magnitude more difficult than managing a guild that can field a successful 10-man raid group. It's infinitely easier to find 10-15 people whose schedules work together, who are dependable, and who are excellent players than it is to maintain the 35-40 similar players necessary to have a first string and alternates for high-end raiding.

Since you can see everything the game has to offer with 10 people, I think you'll see guilds splitting off core groups of their 10-15 best people rather than trying to deal with the hassle of managing three times that number which the game now requires you to do. You'll probably see more collaboration between two guilds for the occasional run at 25-man content for better gear than actual, established 25-man raiding guilds. Who cares that the best gear is available from 25-mans? There's no use for it except to do more 25-mans (or beef yourselves up for the 10-mans). Get ready for some drama and turmoil as the social scene restructures itself.

The other announcement was that all new 5-mans will have a heroic mode with their own loot tables, and be doable in under an hour. I like that they'll be doable in under an hour, but I sometimes worry whether speeding things up like that detracts from their epic feel: I mean, Blackrock Depths was long, but it was really cool, too. We'll have to see how that pans out. The alternate loot tables for heroic mode should make gearing up for the 10-man raids much easier, too (and again, ideal for a small guild of tight-knit players). All in all, you should be able to have quite a long and interesting adventure in Northrend, and you won't have to deal with anyone outside your core group of friends if you don't feel like it.

Other Noteworthy Announcements

Raiding and Death Knight information in WotLK were the two really big announcements today, but there were a number of smaller things that are worth discussing, too -- the "mystery patch" mentioned in this list, for one. Blizzard has suggested that a new patch will come out a month or two before the expansion (much like the pre-Burning Crusade patch) and offer new items to buy, class changes, and talent changes that are part of Wrath of the Lich King. If I was a betting man, I'd take any wager you'd like to offer me that they have a very specific time frame planned for when that patch is going to be released.

Another cool feature we have to look forward to are mounts that you can give people rides with. This is something that I've discussed with friends on many occasions. No longer will your lowbie buddies have to huff and puff behind you as you race towards an instance run on your epic mount. Just have them hop on and they can ride to Wailing Caverns in style (this will also be highly useful for helping friends get flight paths or power-leveling them through quests). When you consider that you might also be able to teleport your friends to you and grant them levels, WoW is starting to look a lot better for friends who want to play together.

The opposing factions in Sholazar Basin will not only be "much easier" to switch between than Scryer and Aldor (according to WorldofWar.net), but Blizzard actually intends you to complete the quests for one, and then go complete the quests for the other. While this might sound great for people who want as much to do as possible, it makes having opposed factions at all even more meaningless and silly. If your choices here don't matter, why even have them? I'm not a big fan of this, honestly.

A number of spells and abilities in Wrath will be focused on either knocking enemies away from you or pulling them close to you. We'll have to wait to hear more details on this tidbit of information, but it seems that this could make combat a lot more interesting and dynamic -- especially PvP. I can imagine the fun/annoying factor on PvP servers, too: How about blowing people off of boats and blimps right before they zone?

Conclusion

Ultimately, there's a ridiculous amount of new information out there and you need to just go read it for yourself. Each article linked goes into far more detail on specific things than I have here, and it looks like this is just the start of what Blizzard has been hiding under their hat for Wrath of the Lich King. We'll be chewing on this for a few months before they release the next big torrent of information, and I'm sure there's plenty more where this came from (can we please get some kind of costuming options, Blizz?).

The WoW you know and love is in for some huge changes. Get ready, because Northrend is going to be a whole new game.

This article was originally published on Massively.