Welcome to 2009, which I am, completely arbitrarily, declaring the year of the Death Knight. Sure, Death Knights were first announced back in 2007, but 2008 was when they took shape and showed up in playable form, and 2009 will be the first full year that they've been on the live servers. Let's look back then, at 2008, and see some of the milestones in the creation of my favorite new class and yours.
Calm before the Storm
The first Death Knight article to be posted on WoW Insider in 2008 came on the first of January, dealt with the fear of many that Death Knights would be so awesome that everyone would roll one, and there'd be no-one to play the "normal" classes. Such a fear, I think, hasn't come to past. There are many like me who did shelve their old characters to play their Death Knight, of course, but I still see more than enough of most other classes in the game. Well, I could use a few more healers, but that's what the next expansion is for, right? Still, it's nice to see this fear finally laid to rest. There's plenty of room for all classes in WoW after all.
Coming a few months later was a gallery wrap up that showed what we knew about Death Knights so far. Interestingly enough, it's not as different from the final product as I might have though. Most of the basic mechanics are in place. Even Unholy Embrace at least got a cameo in the form of Plague Strike's ability to strip HoTs.
An Emerging Class
It was early May when the Death Knight news really started coming hot and heavy, with Blizzard's famous midnight meeting that revealed a ton of information about the Death Knight class. It seemed like almost everyone (with a few notable exceptions) was invited, so the news came out fast. From Various Death Knight write ups, we learned about Runic power, Ghoul pets, Army of the Dead, Death Coil, "Grip of Death," and many of the other signature abilities and calling cards of the Death Knight class. Some ideas from this time, though, never did make it even to the Beta, such as segregating trees by ability and allowing the swapping of the six runes to any type you want. If you really wanted to equip six frost runes and spam Icy touch, you could. The idea of a Death Knight being unlocked simply by having a level 55 character, while not new, was solidified as well.
This mini-conference also introduced the disease spreading system in a rudimentary form, leading to some speculation on how disease spreading Death Knights might change the face of PvP or nub it up and break your crowd control with DoTs. Of course, the fears about Death Knights taking everyone's jobs still continued, while others complained about the news that every race could be a Death Knight.
The Alpha Fail
The Friends and Family Alpha introduced the Death Knight class in a playable form to what was supposed to be secrecy, but if there's one thing the Internet's done, it's made it nigh impossible to keep a secret. Thus, if you knew where to look and managed to look before Blizzard started the damage control, you could get a basic idea of what the class looked like.
Perhaps in an effort to keep the non-Alpha'd information starved future Death Knight mobs at bay, Blizzard did update their Death Knight information page. This page, perhaps more than any other source, propagated the "You can't tank unless you're Frost" type myths that propagate today. Back then, Blizzard intended to separate the trees a bit more, and touted Blood as DPS, Frost as tanking, and Unholy as PvP and utility. While they've drastically changed the trees now so that DPS and tanking are possible for all three trees, many people still cling to the tree definitions presented on that page way back when -- this despite the fact that that page itself was changed to the more general description of the trees within a month.
But overall, the Alpha was just tight enough that we didn't get too much new Death Knight information (aside from the odd rumor that was generally not quite correct) until the Worldwide Invitational.
We might call the Worldwide Invitational the 2nd opening of the Death Knight floodgates. With playable Wrath of the Lich King and playable Death Knights available, we were able to get a lot of new information. In the panels, we heard about 10 second rune cool downs and some justification for making specs more general, as well as the idea of the "Northern Plaguelands" as a starting zone for all Death Knights.
Of course, we also got to sit down and play a Death Knight. Looking back at the setup, it's actually not that different from Death Knights of today, though you can tell we were trimmed back quite a bit. Nearly everything did slightly more damage back then. Corpse Explosion (which cost runic power much as it will in 3.0.8) and Unholy Blight caused extra diseases. Frost Strike had a chance to freeze the enemy. Heart Strike had the weird ability to shrink a monster's max HP by 20%.
They started with a suit of matching green gear that I'm sure almost every plate wearer is familiar with by now, as it's the same armor graphics that are on 90% of all level blue-quality plate-gear in Northrend. I still think it looks awesome though. There was no Ebon Hold in this play through either. Back then, you started in front of Tirion Fordring at his old farm, perhaps as a foreshadowing of the role he'd later play in releasing the Death Knights from their prison.
After the WWI, it was mostly time for speculation and theorizing about Death Knights, although we did get some leaks about Runeforging and the new Ebon Hold and Death Knight philosophy.
Finally the Beta came, and while it was limited invitation, the NDAs were lifted, and the information began to flow freely. We got a much clearer look at Runeforging, which replaced swappable runes with ultra-powerful enchantments, and a chance to gush over the Death Knight starting zone and the Death Knight starting gear. We were also introduced to the gameplay of Death Knights via Jayde's videos of various Death Knight specs.
Death Knights, of course, got quite a bit of attention as the Beta wore on. They were a major subject of the First Ask A Beta Tester, a trend which only continued, much to the exasperation of some. The Lichborne column also debuted about this time with a State of the Death Knight address, in which I discussed some major changes to the Death Knights, such as the reduction of their total diseases to 2, with only a couple extra for Unholy Death Knights in the form of Ebon Plague and Unholy Blight and an overview of the trees.
Death Knights continued to get tweaks and revamps a plenty as the beta wore on, as the dev team tried to equalize the trees for tanking and DPS alike. Death Knights also received some nice cosmetic upgrades, with unique voices, glowing eyes, and unique skins available at character creation. Before Beta was even over, Death Knights were stretching their wings and testing their limits as well, and we soon heard word of Karazhan trios and Onyxia soloing.
Also, we Unholy Death Knights crashed the game by our very existence. Perhaps to appease us, Blizzard implemented unique ghoul permapet names soon after, and young beta-playing unholy Death Knights the world over began chain summoning Ghouls in hopes of getting the name "Bonemuncher."
In the meantime, even the live servers were preparing for the coming of the Death Knights, as Naxxramas moved back to Northrend and the Ebon Hold appeared behind Light's Hope Chapel, and on Beta, the "AWESOME SMALL TWEAKS" (and some not so small ones) continued as Death Knights were made ready for their debut.
Then came the big the day.
Live and Dangerous
The expansion opened first in Europe, and no-one wasted any time. We had a level 70 Death Knight within a day and level 80s a few days after that.
Most of us leveled a little slower, and started assimilating into the game and the community, finding our class niche. Of course, we haven't been without a few things that could be changed, and the dev team looks like they're getting on top of it. In the last big Death Knight story of the year, there's a bunch of very intriguing changes on the 3.0.8 PTR that could change the ways we tank and DPS in some pretty significant ways.
With these changes sure to go live sometime in January, we can expect Death Knights to get into a whole new paradigm here in the new year, for better for for worse (I'm leaning toward better). It's a perfect start to the 2009 year, either way, and as we go through Ulduar, Icecrown, and beyond, the Death Knight class is only going to get better as it asserts its place in PvE and PvP and in the WoW community. I hope to be there right along with the rest of you as we create the story of the live server Death Knight in this momentous year, and in another year, we'll all look back on this and be proud of what we've done.
Happy New Year, everyone!