Is anyone else excited? I certainly am and it gives us something to focus on during the inevitable wait. To be fair, at least Cataclysm's not scheduled for 2012! We don't have that long to wait, we could be rolling Worgen and Goblins in just under/over a year's time. That just about makes it bearable. But it also leaves us with time to think about what Blizzard will do to introduce players to this brave new world.
Hit the jump to find out what we think could well happen prior to the launch of Cataclysm. From what we know of World of Warcraft's third expansion, things are going to change. Deathwing is going to return to the world and it's not going to be pretty. This presents a unique opportunity to an amazing in-game launch, we're not just talking special events or mobs to kill, we're talking something much bigger. For example, the starting quests for the Worgen in Gilneas mention a series of earthquakes so it's not exactly a giant leap to suggest Deathwing isn't just to launch himself back into Azeroth, there are going to be birth pangs first.
So, perhaps a month or maybe a week before launch, earthquakes could begin shaking Azeroth. These could begin as nothing more than brief tremors and gradually grow to pose a serious danger to anyone in the locality. Sections of towns and cities could start to shake, with weaker buildings partially collapsing. The faction leaders might request the aid of Azeroth's heroes in finding out exactly what's going on, sending them to the source of the quakes: Grim Batol in the Wetlands (or the Twilight Highlands, as it will be known post-Cataclysm). Blizzard might even decide to make it a quest hub where the Red Dragonflight is trying to figure out what is happening as they are pushed back by the Blacks. Perhaps we'll see more appearences of the Twilight Dragonflight or even the opening of other Sanctums in the Chamber of Aspects which will some how tie into the storyline of the new expansion and expand the lore.
But these quakes could also help explain the changes coming to the capital cities. During the preview panel at BlizzCon, it was announced that all the cities would be altered so you could fly in and over them. The top-side of the Undercity, for example, will look more impressive, as befitting the former palace and city of Lordaeron. Stormwind will also change, getting a new district where Gilneas will find a home, and I imagine the other cities like Ironforge and Darnassus will get similar makeovers. From a lore perspective though, the earthquakes could make perfect sense. If the severity were to increase, it could damage sections of the cities forcing the inhabitants to rebuild and change the city for the better, even if some of those are only cosmetic.
I do think it's very important that the Cataclysm doesn't just sneak up upon us. We know it's coming but for the inhabitants of Azeroth it's going to be something of a shock. There will be panic and confusion, maybe seers get glimpses of what's coming but, more than likely, it's going to hit them hard. We might even be so busy dealing with Arthas, as suggested in the cinematic, that we might miss it entirely. On a more mundane level, the Twilight's Hammer could rise up and attack strategic points, much like the appearance of the Necropoleis seen just before Wrath. I would like to think the chaos of this time will allow Deathwing's minion's to have a serious effect on the tenuous harmony of Azeroth.
Perhaps a cult will appear in the cities which will speak of the coming Cataclysm, it might be a ruse by the Twilight's Hammer or a subtle announcement that the end is indeed coming. A way of rubbing their impending doom in the faces of the Horde and the Alliance. We know the Twilight's Hammer clan as a defensive sect who attack anyone who stumbles on their lair but what if they tried to be sneaky for once. They could speak in riddles of the coming end of the world, of a draconic 'saviour' who will reshape the world in his image and offer salvation for a select few who pledge themselves. This cult could be sneered at, or ignored, but there will be a grain of truth to their prophecies which might linger and prompt further investigation, eventually unmasking the cultists.
So what about the Cataclysm itself? Well that's gotta be huge. The event itself will probably happen offline (or at least in the cinematic) but what if the world event concluded with a bang? What if the world shook and then went offline, even if it was just a rolling restart. Something to acknowledge a humongous event had just taken place. Patch 4.0 could then kick in and along with it, the graphical changes. Your toon could "wake up" after being knocked out during the chaos in a very different place. The cities could be filled with rubble and within minutes reports could come from the outlying zones that bad things had happened. Ashenvale is destroyed, the Barrens is now split by rivers of boiling magma. New quests could have you rescuing people from the wreckage, helping with the clean up efforts or using a flying mount to survey the new landscape. However over the next few weeks, things would settle down. The cities would be rebuilt, bridges built across the shattered zones and, through a series of mini patches, life could begin to return to Desolace.
At the same time, the territory lines could be redrafted. Perhaps even in a series of world PvP or scripted events ending in the Horde taking the Zoram Strand and Southshore. Either way, it's important that the effects of this devastating events don't just go away with the release of Cataclysm. There needs to be after-effects that continue even after Deathwing's reentry into Azeroth, to impress the gravity of the situation. The Age of Cataclysm will eventually be upon us and it will change everything.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm will destroy Azeroth as we know it. Nothing will be the same. In WoW.com's Guide to Cataclysm you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion. From Goblins and Worgens to Mastery and Guild changes, it's all there for your cataclysmic enjoyment.