I suppose it's easy to forget some of the past engine updates when they're spread out over nearly a decade, but there are several graphical milestones which can be traced back to each expansion:
- The Burning Crusade may not have seen any major technological improvements (at least graphically), but asset quality (textures and models) did improve over original WoW. I think the biggest improvement was the sky boxes. I remember being blown away by the view the first time I set foot through the Dark Portal.
- Wrath of the Lich King made leaps and bounds when it came to texture quality and model fidelity. This was evident in the system requirements, where the minimum RAM doubled to 1GB (from 512MB in BC) and the minimum graphic card memory also doubled. Northrend's zones are still among the most beautiful in the game.
- Cataclysm's largest graphical update was the new water rendering. If you want to see WoW's old water, you can set the water option to its lowest setting. They also added sunshafts and an option to render the game with DirectX 11 for newer graphics cards. Model fidelity went up a few more notches with the new Worgen and Goblin models.
- Mists of Pandaria's biggest technical update was the lighting and shadow systems. There was also higher fidelity models with improved animation systems, e.g. Pandaren and Garrosh.
World of Warcraft's
graphics may not have the technical chops of a modern shooter, but subjectively it sure looks a lot better to my eyes. Good art is good art, regardless of any technical limitations.
As for Ghostcrawler's question about what players expect from engine improvements, I think it varies from player to player. There are always going to be some who would prefer if WoW
looked like Crysis 3
with realistic models and textures which require 2GB of video card memory. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are people who loathe engine updates because they like to use their computer for many years without upgrading. Keeping the game running on such a wide variety of hardware is quite the balancing act for Blizzard programmers and artists.
We don't know what kind of engine improvements are in store for the next expansion, but we do know that new player character models are on the way. During Gamescom, Blizzard estimated that work on new character models was about 25% complete
. We might see some of these new models with the launch of the next expansion, but the rest will likely be rolled out over time. This does more than improve player character models -- think of the thousands of NPCs in the game which will benefit. It will be like a fresh coat of paint on the game. I'm sure we will find out more at the upcoming WoW
art panel at BlizzCon
in a few weeks.
Are you dreading another bump in system requirements for the next expansion, or do you welcome an accelerated evolution of WoW's