This Is the Way the World Ends

Steve Butts | 17 Aug 2010 13:12
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The second big benefit to such a drastic change of the existing content is bringing more refined and modern ideas about quest design to the world. The current version of zones like Darkshore and Felwood require the player to travel very long distances between quest givers and objectives, and between the various quest hubs. Cataclysm gives the designers license to break up those long sequences and add new flight paths so players can get to and from content more quickly.


Some players complain that the game is already too easy and fear that this streamlining makes the game even easier. Street says that's always a concern for the designers. "We're trying to appeal to a really enormous breadth of players," he explains. "We have very casual players who may not have played a lot of videogames before and then we've got these super hardcore guys who have been with us forever." Appealing to both groups requires a design that's simple on the surface but still has lots of depth, which Blizzard cites as the motivation to restructure the game's stats.

Ultimately, Street and his fellow designers want to give more casual players a chance to see more of the endgame content. Given the number of attempts required for those early guilds that first killed the Lich King, making the path to the end game more direct may not necessarily mean the final confrontations are easier. Street explains, "We have one boss in particular that we are designing to be soul crushing. There will be a sign outside the door saying 'You must be this high to fight this fight.' It's not for everyone; it's for the people who say the game is too easy." Players should be grateful that the difficulty isn't even more extreme. At one point during development, one of the producers joked that Deathwing was so deadly that when players log in to the game, their characters will already be dead.

Cataclysm may also eventually include a system that allows players to scale down their character's level in order to help newer players. The heirloom items unveiled in Wrath of the Lich King already scale with a character's level, so adjusting them to suit a downgraded character is already part of the design. Cataclysm will go one step further and replace individually purchased spell ranks with a scaleable system that allows a single ability to grow along with a character. Scaling down levels probably won't be possible when Cataclysm is released, but it's a feature that will be coming eventually and should help players of differing levels adventure together more easily.

The final benefit of the Cataclysm is the opportunity to make massive changes to existing zones that weren't particularly well designed to begin with. "The Barrens was wide open," says Street, "didn't have a big story, and there was no real flow for Horde characters." Redridge is another zone that doesn't really have a clear story or direction from beginning to end. Cataclysm shakes those zones up a bit and brings them more in line with what players experience in a plot-driven zone like the Storm Peaks in Northrend. Street says that it's all about "telling a story throughout the zone."

And there are a lot of stories and themes in Cataclysm. Not only has Deathwing appeared, but he has allied himself with the Twilight Hammer, an old cult that is coming into prominence, because of the shared desire to destroy the world of Azeroth. On top of that, the recent destruction of the Lich King induces the Horde and Alliance to grow more hostile toward each other and fall under the influence of even more aggressive leaders. The conflict plays out across all of Azeroth, but particularly in Ashenvale and the Barrens. The Plaguelands are finally recovering as the Scourge pulls back, but Lady Sylvanas's Forsaken are eyeing the Eastern Kingdoms and looking to expand their power.

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