At this year's E3, I got a chance to take a look at what is probably the single most exciting upcoming game in not only my mind, but also the minds of five million other gamers worldwide. Although this is only an expansion, the game itself is without a doubt one of the largest MMOs released to date and the developers are world renowned for the quality of their games. If you haven't guessed it by now, then you have either been living in a cave for the past two years or you are not a fan of the MMORPG genre. For some people I know, this is the only game to play, PC or otherwise, and it completely consumes their social lives.
On the other hand, I have more faith in our readers than that. Of course I am referring to Blizzard Entertainment's massively multiplayer online life controlling game (MMOLCG) World of Warcraft, and more specifically to its highly anticipated upcoming expansion, The Burning Crusade. The unfortunate news for those of us who have managed to find a balance between gaming and being social (or those of us who simply have not managed to build up even a single high-level character in two years of gameplay), is that the expansion will have very little to offer. For the other four and a half million players or so, it will provide a large, seemingly long overdue content update to the game.
So what is offered to devoted players in The Burning Crusade? First and foremost on anyone's list would be the hundreds of hours of new gameplay in a completely new area for high-level characters. This begins with the opening of the Dark Portal from Azeroth to Outland, which will be similar to a world-event, but will not require that all players be in the same area to experience it. Although the details were sketchy at this point, Blizzard has stated that regardless of where you may happen to be on the world map when this occurs on your server, and regardless of your level, you will experience something akin to hell freezing over. Or the gates to hell opening up and unleashing monsters like you have never seen before. Or the announcement of Starcraft 2 followed by a server crash. Okay, so the last one was a stretch, but I assure you that whatever does happen, you will want to be online for it, even if your character is still only level 25 or so.
The reason for this type of event is to try to avoid the mass chaos that ensued when the gates to Ahn'Qiraj were opened in the original game. Instead of having world events that encourage players to congregate in a single area of the game, Blizzard is attempting to provide a rewarding experience even for those who are not there. Although this may not cut down on the numbers as much as anticipated because some players will still want to see it as it happens, it should still prove exciting for those who don't need to be in the front of the line since Outland is a high-level area only anyway.
Other features of The Burning Crusade include an increased level cap to 70 with an expanded skill tree and two new races, the Draenei, which were recently announced for the Alliance, and the previously announced Blood Elves for the Horde. These two races will both start in Azeroth, specifically in the Azuremyst Isles and Quel'Thalas respectively, which will both be introduced to all WoW players in an upcoming patch. There is also the new Jewelcrafting profession, as well as flying mounts which will be available in Outland only. Using the latter, the developers plan to have areas of Outland available only to those players dedicated enough to purchase one of these creatures, which will no doubt cost a fortune.
For fans of the entire Warcraft series, Blizzard has decided to include an area of Kalimdor called the Caverns of Time. In this area, gamers will have the opportunity to re-play several key events in Warcraft history that lead up to the present situation. Although I do not have any specifics at this time, I was told that the game would ship with a few of these and more will be released over time.
If all of this sounds exciting but you have not currently attained an ultra-elite status in the original game, don't despair. I have been assured that Blizzard will continue to release content patches for the Azeroth area of the game even after the expansion is released. Current players will also be able to take advantage of the new socketable items even though the Jewelcrafting profession will not be available to them. The trade off for these is that gems can be replaced once socketed, but the old ones will be destroyed. Of course, everyone will have the upcoming 1.11 patch to be excited about until the expansion flies off store shelves sometime later this year.