World of Warcraft: the Burning Crusade

World of Warcraft: the Burning Crusade

Jeff Green

While most of the cats are out of the bag already regarding The Burning Crusade, Blizzard’s highly anticipated expansion to the gazillion-selling World of WarCraft, the design team still managed to drop a couple small bombs recently with new details that got the message-board flame wars raging all over again, as they do every time a change is announced.

Horde paladin?

Alliance shaman?

The biggest and most controversial news to current players was the announcement that each of the new player races—Draenei for the Alliance, Blood Elves for the Horde—can now choose to play the opposite side’s faction-specific class. In other words, Draenei players can be shamans, while Blood Elves can be paladins.

In the big picture, this means that both Horde and Alliance groups finally have access to every single character class. This was done in part to calm down some of the incessant bitching about PVP imbalance between the two sides, which, in turn, will allow the developers to finally be free of having to constantly nerf paladins and shamans in a never-ending attempt to fix the supposed cross-faction imbalance.

“It’s been unfortunate,” says lead designer Jeff Kaplan, “because we weren’t able to realize the true essence of those two classes. We had to keep pushing them closer and closer toward each other. This is exciting to us because we can finally do things we’ve never had a chance to do before with those classes.” Specifically, Blizzard will be strengthening each class beyond just defensive support: Paladins will be made more viable as tanks, while shamans will have more offensive casting abilities. “Finally we can make each class cool on its own,” he says, “rather than [have] to constantly balance one side to the other—which is not an interesting way to design.”

Longtime players can also now play a class they may never have tried before because of their allegiance to just one side. “A lot of people are in really tight with their guilds,” says Kaplan, “and don’t want to have to reroll a new character on a different server to try the other side. This way, if they’re already loyal to the Alliance, now they can try out the shaman class by playing a Draenei. The same goes for the Horde. Players can roll up Blood Elf paladins to finally try that class.”

Speaking of which: Blood Elf paladins? WTF? How can a supposedly “bad” race play as righteous paladins?

“Blood Elf paladins are not shiny, noble, light-loving paladins like the dwarves and humans,” says Kaplan. “Blood Elves see the light as another form of magical power they can use toward their own greedy ends.”

In fact, the Blood Elf paladins don’t consider themselves paladins at all—they call themselves Blood Knights. The paladin title remains for players though, because, as loremeister Chris Metzen says, “You’re pushing all the same buttons. We’re not trying to fool anyone into calling this a new class, which would create the wrong expectations. We want you to feel heroic and epic, but also that this is kinda wrong. You’ll see where your power is coming from, and you may have a moral problem with it.”

Here’s where it’s coming from: The Blood Elves have captured one of the noble, angelic, light-loving beings known as the Naaru and imprisoned him underneath the paladin guild in Silvermoon City, where they perform experiments to figure out and feed on the source of his power.

Or, as Metzen more colorfully puts it: “The Blood Elves are punking his bitch ass down and stealing his mojo. No disrespect to the Naaru, since there’s nothing ‘bitch’ about them. They’re benevolent and powerful creatures. And the odds of the Blood Elves even beating one of these guys—let alone parking him in the garage and using him as a battery—are pretty horrific.”

Blizzard has a similarly involved story to justify why the Draenei can be shamans, but the bottom line for Kaplan is how the decision changes gameplay for all players: “It’ll expand what players get to do in the game. They’ll be able to group with classes they’ve never grouped with before, and handle encounters in new and different ways. Each side has extra healers and tanks to pull from now.”

Dungeon Masters

The other big bomb Blizzard dropped was that all the new dungeons in The Burning Crusade will have two levels of difficulty, which group leaders can set before entering, similar to looting options. You’ll have your level-appropriate regular setting and a much more difficult max-level setting with better loot rewards. And no, you can’t switch on the fly.

The dungeons won’t look or feel drastically different between the two settings. “It’s truly just a skill check,” says Kaplan. “The creatures hit harder and have more hit points or maybe an extra spell or ability. It’s not like there are new creatures inside. We’re just notching up the difficulty while retaining the flavor of the original dungeon.”

The example they showed us during a recent visit was the Hellfire Citadel dungeon, the first that level 60 players will encounter when they rush into Outland, the expansion’s new continent. The creatures in the first two wings will be roughly levels 60 to 63 in the regular setting. On the harder setting, they’ll all be level 70, with loot relevant to level 70 players. In the third wing, a level 70 wing, the higher difficulty will be max plus, with monsters higher than level 70. (The fourth wing, a raid wing, will just have the one difficulty—as will all raid dungeons.)

For current max-level WOW players, the appeal of this should be obvious. “At max level, when you’ve capped out your XP in Burning Crusade, all of the new dungeon wings will be viable options in your nightly menu of choices,” says Kaplan. It will also fix something that bums Blizzard out in the original game. “If you’re a max-level player,” says Kaplan, “and pool there instead of rerolling a new character, you never get to go back and revisit all the content you really liked at a lower level. It’s almost a waste of some of the coolest content in the game, like the Scarlet Monastery. It just sits there dormant and unused after a while.”

And what about the chances of Blizzard retrofitting the old dungeons with two difficulties? No comment.

We saw much more on our visit, including the Blood Elf city, Silvermoon, complete with two banks and two auction houses (!); the Draenei mounts, called elekks, which are indigenous Outland beasts similar to the Tauren kodos; the gigantic Tempest Keep dungeon; the Naga-infested Coilfang Reservoir; and the beautiful Nagrand zone in Outland, the original, traditional homeland of the Orcs back when they were simple hunter-gatherers—and where it’s quite possible that Thrall’s grandfather might still be alive.

“How amazing would that be?” asks Metzen. Just finish the expansion, guys, and maybe we’ll be able to tell you.

Publisher: Blizzard Developer: Blizzard Genre: MMORPG Release Date: Only Illidan knows

Copyright © 2006 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Computer Gaming World.