World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
Platform: PC/Mac
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Format: CD/DVD-ROM
Release: US TBD
Japan TBD

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Can that harpoon be used on Horde? Let's hope so!
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Some of the wasteland we'd expect out of Northrend.
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Fire HOT!
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An Alliance stronghold.
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John McCarroll
BlizzCon Preview
John McCarroll

On August 3, at Blizzard's semi-annual BlizzCon convention, the second expansion to their wildly popular MMORPG World of Warcraft was announced. Entitled Wrath of the Lich King, this expansion is set to be like many other MMORPG expansions featuring new zones, a new class, more instances, better loot, and a raised level cap. What sets Wrath of the Lich King apart is the fact that it's a World of Warcraft expansion. Millions of gamers across the world are expecting the addition of the first Hero Class, the Death Knight, the new level cap of 80, and the ability to explore the continent of Northrend and kill the Lich King, Arthas Menethil. While one of the expansion's opening zones, Howling Fjord, and one of the upcoming patches' 10-man raid zones, Zul'Aman, were playable at the show, Blizzard showed off the majority of their content during the expansion panel at the show.

While new raid instances, a new level grind, and a new continent to explore are nice, most players are anticipating a single element of Wrath of the Lich King more than any other: access to the hero class Death Knight. One of the undead heroes in Warcraft III, the Death Knight was able to leech life from units, raise fallen units from the dead, and had improved speed and health regeneration. In World of Warcraft, Blizzard is looking to make the Death Knight a hybrid class akin to the Paladin, except instead of healing, you're annihilating people. The Death Knight will be able to fulfill both the DPS and Tank roles, although they won't have the shields available to Paladins and Warriors. The new class will be focused around runed blades such as axes and two-handed swords, from which the Death Knight will also see its new form of resource management. Rather than a health or mana bar, the Death Knight will feature six runes on his or her weapon from three different schools: Blood, Frost, and Unholy. Players will be able to put any combination of the six runes on his or her weapon, though if insufficient in any school, the Death Knight will be incapable of casting some spells in that school. When casting spells, the runes will be placed on cooldown and will regenerate on a timer.

As Death Knight is the first Hero Class in World of Warcraft, many speculated that one would have to transform a current high-level character into the Death Knight, but Blizzard was able to clarify how players will unlock the first of these classes. Players, once they reach level 80 in Northrend, will be able to go on a quest chain, somewhat akin in difficulty to doing the warlock epic mount quest at level 60. After this quest chain has been completed, the ability to create Death Knights will be unlocked on that particular account. You won't be taking down rabbits in Elwynn Forest as a Death Knight, not unless you decide to take the trek yourself, that is. A newly-created Death Knight character will start at 'a high level', which leads us to think that the character will be created between levels 50 and 70. Blizzard didn't go into great detail on how the Death Knight would affect current class balance, but World of Warcraft remains one of the best balanced MMORPGs on the market.

The continent of Northrend will be large; slightly larger than the zones introduced in The Burning Crusade, and on the world map, it appears to be one-half to two-thirds the size of one of the current continents. The map that Blizzard showed during their expansion presentation wasn't complete, as they only went into slight detail about a few zones, but it appeared to show ten or eleven zones for players to run around in, excluding its capital city. The interesting part about Northrend, however, is that there's no existing hub of operations that players could theoretically use as a base city; but of course, the Kirin Tor had something to say about that. The glowing purple dome in the west end of the Alterac Mountains won't be there come the release of Wrath of the Lich King. The magical city of Dalaran will be floating above the continent of Northrend, available either on foot or via flying mounts, which can be used across Northrend.

Northrend, while certainly known for the Frozen Throne and its icy demeanor, will not be completely covered with snowy zones. Players will encounter the forested Howling Fjord; the Borean Tundra, which while icy, is inhabited by naga attempting to liquify the zone; and the redwood-filled Grizzly Hills, the home area of the Furbolg race. That's not to say that there won't be icy wastelands that players are wont to see. Dragonblight, the area where Dragons go to die, is covered completely with ice and snow, including ice caves that include the entrance to Azjol-Nerub, ancient home of the Nerubian race. Whether or not they've all been converted into Crypt Fiends has yet to be revealed. It has been confirmed that Arthas, the Lich King, will be the 'final boss' of Wrath of the Lich King, much as Illidan Stormrage functioned as the last boss of the Burning Crusade. Those raiders looking to take down Arthas should watch out - there might be appearances by a certain Forsaken race leader or a known female mage from Theramore.

While the Burning Crusade's zones attempted to add World PvP into the mix, aside from the neutral city of Halaa in Nagrand and the Terrokar Towers, most of these objectives are left stagnant by players. Blizzard, rather than keep the status quo, is adding a non-instanced PvP zone to Northrend, known as Lake Wintergrasp. This zone is devoted entirely to World PvP, and even on Normal or RP servers will mark all players within its boundaries for PvP combat. This zone will incorporate one of the big additions to WoW's PvP combat: destructible buildings and siege weapons. Players will be able to use these new features not only in Lake Wintergrasp, but also in a new PvP battleground instance. On top of the new additions, players will also see new battleground rewards and a new Arena Season.

Raiding players aren't to be left out, either. Northrend will add both new 10-man and 25-man raid dungeons, and one of them may be familiar to top players from before the release of the Burning Crusade. During one of the panels at BlizzCon, Blizzard employees stated that it was likely that the instance Naxxramas, the necropolis home of the lich Kel'Thuzad, would return as a Molten Core-difficulty 25-man raid instance for level 80 players, complete with retooled loot. Since most players agree that Naxxramas was a very well-designed and entertaining raid instance that few players saw fully, it's a good thing that more players will get to see it, though we certainly hope some fights are retooled to require less class-stacking, such as the Four Horsemen.

Players looking to craft in the next expansion will see improvements to all of their tradeskills, and yes, engineers will see a craftable flying mount. The newest tradeskill, Inscription, introduced in Wrath of the Lich King, however, is set apart from the initial tradeskills in that not all of the results from this tradeskill are worldly goods, but rather modifications to a player's skill. The example given by Jeff Kaplan was that a mage's fireball, a spell with a big up-front damage and small damage over time element, might be enhanced with a greater DoT effect or a knockback. There will be items that those who take up inscribing will be able to trade and sell, though it was unclear what these would be.

The Once-Paladin, then-Death Knight, now-Lich King Arthas awaits adventurers. All players, be they casual questers, five-man and heroic grinders, or hardcore raiders, will have some sort of involvement with the story of Arthas. While Blizzard has yet to set a date for Wrath of the Lich King, players will likely not see the expansion hit until late this year or early next year; knowing Blizzard, it may be even longer than that. After all, The Burning Crusade was introduced in October 2005 at the first BlizzCon and didn't see its release until January of 2007. We're certainly stoked for the release of Wrath of the Lich King, and we're pretty sure that the other nine million players are as well.


© 2007 Blizzard Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

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