The Patch That Changes World Of Warcraft Forever

In two weeks, World of Warcraft gains Goblin, Worgen, and a healthy dose of high-end content, but first the world must die. WoW lead systems designer Greg Street talks us through the rebirth of Azeroth coming in tomorrow's massive patch.

Street makes one point perfectly clear: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is not the expansion pack that changes the face of World of Warcraft. Cataclysm brings two new playable races, a level cap raise from 80 to 85, and plenty of high-end content for players of the popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game to spend those five levels on.

It's a big deal, but it's not the end of the world. That happens tonight.

I spoke to Street last week, and at that time the status on the final major content patch before the release of Cataclysm was "Soon (TM)." Now the rumblings of Deathwing's ruinous coming are shaking the entire planet, and players are crowding onto servers to witness the end of days.

"The first thing players will see when logging on after the patch will be Deathwing's cinematic arrival," explained Street. Events in-game have been building to this moment for weeks, and the movie will usher in a new era for Azeroth. "Deathwing has arrived, ravaging Azeroth. The world has completely changed. Hopefully we'll have moved everyone to a safe location."

What happens tomorrow? The mainlands are reborn. The Goblin and the Worgen make themselves known throughout the lands, though players will have to wait until December 7 to play them.

Every starting area has been revamped. The Trolls and Gnomes start in entirely new areas. "It'll be an excellent time to start that alt you've always wanted," says Street. It's the day when class and race combinations are relaxed. Want to be a human hunter? Now's your chance. Have you been dying to play a Gnome priest? There is something seriously wrong with you, but okay! Knock yourself out.

It'll be a big day for World of Warcraft artists as well. They'll be saying goodbye to art they've had to leave in place with every new expansion pack.

"An artist looks at a tree in (Wrath of the Lich King's) Northrend and then goes back to (original game zone) Westfall and thinks, 'I can do so much better than that,'" Street explains. This is more than a chance for players to have new experiences in older zones; it's a chance for artists to bring the old world up-to-date, applying what they've learned in the nearly six years since World of Warcraft was first released.

It's also a chance to change the way the game works. Player characters will now get class-defining talents earlier. In the old game, a player would spend countless levels earning the talents that defined their build. Now a Protection Warrior feels like a Protection Warrior at level 10, and a Shadow Priest can get a head start boasting to everyone how amazing he is.

"There's a lot here for new players, current players - there's a lot for everybody," Street told me. He says that Cataclysm is really two massive expansions in one. You've got this revamp of the entire world, free of charge, and then on December 7 comes two new playable races, along with five more levels and tons of new content to explore.

So what should you do once you log into World of Warcraft tomorrow? Explore. Visit those older zones you've never spent much time in. Silverpine, Azshara; Street says one of the key reasons for the update was to finally make those boring zones more interesting.

With Blizzard recently giving lapsed players a free week to come back and see what's changed, there's no excuse not to show up for the fireworks.

After all, as Street puts it, "This is the patch that changes World of Warcraft forever." You can't very well miss that, now can you?