The Goblin and Worgen races are getting a grand introduction in the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, with starting areas that make the other races' pale in comparison.
I briefly got my hands on both the Goblins and the Worgen during BlizzCon 2009, and while I wasn't able to experience either area from start to finish, I played enough to realize that these two races are getting far better treatment than ten previous could ever dream of, all thanks to the bar set by Wrath of the Lich King's Death Knight starting area.
The Death Knight starting experience was unlike anything seen before in World of Warcraft. It introduced new gameplay elements such a zone phasing, which allowed for the area the player was playing in to change drastically during the course of their adventure, while adding in various mini-games to help the player feel that they were playing a larger role in the story. Blizzard takes these elements and applies them to the starting areas for the Goblins and the Worgen, The Lost Isles and Gilneas.
The demos for both races started off at level six. During my interview with lead developer Tom Chilton, he explained that this was simply because the 1-5 areas weren't quite finished, and they felt the 6 and up areas offered a more complete grasp of what they were trying to do.
Both races reach level 6 under dire circumstances. Your Goblin character winds up dead on the docks following a shipwreck, with an NPC desperately trying to revive him using everyone's favorite Goblin engineering item, the Goblin Jumper Cables. Once you've come to life, you set off on a series of quest to help your fellow greenskins recover from the traumatic wreck. The very first quest requires you blast open escape pods, with each freed NPC referring to you by name, hinting at a much more intimate story leading up to the beginning of the demo.
The Lost Isle takes a cue from Northrend in terms of design, presenting a much more vertical experience than standard World of Warcraft zones have in the past. You'll find yourself looking down on areas you've visited previously, in between run-ins with explosive-throwing monkeys, Alliance sailors, and the shadowy rogues of the SI:7.
Aiding in my explorations were the Goblin's two active racial abilities, Rocket Barrage and Rocket Jump. Barrage fires a barrage of missiles at a foe, while Rock Jump launches the Goblin forward for a tiny speed boost, perfect for escaping unsavory situations. The latter should make Goblin rogues absolutely insufferable.
While my time as a Goblin rogue was brief, I did come away with a strong feeling that Blizzard is intending on making Goblins serious Horde business, while maintaining the same lighthearted tone they have with Gnome society these past five years.
On the Alliance side of things, your Worgen wakes up in stocks, with NPCs arguing over whether or not you deserve to live or die. Can you control your curse, or will it consume you? Right from the start it is obvious that Blizzard is taking the werewolves quite seriously. Soon you find yourself freed, tasked with finding ingredients for a potion to help curb your more feral tendencies and helping defend the city from an undead invasion.
Where The Lost Isles are sunny and cheerful, Gilneas is dark and bleak. There's still the same sort of verticality to the playfield, with hills rolling a bit more than hills had rolled previously, but all in all it's a very familiar looking place. Think Darkshire and you're heading in the right direction.
Perhaps if I had tried the Worgen first I would have been a bit more impressed, but after the bright, humorous Goblin experience, the Worgen just felt like a bit of a letdown. It felt less like an exciting new race, and more like humans in furry outfits. In fact, one of their racial abilities lets you shift back and forth between human and Worgen, which means you essentially are a human in a furry outfit, albeit one that can run very fast for 10 seconds at a time on a 3-minute cooldown timer. Another new race that should give rogues even more ways to run away. It could just be that the excitement from levels 1-5 was more necessary to the Worgen experience than Blizzard expected. I suppose we will find out sometime next year.
Still, I can see the direction Blizzard is going in, making the starting areas for these two new races the same kind of epic experience as the Death Knight. My only worry is that rolling a Dwarf, Troll, or Gnome is going to be a great deal less appealing once Cataclysm comes out, unless Blizzard plans to share the innovation with every race.