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WoW: Cataclysm - 7 New Zones, Countless Zones Overhauled
As most World of Warcraft players know by now, yesterday August 21st at BlizzCon 2009 the next WoW expansion pack was revealed. In the months prior to BlizzCon there was a lot of buzz on the internet, most of it speculation and some of it substantiated, about what we could expect in the new expansion. We knew that Blizzard had trademarked "Cataclysm", and from that it was concluded that there could be a WoW expansion centered around the Maelstrom. Others speculated that this expansion would also included aspects of the Emerald Dream, as they felt the lore of the Sundering and the Dream tied together.
As one of these speculators myself, I can say that I was completely taken aback when the announcement was made. The ambitious scope of the expansion massively exceeds my own expectations, and those of all I've spoken to about it since. So, without further ado, let's get to the details.
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Cataclysm Premise Overview
The basic premise of the Cataclysm expansion is this: After the final conflict with Arthas in Northrend the heroes of the Horde and Alliance return to Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, only to find that the world they knew has been ripped apart.
The corrupted Black Dragon aspect Deathwing (originally Neltharion the Earth-Warder), long hidden beneath Azeroth in the elemental plane of earth has broken through the ceiling of the elemental plane into Azeroth. His immense power and malice has caused massive turmoil amongst the elements, with the earth breaking apart, massive tidal waves, tornadoes, and more. The entire face of Azeroth as we currently know it is changed.
There are several new zones being introduced in the Cataclysm expansion that are deeply rooted in Warcraft lore in addition to the massive overhaul of existing zones. Let's take a look at these new zones.
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The Lost Isles
The Goblins are driven from their home island of Kazan by the effects of the cataclysm, and find themselves shipwrecked upon the Lost Isles. This is the starting zone for newly created Goblin characters and spans levels 1-15. The proximity of these islands to the Horde controlled lands are essentially the whole reason the Goblins align with the Horde faction (besides the fact that the Horde needs a kneecapper race, too).
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Gilneas is deep seated in classic Warcraft war. Years before the timeline of World of Warcraft, Genn Greymane sealed the Greymane wall to protect the human kingdom of Gilneas from the invading Scourge. Located at the southern tip of Silverpine Forest, the Greymane wall completely closes off the area to players - until the Cataclysm. During an extended panel with Chris Metzen we got the updated lore regarding Gilneas, and how it is introduced in the Cataclysm expansion.
As the story goes, when the Scourge were taking Dalaran the Mage Arugal summoned a creature to help fight against the Scourge, and was surprised when that creature was the Worgen - nearly as dangerous as the enemy it was summoned to battle. Obviously this plan backfired, and the Worgen curse spread into the kingdom of Gilneas. Safely tucked away behind the Greymane wall (which will be shattered during the Cataclysm) the human population transformed into Worgen. They still have distinctly human qualities, but a savage aspect to their personality is impossible to hide. It would seem that Velinde Starsong (lore supported speculation) will "resurface" and assist in bringing the Worgen into the Alliance.
Gilneas is the starting area for newly created Alliance Worgen, spanning levels 1-15. Battle for Gilneas is a battleground incarnation of the zone where players will battle through the streets of the city and take control of the various districts.
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Sunken City of Vashj'ir
The Sunken City of Vashj'ir in lore is best known as the original home of Lady Vashj. It would seem, though, that the actual Naga home city of Nazjatar (along with Queen Azshara) is not going to be a part of this expansion. We've been told that Vashj'ir is one of the first zone players will begin questing in on the road from 80 to 85. The biggest challenge here as far as game design and as far as players imagination goes is that Vashj'ir is completely submerged beneath the ocean between Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. This means that a new mechanic for underwater combat had to be invented that wasn't horribly annoying or clunky. Basically how it works is that when the character "lands" on the ocean floor the game behaves as it would if they were on dry land - movement speed, attacks, etc. (no word yet on underwater breathing complexities). If you jump upwards you will begin swimming again - I see this being a problem for perpetually jumping Elves.
Also a part of Vashj'ir is a culture, of sorts. Apparently there is some kind of living beings down there, but we're not sure if they're hostile, friendly, or even still alive. What we do know is there are bubble-like structures underwater where there is dry "land", once entered. Vashj'ir is also home to the entrance to the elemental plane of water, the Abyssal Maw, which will feature at least two dungeons.
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In manner of Northrend, there is also a second "starting" zone for the new content - Mount Hyjal. Hyjal has been in the game since release, but has always remained closed off to players. The Burning Crusade brought access to Hyjal, but only through the Caverns of Time as something of an event. Players forget that Hyjal is still there, World Tree and all. In lore, Mount Hyjal is capped by the World Tree, the iconic source of life in Night Elf culture. During Burning Legion attacks the World Tree was damaged, then the main Night Elf Druid hero, Malfurion Stormrage, went into the Emerald Dream.
In World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, Malfurion Stormrage is back, defending a Mount Hyjal that is under siege. Atop the mountain, the World Tree is growing. But who is attacking Hyjal? If you are a classic raider, you may remember that the summoning and subsequent "destruction" of Ragnaros was "too soon". Apparently he's had enough time to regroup now, because he and his elemental forces are the aggressors at Mount Hyjal.
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Deepholm is a subterranean zone that was the home of Deathwing as he grew his strength. It is actually the elemental plane of earth, but is now linked to Azeroth by the shattered ceiling left from when Deathwing burst through the earth into Azeroth. Players access this area through the scar left in the earth. This area is intended to be the central hub of the expansion content, with portals to the other leveling and raiding zones on the map: Vashj'ir, Hyjal, Twilight Highlands, and Uldum. I would expect there will likely be some manner of capital city portals, but that is unconfirmed. Although Deepholm is largely an enclosed area, flying mounts will be usable in this area.
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The Twilight Highlands is the zone home to the lore-rich city of Grim Batol, which will also be a dungeon and raid area. Grim Batol was built by the Wildhammer Dwarves, who abandoned it following a battle that left an evil aura in their former home. Around the time of the second war it was taken over by Horde, where they used the Demon Soul (containing the powers of the Dragonflights) to enslave Alexstrasza and force her to breed red drakes for the Horde to use as mounts. She was freed in an assault by Rhonin (leader of Dalaran Mages) and destroyed her former captors. This dark chapter in the Dragonflights' history will no doubt be the central focus of the Grim Batol raids, as it pertains to Deathwings current campaign of destruction.
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Uldum is a long-awaited area located southwest of Tanaris. Currently this area is defined by several giants, and a massive gate with a blackened arrow studded scar in the center, where they would have you believe a great evil leaped from. Apparently the revised lore for Cataclysm claims that this is actually a Titan projection, or illusion, intended to keep Uldum secluded. In the earthshaking events of the Cataclysm apparently the projection machine is damaged, thus allowing players access to Uldum
Uldum is modeled after an ancient Egyptian styling. "Those aren't pyramids, those are Titan Temples". We swear! The desert environment is cut down the middle by a massive river, ending in a delta. That doesn't sound familiar, at all. It is also inhabited by the Tol'vir, best described as "stone-like cat people". We are anxiously awaiting concept art. This zone will be home to both dungeons as well as a raid.