October this year saw Blizzard Entertainment announce the first full expansion for its MMORPG success story World of Warcraft. Called The Burning Crusade, it's had fans - reportedly - waggling wands in excited anticipation at the prospect of a new continent, new player races, new starting zones, new instances, an increase in the level cap and lots and lots of other stuff bursting out the role-playing seams, rolling down a mountain, boshing WoW addicts on the head and making them gaze around in stunned wonder.
As for the plot backing up The Burning Crusade, well, Blizzard has had this to say: "Several years have passed since the Burning Legion's defeat at Mount Hyjal and the races of Azeroth have continued to rebuild their once shattered lives. With renewed strength, the heroes of the Horde and Alliance have begun to explore new lands and broken through the Dark Portal to investigate the realms beyond the known world. Will these heroes find friends or foes? What dangers and rewards lie in wait beyond the Dark Portal? And what will they do when they discover that the demons they thought vanquished have returned to renew their terrible Burning Crusade?"
We can't wait to get our dirty Horde hands on The Burning Crusade but it's likely to be a good few months before the expansion swaggers into the retail space. In the meantime, we reckoned it'd be great to quiz Blizzard on the add-on so we nabbed WoW lead producer Shane Dabiri and stuck him under the spotlight...
What are you currently working on at the moment in the expansion?
Shane Dabiri: As lead producer on the World of Warcraft team, I'm currently undertaking the exciting task of dividing and focusing our resources on the development of both the expansion set and on the continuing content development for the current game. This should help us streamline our efforts for 2006.
What percentage of the content is geared toward players of all levels, and what percentage to only level 60 (and above with the level cap increase) characters?
Shane Dabiri: As is traditional with MMO expansions, a large portion of the content will be geared toward characters in the range between the current maximum and new maximum levels, starting at around level 55. However, we do also plan to add content to better tie in the new races to the world, so players who choose to start as one of the new races will experience a great deal of new content up to about level 20.
At this stage, can you give us any details on new talents planned with the level cap increase from 60 to 70 and also in general how talents up to level 60 will be changed, if at all?
Shane Dabiri: Talent progression between levels 60 and 70 will work the same way it works now, with one talent point gained every level. It's a little too early to discuss the specific makeup of the new talents that will appear in the expansion, but we can say that we expect each discipline to receive two additional tiers. That's a total of six new tiers per class to choose from, which should go a long way toward helping players further differentiate their characters.
Why did you choose to concentrate on the Outland for this expansion? What is it about the zone and its lore that makes it ripe for development?
Shane Dabiri: Outland just made the most sense to us for a number of reasons. Because of the recent events of the world as depicted in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, Outland worked well as an expansive new region that would be familiar to a large portion of our player base. Also, thanks to the adventures of Prince Kael'thas in the RTS game, the blood elves, one of the new races we're introducing in the expansion set, already have a connection to Outland. Furthermore, it's important to us to maintain as much continuity with our lore as possible, and sending players to Outland allows us to reintroduce an extremely infamous villain to the game world: the night elf demon hunter Illidan. In addition to all this, Outland gives us an opportunity to illustrate that the Warcraft universe is huge, comprising multiple worlds. The central threat of this universe is the Burning Legion, which will of course play a large part in the expansion.