World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Interview

The Escapist had the opportunity to grill Blizzard Entertainment's Greg Street about the design decisions behind World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, as well as the changes being made to the popular MMORPG when its third expansion pack launches later this year.
Ultimately, Street and his fellow designers want to give more casual players a chance to see more of the endgame content. Given the number of attempts required for those early guilds that first killed the Lich King, making the path to the end game more direct may not necessarily mean the final confrontations are easier. Street explains, "We have one boss in particular that we are designing to be soul crushing. There will be a sign outside the door saying 'You must be this high to fight this fight.' It's not for everyone; it's for the people who say the game is too easy." Players should be grateful that the difficulty isn't even more extreme. At one point during development, one of the producers joked that Deathwing was so deadly that when players log in to the game, their characters will already be dead.

Cataclysm may also eventually include a system that allows players to scale down their character's level in order to help newer players. The heirloom items unveiled in Wrath of the Lich King already scale with a character's level, so adjusting them to suit a downgraded character is already part of the design. Cataclysm will go one step further and replace individually purchased spell ranks with a scaleable system that allows a single ability to grow along with a character. Scaling down levels probably won't be possible when Cataclysm is released, but it's a feature that will be coming eventually and should help players of differing levels adventure together more easily.

The final benefit of the Cataclysm is the opportunity to make massive changes to existing zones that weren't particularly well designed to begin with. "The Barrens was wide open," says Street, "didn't have a big story, and there was no real flow for Horde characters." Redridge is another zone that doesn't really have a clear story or direction from beginning to end. Cataclysm shakes those zones up a bit and brings them more in line with what players experience in a plot-driven zone like the Storm Peaks in Northrend. Street says that it's all about "telling a story throughout the zone."