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It Ends, It Begins on Game and Player

It Ends, It Begins

Michael Ubaldi  //  November 23, 2010

The twilight of World of Warcraft expansions.


ow's that for peripety: only hours after the premier site for World of Warcraft news all but confirmed today as the launch of the obliterative content patch prior to Cataclysm — aptly named The Shattering — Blizzard Entertainment staff announced that beta servers, active for testing since the spring, would go dark. Trials are done: now comes the time to play.

A baker's-dozen-million of subscribers have a fortnight to savor the irony that Blizzard, after two expansions satisfying wanderlust to exotic, distant lands, will return to the "Old World" of Azeroth by renovating, redesigning, and in many cases demolishing a video game environment that has been online for six years.

Ironically, Blizzard will return to Azeroth by renovating, redesigning, and demolishing an environment that has been online for six years. Since these changes also affect Blizzard's base product — the game's formative and original maximum levels of 1 through 60 — and herald Cataclym's exclusive features without giving them away, The Shattering promotes a release by means available only to an MMO. Keen to avenge the imminent crimes of Deathwing, draconic impresario of chaos? The road to payback begins December 7th. Enjoying leveling a character to 80? Well, his reaching Warcraft's new heights, plus subscription, amounts to a single purchase for two-thirds the cost of a console title.

Genre shortcomings apply their own weights. Whereas the successive title in a series like Call of Duty or Halo would reclothe the entire cast and setting in contemporary graphics, Blizzard has, by force of Warcraft's immensity, populated the Cataclysm beta with hundreds of character models and landform graphics aged half a decade — including, barring intervention on the part of the art department between now and the 7th, those for player characters, which weren't exactly fit for aesthetes in 2004.

But will subscribers mind? Will they even notice? Elsewhere, Blizzard has shrugged off an MMO's leaden inheritance of player evolution among static environments by redesigning derelict, out-leveled dungeons of varying size and obsolescence — transforming at least two of them into open-world locales for questing and exploration. Players have already spent a month reveling in class changes, tooling to user interfaces, and subtle improvements to one's enjoyment of the game.

Even with Arthas — the franchise's villain for eight years — dead and his kingdom overthrown, Blizzard's sinuous narrative has kept its tension. The ennui that thickened during Wrath of the Lich King's long, second year is gone; there's a wonder and anticipation as the second expansion contracts and recedes. Officially and technically, Cataclysm isn't for two more weeks; but twenty-four hours from now, a new adventure should be well underway.

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