Following World of Warcraft: Cataclysm's unveiling at the BlizzCon opening ceremony, Blizzard unveiled plans for the third expansion in detail at a packed developer panel.
As well as the raised level cap of 85 and the two new races – Goblin for Horde, and Worgen for Alliance – the classic game's old world of Azeroth will be completely changed. Every single zone on the levelling path from 1 to 60 will be revamped with updated quests, art and items.
Some zones will change more than others, and other zones will have their level bands dramatically shifted, changing the flow of levelling in the classic game. A current level 20 zone might end up as a level 40-45 zone.
Some will be destroyed by the events of the Cataclysm, while desert areas like Desolace and the Barrens will become green. Cities will be redesigned to allow flying – now possible across the entire game - the Undercity in particular. Terrain phasing will allow zones to change significantly as you play through them, for example a coastline getting flooded.
All changes to the classic areas will be freely availble to all players, whether they buy Cataclysm expansion or not.
Alongside all this, Blizzard promised 7 new zones – starting zones for the two new races, and five zones to take players from level 78 to 85. The new high-level zones are Uldum, Mount Hyjal, the Sunken City (an undersea zone, with new underwater mounts and underwater exploration and combat mechanics), Twilight Highlands (containing the city of Grim Batol – headquarters of ultimate villain Deathwing) and a vast underground cavern called Deepholm.
Blizzard promised more endgame content than in any previous expansion. Among many new raids and dungeons, there will be level 85 Heroic versions of the classic low-level dungeons, Deadmines and Shadowfang Keep.
The new Archaeology profession will feed into a new advancement system – Path of the Titans – which will be a way to specialise your character and gain new abilities and skills that are completely independent of your class. Guilds will be able to advance over 20 levels and even select talents in a guild talent tree, such as cheaper repairs or mass resurrection when you wipe on a boss.
Finally, PVP will be embellished with not one but three new Battlegrounds, a new PVP zone called Tol Barad (which will combine ideas from Lich King's Wintergrasp with a daily quest hub like Burning Crusade's Quel'Danas), and a rating system giving access to the same kind of high-level gear as Arenas.
Goblin and Worgen staring areas are available to play here at BlizzCon, so look out for hands-one impressions of those and a ton more detail on World of Warcraft: Cataclysm in a comprehensive feature preview next week.