More Lich King details emerge

Except that all-important date.

Blizzard has revealed a slew of fresh details on the second World of Warcraft expansion at its BlizzCon convention in Los Angeles.

Basic information about Wrath of the Lich King leaked earlier this week and was confirmed at the opening ceremony, but an audience of thousands of fans was delighted to learn more at an ensuing discussion panel with designers.

They refused to name a date for its release, however. "It'll come out when it's ready," said lead designer Tom Chilton.

His fellow lead Jeff Kaplan promised that the expansion's new continent, Northrend, would contain more zones than The Burning Crusade's Outland - since Blizzard isn't having to create starting zones for new races this time. A map shown indicated ten new zones as well as a new captial city, Dalaran.

One zone, Lake Wintergrass, will be a new type of outdoor world zone totally dedicated to player-versus-player combat, even on normal servers.

Four more regular questing zones were shown: Howling Fjord, Borean Tundra, Grizzly Hills and Dragonblight. There will be two points of entry into Northrend, from the east (in Howling Fjord) and west (in Borean Tundra). Despite the continent's northerly location they won't all be snowy: Grizzly Hills, for example, the home of the furbolg race, is a lush, tall forest.

The capital city will be Dalaran, which has been transported from the Eastern Kingdoms to a new location floating in the skies above Northrend.

Final boss the Lich King - formerly the paladin Arthas - will be a prominent presence all the way through the new content, promised Kaplan. "We're aware that in The Burning Crusade we didn't give you enough interaction with [end boss] Illidan. In Wrath of the Lich King there will be much more interaction with Arthas from the moment you arrive in Northrend."

The new Death Knight class will be the first of several hero classes to be introduced to the game, said Chilton. But these will be added gradually.

"If we tried to introduce all the heroes from Warcraft III at the same time, we'd face some pretty disastrous consequences in terms of impact on the whole game," he said.

Death Knights will be unlocked by completing a quest chain at level 80, said to be similar in feel to the Warlock epic mount quest. Once completed, the player will be able to create Death Knight characters of any race, starting at a "relatively high level" still to be decided, but probably in the 55-70 range.

Blizzard considered making players destroy their original characters to turn them into Death Knights, but "Too many people on the team felt they were losing something to gain something," said Kaplan.

"Even though the Death Knight is a hero class, it's not supposed to be a more powerful class, it's just supposed to feel different to play," Chilton added.

Death Knights will be damage-dealing tanks, similar to warriors. But they can tank without a shield and have the ability to cast strong magic spells, such as Army of the Dead, which summons several skeletal minions at once.

They will use runes inscribed on their weapons to cast spells, instead of existing resource systems like mana or rage.

In terms of the original continents, there will be a new Caverns of Time instance, and steps will be taken to speed up the levelling process. "Right now we really want to encourage players to roll alternate characters," said Kaplan.

"We feel that levelling is a little slower than we want it to be, so we're looking at ways to speed that up a bit. Maybe before the expansion comes out. But the Death Knight is also part of that," said Kaplan.

Kaplan also confirmed that a new raid zone and new daily quests (involving dungeons, battlegrounds and cooking) would appear in patches before Wrath of the Lich King is released.

On the ability to customise hairstyle Kaplan simply stated, "Barbershops are coming! No, you can't change your face."

"Plastic surgery will probably be in the next expansion after this," he joked.

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