The dark portal has opened! Yes, if you've missed the news - if you did miss it, we can only imagine you've just returned from another solar system - Blizzard's hotly anticipated World of Warcraft expansion The Burning Crusade has released.
The add-on includes new races, new zones, a trip through WarCraft past in the Caverns of Time, new high level content, a raise in the level cap to 70, new tradeskill Jewelcrafting - phewee. For the game's millions of fans, it's a serious pack of WoW goodness.
On the eve of The Burning Crusade's release, we spoke with WoW game designer Jon LeCraft and Blizzard vice president of business development Itzik Ben Bassat about the expansion, what the future holds for massively successful MMORPG and Blizzard's plans outside the world of Warcraft.
How disappointed were you that the expansion didn't make Christmas 2006?
Itzik Ben Bassat: I think we have experience with that (laughs). We were not disappointed. We know that as a company... It's in our philosophy not to compromise on quality, and we knew we needed another month and a half in order to make it a really good game, a Blizzard-quality game.
While I understand other companies might compromise and say 'Well we need to make it for Christmas', we think it doesn't matter when we're going to release our game. If it's going to be good it's going to sell.
World of Warcraft's been massively successful. How difficult has it been coming up with content that tops what you've already done with the game?
Itzik Ben Bassat: We do things from passion. We have this large list of features that we want to get into World of Warcraft, and we pick the features we can get into one expansion.
It's not like looking for features that will get into the expansion, it's deciding which features will not get to this expansion... we'll get to them in the next one. As long as we have stories to tell, and we feel we can create great entertainment, we'll do it.
One of the things that surprised us was that there aren't any new classes in the expansion. Are they something you're looking to add to the game?
Jon LeCraft: It's something we'll eventually do. I can't say when but... you know, we did add the paladins to the Horde side and the shaman to the Alliance side.
We're not trying to pass that off as a new class but it did add some new dynamics to each side. We thought that was pretty cool. But really it's about the new races and the new zones.
Itzik Ben Bassat: But it is in the list of features and it's a question of when we're going to decide to do it.
Jon LeCraft: Oh yeah, that's definitely in our big list.
Any idea when they're going to be added?
Jon LeCraft: Um, in the future probably. (Everybody laughs).
How long will it take the real hardcore players to beat everything that's in the new high-level area?
Itzik Ben Bassat: We didn't build the game from scratch to be a grinding levelling-up game. For us it was more about what experiences do we give to players after they get to level 60.
We think we've opened a whole new world for people when they get to level 60. It's not part of our core design to level-up people and to have that as the main feature of the game.
The second thing is that you can play this game with one character and then play this game with a different character. Your experiences will be different because each time you do it with a different group of people.