Whether Blizzard can actually achieve its plan of releasing a new World of Warcraft expansion every year remains to be seen, but it didn't take the developer long after the debut of expansion number one (The Burning Crusade) to announce the second.
Wrath of the Lich King opens up the new continent of Northrend and brings with it an increase in level cap (to 80), the introduction of Hero classes with the Death Knight, siege weaponry and destructible buildings in Battlegrounds and further additions to keep fans hooked forever.
At last week's Games Convention in Leipzig we grabbed senior art director Sam Didier and lead designer Jeffrey Kaplan for a sausage and a chat:
Looking back, are you happy with how The Burning Crusade turned out?
Jeffrey Kaplan: We feel we're only as good as our last game... That's why we're very proud of The Burning Crusade, we felt it was a game that stood on its own. We want Wrath of the Lich King to stand on its own as a great game too, not just an expansion.
What attracted you to Northrend, from an artistic side?
Sam Didier: We've always wanted to visit that environment and this felt like the right time to do it. The community's voiced concerns that it'd just be a huge continent of ice and snow.
We're addressing that by doing a lot of green zones and a lot of transition zones and coastal areas. It seemed like a really good opportunity to shift some stuff around and give it a new face and visual feel we haven't really seen before.
Also it's a reaction to how high fantasy we got with the last expansion. Going to space and some of the stuff that strayed from the feel of Warcraft and some of that hardcore fantasy vibe.
We want to get back to that with Northend, go for that gothic fantasy vibe where it's a little bit darker and a little bit more hardcore - especially with the Death Knight.
The Death Knight armour is very dark with spikes and skulls, and then we have the 15-foot tall Vikings who are going to be very prevalent in this cold environment, as well as some others which are just really hardcore, brutal cultures. The art team and designers talked and wanted to get back to that kind of feeling of a threatening, cold, hardcore world.
Why introduce the Hero class rather than flesh out the base classes in Wrath of the Lich King?
Kaplan: We're actually still going to flesh out the base classes, they'll get another set of spells and abilities and additional talent points to spend, so we'll also be focussing on base classes.
We've wanted to add Hero classes for quite some time - not only that, but very specifically on the mechanics side we've wanted to add another tanking/melee DPS class.
This was a great opportunity to introduce a new mechanic that will feel very unique. A lot of people will experiment with the Death Knight. The way we're setting up the Death Knight, a lot of people will want to just interact with the introduction to the Death Knight and see what he's all about and get to know the class.
What major level 80 end-game content are you including?
Kaplan: There's a few things. We've a number of instances. We're doing instances to cover all the levelling up experience as well, not just end-game instances. We'll have five-person instances at the end-game and for the levelling up experience.
We'll also do the heroic dungeons again, so that provides a lot of end-game content right there. We're going to do a 25-person raid game.