World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

Now arriving: Northrend

Jeff Kaplan, lead designer of World of Warcraft, raises his arms to an already exultant crowd. They're cheering - cheering the news they already knew: that World of Warcraft is to get another expansion pack.

The banner features: a raise for the level cap to 80, a new frostbound continent (Northrend) to explore, and a new hero class, the Death Knight, to experiment with - have already been leaked online so this announcement is almost a formality. That doesn't stop the fans cheering at every line.

The big news in Lich King is the long-awaited return of Arthas, the fallen prince hero whose story formed the basis for the Warcraft III strategy game. He sits on the top of the throne at the very peak of Northrend, sending down his skeletal minions to terrorise the new areas. As Kaplan puts it, "You'll be in contact with Arthas from the beginning, seeing his presence from the first moment you step onto Northrend."


Northrend is beautiful. The crowd at Blizzcon is given a chance to explore the first completed zone from the expansion, the awesome Howling Fjord. At the base, a babbling river meanders through meadows broken up by burning villages.

The undead have been here, and the results of their violent impulses are clear. Scaling the canyon means wandering up the damaged and decrepit wooden ramps. Atop a snowcapped mountain you find a gorgeous redwood pine forest that's just demanding to be explored.

Between the sides of the canyon hover dozens of burning airships; the intention being that when strapped together they'll form the basis of an instanced dungeon. Blizzard's landscapes just get better and better: every corner turned reveals another stunning picture-postcard scene.

The hero class, the Death Knight, should be open to all level 80 players, no matter their faction or race. When you reach 80, you'll be given a long quest chain that opens up your hero character 'slot'. You'll then use it to create an entirely new character. He's meant as another tanking class - able to take punishment and distract bosses while mages and rogues hand out beatings from afar or behind.

But he's not just a pretty face with a zweihander. He's able to summon undead minions and pull off power attacks using the runes players etch into their weapons.

The crowds are warming to the new features already. But then he brings out the big guns. Cannons, actually. PvP instances will now feature siege weapons that players can drive into battle, and destructible buildings that collapse when under fire.

A River Runs Through It: Easily the most beautiful zone yet seen in Warcraft, Howling Fjord is just that: a beautiful Alpine canyon with a thriving town by the water’s edge.

The developers even want to take the siege weapons into an entirely new type of zone - an open warfare landscape where any player can venture, but will automatically be flagged for attack, even if they're playing on a server where such conflicts are off-limits.

But Jeff has even more for the crowd. He raises his arms higher. "Haircuts. We're giving you the chance to change your hairstyle." A pause for dramatic effect. "EPIC BARBERSHOPS, people." It gets the biggest cheer of the whole damn weekend.