Blizzard has destroyed World of Warcraft - and tonight, when third expansion pack Cataclysm swoops into existence, you'll find out why.
The latest add-on for the never-endingly popular MMO rebuilds the whole beginner experience, because, after all, at six years old the online opus is beginning to show its age. Finally it's gotten a bit of spit 'n polish.
It also introduces two completely new races to the online epic; the diminutive Golbins and the savage Worgen.
Ahead of tonight's mega London launch event Blizzard's lead systems designer Greg Street and game designer David Kosak sat down with CVG to talk all things WoW...
Cataclysm basically rebuilds half of the WoW game world. Do you think that will ultimately extend the life cycle of the game as a whole?
GS: Yes, that was kind of the idea. It was awkward that players would go through sixty levels of content before they got to a little better content and then the great stuff in Wrath of the Lich King.
So we kind of thought that players would get the least polished experience when they start out the game, so we wanted to make the entire process of leveling up a little better.
DK: It's been six years and games have changed a lot. This is an opportunity to freshen up the experience for people. It's a good time in the life cycle to do it.
What were the first things you aimed to change from the overall World of Warcraft experience?
GS: On the level design side we divided all the zones in the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor into red zones, green zones and yellow zones. Green zones were what we thought were mostly ok and could be left alone, yellow zones needed a touch up here and there with a streamlined quest flow.
Red zones required a total redo. We wanted to change the geography and quest zones, we wanted to treat them like a blank slate. As we went along we ended up with a lot of red zones!
DK: We had what we call the watermelon zone, which is green on the outside but once we got in and started changing it we realised it was a red zone and had to completely redo it.
How much of that was based on player feedback and how much was based on the team wanting to overhaul specific areas?
GS: I think we had a pretty good idea for what were the terrible zones. We hated Darkshore because it was a long and thin zone that required a lot of traveling back and forth for example. A zone say like Desolace or Hinterlands never really had much of a story, it was just a big zone where you could kill some Centaurs. We wanted a story that would build up to a climax in those areas.
The patch introducing much of the overhauls has been out for a little while - what has the feedback from players been like so far?
DK: The feedback has been tremendous. There was an emotional resonance that we've never had before because these places that people were familiar with and knew really well had been changed or destroyed.
I was reading a blog and a woman was playing, she saw burning ruins in the Southern Barrens, started crying and asking how it could happen and why. We can get that kind of response because they're familiar with the old world.
It's one of the most powerful things about the expansion and I love seeing players go through that, have that response after seeing what has changed and talking about it, interacting with it.
You've taken a big risk fiddling with things that a lot of people have loved for years. If there is a lot of negative feedback with a specific overhauled area, would you consider changing it back?