Deathwing is the best thing to happen to World of Warcraft since sliced Stormwind Brie. His eruption has given the developers at Blizzard the chance to refocus and rebuild their world, improving everything. He's now so close, we can feel it. We can feel the tremors in Orgrimmar. We've seen gnomes wearing sandwich boards proclaiming the end of the world, dark fires in the sky, even plots to plant homing beacons in our capital cities. Nowhere is safe. And it's brilliant.
Here are the 15 most important changes Deathwing and the Cataclysm expansion will bring to World of Warcraft.
[caption id="attachment_25255" align="alignnone" width="590" caption="Goblins can be trained by a wooden cutout."]
15) New Race Pride
Goblins! Werewolves! Come Cataclysm, you'll be able to create a short, stumpy green dude, or a furry in a top hat. We suggest trying the Goblin starting area first – it's a hilarious parody of Grand Theft Auto, with you driving around in the back of a Goblin pimp wagon, beating up debtors and playing American Football in shredder suits. Forget the Worgen, for now. You'll only end up hanging around with Twilight fans.
14) Better Quests
All right, we'll admit it. The opening hours of World of Warcraft are pretty tedious. Beating up ten boars isn't exactly number one in our list of 'things that make us feel heroic'. Alongside the Cataclysm comes a complete re-questing of the old World of Warcraft continents, with better stories, more interesting mechanics, and less scrumping around in Gnoll corpses for teeth. It's not perfect: you'll still come across the odd throwback to old WoW, but you'll never be forced to grind for grinding's sake.
[caption id="attachment_25252" align="alignnone" width="590" caption="Utterly fearsome. And so's the Scorpion."]
13) More Reasons To Battle
Two new battlegrounds are being added, and they're remixes of old favourites. Twin Peaks is a twist on the Capture the Flag battles of Warsong Gulch, with Alliance and Horde raiding two towers separated by a stream. The Battle For Gilneas is a port of Arathi Basin – teams must hold points and accumulate resources to win. Even better, battlegrounds are a surefire route to better loot: you can join in 'rated battlegrounds', where teams of ten fight in an e-sports setting, earning ratings and unique armour.
12) Vast New Zones
Players at the level cap will cruise through new zones as Vashj'ir and Mount Hyjal – with good reason. They're heavy on the story, light on the grind. In Vashj'ir, you'll meet underwater gods and fight angry Naga. In Mount Hyjal, you'll act as a warrior firefighter, extinguishing the fires surrounding the most important tree on the planet. In Deepholm you'll... oh, spoiler warning.
[caption id="attachment_25253" align="alignnone" width="590" caption="What does this do? You'll have to find out."]
World of Warcraft is an old, old place. There's a history that stretches back millennia, involving old gods, Titans, giant space aliens, and, inevitably, orcs. Now players have the chance to explore that history. Archeology is a skill that all players can use: you travel around the world, surveying dig sites, searching for artifacts. Combine them, and you'll learn a little bit about the world, and earn funky non-combat items like disembodied pet hands.
10) Guilds Level Up
Your guild is more than a chat channel. It's meant to be a social cushion, a way for you to group together to defeat vast enemies, a way of sharing the spoils. With Cataclysm, guilds will earn experience, and eventually cash. You'll unlock guild rewards such as instant teleports and spectacular mounts. But beware: hop around between guilds, and you'll lose all your previously unlocked stuff. Did we mention PC Gamer have their own WoW guild?
9) Smoother Levelling Curve
Old WoW treated new players like button-pressing monkeys – hiding all the good spells and abilities until you'd climbed the level ladder. New WoW throws new and vital abilities onto your task bar right from the start. You'll be using crowd-control, stacking debuffs, using movement skills, and procs right from the off. By level ten, you'll feel like you've mastered your class already. Then, it gets even deeper.
[caption id="attachment_25248" align="alignnone" width="590" caption="Melted rock probably isn't a good omen."]
8) Better Combat Interface
Top end players will know the tedium of setting up their interface for raids. You'll want a boss timer. And a cooldown alert. And a threat level indicator... and anything else your raid leader demands. At least one of those is now built directly into the game: any spell that has the chance to randomly open up new options will now alert you with stonking great graphics on either side of your character. Immediately, combat in WoW feels faster and more responsive.
7) The War Is Back On
The trouble with World of Warcraft over the past few years is that the tension between Alliance and Horde has simmered. It's mostly been World of Uneasytrucecraft. That seems a shame. In Cataclysm, a series of betrayals, ambitious invasions, and less-than-stellar statecraft mean that the hostility between rival factions, and in particular, mutual hatred between the leaders of the Alliance and Horde, are back on. And that's a very, very good thing.
[caption id="attachment_25254" align="alignnone" width="590" caption="Wings!"]
6) You Get Your Wings Back
I'm a druid. I can turn into a bird whenever I feel like it. Or at least I should be able to, but when Blizzard built Old Azeroth, they didn't plan ahead for wings. That's changed. Come Cataclysm, you'll be able to take off wherever, and whenever you feel like it. PC Gamer's first stop was Stormwind: to plan our first aerial city raid parachute drop. No kidding.
5) New Raid Dungeons
Blizzard's approach to top-end content such as raiding is getting casual. There will be three raid dungeons in the game at launch, and you'll only be able to hit each one once a week. Your guild won't expect you to do 10- and 25-man versions of each – because you won't be allowed. If you're a more casual raider, expect to spend a night or two a week working on available bosses. The hardcore can create an alt and have a second go, or hit the tougher 'heroic' modes.
4) It's A Freebie Apocalpyse
Even if you're a casual WoW fan, or a tourist, it's worth creating a trial account just to see the destruction wrought by Deathwing's ascent. Trial accounts will be able to access all of the old world, and see the changes in completion: all of the craters left by Deathwing, all of the new quests, all of the new stat changes, even the dungeons. The only price is the (gulp) vast download – although a better implementation of streaming means that you'll download chunks at a time while you play.[caption id="attachment_25250" align="alignnone" width="590" caption="There's probably only a miniscule chance it's friendly."]
3) Easier-To-Understand Stats
The maths of WoW is hard work and doesn't make much sense. Why should you care about arcane concepts like armour penetration and mana-per-five? Blizzard's answer: you shouldn't. Now, even the most numerically illiterate players should have a better understanding of their class thanks to a complete statistical revamp, and a rethink of how information is displayed in the interface and ability descriptions. Yes, at the top end, you'll still have theory-crafters telling you your gems suck. But at least you'll understand why.
2) A Daily Event
Wintergrasp, the open PvP zone that was introduced in Wrath of the Lich King was a fun failure: unbalanced, and riddled with lag problems. But it's getting a sequel, which should address many of the issues. Tol Barad features constant skirmishes between Horde and Alliance over an island prison – you'll need to capture and hold control points to defeat your enemies. Winners will be granted access to a small, lunchtime scale raid dungeon. But win or lose, Tol Barad will act as a focus for daily quests and reputation grinds.
[caption id="attachment_25247" align="alignnone" width="590" caption="Don't bring feathers to a Dragon fight."]
1) HE'S A BLOODY MASSIVE DRAGON
You won't be able to kill Deathwing when Cataclysm launches. Oh no. Like Arthas before him, he's been saved for the final boss encounter of the game. But his model has been leaked, and spotted in world events already. And he's enormous: ten storeys of lava-breathing, iron-plated, spot-welded gristle that's clearly going to bake a raid in seconds. Raiders: learn your lesson early. Stay out of the fire.