Hour of the Wolf (Worgen?) SPOILERS HO!
It's coming up on 4am and I've been up the best part of 24 hours due to family issues, but I thought I'd put my inability to sleep to some use (though apologies if sleep deprivation makes my spelling, grammar and logic even more ... interesting ... than usual).
So, Cataclysm is confirmed. No great surprises there, though some of the details are quite interesting - the Guild Leveling and Path of the Titan look like neat new twists, and the races and class-race combos look set to inject new life into the game. I really like the idea of advancing the lore and shaking everything up, but in considering the impact of Deathwing's return I came to a conclusion:
Cataclysm isn't just an expansion, it's WOW 1.5 by another name.
An expansion would build on the setting, adding new content to that which already existed. Yes, there may be changes to classes and zones and quest, but in many regards these are nips and tucks (pretty big cosmetic surgery in some cases, but essentially evolutionary rather than revolutionary).
Cataclysm meets the criteria of an expansion by adding new levels, zones, races (etc) but it also changes the entire playing experience. We're not talking just "your talent trees are different" or "there are more quests in Dustwallow" we're talking a revamp of pretty much everything. Geography and quests will change, there'll be changes to character stats that make the amalgamation of spell damage and healing look like childs play (no spellpower - all derived from int, no mp5 - that'll be spirit, no defence - that'll be talents, etc). We're talking pretty much a rebuilding of the game from the ground up (hence my thinking of it as WOW 1.5 - it's not a wholly new "WOW 2", but its so radically different as to be distinct from classic/BC/WotLK).
One part of me applauds the vision - the willingness to go in and make changes, applying the lessons of the last five years and giving the players a number of things they've asked for while using lore (Deathwing's return) to justify them - and is excited by the lore and gameplay potential, but another part of me worries. The scale of what's being considered is vast and stands a good chance of making the waves from the introduction of DKs look like a storm in a teacup. If it works, great, but how many people will be driven away by having to (once more) unlearn the game and start afresh.
Wholsesale reboots can be phenomenally successful (just look at Star Trek and Galactica) but the last game that had its innards ripped out and remodelled died a painful and lingering death (I'm thinking Galaxies) as players defected to the next generation of MMOs principally WOW). It would be ironic if WOW met the same fate (and I'm not suggesting it will, but the risk is there - I have more faith in Blizzard than SOE though).
Tangental to this that this remodeling of the game will render large chunks of the game 'lost' to those who've not experienced them in their original form (as ever the case with updates and expansions, but were talking about a vast scale here) and the core zone/quest changes will be rolled out to all players with the expansion providing access to the races/levels/new zones. With The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, some mechanics may have changed but fundamentally the world wasn't changed; you still spent ages hunting the Defias messenger in Westfall or hunting furbolg in Winterspring. In Cataclysm, that may not be the cases. Old timers may discuss the epic journeys to hand in quests in Auberdine, while new arrivals luxuriate in the new Darkshore quest hub .... (okay, not that that's a bad thing per-se - the point is to 'fix' stuff that's broken - but it'll had a whole new dimension to "remember when ... discusssions" (and thinking of how the Loremaster Achievement would be tracked makes my head ache :p)
(it would be great if the whole 'legacy>new' change was done via phasing, much as the rumors of re-conquering Loredaeron suggested a week or two back, but I guess that'd cause too many problems and shifting the cataclysm from a 'world event' to a more personal level wouldn't really fly)
Now, you'd think that after spending a vast amount of effort remodelling the 1-60 experience you'd want to give players the chance to see all the hard work (and they're talking about 'new experiences' through the new class race-combos) so the comments I've seen about "no new character slots" seems very odd. It's tantamount to saying "you 5-year vets with 10 characters .. neenah!" Yes, the addition of Blood Elves, Draenai and Death Knights did much the same, but those were elements of the relevant expansion, not a core part of the expansion/revision. I can see a lot of spirited debate on the character slot issue ...