The next installment of the world's largest and most successful massively multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft, is getting its fourth expansion sometime in the middle of 2014. The expansion called Warlords of Draenor is doing many, many things to upgrade the game which was originally released a decade ago in 2004. While many of the details of the game are not known at this point, some exciting changes are definitely in the pipelines.
One of the first changes to the game is a much needed cosmetic upgrade. While the underlying engine is not getting an overhaul, a significant amount of detail will be added onto the game. Blizzard has decided to undertake the monumental task of upgrading the unit models of all the original races in the game to possibly surpass the new character model levels that are present in their current expansion, Mists of Pandaria. This includes upgrading, or rather actually including, facial movements and more complex facial structures, updated expressions, and other general improvements to the character models.
The new models are hardly something that can even compare to the top end of graphical capabilities displayed in other games currently out, but the changes are pretty major considering that Blizzard is working off of a 10 year old engine. Below is an example of some of the updated details.
Beyond the cosmetic changes are some pretty significant changes to the gameplay elements. One of the writers is quoted as saying that "we're also looking to get back to the roots of dungeon content this expansion, and ensuring that they're not only a significant part of leveling and story experience, but taht they also play their part in helping you gear up and get ready for raiding". This is a bit of a change to the current status quo, where there is essentially no motivation to participate in 5 person dungeons.
They have also announced that the more difficult "heroic" versions of dungeons will be significantly more difficult so that they are actually relevant for end game content.
However, the biggest changes come at the end game level of raiding. The current system that World of Warcraft employs includes a raid finder system that forms 25 man raids that are the lowest tier of gear, followed by the flexible system, which scales according to how many players the group has and then 10 and 25 man raids that have both normal and heroic difficulties.
Going forward however, this will be entirely different. The lower end raid finder will be the same as it currently is, but there will no longer be set 10 and 25 man normal and heroic raids. These raids will now be changed to normal and heroic difficulties, but will combine it with the flexible system so that the raids scale according to weather the group has 10 to 25 people. Additionally, the game will be adding a higher difficulty level known as Mythic that will require a set number at 20 people to participate in. Mythic level difficulty is expected to be a significant step up in difficulty and is targeted toward the highest end of player bases which have been a bit alienated in recent expansion packs.
The loot system will also be revamped, with the new raids dropping gear relative to the amount of people who are participating. The current raiding system will also be changed a bit, with raids no longer being broken up into sections in the case of raid finder and flexible, but they will now just employ the entire raid, so the system will be find a group, zone in, and have all the bosses available.
Writers and developers have stated that Warlords of Draenor will have a stronger emphasis on lore and storytelling, something that I feel the game has lacked in the past to some degree.
Currently there is no firm release date for the expansion, and the closed beta has also not started yet but is expected to start soon.