Chris Metzen, speaking during the World of Warcraft preview panel, revealed that Cataclysm will introduce seven new zones, on top of revamping the old world. This revamp changes both the game mechanics (adding the ability to fly anywhere) and the lore, as old zones are forever changed, both geographically and territorially. These new zones are:
- Twilight Highlands
- The Lost Isles
- Sunken City of Vashj'ir
- Mount Hyjal
Gilneas and The Lost Isles are obviously the starting areas for the Worgen and the Goblins. Deepholm is the place where Deathwing broke into Azeroth, creating a new, sundered world that is completely different to the one we've been used to these last five years. Uldum is the ancient Titan stronghold everyone will know, its gates having existed in the deserts of Taranis since the Year Dot except now it's not just gates, but an entire zone.
Mount Hyjal is just as legendary, with our only visit confined to Caverns of Time and the defeat of Archimonde from Warcraft III. The Sunken City of Vashj'ir is named after Illidan's legendary Naga lieutenant and located near the Maelstom. Finally the Twilight Highlands which includes Grim Batol. On top of this there are the Elemental Planes created by the Titans to ensure the Elementals couldn't escape and ruin their lovely new creation, Azeroth. Now they are loose and they're not exactly happy bunnies.
The panel showcased a bunch of concept maps and the odd little bit of concept art (i.e. pretty pictures) to give a flavour of these new areas. However, the panel also went into detail about how Deathwing's return would affect Azeroth itself, changing familiar zones (including changing the level range), decimating others and enabling the addition of these new areas. This means that as you level alts you won't have to go through the same zones you did in vanilla WoW.
Gilneas is one of the most striking zones. After years of self isolation the images we've seen of it are reminiscent of Eastern European towns cloaked in mist. The wall served to contain keep out the plague of undeath unleashed by Arthas, but managed to cultivate the Worgen, turning the population. Arugal is now a "patriot" of Gilneas and his desire to summon these lycanthropes unleashed the curse of the populace.
Deepholm is one of the most interesting area. This is the place where Deathwing exploded back into Azeroth and the epicentre of the cataclysm which has forever changed the planet. What is it, aspects going crazy these days? A subterranean zone – technically not in Azeroth but on one of the Elemental Planes – it's the largest zone in the game. Filled with Troggs, it's also the place where Twilight's Hammer attempted to nurse the Aspect back to health after the destruction of the Demon Soul. The Twilight Highlands, containing the draconic citadel of Grim Batol, is renowned in Warcraft lore and now serves as the base of operations for both Twilight's Hammer and Deathwing himself.
As with any game, the concept art betrays the zones' inspirations. For example, Egypt is the inspiration for Uldum. The underwater artwork for Vashj'ir is oddly beautiful, while the burning remnants of Mount Hyjal are incredibly depressing, especially given how the zone has been 'recovering' since we last saw it in Caverns of Time. Ragnaros is back and is now determined to burn the World Tree and destroy it forever.
The maps are probably the most interesting thing to come out of the panel. While rough and not quite as ready as the ones Blizzard previewed for Wrath at last year's WWI, they give an idea of how Azeroth has changed as well as sketching out what we can expect from the new zones. It's a tantalizing glimpse of a totally changed environment and a terrifying new future most players cannot wait to see. However it's also the end of the world we know and love, the world which drew us in to World of Warcraft in the first place.
Check out our gallery below to get a better look at the maps and concept art for these new zones.