As a recovering former WoW player I still take a keen interest in the game, since I'm sure one of these days it will rope me back in once more. It's interesting that this will be the first expansion that doesn't add a new landmass. The Burning Crusade added Outland and Wrath of the Lich King added Northrend, and although there will be major changes to some existing zones, as well as the plethora of new dungeons that every WoW expansion brings, there will be no new continent. I have no problem with this, since theoretically it should cut the development time on the game as they won't have to design and populate a massive new area. There will still be new quests and dungeons but it shouldn't take as long to knock these out as it would do for a major new piece of land.
It's interesting that Blizzard have decided to simplify the game's stats and mechanics even further than they have done already in the current expansion. Attack Power, Armour Penetration, Spell Power, MP5 and Defence are all being tossed out. In some cases they will stick around in another form (Spell Power for example will now be derived directly from Intelligence, a la Warhammer) but others are going the way of the dodo completely. Apparently, having more money than 10 Bill Gates' put together isn't enough for Blizzard, they instead want to have enough to light their own farts with 100s and be able to install gold toilet seats in every bathroom at their offices. Making the game even easier for new
The two new races, Worgen for the Alliance and Goblins for the Horde, seem unique and distinctive. I'd have preferred though they both started out as Neutral and you could then choose whichever faction you wanted to be on a per-character basis, rather than being tied to a specific faction as have all the previous races been. Goblins, up to now at least, have traditionally been neutral in the WoW universe, and doubtless some lore could have been spun to also make Worgens neutral as well. I only say this because I was content knowing that the next time I got my hand in with WoW again I was ready to go Horde this time, only to see a kickass race like Worgen (whom I thought should have been the Alliance race in The Burning Crusade, over Draenei) be added to the Alliance. Oh well, there are always alts.
Moving to the most important aspect of the forthcoming expansion: when will we see it?
I could find no date other than a simple "2010" mentioned at Blizzcon, which many people seem to be interpreting as "Autumn/Fall 2010". While this is certainly plausible, I think there is a chance that we will see the game before that, for the following reason. Right now, WoW is on patch 3.2, with the final raid dungeon of Wrath of the Lich King being patched in in 3.3 due around December/January. Let's say 3.3, containing Icecrown (the final raid - where you will battle Arthas, the titular Lich King) goes live in January - what exactly are they expecting everyone to do for the rest of the year? Major content patches in WoW typically have a shelf-life of ~3-4 months, at which time the next content patch is pushed out the door. Let's be generous and say this final patch will have a 4 month lifespan (i.e. it takes an average player/guild 4 months to complete the content), this will mean that come May most guilds are going to be finished with the content. At that point do they just sit on their hands for a few months until Blizzard are done with Cataclysm? No. I think it is much more likely that Blizzard are intending to push the next expansion out around the Summer of 2010. I also think that this is why they haven't announced this plan, as they are notorious for holding-over projects until they are completely done, for changing schedules and delaying games and patches for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. They know if they said "Summer 2010" now then this would be taken as gospel by many players, whereas a generic "2010" could be spun into Summer, Autumn or even Winter 2010.
This is complete speculation from me and so treat it as you would any other speculation, but if true would be a nice little present for WoW players in what is traditionally the weakest period of the gaming year. The fact that there is no new continent, coupled with the fact that even though they will be remaking certain zones they will still have the originals to work from as a template, I believe will cut development time on this expansion to something substantially shorter than was seen with the previous two.
We'll find out in a year if I was right.
Mark your calendar.