I never dreamed that Blizzard would actually do it or that there would be rumors about them doing it. Blizzard has always been adamant about focusing on new content, not retreading old ground. So, here comes the rumor train from MMO-Champion:
New ContentI can't even begin to explain, conceptually, how great of an idea this is, but I will try to outline three major points: live events, theme-park-itis, and player density.
Cataclysm will be the first expansion not to introduce a new continent, instead making use of previously unreleased zones and revamping existing ones.
Classic Azeroth Revamp
A cataclysmic event caused by Deathwing and Azshara will change the face of Azeroth as we know it. Most of the new content for Cataclysm will take the form of a revamped Azeroth, taking advantage of newer additions to WoW such as phasing and daily quests. Most of the quests and mobs in the classic zones will also be redesigned to make leveling less painful. With the revamp, a greater narrative and sense progression will be offered to players. Some zones and dungeons will change drastically to fit this, e.g.,
* The Barrens will be split into two separate zones of two different level bands.
* Azshara will become a low level (~10-20) zone.
* Some of the zones like the Thousand Needles will be flooded.
* Durotar is wrecked and apparently Orgrimmar could be destroyed. A new Orc city is rebuilt over the course of the expansion.
* Gnomeregan will be part of the expansion as well and gnomes might be able to reclaim their capital. (The last part is still unconfirmed)
* Wailing Caverns will be become a lush tropical area as a result of the druid's magic.
* The Blackrock Spire will erupt and a new version of Blackrock Mountains will be available, apparently Ragnaros will be back too.
In the aftermath of the cataclysm, and the new conflicts on the horizon relief efforts can be found in many zones and new open PvP areas similar to Lake Wintergrasp.
Flying in Azeroth
Part of the redesign of the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor is the introduction of flying to the two continents, allowing access to many new areas and quicker traveling across the large continents.
Classic Dungeon Revamp
Redesigning Onyxia's Lair in Patch 3.2.2 was just the first step. As most of the leveling will take place in revamped areas of Azeroth, so too will the dungeons, allowing players to use them to level from 80 to 85.
Unreleased Zones & Dungeons
With the addition of flying mounts to Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms and the redesign of many zones, most of the previously unreachable or incomplete zones will now be made available to players. This is where most of the new content from 80 to 85 will take place. Some of these are,
* Hyjal (present)
* Gilneas - The Worgen starting Zone.
It is unclear if the old Goblin locations such as Kezan and Undermine will be included in Cataclysm with the revelation of the goblins' plight, but several new islands have also been risen from the seas by the events of Cataclysm, some on the backs of giant sea turtles and whales, with the addition of several underwater zones.
Restructuring the original world will give Blizzard the setting for multiple, great live events. Players love the old world and I have no doubt they would love to participate in live events focused on reshaping the world. To help spread players out, Blizzard could have simultaneous live events across all affected zones.
With the phasing technology of Wrath, Blizzard could do something utterly amazing and unseen in the MMOG market.
I have to admit, that I've only played up to The Burning Crusade and have not touched Wrath, so this may be unfounded to players that have exhausted Wrath's content. I also waited a long time after TBC's launch to start playing the expansion. I was still running around Eastern Plaguelands when most players were level 70 and parked in Shattrath. When I first started the content in Outlands, it felt very much like a theme park ride. There were bombing runs, very "on rails" quest lines, and a completely foreign landscape.
It felt very different from the vanilla WoW I was coming from. The Burning Crusade felt like a giant theme park. Eventually, this annoyed me as vanilla WoW felt abandoned and far too plain in the wake of TBC's new mechanics (flying, world PvP objectives, bombing runs).
This theme-park-itis, as I like to call it, is common place in Diku-inspired MMOGs. Everquest has lasted ten years on the concept. It eventually makes the game world feel non-contiguous and broken. If these WoW rumors are true, Blizzard could escape creating another theme park and revitalize a portion of the game world that could drive tons of players back to the game.
Also, this would bring the features of Wrath and TBC back to the main land. Flying, phasing, etc. This improves continuity tremendously.
WoW has always been a solo-friendly game. It has never required having a group to advance to the max level. However, with the theme parks of Wrath and TBC, players begin to disappear and the world feels very empty at times. Mixing in new content intended for higher players in the old world will create tons of crossover amongst various levels.
The hallmark of MMOGs has always been the random interaction of two players meeting in a world and these changes to WoW will ensure this tradition lives on.
If these rumors prove to be true, I'm all over the next World of Warcraft Expansion. Hell, I almost resubscribed and grabbed Wrath based on these rumors!
P.S. It amazes me how MMO-Champion is such a massive site, with great inside scoops, but they still haven't invested in a spellchecker.