Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor
At last year’s BlizzCon, the entire MMOG industry was abuzz
with rumors and thoughts on what new pieces of content the developers
of World of Warcraft
would be announcing at the show. Would they be creating a new race like
they did with Burning
? Or would we see a new class? What about another
expansion? With the questions floating on the lips of everyone
attending the show, the Blizzard developers let it be known that they
were in the midst of creating a new expansion, Wrath of the Lich King
and that expansion would include a new playable class, the Death
Everyone was thrilled with the announcement and the sort of changes the
implementation of the new class would make to the intricate meta-game
nuances that are already part of the WoW experience. Since BlizzCon,
however, we’ve heard relatively little about the upcoming
class and where they direction of the game was headed. Although the
collective WoW community is eager to hear any news about the Death
Knight, the developers didn’t want to release any information
about the class until things were more concrete.
Wrath of the Lich
Thankfully, the time for more information has arrived. In a series of
press events that have spanned several days, the developers at Blizzard
stepped forward and offered us our first intricate look at the upcoming
content for Wrath of
the Lich King
along with an in-depth explanation of the
Death Knight. Spearheading the talk on the Death Knight was Tom
Chilton, the game’s co-lead designer and the man in charge of
the new classes design.
For the presentation, Chilton began by cutting straight to the point
and giving all the press an update on what it takes to receive a Death
Knight character. “Since BlizzCon we’ve gone
through a lot of discussion and iterated on some different
ideas,” Chilton said. “The place we’re at
right now is that if you have a level 55 character on your account, it
unlocks the ability to create a Death Knight.” Along with
this announcement, Chilton also mentioned that the Death Knight can
come from any of the races.
This opening statement took the gathered press completely by surprise,
because when the class was announced at BlizzCon last year, it was
explained that players would have to progress through a quest to
actually attain this class. Obviously the developers changed this
scheme, and it seems like a much easier goal to attain now for most
With that big announcement out of the way, Chilton continued the
dialogue with the press, giving examples of how exactly this sort of
system will work. “You’ll be limited to one Death
Knight per server that you play on,” Chilton stated.
“Players will be able to make multiple Death Knights, but
they’ll have to do so over multiple servers rather than just
one. If you have friends playing on another server and you have a level
55 character somewhere, you’ve unlocked your Death Knight.
You can then go and create a Death Knight on their server, join up with
them, and be able to play alongside them. It gives you a little bit of
a head start.”
In effect, this allows players to have a character that they can easily
start and be end-game viable within a relatively small amount of
gameplay time. While some players may not want to be one of the
thousands of new Death Knights crowding servers, the introduction of
the Death Knight also gives Blizzard a chance to view how introducing
higher level classes will affect the overall gameplay of WoW. If this
addition is viewed as a success, we may see more
“heroic” classes introduced in future expansions.
A concept artist's
depiction of the Death Knight.
However, many players may also be concerned with the decision to simply
have the Death Knight unlockable by attaining a certain level in the
game rather than completing a quest. Chilton was quick to continue the
conversation concerning that point and explained what the development
team has done instead.
“In the past we wanted to have a quest that allowed you to
unlock the Death Knight class,” Chilton added.
“What we’ve done is taken that quest line and put
it at the beginning of the Death Knight process. Once you’ve
created your level 55 Death Knight, you’ll immediately launch
into a new Death Knight starting experience. You’ll start off
in a new area created specifically for Death Knights. They’ll
have their own quests and you’ll go through that quest line
to learn how to play as the class along with picking up some early
abilities, gear, and learn a bit of the storyline behind the
And it’s utterly important that players have a chance to get
a grasp on WoW’s latest class before they’re flung
out into the wide open world. Throughout the rest of the presentation,
Chilton explained to us the intricacies of the Death Knight class and
how different – and similar – it was to classes
that already exist within their game.
“One of the ways we distinguish characters classes in World
of Warcraft is by making sure they have distinct resource
mechanics,” Chilton stated. “For example, the
Warriors use the Rage mechanic while the Rogues use Energy. We thought
it’d be appropriate to start off with a completely new
mechanic with the Death Knight.”
With that, Chilton directed our attention to the presentation screen,
where one of the developers had logged into a geared out Death Knight.
Immediately upon viewing the user interface, I noticed that the
standard box that typically holds a character’s portrait,
life, and energy bars was quite different with the Death Knight
Although the character portrait and life bar remained the same, the
energy bar had been replaced with three pairs of colored symbols that
were integrated into a graphic of a nasty-looking, flared sword.
Knowing that we’d instantly notice this change, Chilton was
quick to explain the existence of the colored symbols and the
terrifying sword. According to Chilton, the Death Knights use a two
part resource mechanic: runes and runic power.
Your Death Knight
will probably need to fight through the Nexus at some point in time.
The vast majority of a Death Knight’s abilities use runes and
are represented by the three pairs of colored symbols that have
replaced the energy / rage / mana bar. Each pair of runes represents
one of the three different types of runic power: Blood, Frost, or
Unholy. Each of the three types is represented by a different color so
that players can easily discern what runes are available to them.
Although our example Death Knight had three pairs of runes, players
will have the ability to choose from any combination of runes to draw
power from. If a person wants four Blood and two Unholy runes, that's
When a players uses one of their abilities, they use up one or more of
their runes. The example Chilton gave us was the Death Strike ability,
which costs one blood and one frost rune in order to activate. Once the
rune(s) have been used, they must cool up (recharge) over a period of
ten seconds in order for the player to use that rune again.
“The primary mechanic behind using abilities is trying to
optimize using your runes as efficiently as possible,”
However, any time you use a runic ability that has an enemy as the
target, it’s going to build up runic power. Runic power is an
energy that fills up on your weapon, and you can easily see it on your
UI around that nasty-looking sword that serves as the background for
your portrait. If a player chooses not to use their runic power, it
slowly deteriorates over time, like a Warrior's rage bar.
At any time you can unleash all of your runic power into one of your
runic power abilities. An example is the “Death
Coil” ability (which Chilton described as iconic to the
class), which requires runic power and unleashes it all causing up to
600 shadow damage to a non-undead enemy target or healing up to 900
damage on a friendly undead target.
“With this power, the Death Knight really has some finishing
capability,” Chilton said. “Sort of like the Rogue,
with the primary difference being that runic power is on the Death
Knight itself and not on the target like the combo point system. The
abilities also have quite a number of differences as well.”