This was ascertained (and some quoted) from the Preview panel from Blizzcon via the feed.  Whoosh!

Some History…

  • Learned from BC that Illidan was a great bad guy, but there were so many other interesting bosses that some newer folks didn’t really know what they were getting into.
  • With WotLK, Arthas is pretty much at every step, so there is a “personal reason wanting to kick his ass”.
  • New generation of WoW players don’t really know Deathwing (first in WC2 XP)— assumption of it.  Deathwing wants to subjugate the world for awesome times.  He’s still a nut case.
  • “Recently, whispers of Old Gods have gotten worse and the power of the Old Gods (C’thun, Yogg-Saron), their power has magnified Deathwing’s power tenfold.  He’s a very powerful dude these days.  Deathwing, with his bachelor pad, in Deepholme… he’s woken from his slumber and erupted into the world.  The physical explosion of his awakening has caused global level destruction (tsunamis, freak storms, Westfall)… He is ever present, he is the great enemy that has to be dealt with in this time in history”.  And then Metzen had a brain fart. (“He’s the worldbreaker.”)  “He is indeed the worldbreaker.”
  • Deathwing actually brings all the planes of elementals to Azeroth, causing the dramatic changes in the game (a la changed terrain).
  • Re-emergence of elemental Gods, having been locked up, is back to cause some damage.  (“Molten Core was merely a setback!”, says Valdarion)
  • Worgen was “the idea the Alliance would have a more monstrous race, felt like that was needed in the line up… formerly human”.  Curse made it into Gilneas… the opening zone will not only show you the history in the city, but the idea of containing beast within the human.
    • Are the Worgen from somewhere else?  Or somewhen else?”, says Metzen.  He compared their temperament to Wolverine (X-Men).  Apparently the starting zone is playable at Blizzcon (wow).  Levels 1-5 will be very interesting to leveling players (hum).
  • Goblins driven out of Khazan due to the Cataclysm.  Inclusion to the Horde happens gradually and are forced into taking sides with the Horde (interesting again).
  • “With the Cataclysm and how heavy it is for the nations of Azeroth, there are some dark days ahead — we thought Northrend was bad with the Lich King — this event happens.”
  • “Upheaval… tsunamis, trenches everywhere, natural upheaval.  There’s a lot of new stress within and between the Alliance and the Horde.  the campaign against the Lich King hasn’t been won, he’s screwed with our heads… is this the right choice, we were pressed to the edge to destroying Icecrown and beating the bad guy — it’s possible we might have left a bit of ourselves in Northrend; when we return the world isn’t the same.”
  • Felt in Outland, Alliance vs. Horde kind of lost that “war rivalry”, but decided to make it happen in Northrend (like the Wrathgate).

New Features:

  • Level cap to 85… why isn’t it 90?  Key decision made for Cataclysm; wanted to focus time and energy on other places (more instances), bring more in-game content and do more for those leveling up alts.
  • New races, obviously… but no Worgen paladin or shaman, eluded to some Darkflight?  Goblins have a disengage (and engage) with a rocket belt… interesting racials with explosions?  Worgen druids!
  • 7 new zones!  In addition to the ones being redone, these are complete new locations… Twilight Highlands (featuring Grim Batol), Gilneas (Worgen Town), Lost Islands (Goblin Starting Area), Deepholme (Elemental Plane of Earth, new zone to level up from 80 to 85, like Dragonblight), Uldum, Sunken City of Vashj’ir (“hopefully not annoying to play in water”), and Mount Hyjal.
  • Classic world revamp of every zone with updated quests, art, and items (“no more agility/spirit items, or there will be hell to pay”)
  • Guild achievement system: twenty guild levels, advanced by what you normally do… raids, BGs, dailies.  You get access to perks (guild talent tree, fewer repairs, nifty new things like mass resurrection powers.
  • New race/class combos: Tauren paladin (“Holy cow!”), Gnome priests (“playing exclusively with their own kind if they so wish”), Dwarf shaman (“causing earthquakes”).  Obviously some other listed ones on a previous post.
  • Phased terrain.  the world will actually change as you go through quest lines, it’ll make the world more dynamic and stories more compelling and different.  They show a terrain becoming overwhelmed by the water.
  • Archeology: players can explore ruins and find nodes to make discoveries to research which will lead directly into the Past of the Titans, getting artifacts and taking them to world groups that will have to do with the…
  • Path of the Titans: a new way players can customize themselves (51 point talents will be the same but you get 5 more talent points); players can choose a path, and is not limited by class.
  • Mastery System: Prune complexity out of the talent trees that “we made because they were cool and fun, but because they didn’t increase something in a tangible way, they didn’t get used without a lot of buffage”.  The more points you put into that tree, you get more passive bonuses… a la Diablo 2?
  • New dungeons, challenges, quests, and items.  “The big sha-bang!”

The World

  • Cataclysm on Azeroth reveals new lands and affects old favorites.
  • Five adventure zones for level 78-85.
  • Two starting zones for levels 1-15.
  • Fly everywhere!  (And the crowd went… not limp noodle!)
  • Multiple scales of change… based on locale.  Elwynn won’t be changed so much, but the Barrens is sundered in half (Northern and Southern barrens).
  • New level flow (you can’t do the same places).  Did you know Southshore got overtaken?  No more Alliance.  Thousand Needles is now 40-45, Western Plaguelands is 40-45, Eastern Plaguelands is 45-50?!
  • Barrens… oh no, there’s a huge split and there’s fire, and I bet Mankrik’s Wife fell in there.  Naralex finally completed his dream… turning some of the zone into a tropical beautiful place.
  • Desolace got water flow and now it’s prettier.  Probably still annoying.
  • Darkshore: “long standing zone with those super long 20 minute runs, up and down”… great place to get into and see how they wanted to reflow the quests.  Auberdine gets destroyed, forced North to create a new quest hub/camp.  Zoram Strand expanded by Garrosh into an encampment/war camp.
  • Stonetalon Mountain has cut out the entire cave leading from Ashenvale.  “The Even More Charred Vale”.
  • Azshara is going to be the new Goblin 10-20 zone.  They moved the mountain, creating a way more flat and quarry-like area!
  • Undercity is not really underground anymore, just a dreary place.
  • Deepholm is a “hub” that you can go through to get one place to another.
  • Two dungeons in the Abyssal Maw (Plane of Wate).
  • Sunken City of Vashj’ir… located on the sea floor, gameplay will be transitional from swimming to moving.  Home city of Lady Vashj pre-sundering.  Gateway to the previously mentioned Abyssal Maw, and introduces a new form of underwater gameplay and mounts (as fast as flying mounts).  They are shooting for a colorful zone… the Abyssal Maw takes you to crazy town, I’m sure.
  • Deepholm is in Elemental Plane of Earth.  In the center is the Temple of Earth is where Deathwing was nursed back to health by Twilight Hammer, who now serve him.  Large, subterranean environment and the largest zone.  Can actually fly in there with your mount.  You’ll get to play in there and see where he is now, temple will play a huge part in this.  There will be portals that take you to other zones from here!  (They showed screenshots, it looks AWESOME… and troggs and nerubians are back?)
  • Uldum: two dungeons on the inside.  Always wondered what there was to the west?  Now there’s nothing.  Imagine Egypt.  There’s been a Titan projection that has kept people out… and with the Cataclysm, the machine has broken.  Brann Bronzebeard is totally going there.  Rumored to hold a super secret weapon.  Will introduce the Tol’vir (scary cat peoples, who knows) who will act as a quest-hug area.  Ulduar is linked to Uldum somehow… will have a pretty oasis too!
  • Mount Hyjal: it’s under siege by Ragnaros, who opened up a portal from the Fire plane, to burn the World Tree.  Just to put that into context… “it was too soon, way too soon”.  Malfurion Stormrage is back, helping to defend!  Whee?
  • Darkwhisper Gorge has been sundered and taken over by Twilight’s Hammer.  It’s not just for Thorium anymore.
  • Twilight Highlaands: Grim Batol, sheared in half.  Two new port towns for Horde and Alliance; red dragons pushed back, created a base here.  Twilight Dragonflight.

Dungeons & Raids

  • The Firelands
  • Uldum
  • Blackrock Caverns – full of Twilight’s Hammer.
  • Grim Batol – leveling dungeon and a raid.
  • Skywall – leveling dungeon and a raid.
  • Heroic Deadmines & Shadowfang Keep (level 85 heroic dungeons, will be going back into the zones and using existing art but new fights, creatures, abilities, and right where you expect a level 85 level to be).

PvP Preview

  • Tol Barad PvP Zone: Wintergrasp during the battle, Dailies when it’s not.  Extra profitable dailies for the winner!
  • Battle for Gilneas Battleground (3 new BGs).
  • New Arena Maps.
  • Rated Battlegrounds?!

…. also, Sam Raimi and his son plays World of Warcraft together.  Hm.