While we battle through the latter half of Icecrown Citadel and daydream about rolling Worgen Warlocks in Cataclysm, somewhere in the back of my head I'm boggled at the possibilities for Blizzard's next-gen MMO. The project is claimed to be well underway, and is said to feature an all-new IP (intellectual property: in this case meaning the game world and it's lore). So... what could this new World of Whatcraft look like?
We can probably surmise that Blizzard's next MMO won't be filled with knights, wizards, elves and goblins. Warcraft is arguably the most prolific representation of this genre we've seen so far, and Diablo's slightly-darker take is about to be re-introduced as Diablo III. Since Blizzard has already been-there-done-that, it's hard to imagine they'd do another high-fantasy MMO. Verdict: NOT LIKELY.
Don't get me wrong, I'd love to play World of Starcraft and would play the shit outta that game. Roll a Terran Firebat or Protoss Zealot? Hell yeah! (I'm still sore about the loss of Starcraft: Ghost, btw) However, the claim of an "all new IP" throws us off the trail for WoS. It's always possible they'll do a variation on a sci-fi fantasy theme (as they did with Diablo), but if it's not going to be Starcraft, I'd have to go with NOT LIKELY.
Super Heroes (a.k.a. Men in Tights)
We already have games like City of Heroes, and I'm just going with a gut instinct that Blizzard will stay away from this genre. There would be too many class/spec balance issues to contend with (especially with open-ended character designs), and even legal/copyright issues from comic book franchises. And frankly, a modern day real-world setting is just too boring/familiar. Verdict: NOT LIKELY.
One of my all-time favorite games was Wasteland - a post-nuclear game world featuring mutated bunnies, machine guns, religious survivalists, and robotic invaders. I would love to see what Blizzard could do here. We already have games like Fallen Earth, but that doesn't mean Blizzard can't tackle the genre and exceed expectations. World of Warcraft was developed in a time when Everquest was king, after all. And the apocalyptic theme isn't limited to nuclear war - it could be biological/medical/environmental disaster, alien-invasion, or some horrific combination. Verdict: POSSIBLE.
Middle East/Far East Fantasy
Some of my favorite Diablo II zones centered around Middle Eastern lore (think arabian knights, mummies, animal-headed gods and camel mounts!). There's also a far-east possibility: who wouldn't want to roll a samurai, ninja, or monk? Both genres have a strong historical base to draw from (in the same way medieval history inspired Tolkien), and I think Blizzard could do wonders with these genres. Verdict: POSSIBLE.
Vampires, werewolves, zombies, hunters, oh my! Think Underworld, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Call of Cthulu, where evil lurks in dark corners and you never want to be without a silver bullet. This could also be a great setting to incorporate steampunk elements, given horror fantasy's 1800's roots. Verdict: POSSIBLE.
Something Else Entirely
There's always the chance that Blue has conceived something else entirely. Perhaps some hybrid of themes listed above? Aliens have landed on Earth and we've been forced to scatter across the universe. We've formed a hodgepodge caravan of spaceships, traveling together in order to survive and carry on the human race. Oh wait, I've just described Battlestar Galactica. But you get the idea here - the trick for Blizzard will be to come up with a setting that is familiar enough to be immediately immersed in, but with enough unique twists to make it their own.
I just hope they do away with Trade Chat...
To my three readers: what other genres would make a great MMO setting?