The other evening, I got a tell consisting of a single question mark. I shift clicked the name to see if it was a guild-mate or something, but it was a random level 40 character I'd never heard of before. I sent back my customary reply, a lone exclamation mark.
A few seconds later, the lowbie restated their question. "Why should I abandon my home, possessions, and cares?"
I was working on the pre-Cataclysm world event, and there's a stage where the player runs around saying Twilight Hammer doomsday cult slogans in an attempt to infiltrate the organization. Though these slogans are automatically generated by the quest, they are otherwise indistinguishable from regular player speech.
I considered how to respond; I'm not much of a role player, but it's so rare that my characters are ever doing something that makes in-game sense (as distinct from "re-killing the guy I killed yesterday for more loot") that it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity.
"The Twilight Hammer made me say that," I replied, carefully choosing words that make sense both in and out of character.
"I don't know who that is," the lowbie replied. At this point, I was starting to get the impression that they were legitimately confused, rather than playing along with the in-game storyline, so I decided to break character.
"It's for a new quest," I said. "Oh," came the reply. Then it was time to go kill an invasion boss, and I'd forgotten the encounter by the time I was done with that.
Cataclysm for the unaware?
Looking back, there are more questions I might have asked. Was this person new to the game? Were they aware that we're just over two weeks out from a game-altering expansion? If they do ever find the quest they asked me about, will they know that their characters efforts are pre-destined to fall short, with the world shattered just as the players' seemingly ineffectual adversaries would like?
The alternative is that this player legitimately had no idea what was going on. That someday, possibly as soon as next week, they're going to log in and find that the zone they logged off in got blown up overnight, wiping out half of the questgivers and even entire towns. What happens if that player logs off for the night in the doomed city of Auberdine? Or if they were advised by a veteran to buy a mage portal to Shattrath or Dalaran for easy hearthstone/portal access and log in to find that the portals leaving these high level areas have been removed?
These types of issues have probably happened to players in every MMO that has ever launched an expansion. Based on sheer size, though, Cataclysm will almost certainly take the title for total number of players who are caught unaware by a major expansion revamp to content they were just working on. I wonder how many people will be asking how they "go back" to the old world when December 7th rolls around.