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World of Warcraft - Cataclysm: Old Azeroth Rolls In It's Grave

A short review of mine, concerning the changes to Azeroth in WoW: Cataclysm. The text is straight out of my own blog, and inspired me to put it up as a review.
Disclaimer: The following article is the sole opinion of its author and does not represent in its thoughts or opinions. This is not an official editorial article.

World of Warcraft: Old Azeroth Rolls In Its Grave

A new level cap, hours of "new" endgame content, and an entirely revamped experience from Levels 1 to 60. Sounds great, doesn't it? But as this critic discovered, Blizzard's shameless plans to stick with used and no longer appealing formulas has literally created a recipe for disaster.

One can argue all day about the controversies WoW has faced during its time; from the disputed quality of its expansion packs, to its still ongoing issues with Chinese censorship, and of course, the claims that it has removed all creativity and riskiness from the industry. One thing you can't argue with, however, is the overwhelming statistical evidence that WoW changed MMOs forever.

Nearly seven years old, the bearer of three expansion packs and having announced just last year that its subscription numbers had peaked at no less than 12 million accounts. And still the number one. Face it; whether you love or hate World of Warcraft, many will remember it forever as the first MMO that brought the genre into the spotlight, and made all their secret nerdy dreams come true.

As a guy who played the game for just under three years, I cannot claim to have been in Azeroth during its fabled first years of glorious Vanilla gameplay. Back then, gamers worldwide were just starting to understand the entertainment of MMOs, and Blizzard played all its cards right to hook 'em. It had tutorials that were simple and easy to understand, systems and mechanics that even a casual could master quickly, as well as graphics, textures and a sweeping world which made any single-player Fantasy RPG pale in comparision (excusing certain classics of course - the Legend of Zelda will never be obsolete to true fans).  All in all, Warcraft redefined the MMO by taking the best in the biz' and making it cleaner and available to millions.

And then the expansions came out.

On January 16, 2007, WoW: The Burning Crusade released at midnight and instantly wiped the floor with critics. Selling over 2.4 million copies in Europe and North America (making it the fastest selling PC game ever in those regions), TBC received what can only be described as universal praise for its stylish and powerful addition of content to the world's "most addictive MMORPG". Featuring two beautifully made new races, a new PvP system and an entire new continent of adventures to ravage, Blizzard hit the jackpot once more and scored itself the ongoing loyalty of a rapidly growing playerbase.

November 13, 2008: Wrath of the Lich King hits the shelves and sells 2.8 million copies in the first 24 hours, smashing the record held by its predecessor. Not looking to displease fans, the pack contained yet another whole landmass of quests, raids and dungeons; icy Northrend. With it came the portal hub and chat-spam whorefest of Dalaran, along with an entirely new class - the Scourge-born, disease-wielding Death Knights. All in all, the expansion received the same, if not a higher level of admiration from critics. However, perhaps in anticipation of what would come, Wrath would hearld one of the first times in which players actually started to complain with some degree of seriousness about certain changes and gameplay, prominently including the repetetiveness of content and a lack of updates to classic Azeroth. I think we all knew what was coming next.

December 7, 2010: The apocalypse arrived. Well, to be technical the vast updates to the old world had already been given 'free of charge' in a content patch; the official release brought the new zones and a higher (but perhaps not high enough) level cap of 85.

Above: Cataclysm literally shattered Azeroth apart...but did it also shatter player expectations?

Its at this point that I will offer up my insight into Cataclysm, and how it affected World of Warcraft, for better...but also for worse.

There are several core reasons why I was disappointed with Cata's release...

a) It looked too good on paper. I think that by the time the Shattering Patch was released, nearly all of us WoW fans could safely say that we were fighting to contain ourselves over the upcoming launch. I mean, apart from the nostalgia and heartache it would bring, who didn't want to see the barrens cut in half, or the entire world on fire? The playerbase wanted new stuff to replace the old, and that was what Blizzard promised us. Another example? Vashj'ir - a unique and awesome new zone which would utilise player-water interaction more than ever before. Just the thought of riding seahorses and killing Ariel the Mermaid wound the whole community into a hype, the likes of which had never been seen before...and most likely never would again.

b) The endgame was repetetive. Now, like most people I understand that repetition is an undeniable and inevitable fact of MMOs. No matter how long it takes you to level, no matter how long you stare in awe at the incredible new baubles and wallpapers around you, eventually you'll need to reach the endgame. And barring those who like to pour their heart and soul into the plethora of hardcore raids, or the people who have the dedication to go back and do all the quests they missed, its a pretty lame time to be a player.

The numerous changes made to instances in Cataclysm didn't help the situation: new raid lock mechanics and controversy over dungeons and raids that were now too difficult and demanding brought my interest in the endgame down to a new time low, especially due to my Australian status.

c) New Azeroth got old quick. Werewolves and goblins - it sounded great, didn't it? Gilneas had been opened to the world, and the green cheapo's of the World of Warcraft were receiving a makeover. Combined with the hours and hours of updated old world zones, a player would never run out of alt-tastic fun! Right?


As a staunch Horde player, I found the worgens quite impressive, but ultimately the switch was difficult for me to make. Even when I finally got into the gameplay, the faux British accents (and the fact that my werewolf looked more like a housecat) didn't do wonders for my excitement. And the goblins, aka Blizzard's successful attempt to throw the entire context of its game out the window. Machinery, merchandising and a hideous new look were bearable, but the sight of sportscars, 19th century factories and the overwhelming theme-park feel of the Goblin Island rendered me completely unable to believe in the fiction of either my character or his environment.

Regardless which race you rolled, though, it always came back to the same problem - New World got old quick. No matter how much stuff they crammed into levels 1-60, it wasn't enough. Considering the use of heirlooms and the fact that we'd had access to the updated classic areas for weeks before the launch, the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor quickly got mowed through by awestruck alts...who then were slapped in the face by reality again. You know those awkward, frustrating scenarios in films between two bitter exes who never forgave each other? Now tell me you didn't get that feeling when you strolled straight out of level 60 to find the same-old Outland waiting for you like a celebrity resorted to cheap street tricks.

I was there in the first minute of Cataclysm's launch, on the first boat on my server that reached Vashj'ir. And it was only after the following months of online arguments, bug fixes, desperate balance patches and the rise of the free-to-play advertising that I realised that the beautiful, innocent game I'd once known was gone. Swept up in that final, bittersweet expansion pack which, while good, was not great to me.

I hold nothing against people who are, even as we speak, having a ball running around inside Cataclysm's raids and content. Similarly, I expect that the arrival of the next big "Super Mega End Boss" instances will draw back in a whole new crowd of hardcores just itching to mount Deathwing's head on a pike. But as of now, I have lost my way with World of Warcraft, and I don't think anything will bring me back. In my opinion, WoW has strived so hard to impress and continue being a subscription-whore that it forget what it really was supposed to be. A fun game, for everybody to be able to play and experience the blissful magic of a persistent world full of players.

But much like a confused grad student accepting drugs for the first time, WoW has similarly degraded into a confused, afraid and mood-swingin' chaos that doesn't know what it is anymore, or more importantly, why.

Well...ehm...*sniff*...that's my word on World of Warcraft. I hope that you've enjoyed this little vent of mine

Final Score

 Redesign of old content
 A large amount of new endgame opportunities
 Two new races
 Fairly static and unchanged gameplay
 No new class
 Still no real class balance

More World of Warcraft Features:

Robert Lashley - The Legacy Debate Column added on Thursday April 21
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